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George Henry Williams

In office
December 14, 1871 – April 25, 1875
Nominated by Ulysses S. Grant
Appointed by Franklin Pierce
Preceded by Amos T. Akerman
Succeeded by Edwards Pierrepont

In office
March 4, 1865 – March 3, 1871
Preceded by Benjamin F. Harding
Succeeded by James K. Kelly

3rd Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court
In office
Preceded by Thomas Nelson
Succeeded by Aaron E. Waite

Born March 23, 1823(1823-03-23)
New Lebanon, New York, U.S.
Died April 10, 1910 (aged 87)
Portland, Oregon, U.S.
Political party Democrat, Republican
Spouse(s) Kate Van Antwerp
Kate Hughes George
Profession Lawyer, Judge, Politician

George Henry Williams (March 23, 1823 – April 10, 1910) was an American judge and politician. He served as Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, was the 32nd Attorney General of the United States, and served one term in the United States Senate. In Oregon he also served in the Oregon Constitutional Convention and served as mayor of the city of Portland.


Early life

Williams was born in New Lebanon, New York, on March 23, 1823.[1] The son of Taber Williams and Lydia Goodrich Williams, George received his regular education before studying law.[2] After learning the law Williams was admitted to the bar in 1844.[1] He moved to Iowa and worked as a lawyer in Fort Madison, Iowa Territory.[1]


In 1847, George Williams was elected as a judge of the First Judicial District of Iowa where he remained in the position until 1852.[1] That year he was a presidential elector on the Democratic ticket in 1852.[1] President Franklin Pierce appointed Williams as Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court in 1853, with him arriving in Salem of the Oregon Territory in late 1853.[2]



In the early years of the Oregon Supreme Court, the three justices also rode circuit and acted as trial level judges. As a presiding judge while riding circuit, Williams presided over the Holmes v. Ford case that freed a slave family since slavery was illegal in the territory.[3] In 1857, he was a member of the Oregon Constitutional Convention held before the establishment of Oregon as a U.S. state.[4] Williams remained on the court until 1858 when he resigned from the bench.[5] He then moved to Portland, Oregon where he resumed the practice of law.[2]

Williams was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican from the then state of Oregon in 1865 and served until 1871. After President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, a friend Williams first met in 1847, he served as pall bearer for Lincoln’s funeral.[6] While in Congress he served on the joint committee overseeing post-Civil War Reconstruction.[2] In 1871 he was a member of the commission to settle the Alabama claims from the Treaty of Washington.[7]

On December 14, 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him Attorney General of the United States.[7] Williams was nominated to be Chief Justice of the United States in 1873, but he later withdrew from consideration.[7] Prior to withdrawal of consideration, the Senate Judiciary Committee declined to recommend confirmation to the entire Senate.[2] Williams was forced to resign in April, 1875 by Grant for taking a $30,000 bribe from a Merchant house company, Pratt & Boyd, in order to drop a fraudulent customhouse entries case.[8] After resigning Williams declined an offer from Grant to become the U.S. minister to Spain. George Williams campaigned for the election of Rutherford B. Hayes as President in 1876. He then returned to Portland where he established a law practice and served as mayor from 1902 to 1905.[1]

Later life and family

While in Portland he continued to practice law.[2] Williams married Kate Van Antwerp in Iowa in 1850, and they would have a single daughter.[2] He married a second time in 1867 to Kate Hughes George, and they would adopt two children.[2] He died April 4, 1910, in Portland and is buried at River View Cemetery in that city.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f George Henry Williams, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Accessed August 27, 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Corning, Howard M. Dictionary of Oregon History. Binfords & Mort Publishing, 1956.
  3. ^ Milner, Darrell. "Holmes v. Ford (1853)". African American History in the West. University of Washington. Retrieved July 30, 2007. 
  4. ^ Oregon Constitutional Convention
  5. ^ Oregon Blue Book: Supreme Court Justices of Oregon
  6. ^ Wood, C.E.S. Oregon's Gentle Giant--The Life of George Henry Williams: Senator, Attorney General, and Lawyer. The Library of Congress. Retrieved on November 22, 2007.
  7. ^ a b c d Department of Justice biography: George Henry Williams
  8. ^ Smith, Jean Edward (2001). Grant. p. 584. 
Legal offices
Preceded by
Orville C. Pratt
5th Associate Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court
Succeeded by
Aaron E. Waite
Preceded by
Thomas Nelson
3rd Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court
Succeeded by
Aaron E. Waite
Preceded by
Amos T. Akerman
United States Attorney General
Succeeded by
Edwards Pierrepont
United States Senate
Preceded by
Benjamin F. Harding
United States Senator (Class 2) from Oregon
Served alongside: James W. Nesmith, Henry W. Corbett
Succeeded by
James K. Kelly
Political offices
Preceded by
Henry S. Rowe
Mayor of Portland, Oregon
Succeeded by
Harry Lane


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