James K. Kelly

James Kerr Kelly (February 16, 1819  September 15, 1903) was an American politician born in Pennsylvania. He was a United States Senator for Oregon from 1871 to 1877, and later Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court.[1] Prior to his election to the Senate he had been elected to both houses of the local legislature, serving in the Territorial House and State Senate, and was a member of the Oregon Constitutional Convention in 1857.

James Kerr Kelly
10th Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court
In office
Preceded byPaine Page Prim
Succeeded byWilliam Paine Lord
26th Associate Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court
In office
Appointed byStephen F. Chadwick
Preceded byJames F. Watson
Succeeded byJohn B. Waldo
United States Senator
from Oregon
In office
March 4, 1871  March 4, 1877
Preceded byGeorge Henry Williams
Succeeded byLa Fayette Grover
Member of the Oregon Senate
In office
Personal details
Born(1819-02-16)February 16, 1819
Center County, Pennsylvania
DiedSeptember 15, 1903(1903-09-15) (aged 84)
Washington, D.C.
Political partyDemocratic

Early life

Kelly was born in Centre County, Pennsylvania in 1819.[1] There he attended the school at Milton, and later the Lewisburg Academies.[1] For his higher education, the future Congressman graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1839.[1] James Kelly then studied law in Carlisle, Pennsylvania at the Dickinson School of Law and was admitted to practice law in Pennsylvania in 1842.[1]


Upon entering the legal profession, Mr. Kelly began private practice in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, then was the deputy attorney general for Mifflin County, Pennsylvania.[1] In 1849 he left for California and the newly discovered gold fields, then moved on to the Oregon Territory in 1851.[1] In Oregon he set up a law practice in Portland and was one of three people selected to help re-write the laws of the territory.[1]

Political career

While living in Oregon, Kelly became active in politics and was elected as a Democrat to the territorial legislature serving from 1853 to 1857, and was selected as president of the legislature twice.[1] In 1857, he was a member of the constitutional convention formed to prepare for Oregon's admission into the Union in 1859.[1] Upon statehood, Kelly was elected to the Oregon State Senate and served from 1860 to 1864.[1] In 1864, he ran for a seat in the U. S. House of Representatives, but lost to Republican James H. D. Henderson.[1] He was also unsuccessful in running for governor in 1866.[1] Then in 1870, he was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat and served from March 4, 1871, to March 4, 1877. He did not run for re-election.[1]

From 1878 to 1880, Kelly was a justice of the Oregon Supreme Court. He also served as Chief Justice of the court during that time. Kelly was appointed to the position by Governor W. W. Thayer, (along with Justices Reuben P. Boise and Paine Page Prim) as a temporary justice until elections could be held following a reorganization of the Oregon court system. Kelly was not elected to a full term after his partial term expired.[2]

Later life

After retiring from the bench, Kelly went back into private practice in Portland.[1] In 1890 he returned to the east coast, settling in Washington, DC, where he practiced law. James Kerr Kelly died on September 15, 1903 with burial at Rock Creek Cemetery.[1]


  1. "Kelly, James Kerr". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. U.S. Congress. Retrieved 2007-01-11.
  2. "Oregon Supreme Court Justices". Oregon Blue Book. State of Oregon. Retrieved 2006-12-06.
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
George H. Williams
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Oregon
Served alongside: Henry W. Corbett, John H. Mitchell
Succeeded by
La Fayette Grover
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