REPRESENTATIVE AND LEADING
MEN OF THE PACIFIC
The progenitors of Delazon Smith were among the very earliest settlers of New England. Capt. Jonathan Smith, the grandfather of Delazon—as was his father—was born in the colony of Rhode Island. Capt. Smith was commissioned a captain in the war of the Revolution, and performed signal and important services from the inception of the war at Bunker's Hill until the final victory at Yorktown. From the memoir published of the late Rev. Stephen R. Smith, (who was the nephew of Capt. Smith) we make the following quotation:
My father's family, or rather that of my grandfather on my mother's side, was, by intermarriage and common ancestry, intimately connected with several of the prominent families of the State of Rhode Island. The Hopkinses, Wilkensons, and Harrises, and others in the vicinity of Providence were near relations; among these the Stephen Hopkins whose name appears among the signers of the Declaration of Independence, I have always understood, was cousin-german of my grandfather. The children of my grandfather, John Smith, of Scituate, Rhode Island, were six sons and one daughter, namely, Richard, Joseph, Jonathan, Oziel, Thomas, Hope, and Sarah. The sons were in their several spheres distinguished for their devotion to the cause of national freedom. Richard, the eldest, was a subaltern in one of the New England regiments, during one or two of the campaigns of what was known as the French War, and which terminated in the capture of Quebec and the cession of Canada to Great Britain. Joseph, though never in the regular service, was one of those Green Mountain boys who stormed the breastworks at the battle of Bennington; while his son, a lad of only fifteen years, fought in the second battle on the same day. Jonathan, (the grandfather of Delazon) with a lieutenant's commission, on hearing of the battle of Lexington, marched immediately with his company to Cambridge; was several years in the Continental service, and lived till a very advanced age in the enjoyment of his country's bounty. Thomas declined a commission, and entered the service as a volunteer. He was killed at the bridge in Springfield, New Jersey. Captain Olney, of the Rhode Island line, has given in his own memoir, an interesting account of his feelings and fears when left to guard the bridge, where he lost his life. Oziel, though devoted to the cause of liberty, was emphatically a man of peace, and though occasionally called out for short periods of service, it is not known that he ever remained longer than immediate duty required.
The maternal grandfather of Delazon was Joseph Briggs, Esq., a native of Massachusetts, and at the time of the Revolution, a citizen of Vermont. He was also a captain in the War of Independence: he particularly distinguished himself in the battles of Bunker's Hill, Bennington, Saratoga, and Monmouth, and was present at the surrender of Burgoyne. On one occasion, in the midst of the battle, his superior officer, having deserted the American standard, and sought protection under the British banner, Captain Briggs moved gallantly forward to the command, rallied the dismayed and panic-stricken men, charged the enemy boldly and courageously and turned the tide of battle, achieving a victory at a moment when defeat seemed inevitable.
At the close of the war, he returned to his home and resumed the peaceful pursuits of private life, covered with honorable scars, and content with the consciousness of duties well performed, and rejoicing in an honorable peace with its blessings, and the unquestioned freedom of his country. Thus could the young Senator point with pride to his ancestry and to his country's record, which establishes the fact that he descended from "fighting stock:" indeed, every battle-field where a foreign foe has been met and resisted by American arms has been wet with the blood of his kindred. One brother offered himself and was sacrificed upon the alter of his country during the war with Mexico.
Delazon Smith was the fourth son of Archibald Smith, and was born in the village of New Berlin, in the county of Chenango, State of New York, on the 5th of October, 1816. His father was an humble mechanic, in moderate circumstances. His mother was a woman of extraordinary intellectual powers, and of remarkable excellence of character and disposition, universally esteemed as a womanly perfection of nature's noblest handiwork. She died in the year 1825, leaving five surviving sons of tender age, to rely at the very commencement of their career mainly upon their own individual, native, inherent energy, for success in the great battle of life.
In the year 1831, when but fifteen years of age, Delazon, provided with but a small bundle of clothing which he carried under his arm, and almost penniless, started for the "West." After a temporary residence of two or three years in the Western New York with an elder brother who had preceded him, and where he sought, and to a limited extent obtained, the facilities of an education, he renewed his journey westward. Having heard that there was a manual labor college in Ohio, where indigent young men could obtain an education and meet their current expenses by the daily labor of their hands, young Smith lost no time in making his way to that institution. He arrived at Oberlin in the spring of 1834, where he remained two years as a student of the "Collegiate Institute." Then he withdrew because of his refusal to acquiesce in the practice which then prevailed of enticing away, harboring, secreting, and running off North slaves from the Southern States.
On leaving Oberlin, the young student repaired to the city of Cleaveland, (sic) where he published a large edition of a small work entitled, "Oberlin Unmasked;" and it is a significant and somewhat remarkable fact, that even at that early period in the history of anti-slavery agitation, he actually depicted, as with the ken of a prophet, the state of things as they existed at a later period. Having arrived in Cleaveland, (sic) and resolved upon the study and practice of law, Mr. Smith at once entered his name as a student in the office of a prominent attorney of that city. In the meantime, he contributed much to the columns of the newspaper press, and frequently became involved in controversies on the subject of religion and politics.
In the spring of 1838, Mr. Smith received a flattering invitation from an association of appreciative gentlemen to return to the city of Rochester, in his native State, for the purpose of establishing a newspaper, to be called the New York Watchman. This position he accepted, and edited the Watchman for a period of two years, in the meanwhile continuing the study of law.
In the memorable campaign of 1840, Mr. Smith edited and published a very able, spirited, and influential Democratic paper, entitled the True Jeffersonian. His maiden political speeches, delivered to large and promiscuous audiences, were made in the Presidential contest of 1836; and though he had taken an active and prominent part in the New York State elections of 1838, yet it was not until the campaign of 1840 that his extraordinary abilities as a political or "stump" speaker became generally known. During that excited and bitter contest, under the banner of Van Buren and Johnson, he did more than a soldier's duty: he performed herculean labor. In addition to sustaining his True Jeffersonian with marked and acknowledged ability, he canvassed with great success the States of New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
After the close of the campaign of 1840, Mr. Smith established a daily paper called the Western World, but owing in part to the utter prostration of the Democratic party, he discontinued it, and soon after, in the fall of 1841, returned to Ohio, and located in the city of Dayton, where he at once established a Democratic journal, which he named Western Empire, which came to be the leading Democratic paper in that section of the State.
When the then Chief Magistrate of the nation vetoed the Congressional bills re-chartering a national bank, etc., and after Mr. Tyler's policy had become essentially Democratic, Mr. Smith, as the editor of the Empire, and as a Democratic orator, gave to the executive and his administration a prompt, generous, and able support.
In 1843, a difference of opinion arose between Mr. Smith and some of his partisan friends and associates, in reference to the propriety and policy of his defence and support of certain measures of Mr. Tyler's administration, which eventuated in Mr. Smith's voluntarily withdrawing himself from the editorial control of the Empire. Soon afterwards, however, he established another paper, called the Miamian, in the same city.
Prior to the Baltimore Convention of 1844, Mr. Smith declared his preference for and hoisted the name of Gen. Lewis Cass for the Presidency, in the meantime insisting that President Tyler's overtures to be readmitted into the Democratic party should be generously and cordially met, and the leading measures of his administration, being substantially Democratic, sustained and defended, his honest friends fellowshipped, and his Democratic appointees protected and preserved in position.
When Mr. Polk was chosen as the compromise standard-bearer of the Democratic party, Mr. Smith placed his name at the head of his paper, and was everywhere found energetically, eloquently, and gallantly battling, under the motto of "Oregon and Texas," for Polk and Dallas.
At the close of the campaign of 1844, President Tyler appointed Mr. Smith as Special Commissioner of the United States to the Republic of Ecuador, in South America. In the execution of this mission, Mr. Smith was clothed by his government with full powers to treat with the government of Ecuador. He was especially instructed to remain at Quito from nine to twelve months, and if at the expiration of that period the objects of his mission had not been accomplished, or if in his judgment there was no immediate prospect of a satisfactory issue, he should return to the United States. Upon his arrival at Quito, Mr. Smith found the government to which he had been accredited embroiled in intestine wars. After having remained at the capital of the Republic for one month, and exchanged a few letters with the self-constituted officers of the provisional government, and ascertaining the utter impossibility of accomplishing the objects of his mission, he returned home.
On his return from South America, in the spring of 1846, Mr. Smith located himself in what was then the territory of Iowa, where he purchased and settled upon a farm, and engaged in the labors of agriculture, associating therewith, to a limited extent, the practice of the law. In the formation of the State government, he took a prominent and active part. During his residence in Iowa, he appears to have been the especial favorite of the Democracy of his (Van Buren) county, for on there several occasions they presented his name as their first choice for Congress, and once to a Democratic State convention as their choice for Governor.
In the year 1850, Congress, at the close of the long session, declared the seat of Hon. Wm. Thompson, from Iowa, vacant, it having been contested by the Hon. Daniel F. Millar. Understanding that no convention would be held, and that Mr. Thompson would not contest the matter before the people, and did not desire to run for an election to fill the residue of the term, the Democratic friends of Mr. Smith held a mass meeting and placed him in nomination for that position. Subsequently, however, Mr. Thompson resolved upon making the canvass, and the result was the election of Mr. Miller, the opposition candidate.
During his residence in Iowa, Mr. Smith was constantly on hand engaged in fighting the battles of the Democracy, and with the same zeal, intrepidity, and eloquence which had characterized all his previous efforts in the advocacy and defence of his favorite principles.
During the Presidential campaign of 1848, he edited with decided ability the Iowa Democrat, in support of Cass and Butler, the Democratic nominees; and in the meanwhile canvassed upon the stump a large portion of the State, in company with Gen. A. C. Dodge, our late Minister to Spain, and the late Chief Justice Joseph Williams. Very much of the credit for having in that day placed the Territory of Iowa upon her feet as a Democratic State is eminently due to Mr. Smith.
Having lost several members of his family by death, and having suffered deeply from sickness and other misfortunes during his residence in Iowa, Mr. Smith resolved upon seeking health and home and fortune by removing still farther Westward. Accordingly, in the spring of 1852, he set out with his family in an ox-wagon for the Territory of Oregon, crossing the Plains and the Rocky Mountains. He was five months making the journey from the Missouri River to the Dalles of the Columbia. Himself and family suffered severely for a protracted period with sickness whilst on the Plains, but at last arrived in safety and health in the Valley of Willamette, though not until they had lost every head of cattle, and in fact every thing in the shape of property which they possessed.
Undaunted, and neither dismayed nor disheartened, Mr. Smith selected for himself a land-claim (under the act of Congress of 1850, granting lands to all citizens who should reside upon and cultivate the same for a period of four consecutive years) in the county of Linn, in the heart of the Valley, and soon thereafter established his family there. Having thus provided a home, he applied himself vigorously and unremittingly to the practice of the law, devoting the proceeds to the cultivation and improvement of his farm, and to securing the comforts and surrounding himself with the elegancies of life.
In the spring of 1854, the Democracy of Linn county nominated Mr. Smith as a candidate for the Legislature, and he was elected by a majority of upwards of two hundred. In the following year, he was again nominated for the same position, and returned by a majority of four hundred.
Upon the convening of the Legislature, he was chosen Speaker of the House of Representatives, receiving nine-tenths of the votes cast. In 1856, he was again renominated and reëlected to the Legislature by an increased majority, and in the year following, he was chosen one of the delegates to the convention to frame a constitution for the State government; and finally, in July, 1858, he was chosen one of the first United States Senators from the State of Oregon, by a four-fifths vote of the members of the Legislature assembled in joint convention.
Did the space allotted to this hurried sketch allow, we should take pleasure in quoting briefly from some of the numerous speeches, addresses, and orations delivered by Mr. Smith on various occasions, and which have been published from time to time, as specimens of his style of oratory: but a want of space must deprive us of this pleasure.
The most prominent characteristics of Mr. Smith were energy, perseverance, and warmth of feeling and attachment. Whatever he resolved upon doing, he did with remarkable energy and singleness of purpose: no impediment deterred, no adversity appalled him; he never flagged or faltered, nor would he readily bow or bend to the storm; if he did, he rose again, and not less determined than ever. No man was more devoted to country, home, and friends. Unreserved, frank, and candid, no one would go further, or sacrifice or suffer more, to serve his friends. As a debater, he reasoned inductively and analogically; was always ready, forcible, and elegant; and none who heard him were permitted to doubt either his patriotism or his sincerity.
Mr. Smith, in casting lots, drew the short term, expiring on the fourth of March, 1859. Upon the expiration of his brief term of office, he returned to Oregon, and took a prominent part in political movements in that State. He was in good health and spirits, and his friends confidently predicted for him many years of brilliant usefulness. But Providence dashed the hopes of the statesman and the expectations of his friends, and put a period to his career. Within a week after the result was known of the Presidential election of 1860, Mr. Smith was taken suddenly ill, and died in a few days thereafter. His widow still lives on the family homestead, a large and valuable farm in Linn county. Mr. Smith was a true friend and faithful servant of the people of Oregon, by whom his memory is gratefully cherished.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 677-684.
© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.