Biography of Charles B. Bellinger

Judge Bellinger was born in Maquon, Knox County, Illinois, November 21, 1839, and at the age of eight years came to Oregon with his parents and grandparents. After receiving the advantages of a common school education, supplemented with some two years at the Willamette University, he began to read law at Salem, in the office of B. F. Bonham; at present United States Consul. at Calcutta, and was admitted to the bar at the September term of the Supreme Court, in 1863. He immediately thereafter engaged in the practice of law at Salem in partnership with J. C. Cartwright, since United States District Attorney and Commissioner of Internal Revenue for Oregon; but now deceased. The firm rapidly acquired a good business, but unable to resist the allurement of politics, Mr. Bellinger gave up the law business to become the editor of a new Democratic paper, The Arena, which had been founded by Gen. John F. Miller, Hon. Joseph S. Smith and other prominent democrats. It was a time when what was known as the “Oregon Style” was in fashion. The paper was like its contemporaries, bitterly partisan and personal in its treatment of subjects and men under discussion. It was impetuous, unsparing, and as is always the case when controversy is carried on under like conditions, often most unjust in its treatment of those of the opposition.

Mr. Bellinger’s health becoming impaired, he retired from editorial work in 1866, and with another gentleman engaged in mercantile business at Monroe, in Benton county, until 1869, serving in the mean time, in 1868, a term in the Legislature as a representative from Benton county.

In 1869, at the solicitation of Hon. N. H. Cranor, of Albany, Linn county, he removed to the latter place, under an arrangement by which he was to practice law with that gentleman and at the same time take editorial charge of the State Rights Democrat newspaper.

In the spring of 1870, following Mr. Bellinger’s assumption of editorial charge of the Democrat, the Democratic State Convention which met at Albany, adopted what was known as the “equitable adjustment” platform, in which it undertook to straddle the then burning question as to whether the public debt, contracted in putting down the rebellion, should in whole or in part be repudiated. It was a cowardly concession to what was then believed to be a large element in the party in favor of repudiation. Mr. Bellinger, in the Democrat, denounced the straddle, declared that the only construction of the platform which could be permitted must favor the payment in good faith of the debt according to the terms in which it was contracted, and served notice on the candidates and party organs, who were already advocating the “equitable adjustment” of the debt, by which the debt might be paid in some part, or no part, as the exigences of the future might require, that they must face about and repudiate repudiation, or the Democrat would repudiate the ticket and lead a revolt that would lose Linn county to the party in the election. This county was the bulwark of the party and was believed to be the stronghold of the repudiation element in the State. The attitude of the Democrat was the sensation of the campaign. The result was that in spite of the gibes and taunts of the republican journals that the democratic party and its candidates were being driven to surrender their convictions at the command of a country newspaper, the democratic campaign was thenceforth shaped upon the course marked out by the Democrat. The democratic party succeeded in the election and it was the opinion of the best politicians of the time, that the result was due largely, if not wholly, to the course of the Democrat, an opinion which nothing has since occurred to change.

Under Mr. Bellinger’s management, the Democrat advanced rapidly in circulation and influence, but, editing a newspaper and practicing law at the same like, being incompatible, he sold out his interest in the paper to his partner, the late M. V. Brown, and in the fall of 1870, removed to Portland where he has since continued to reside engaged in the practice of the law.

In 1871, the then prosecuting attorney for the Fourth Judicial District, Ex-Governor Gibbs, having acccepted the appointment of United States District Attorney, Governor Grover, acting upon the assumption that the two offices were incompatible and that the acceptance of the second office created a vacancy in the former one, appointed Mr. Bellinger to such vacancy. Governor Gibbs refused to surrender, but continued to hold both offices. An action of quo warranto was brought on the part of the new appointee to test the right of the latter to the office. A final decision in the Supreme Court in favor of the contestant was reached after the expiration of the term. The case, though unreported, has become a leading one and was often referred to in the Cronin-Watt electoral contest of 1876-7, certified copies of the record having been forwarded to Mr. Tilden’s lawyers on their order, for use in that contest.

In 1872, Mr. Bellinger was the nominee on the democratic ticket for prosecuting attorney in the Fourth District, his opponent being Mr. Geo. H. Durham. The two candidates were old school mates and chums and the canvass made by them of the different counties of the district was more one of recreation than serious political work. The entire democratic ticket was overwhelmingly defeated in the election Mr. Bellinger with the rest.

In 1873, Mr. Bellinger went to the Modoc war with General John F. Miller, major general of the Oregon militia, in capacity of aid with the rank of colonel, and remained in that service until the appointment of the peace commission suspended military operations. He was in the battle of the Lava Beds, fought on January 17th, in which the United States troops under General Wheaton, the Oregon volunteers and a company of California volunteers, were defeated by Captain jack, with heavy loss. He was upon General Wheaton’s staff during the engagement and received honorable mention in that officer’s report of the battle.

In 1874, Mr. Bellinger was appointed Clerk of the Supreme Court of the State, and ex -officio reporter of its decisions. While holding this position he served as chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee, during 1876 and 1877, covering the exciting period of the Tilden presidential campaign. In the fall of 1878, he resigned the clerkship of the Supreme Court, to accept the Circuit Judge-ship for the Fourth Judicial District, then comprising the counties of Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Clatsop and Columbia. The docket of cases for trial in Multnomah county, was at the time phenomenal. There were seven murder cases pending and tried during the first term for the latter county held by the new judge, and above sixty indictments for felonies of different kinds were disposed of at the same term. The enormous criminal business of the district is shown by the fact that in the spring of 1880, more than one-half of all the convicts in the penitentiary, numbering a total of above two hundred, had received their sentence from Judge Bellinger. The civil docket during the same time was also an unusually large one.

At the general election of 1880 Judge Bellinger was his party’s candidate for Circuit Judge but was defeated by Judge Raleigh Stott, owing to the overwhelmingly republican majority of that year and the popularity of his opponent. It was, however, an honorable defeat since he ran between eleven and twelve hundred votes ahead of his ticket and carried by large majorities some of the strongest republican precincts in his own county. Upon retiring from the bench he resumed the practice of the law in partnership with Hon. John M. Gearin, and so continued until the fall of 1883, when he became a member of the firm of Dolph, Bellinger, Mallory & Simon.

He was married early in life to Miss Margery S. Johnson, of Linn County. Their children, four sons and three daughters, are all living and with two exceptions are grown.

Judge Bellinger, during his occupancy of the bench was noted for his courtesy, industry and acuteness, as well as for his learning and firmness. Policy had little, if anything, to do with his decisions, his conclusions being reached by critical analysis presented with legal and logical force. His experience as a judge served to increase his powers of advocacy, and largely adds to his equipment as a lawyer. Painstaking in his investigations, acute in mind, familiar with practice and an adept in pleading, he was quickly noted, on his retirement from the bench as a member of the bar who had no superior in the difficult task of “trying a case after verdict,” thereby snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. In advocacy before the Court he is nearly always severely logical, though when his case demands it no one is better able than himself to substitute plausibility for logic and make the “worse appear the better reason.” In his jury appeals his own intellectuality causes him to address the head rather than the heart and hence his success in jury trials is greater with an intelligent than an ignorant panel. His wit is well known and often has his antagonists at the bar winced under his incisiveness. In the social circle, however, it is used only to please and not to wound, making him a genial companion, whose absence is regretted and presence always prized. His merits as a lawyer have become so well known as to secure him a lucrative practice in the conduct of causes for railway, banking and insurance corporations. His mind is noted for alertness; in all his actions moral sense is pre-dominant; he is a reader, student and thinker; possesses unusual powers as a writer, and has talents in general that would make him conspicuous and bring him success in any station.


Biography, History,

Harvey Whitefield Scott. History of Portland, Oregon: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers. Portland, Oregon. D. Mason & Company, 1890.

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