About George Henry Williams, 3rd Chief Justice of Oregon, U.S. Senator and Attorney General
George Henry Williams (March 26, 1823 – April 4, 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.
Williams was born in New Lebanon, New York, on March 23, 1823. The son of Taber Williams and Lydia Goodrich Williams, George received his regular education before studying law. After learning the law Williams was admitted to the bar in 1844. He moved to Iowa and worked as a lawyer in Fort Madison, Iowa Territory.
In 1847, George Williams was elected as a judge of the First Judicial District of Iowa where he remained in the position until 1852. That year he was a presidential elector on the Democratic ticket in 1852. 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.
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. In 1857, he was a member of the Oregon Constitutional Convention held before the establishment of Oregon as a U.S. state. Williams remained on the court until 1858 when he resigned from the bench. He then moved to Portland, Oregon where he resumed the practice of law.
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. While in Congress he served on the Joint Committee on Reconstruction which drafted the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and oversaw post-Civil War Reconstruction. In 1871 he was a member of the commission to settle the Alabama claims from the Treaty of Washington.
On December 14, 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him Attorney General of the United States. Williams was nominated to be Chief Justice of the United States in 1873, but he later withdrew from consideration. Prior to withdrawal of consideration, the Senate Judiciary Committee declined to recommend confirmation to the entire Senate. Williams was forced to resign in April, 1875 by Grant for allegedly taking a $30,000 bribe from a Merchant house company, Pratt & Boyd, in order to drop a fraudulent customhouse entries case. 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.
Later life and family
While in Portland he continued to practice law. Williams married Kate Van Antwerp in Iowa in 1850, and they would have a single daughter. He married a second time in 1867 to Kate Hughes George, and they would adopt two children. He died April 4, 1910, in Portland and is buried at River View Cemetery in that city.