Biography of Hon. William Wallace Thayer

HON. W.W. THAYER- William Wallace Thayer, the present chief justice of the supreme court of Oregon, came to this state in 1862. He was born at Lima, Livingston county, New York, July 15, 1827. His boyhood was spent upon a farm in that county, where he attended the common schools and received the meager instruction that the times and circumstances of farm life afforded. But an early love for books and a retentive memory, characteristics that mark him even to-day, supplied what was lacking in his school education. He became a wide reader of standard literature; and, having determined to fit himself for the practice of the law, he began a course of reading to that end, covering the best productions in history and biography, as well as the usual elementary legal works. He attended law lectures at Rochester, New York, and was admitted to the bar of the supreme court of that state in that city in March, 1851. It may be mentioned that in the class of applicants for admission who were examined at the same time was Professor John Norton Pomeroy, LL.D., who also then received his certificate of admission to practice, and who subsequently became well known as the author of several law books of note.

During the early years of his practice, Judge Thayer laid the foundation for a broad and thorough knowledge of the law by constant and discriminating study of reported cases. Notwithstanding the years that have elapsed since that period, his clear memory of the leading cases read at that time, particularly those of the New York reports, is frequently noted and remarked upon by his associates on the bench and the bar of this state, and attests the thoroughness with which he mastered his task.

In November, 1852, he married Miss Samantha C. Vincent of Tonawanda, New York. He practiced his profession at Tonawanda and Buffalo, New York, until the spring of 1862, when he emigrated with his family and his team overland to Oregon. He settled at Corvallis, Benton county, where his older brother, Judge A.J. Thayer, had already preceded him; and for a time they were in partnership. But in the summer of 1863 he removed to Lewiston, Idaho, where he opened a law office. There his talents were soon recognized; and he was successively elected a member of the territorial legislature and district attorney of the third judicial district of Idaho.

Resigning the latter office in 1867, he came to Portland, Oregon, for the benefit of the health of his family, and has since resided at that city, and at his suburban residence near East Portland. He soon gained an enviable standing at the Portland bar; and his urbanity and sociability brought about him a host of warm friends in his new home. He was nominated by the Democratic party for the office of governor in 1878; and such was his popularity that, thought he rest of the ticket was defeated, he was elected by a fair majority. He was inaugurated September 11, 1878, and served the full term of four years. His administration was remarkable in many respects. It was a time in the history of the state when reform was much needed in the administration of its affairs. Under his economical and non-partisan management, the penitentiary, insane asylum, and other public institutions, were put on a new basis, to their great improvement and to the financial benefit of the state. The swamp and tide lands were made a source of revenue to the state; and the school fund was satisfactorily husbanded and invested. In all departments reforms were instituted; and party politics were not allowed to control either the public business nor appointments to office.

At the close of his term as governor he declined renomination, and earnestly devoted himself to the practice of his profession at Portland; but in1884, he was unanimously, and against his repeatedly expressed preference for private life, nominated by his party as candidate for the office of judge of the supreme court. He was again elected when most of his ticket failed, and was duly inducted into office in July, 1882. He has since that time faithfully and conscientiously discharged the laborious and constantly increasing duties of his office; and his luminous and masterly opinions are recognized as the ripe fruit of his diligent and comprehensive study in his younger years.

He became chief justice of the court in July, 188; and his term of office expires in July, 1890. He has one son, Claude Thayer, an attorney and member of the banking firm of C.&E. Thayer, at Tillamook, Oregon.



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

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