Biography of Hon. L. F. Grover

HON. L.F. GROVER. – Governor La Fayette Grover was born in Bethel, Maine, November 29, 1823, of ancestry on both sides distinguished in the early and late history of Massachusetts. He is a brother of Major Abernethy Grover, a man of distinction in the politics of Maine and in the war of the Rebellion; of Professor Talleyrand Grover, an eminent classist; and of General Cuvier Grover, a skillful commander in the war of the Rebellion.

He was educated at the Classical Academy of Bethel, and at Bowdoin College, Maine. He studied law in Philadelphia under the instruction of the late Asa I. Fish, and was admitted to the bar there in March, 1850. Late in the autumn of that year, he took passage on a merchant vessel bound round Cape Horn to San Francisco, where he arrived in July, 1851, and in the next month reached Portland by the old steamer Columbia. He at once proceeded to Salem, where he established himself as a layer. The first regular term of the United States district court was held at Salem in the following month; and on the invitation of Chief Justice Nelson, who presided over the court, Mr. Grover became the clerk, stipulating that he would accept the position temporarily, and until a suitable successor could be appointed. He held the office six months, obtaining an excellent acquaintance with local court procedure, and with jurors, witnesses and litigants. The following spring, resigning the clerkship, he formed a law partnership with Benjamin F. Harding, afterwards United States district attorney, secretary of the territory of Oregon, and United States senator. With him Mr. Grover at once entered upon a general and lucrative practice, which lasted for several years.

In 1852 he was elected by the legislature prosecuting attorney of the second judicial district, which then extended from Oregon City to the California line. In 1853 he was elected and served as a member of the territorial legislature.

In 1853, by appointment of Governor Curry for the service, he raised a company to quell Indian disturbances on the Rogue river, and, being elected lieutenant of the company, served through the campaign. At the close of hostilities in September, Mr. Grover appeared as deputy United States district attorney in the district courts in the southern counties, then being held for the first time by Judge Matthew P. Deady. Congress having assumed the compensation of settlers whose property had been destroyed by hostile Indians during the Rogue river Indian war of 1853, Mr. Grover was appointed one of the commissioners to assess the spoliations, and served as president of the board in 1854. He was again returned as a member of the legislature from Marion county in 1855, and served as speaker of the house during the session of 1855-56.

In the war of 1855-56 he aided in raising troops, and served in the field throughout the Yakima campaign on the staff of Colonel J.W. Nesmith. He served the following year as a member of the military commission, appointed by the Secretary of War under authority of an act of Congress, in auditing and reporting to the War Department the expenses of Oregon and Washington incurred in suppressing Indian hostilities of 1855-56. On this commission his co-laborers were Captain A.J. Smith and Rufus Ingalls. The former subsequently served as major-general in the Civil war. The latter, in the Civil war, acted as chief quartermaster of the Army of the Potomac, and became quartermaster-general of the armies of the United States.

In 1857 Mr. Grover was chosen a member of the state constitutional convention. He served as chairman of the committee on the Bill of Rights and as a member of several other important committees, and took an active and prominent part in giving directions to the work of that body. He was returned as the first representative in Congress from Oregon.

Retiring form the Thirty-fifth Congress, he devoted himself almost exclusively for ten years to professional and business pursuits. He formed at Salem, with the late Honorable Joseph S. Smith, a law partnership, which was afterwards extended to Portland, including Judge W.W. Page.

He took part in the organization of the Willamette Woolen Manufacturing Company, at Salem, in 1856. This corporation had in view the introduction to the state Capital, by canal and natural channels, the waters of the Santiam river as power for general manufactures. He became one of the directors of the company, and remained in this connection for fifteen years, during which time the first broad enterprise for manufactures in Oregon attained large proportions and great success.

In 1860 Mr. Grover became owner of one-third of all the mills and water-power of Salem. From 1867 to 1871 he was manager of the company. Under his direction the Salem Flouring Mills, which had been begun, were completed, including the putting in of all the machinery and works, and the construction of a steamboat canal from the river to the mills. These flouring mills were a marked success from the start, and were the first direct shippers of Oregon flour, by the cargo, to foreign countries. He also greatly enlarged and improved the woolen mills. The operations of this company were great stimulants to the growth of wheat and wool in early Oregon, and facilitated many other business enterprises in all directions. The unfortunate destruction ff the Salem Woolen Mills by fire occurred subsequently to Mr. Grover’s retirement from the company.

In 1866 he presided over the Democratic state convention of that year, and by the convention was elected chairman of the Democratic state central committee, which position he held for four years. During this period the Democratic party attained the ascendancy in the politics of the state, which it had not had since 1860.

In 1870 Mr. Grover was elected by the Democratic party as governor of the state for four years. In 1874 he was re-elected to the same position, which he held till 1877, when he entered the Senate of the United States, having been elected to that position by the Legislative Assembly at its September session of the previous year. In his canvass for the governorship, he based the chief issue on the abrogation of the Burlingame treaty with China, though, the subject was not mentioned in the platform of either political party.

During his term as chief executive, many changes took place; and unusual progress was made in business enterprises, and in the general condition of Oregon. His first step as executive was to put in force a law which had been enacted two years previously, but not executed, providing for tug boats at the mouth of the Columbia river, and a subsidy for their support. This movement gave the first reliable basis for a coastwise and foreign commerce from Oregon’s great river, which took root vigorously, and has increased ever since to its now strong proportions. He favored the construction of the locks at the Willamette Falls by a private company, assisted by aid from the state. The project was successful, and opened the Willamette river to competition with the railroads, and reduced freights throughout the Willamette valley to such an extent as to stimulate greatly farm production and general commerce.

Another attainment of his administration was the securing to the state the segregation and patenting of all public lands to which Oregon was entitled under various grants by Congress, and a recognition of her rights to the tide lands which she held by reason of her sovereignty as a state. He also favored the erection of permanent public buildings for the state; and, during his term of office, penitentiary buildings and the state house were erected of permanent and enduring structure, an example of economy and honesty in public work. One feature may be noted in these buildings. They were erected at an expense inside of the estimates of the architects, – quite unusual in such cases. While the state house was not at first carried to full completion, its mason work as all done, the entire roof put on, and so much of the interior finished as to render it suitable for the convenience of the state offices, the legislature and the supreme court.

The grants by Congress for the establishment and support of a State University and for an Agricultural College in Oregon having been secured and utilized, Governor Grover interested himself in promoting the organization of these institutions, which was also accomplished during his term of office. There was also, during the same period, founded at Salem, the institution for deaf mutes, and the school for the blind. Having labored to secure to the state the indemnity common-school lands, held in lieu of those occupied by settlers before the public surveys, and the proceeds of their sales having been invested for common-school revenues, the period had arrived for a more complete organization of the public school system of the state, and for its support out of the public funds thus utilized. This important foundation work was also accomplished; and the first distribution of public funds by the state in support of common schools in Oregon was made during the term of Governor Grover as chief executive.

In his inaugural address to the Legislative Assembly in 1870, he presented the subject of Chinese exclusion, and favored the abrogation of the Burlingame Treaty. The legislature of that session, on his recommendation, memorialized Congress to that effect; and from that time forward until, from the seat in the Senate of the United States, he voted for a bill excluding the Chinese, and for a modified treaty with China, both of which prevailed, he never abated his zeal in promoting this movement.

An effort was made in the legislature of Oregon, in 1870, to initiate a system of subsidizing railroad corporations by bonding cities and counties in their roads. A bill was passed by both houses by more than two-thirds majorities, authorizing the city of Portland to issue its bonds in the sum of three hundred thousand dollars, in favor of Ben Holladay, to induce him to build the railroad up the west side of the Willamette valley, making its principal terminus at Portland. This bill was considered by the governor as against public policy, and as against distinct provisions of the state constitution. The bill was vetoed in a message which settled the policy of the state on the subject of public grants of money to railway corporations, as long as the present constitution of the state exists. This veto, having been filed subsequently to the adjournment of the assembly, went over as an issue in the elections which returned the following legislature; and the veto was almost unanimously sustained by the Senate, where the bill originated, only one vote being given against it. So that Oregon has been and now is entirely free from public debt, both general and local, growing out of the construction of railways, which has been the source of much embarrassment to the new Western states.

The memorable contest for the presidency of the United States in 1876, between Hayes and Tilden, raised an electoral question in Oregon. In this case Governor Grover held, on issuing certificates of election, that, under the injunction of the constitution forbidding a federal officer to be appointed a presidential elector, the votes cast for him were void, and as if never cast; and he gave the certificate tot he candidate having the next highest vote. This decision was far-reaching, as the contested vote in Oregon held the balance of power in the electoral college, if all other contested votes in Louisiana and Florida should be counted for Hayes. And it called for the organization of the “Electoral Commission,” which overruled the governor’s decision. But he desires it understood that on re-examination he adheres to his original views.

Having been elected senator from Oregon, he took his seat in the Senate of the United States in March, 1877. In that body he served as member of the committees on military affairs, public lands, railroads, territories, manufactures, and private land claims. His chief efforts during his term as senator were to procure a settlement of the Indian war claims of Oregon; to promote the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad; to obtain liberal appropriations for the surveys and improvement of the rivers and harbors of Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest coast; and the extension of the government surveys of the public lands west of the Rocky Mountains. He also labored constantly for the enactment of laws excluding the Chinese from emigrating to this country. He made speeches on the extension of time to the Northern Pacific Railroad Company for the completion of this road, on the several Chinese exclusion bills, and in secret session on the ratification of the treaty with China modifying the Burlingame Treaty of 1868, and on other subjects.

His health being impaired, Mr. Grover determined, on his retirement from the Senate in 1883, to withdraw from public life, and in future to devote himself exclusively to his personal and private business affairs, which had long suffered neglect. Not proposing to return to the practice of his profession, he entered vigorously upon the improvement and disposal of tracts of real estate immediately adjacent to the city of Portland, owned in part by himself and in part by his wife.

Having purchased a quarter interest in lands now known as Carter’s Addition to Portland, several years prior, he joined with the other owners in laying out and establishing that extension of the city. In 1884 Mr. and Mrs. Grover laid out and dedicated a tract of high land belonging to her, the gift of her parents, in the northwest elevation of the city, as “Grover’s Addition to Portland,” naming it “Portland Heights;” which name became so contagious, that all the high grounds now forming the southwest part of the city bear that name. As a business movement, these enterprises have proved a great success; and these broken hills, once so forbidding, are now occupied with fine residences, and form a most beautiful and attractive part of Portland.

Mr. Grover has made other real-estate investments to the west of the city, in the path of its future extension. He became one of the original incorporators and stockholders of the Ainsworth national Bank of Portland in 1885, and later of the Portland Trust Company of Oregon. He is also interested in the Portland Building & Loan Association, and in the Portland Cable Railway Company. He has also invested in coal lands. He is an honorary member of the Portland Board of Trade, and takes a lively interest in the rapidly increasing commerce of Oregon.

Mr. Grover was married in 1865 to Miss Elizabeth Carter, youngest daughter of the late Thomas Carter, Esq., an early resident of Portland, who was one of the most successful merchants and real-estate owners of that city, and one of the proprietors of the town. It is almost unnecessary to say that Mrs. Grover is one of the well-known women of the state, a lady of high accomplishments and culture, and of artistic tastes, possessed also of beauty and a graceful and distinguished manner. Throughout all the varying fortunes and misfortunes of her husband, for he has at times met with adverse currents, – she has been his steady companion and support. They are communicants of the Episcopal church.

Their son, John Cuvier Grover, a youth of twenty-three summers, so named after his grandfather and uncle, the sold offspring of this union, was educated at the Peekskill Military Academy, New York, and is now completing his studies in Europe.

Thus we have traced the leading incidents of the career of La Fayette Grover, – scholar, soldier, lawyer, lawgiver, and man of business. In appearance he is a man of imposing presence, six feet in height, and with a slender but vigorous and well-proportioned frame. His strongly marked but regular and expressive features bear the stamp of intelligence and power; while in his steel-blue, deep-set, penetrating eyes may be read the determination and force of will, characteristic of one who has raised himself to a foremost rank among the statesmen of Oregon, and to a national reputation.



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

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