Volume 28, No. 1
Would-Be President Maker
by Stanley Russell Howe
Born in Bethel, Maine, on 29 November 1823, the third son of Dr. John
and Fanny Lary Grover, Lafayette Grover was educated at Gould Academy
and Bowdoin College. He studied law in Philadelphia under the
tutelage of Asa I. Fish and was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in
March 1850. Later that year, Grover, moved by the California
fever” frenzy, boarded a merchant vessel bound for San Francisco via
Cape Horn. He arrived at his destination in July 1851.
Within a month,
however, he departed for Portland, Oregon, on the steamer
From there, he proceeded to Salem, the capital of the territory, where
he established his law practice. He soon had an invitation from
Justice Nelson, who presided over the first regular term of the United
States District Court, to accept a position as temporary clerk, an
office he held for six months. During that time, he became
with local court procedure as well as jurors, witnesses and litigants.
Upon resigning his clerkship, Grover formed a law partnership with
Benjamin F. Harding, who later became United States Attorney, Secretary
of the Territory, and United States Senator. He and Harding
very lucrative law practice for several years. In 1852, Grover
elected by the Oregon Legislature as the Prosecuting Attorney of the
second Judicial District of the Territory, which extended from Oregon
City to the California line. The next year, he was elected to the
Territorial Legislature. That summer of 1853, hostilities arose
the Rogue River Indians and the local settlers. Grover was
Governor Curry as recruiting officer to raise volunteer troops to
assist the settlers against the Indians. He quickly recruited a
which mustered at Salem under the command of J. W. Nesmith, who later
became United States Senator from Oregon. Grover was given the
First Lieutenant. These troops, accompanied by a pack train with
ammunition and supplies, hastened south to aid the besieged settlers.
At the close of hostilities in September 1853, Grover appeared in court
as Deputy United States District Attorney in the southern counties,
then held for the first time and presided over by Judge Matthew P.
Deady. Congress assumed compensation of the settlers whose
destroyed by a hostile Indian attack in the Rogue River Indian War of
1853. Grover was appointed one of the commissioners to assess the
damage, serving as President of the Board in 1854. He returned to
Legislature from Marion County the following year and was selected as
Speaker of the House during the 1855-56 session.
During this time, the combined Indian tribes from the California line
to the British (later Canadian) boundary attacked the settlement in a
determined manner throughout Oregon and Washington. Two thousand
volunteers were called into the field to cooperate with the regular
forces to suppress the attack. In this movement on the part of
Grover assisted in raising troops and served in the field on the staff
of Col. Nesmith throughout the Yakima campaign.
As a result of all this turmoil, the people of Oregon resolved to draft
a constitution and apply for admission to the Union as a state.
voters of Marion County selected Grover as a member of the convention,
which was convened for the above purpose at Salem in 1857. In
body, he served as chairman of the Committee on the Bill of Rights as
well as other significant committees, and took an active and leading
role in the deliberations. Following the drafting of a
general elections were held. Grover was elected as the first
representative to Congress from Oregon. The chief work of the
delegation at that time was to secure Oregon’s admission to the Union
and the federal government’s assumption of the Indian war debt.
Following his service in the Thirty-Fifth Congress of the United
States, Grover devoted himself to largely professional and business
pursuits. He formed what became a highly successful law
with Joseph S. Smith at Salem, who later served in the U.S. Congress
from Oregon. Subsequently, the partnership was extended to
include Judge W. W. Page.
As time passed, Grover took an increasingly strong interest in the
development of manufacturing in Oregon. In 1856, he assisted in
organizing the Williamette Woolen Manufacturing Company of Salem.
also became active in the Santium River water power project, where he
remained for fifteen years and attained great success. In 1860,
purchased the shares of Joseph Watt in the Santium River project and
became the owner of one third of all the mills and water power
of Salem. From 1867 to 1871, he served as manager of the
his direction, the Salem flouring mills were completed, including the
installation of all the machinery and works, plus the construction of a
steamboat canal from the river to the mills. This operation was a
stimulant to the growth of other business enterprises, particularly
wheat and wool raising in Oregon.
Presiding over the Democratic State Convention in 1866 as the chairman
of the Democratic State Committee, a post he held for four years,
Grover brought the party to ascendancy to compete with Oregon
Republicans. His partisanship was often excessive and as a result
was both feared and heartily disliked in some circles of the population
of his adopted state.
In 1870, he was elected as Oregon’s Governor and re-elected in
served as Governor until 1877 when he resigned to enter the United
States Senate following his election by the legislative assembly.
governor, he was fiscally conservative, but entrepreneurial in outlook,
supporting key projects that would benefit the state’s economy.
his gubernatorial tenure, the State Capitol and other public buildings
were constructed. He raised educational standards and oversaw the
establishment of the state university. His policies encouraged
immigration, low taxes, and prudent industrial development.
His most notable historic role was played during the dispute over the
1876 presidential election when Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and
Democrat Samuel Tilden were vying for the White House in a contested
election. Oregon was one of the key states where the contest was
question. As Governor, Grover refused to certify the elector who
cast a decisive vote since Oregon was one of the states holding the
balance of power in the Electoral College. Grover’s attention was
focused on one of the three Republican elector candidates, John W.
Watts, a postmaster. The Governor maintained that the fact Watts
for the post office disqualified him. Grover urged that he be
the next name on the list, E. A. Cronin, a Democrat. He prepared
elaborate brief for the Electoral Commission that was established to
determine the members of the Electoral College. The Commission
overruled Grover’s attempt to appoint Cronin, so this fact contributed
to the one vote margin in the Electoral College that made Hayes
President of the United States. Grover’s partisanship brought the
threat of mob violence; he also encountered petitions being circulated
against his seating as a United States Senator. He overcame this
opposition, however, and served respectably during his one Senate term.
Although his career as a lawyer and businessman had been highly
successful, his retirement years were not prosperous ones. He
mismanaged his affairs to such an extent that he lost his fortune and
was forced to live in humble circumstances. As a result, he was
entirely forgotten at the time of his death on 10 May 1911. He
Elizabeth Carter of Portland, and they were the parents of one son,
Cuvier. A genial, intelligent, and literate individual, Lafayette
Grover can be
characterized as one with a keen mind, who possessed excellent legal
training. His excessive partisanship, however, marred his
career and affected the historical assessment of his achievements as
U.S. Representative, Governor and U.S. Senator. He died in
Oregon, and is buried there in Riverview Cemetery, an entire continent
away from the little town in Maine where his life began.