Biography of Hon. James Harvey Slater

HON. JAMES HARVEY SLATER. – Mr. Slater has ever borne a conspicuous part in the public affairs of Oregon; and no one has preserved a more honorable name. His mental qualities are solid rather than brilliant, and his operations weighty rather than keen. He is a man whose integrity has never been impeached; and he has ever been relied upon as a friend of the people. In his two terms at Washington, once as congressman, once as senator, he has performed some very effective work for our state; and all Oregonians hold him in high esteem. The following brief sketch will furnish the data of his life, and be eagerly read by all.

He was born in Sangamon county, Illinois, in 1826, and remained there until 1849. He received a common-school education, and prepared himself for college; but, abandoning further advance in that line he concluded to try his fortunes in California, coming to the Pacific coast in 1849. After a year in California he came up the coast to Oregon, and located near Corvallis in Benton county, where he put to good use his former education by teaching public school for two years. In 1853 he made a venturesome trip to California, and was at Yreka during the Indian troubles in which General Joseph Lane took so prominent a part. he returned to Oregon the same fall. In 1854 he married Miss Elizabeth E. Grey, a daughter of Reverend R.D. Grey. Having pursued legal studies, he was admitted to the bar in the same year, and continued his occupation as clerk of the Untied States district court, to which he had been appointed in 1853. In 1862 he came to Baker county, where he engaged in mining and also in the practice of law until 1866, when he removed to La Grande, where he has since resided.

The political history of Senator Slater may be briefly told as follows: He was elected to the territorial legislature in 1857 as an independent Democrat, and was re-elected in 1858 and at the same time elected to the first Oregon state legislature. He served in the first special sessions of that body after the admission of the state in 1859. In February of that year he began the publication of the old well-known Oregon Weekly Union at Corvallis, and continued this until the latter part of 1861, when it went into the hands of P.J. Malone. In 1855 Mr. Slater was appointed postmaster of Corvallis, and served about three years.

In 1866 he was elected district attorney of the fourth judicial district of Oregon, and in 1868, as presidential elector on the Democratic ticket cast his vote for Seymour and Blair. In 1870 he was elected a member of the Forty-second Congress. After his return from the duties thus imposed, he resumed the practice of law at La Grande, and engaged somewhat in agriculture and stock-raising until 1878. In that year he was again called to serve his state at Washington, being elected to the United States Senate, and served the whole term of six years. In1885 he again resumed his law practice in La Grande. In 1887 he was appointed one of the railroad commissioners for the state of Oregon, and served until 1889. He is at present practicing law at his home. Mr. Slater has a family of five sons and five daughters.

While a member of the United States Senate, Mr. Slater took an active part in the discussion of the Chinese, tariff and other public questions. His speeches on the tariff attracted attention throughout the Untied States and England; and as a result he was elected an honorary member of the Cobden Club, England, in 1883. Mr. Slater is not, however, a free-trader, as that term is used, but is opposed to a tariff levied for protective purposes.


History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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