Biography of Matthew P. Deady

Any work professing to describe the representative men of the Pacific Coast would be very incomplete which failed to present a sketch of the life and labors of the distinguished jurist whose name stands at the head of this article. Coming to Oregon in the flower of his early manhood, he has grown with the growth of his adopted State, and strengthened with her strength. His hand and mind are everywhere seen in her constitution, her laws and her polity. Her material advancement has been greatly promoted by his efforts, and his name will ever remain indelibly impressed upon her history.

Judge Deady was born near Easton, in Talbot County, Maryland, on May 12, 1824.. His parents were substantial and respectable people, his father being a teacher by profession. In 1828, the family removed to Wheeling, Virginia, where the father was employed as principal of the Lancasterian Academy for some years. In 1834 the mother died on her way back to Wheeling from Baltimore, where the family had gone on a visit to her father. In 1837 young Deady removed to Ohio with his father, and spent some years on a farm. He left the farm in 1841, and went to Barnesville, where for four years he wrought at the anvil and attended the then somewhat famous Barnesville Academy, working as well at the forge of thought as that of matter, hammering and shaping to his mind the ores of knowledge, found in the mine of good books. Having completed his apprenticeship, he listened to the promptings of a laudable ambition and determined to read law, a profession that reserves its rewards and honors for those alone who combine great mental power with severe application. Supporting himself by teaching school, he began the study of law in 1845, with the Hon. William Kennon, of St. Clairsville, Ohio, since on the Supreme Bench of the State, and now deceased. In October, 1847, he was admitted to the Supreme Court of the State, and commenced practice in St. Clairsville.

He crossed the plains to Oregon in the year 1849. Here he supported himself during the winter by teaching, and in the spring of 1850, commenced the practice of his profession, and soon became a man of mark in the community. Such was the confidence he inspired that he was chosen from Yamhill County at the June election in 1850, to the lower house of the Territorial Legislature, in which he was an active and leading member during the session of 1850. In 1851, after a severe contest, he was elected a member of the Territorial Council, from the same county, over David Logan, and served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee of that body, in the session of 1851-2, and as presiding officer during the special session of July, 1852, and the regular one of 1852-3.

At this early period of his career he had already won his spurs, and was generally recognized as one of the leading men of the country, both at the Bar and in the Legislature. He was strongly urged in the spring of 1853, as a candidate for Delegate to Congress, but received the appointment of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Territory, which he accepted and held by subsequent reappointment, until the admission of the State to the Union in February 14, 1859. Soon after his appointment, he removed to the Southern District, then comprising the country south of the Calapooia Mountains, and settled in the Valley of the Umpqua upon a farm, where still may be seen the fruitful orchards and vines planted and trained by his own hands during the intervals of judicial labor. Whilst occupying this position, he was elected from Douglas County one of the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention, that met at Salem in 1857, and formed the present Constitution of the State. Of this body he was chosen president and took an active and influential part in its deliberations and conclusions. In a brief sketch of Judge Deady, written by the present editor of the Oregonian, it is said, in illusion to the part borne by Judge Deady in the framing of this Constitution: “Many parts of the instrument were either suggested by him or modified by his hand. He procured the insertion of the clause in relation to suffrage, which requires persons of foreign birth to declare their intention to become citizens at least one year before they are allowed to vote; a measure which is necessary in every State to insure the purity of elections. Others wished to allow the privilege of suffrage to every person of foreign birth who had been six months in the State, immediately upon his declaration to become a citizen; a policy which opens a wide door for fraud, as it offers an inducement to persons to declare their intention to assume citizenship for the special purpose of voting, and puts it in the power of politicians to make use of them on special occasions to exercise an undue influence in elections. By his efforts, also, the official terms of Justices of the Supreme Court were made six years instead of four. In the convention, there were those who advocated annual sessions of the Legislature and the election of the Governor and officers of the Administrative Department every two years. Judge Deady advocated biennial sessions of the Legislature and official tenures for these officers of four years’ duration, and his views were adopted. He was an earnest advocate of those provisions of the Constitution which secure the State against the creation of large indebtedness, prevent the Legislature from lending the credit of the State to any corporation, and prohibit counties, cities and towns from subscribing money to corporate bodies, or creating excessive liabilities. Experience has shown that for an infant State these are wholesome restrictions. He opposed those clauses of the Constitution which attempted to prevent the coming of Chinese and persons of African descent into the State, holding that such attempts to restrict intercourse were in conflict with the Constitution of the United States; and it is proper to add that time has fully sustained his position.”

At the first election under this Constitution, Judge Deady was elected from the Southern District, without opposition, one of the Justices of the Supreme Court of the State; but being upon the admission of the State in 1859, also appointed Judge of the United States District Court for the State, he accepted the latter position, and removed to Portland in 1860, where he has ever since resided and sat in the District and Circuit Courts with marked industry, integrity and ability. In 1861-2 he prepared and reported to the Legislature of 1862 the present Code of Civil Procedure. It was adopted with two small amendments, and, with slight alterations, has constituted the Code of Civil Procedure for the State since it went into effect in May, 1863. At the request of the Legislature of 1862 he also prepared and reported to the Legislature of 1864, a Code of Criminal Procedure, including the definition of crimes and their punishments, which was passed at that session without amendment and which, substantially, is still in force. These codes will ever remain worthy monuments to the fame. of their author. Wherever the common law has been changed or modified in these codes, it has been done in no iconoclastic spirit. Indeed, the reverence which Judge Deady entertains for its maxims and teachings is every-where apparent, yet he has not permitted conservatism or tradition to stay the hand of improvement, or prevent the adoption of progressive ideas. In an able and instructive lecture entitled “Law and Lawyers,” delivered before the Portland Law Association, December 6, 1866, Judge Deady proceeds to demonstrate that “what are supposed by many to be innovations upon the common law, in the modern codes of procedure, so far from being changes, are often only a return to the old way, after an exhaustive trial of experiments to the contrary,” and concludes “that the modern codes of procedure, instead of superceding the common law, are, in a great measure, a return to it, and a re-establishment of its early and elementary principles.” He adds: “True, the artificial distinctions between the forms of action at the common law have been abolished. On this account, much of the curious and fanciful learning of the books which treat of the practice at common law, have become useless. But these distinctions were the mere outgrowth, or, as the logicians say, separable accidents of the system-the professional fashion of the times, and the system itself is independent of them.” In another part of the same lecture he advises his auditors not to remain satisfied with such a knowledge as may be gleaned from the modern codes and practice reports, but to turn their faces to the past and explore the fields of the common law.” These and other quotations which we might add clearly show the spirit with which Judge Deady approached, and the objects he sought to fulfill in the preparation of these codes. The leaders of the bar appreciate these codes and speak well of their arrangement and provisions.

From his first coming to Oregon, Judge Deady has been an industrious worker in other departments than those pertaining to judicial and juridical affairs. During this period he has contributed many papers to the local and Californian press, replete with interesting facts concerning the early history and settlement of his adopted State. In the midst of his severe and constant judicial and juridical labors, Judge Deady has found time to discuss in the public press the current topics affecting his adopted State and his efforts in this direction have done much toward making the needs and resources of the State known abroad, and in directing emigration to its fruitful shores. He has ever been a devoted friend to education, and has spent much time and labor in the fostering care of institutions calculated for the culture and instruction of the community. Chief among these is the Portland Library Association, of Portland, Oregon, an institution now containing about 17,000 volumes of historical, biographical, scientific, religious and miscellaneous works, and supplied with the leading periodicals and magazines of our own country and Europe. Of this association Judge Deady has been the president ever since the year 1868, and its present financial prosperity is largely due to his unremitting attention and care. The institution has now the handsome sums of $25,000 and $23,000 securely invested at interest; the first named amount constituting a book fund, and the latter a building fund. The accumulation of these funds is almost entirely due to the personal solicitation and efforts of Judge Deady. He is also the president of the Board of Regents of the University of Oregon, in which capacity he has contributed much to its elevation and usefulness. At the Annual Commencements of 1878 and 1879, Judge Deady delivered two addresses to the graduating classes of those years, which were by order of the Board of Regents published in pamphlet form.

But whilst the philanthropic and literary labors of Judge Deady justly entitle him to the respect and honor of the wise and good, his fame must rest upon his acumen as a jurist, coupled as it is with unswerving integrity, and great moral courage. To know the right is with him to do it, and no personal considerations of fear or favor will divert him from the conclusion to which his reason, his learning and his con-science conduct him. Besides giving a great number of oral opinions and decisions in the causes before him, Judge Deady has written carefully prepared opinions in more than 300 causes since his advent to the Bench, embracing law, equity, bankruptcy and admiralty causes, many of them involving mooted questions as to the proper construction of State and Federal Statues, and of the Constitution. These decisions will be found recorded in the first volume of Oregon Reports, Deady’s Reports and Sawyer’s Reports from Vol. I to Vol. XII, and the Federal Reports inclusive. He has, indeed, not only paid the debt which it is said every lawyer owes to his profession, but has laid it under many obligations of respect and gratitude for the industry and legal acumen which have rendered much that was crooked straight, and shed light in many dark places.

In 1881, Judge Deady enjoyed a brief respite from his arduous labors. Accompanied by his wife, formerly Miss Lucy A. Henderson, a lady of culture and refinement, to whom he was married in June, 1852, he paid a visit to the Eastern States. In response to an invitation from the Law School at Washington, he delivered his lecture on ” Law and Lawyers,” and ” Trial by Jury,” which were highly spoken of by the leading newspapers, and well appreciated by the intelligent audiences before which they were delivered.

In his religious relations, Judge Deady is an Episcopalian, both he and his wife being communicants of Trinity Church, in which he is a vestryman of long standing. They occupy a high social position, which is due as much to natural, as acquired qualifications.

Judge Deady is quite six feet, two inches in height, with a form and figure duly proportioned. His eyes are blue and sparkle with good humor and intelligence. His hair, originally a wavy auburn, is now sprinkled with gray, setting off to advantage his large, well-poised head, and ruddy, clear complexion. The brow is broad and massive, particularly showing what, phrenologically speaking, are denominated the perceptive and reasoning faculties. On the Bench he is urbane and courteous, but observes and requires that decorum which he regards as indispensable to the dignity of the Court and the orderly transaction of its business. In practice before him it is necessary to work, neither reputation or eloquence being sufficient to compensate for neglect or carelessness in the preparation or conduct of a case. To the young and inexperienced lawyer, just commencing the struggle of life, he is particularly kind and encouraging, and not a few who have achieved distinction during his time on the Bench, remember with gratitude the kind words which conveyed to others his recognition of the genius or ability displayed in their first efforts before him. He possesses in a pre-eminent degree the faculty of judicial analysis, and can select from the most complicated mass of facts, the point or circumstance on which the case must turn; and so clearly is the ground of his decision set forth in the opinion as often to evoke surprise, that any other view than the one expressed could ever have been entertained. A distinguished member of the Portland bar once said: “I have never known any one who, to a greater degree than Judge Deady, sought to honor his station by being inflexibly just, nor one who held the scales with a more impartial hand. If I were to characterize him by allusion to his predominant mental traits, I would say that above most men of my acquaintance, he is distinguished for what we may call mental intrepidity, and his chief ambition in the administration of his office, is to preserve inviolately spotless the ermine he wears.” In conversation in the social circle, Judge Deady is correct, lively and entertaining, though in animated debate, he sometimes gives the impression that, like Dr. Johnson, he argues for victory. As a speaker, his merits are not generally known. His position on the bench has necessarily kept him from public discussion through which his ability in this field would have been universally made known. Those, however, who have met him in assemblages where mind was acting on mind, and wit and eloquence ruled the hour, remember with delight the graceful humor, elegant diction and forcible expression, which there characterized his impromptu utterances. In the lecture room he is always instructive, sound and entertaining, often giving direction to, and leading the public mind in new channels of investigation. Indeed, his lectures on ” Law and Lawyers,” “Trial by Jury,” and “Towns and Cities,” are not only excellent monographs on the subjects indicated by the titles, but abound with much original thought and curious learning. He is indeed a man of whom the State may be proud, and of whom it may well be said : ” His aims are noble and his methods just.” He has been a leader in public thought, an authority in law and legislation, and there are few instances in which a single mind has impressed itself so strongly upon the affairs of a State.


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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