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William W. Thayer

In office
September 11, 1878 – September 13, 1882
Preceded by Stephen F. Chadwick
Succeeded by Z.F. Moody

30th Associate Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court
In office
1884 – 1890
Preceded by Edward B. Watson
Succeeded by Robert S. Bean

14th Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court
In office
1888 – 1890
Preceded by William Paine Lord
Succeeded by Reuben S. Strahan

Born July 15, 1827(1827-07-15)
Lima, New York
Died October 15, 1899 (aged 72)
Portland, Oregon
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Samantha C. Thayer
Profession Lawyer

William Wallace Thayer (July 15, 1827 – October 15, 1899), was a Democratic politician active in U.S. states of Idaho and Oregon. Most notably, he served as the sixth Governor of Oregon from 1878 to 1882 and Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court from 1888 to 1889.



Thayer was born on a farm near Lima, New York, on July 15, 1827. He received a public education before studying law in college. He was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1851. He then practiced law with his brother in Buffalo and later Tonawanda.

A mining boom in Idaho Territory caught Thayer's attention in 1860, prompting him to move west. He arrived in Corvallis, Oregon, in 1861, where he joined his brother and former U.S. Representative Andrew J. Thayer, at his law firm. In 1863, he would finally move to Idaho, setting up his own law firm in Lewiston.

Political career in Idaho

In 1866, three years after moving to Lewiston, Thayer was elected District Attorney for the Third Judicial District of Idaho Territory. From 1866 until 1867, he moved to Boise to serve for a session of the Idaho Territory House of Representatives. He moved to Portland, Oregon shortly after leaving the legislature.

Early political career in Oregon

Upon returning to Oregon, Thayer established a successful law firm in the city of East Portland. At this time, he became an active member of the Democratic Party. During the 1876 Hayes-Tilden Presidential Election dispute, Thayer was a member of the legal team which challenged the certification of J. W. Watts, a Republican elector for Rutherford B. Hayes. Although successful, this challenge did not help Samuel Tilden prevail in the Electoral College.

Still appreciative of his assistance in the Watts Case, the Oregon State Democratic Party nominated Thayer for Governor in 1878. Thayer would win narrowly, by a margin of 59 votes.


Thayer's time in office is remembered as a fiscally conservative, anti-corruption administration, which sought to make the state bureaucracy more efficient. The State Board of Equalization, land law reforms, and the establishment of a state mental hospital were initiated under his leadership. He would completely eliminate the state's debt while in office.

Governor Thayer often spoke out about the state's finances. Highly criticized by Thayer was the process by which the State Legislature based its budget appropriations. He called for revenue projections to be based on actual revenues, not what was anticipated as the Legislature had often done in the past. He also refused to fund the completion of the State Capitol Building, stating that the building was too expensive and lavish for Oregon.

His lasting legacy was reforming the Supreme Court of Oregon into its present incarnation by statute. Previously, Circuit Court judges served as justices of the Supreme Court. After the statute change, Supreme Court positions were made a separate, directly-elected office.

Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court

Thayer declined to run for a second term in the 1882 gubernatorial election. Instead, he successfully ran a campaign for justice of the Supreme Court in 1884, winning a six-year term on the bench.[1] Justice Thayer remained on the bench until 1890, the last two years of that term serving as Chief Justice.[1]

Thayer died in Portland on October 15, 1899, with interment at Lone Fir Cemetery in that city.[2]


  • Oregon State Library
  • Klooster, Karl. Round the Roses II: More Past Portland Perspectives, pg. 107, 1992 ISBN 0-9619847-1-6

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Edward B. Watson
30th Associate Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court
Succeeded by
Robert S. Bean
Preceded by
William Paine Lord
14th Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court
Succeeded by
Reuben S. Strahan


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

William Wallace Thayer (July 15, 1827October 15, 1899) was a Democratic politician active in U.S. states of Idaho and Oregon. Most notably, he served as the sixth Governor of Oregon from 1878 to 1882 and Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court from 1888 to 1889.


  • It must be remembered that our State is but in its infancy. That its population is small, and its material wealth is very limited. That notwithstanding it embraces within its boundaries a large area of territory, which includes extensive districts of productive lands, valuable mines of coal, iron, and precious metals, vast quantities of timber, broad rivers, innumerable bays, harbors, and inlets, abounding in fish of the choicest kind sufficient to supply the markets of the world, yet its resources are comparatively undeveloped. And that while it possesses all the elements of grandeur and magnificence, its greatness can not be successfully achieved without the benefit of a well regulated government, whose foundation is laid upon the broad principles of honesty, economy, and justice.
    • W. W. Thayer (1880). Governor William W. Thayer - Biennial Message, 1880. Oregon State Archives, Oregon Secretary of State. Source: Messages and Documents, Biennial Message of Gov. William Thayer to the Legislative Assembly, 1880, Salem, Oregon, W.P. Keady, State Printer, 1880.

External links


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