Born near Lima, New York, WILLIAM WALLACE THAYER studied law privately and began practicing law with one of his brothers in Buffalo. He moved to Oregon in 1862 to practice law with another of his brothers and then was drawn to the Idaho Territory the following year by the mining industry. He opened a law office in Lewiston and was elected District Attorney for the Third Judicial District of the Idaho Territory in 1866 and a member of the Idaho Territorial House of Representatives for the 1866-67 session. Thayer returned to Oregon in 1867 and in 1876 was one of fifteen people who challenged the certification of a Republican presidential elector committed to Rutherford B. Hayes on grounds that the elector was ineligible to serve. Although not sustained, the challenge would have put Samuel J. Tilden in the White House. During Thayer’s single term as governor, the state debt was paid and construction of a state institution for the mentally ill was nearly completed. Also during his governorship, a law was passed substituting elected justices on the Oregon Supreme Court for the Circuit Court Judges who had until then constituted the Supreme Court. Two years after leaving office, Thayer won a seat on the state Supreme Court himself, where he served for six years, the last two as Chief Justice.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 8. New York: James T. White & Company.