Free Genealogy Biography of Oliver Dickey,
Pennsylvania Volunteer of the Civil War
Oliver Jesse Dickey
Oliver Jesse Dickey, a distinguished member of the Lancaster County bar, was born April 6, 1823, in Beaver County, Pa., and died at Lancaster, April 21, 1876. His father, Hon. John Dickey, was a member of Congress from the Beaver district from 1843 to 1845, and from 1847 to 1849, and at the time of his death, March 14, 1853, he was United States marshal for the Western District of Pennsylvania. He had also served as a member of the old board of Canal Commissioners, and represented his district in the State Senate. He was a man of great prominence in the State, and his son, Oliver, early in life manifested the moulding influence of his father's pursuits and tastes.
Oliver Jesse Dickey was educated at the Beaver Academy and at Dickinson College, Carlisle. Leaving college one year short of graduation, he read law with James Allison, a leading lawyer of Beaver, and was admitted a member of the Beaver County bar. Soon afterward, in 1846, he came to Lancaster with a letter of introduction to Hon. Thaddeus Stevens, who kindly received him and proffered him the use of his office. Mr. Stevens soon perceived that the young lawyer was made of solid material, and employed him at a fixed salary to attend to a certain part of his business. This was an instance of a rare mind meeting with rare opportunities, and Mr. Dickey was thus afforded an opportunity of becoming acquainted with the practical business of the profession, and rapidly did he profit by their advantages.
After a few years he became the law partner of Mr. Stevens, which relation continued until 1857, when he found it necessary from the press of business to open an office of his own. In the fall of 1856 he was elected district attorney for Lancaster County, an office he filled with great credit and ability. Upon the death of Mr. Stevens, in 1868, Mr. Dickey was nominated and elected to fill his unexpired term in Congress, as well as for the subsequent term of two years; and in 1870, after a warm and spirited contest, he was again elected to Congress.
As a lawyer Mr. Dickey ranked among the first practitioners of the Lancaster bar. He was well read in his profession, and in the trial of a cause he had no superior. His arguments before a jury were sound, logical, and convincing, and he was able to bring out of a case all that was in it. At times violent in invective and withering in denunciation, he would often attain the most eloquent heights, and, again, address a jury in the most pathetic manner.
At a meeting of the Lancaster bar, following his decease, at which Hon. Thomas E. Franklin presided, Samuel H. Reynolds, a leading member of the bar, said, "I am here with his fellow-brethren to attest the fact that he was always a high-toned gentleman, and that his word was as good as his bond. He united with a high sense of professional honor such a bold, defiant interest in his cause that every one who heard him was struck with his true eloquence, now terrific as the thunder and scathing as the lightning, and again subdued into the most quiet and tender pathos."
In argument he was clear, sound, and logical, inviting the attention of his hearers and carrying conviction to the court and jury. He presented his case with such wonderful energy that it was always a finished piece of work, a result attributable to his quick perception, which gave him complete mastery of all its details. Who has not witnessed the readiness of his resources and his quickness to rally from discomfiture? No hope was too forlorn for him to lead, and his greatest triumphs were in cases which men of less courage would have shrunk from undertaking. He had wonderful tact in the application of legal principles, and his power of persuasive eloquence, peculiar force of action, and wonderfully strong diction made him a formidable adversary. Well may it be said of him, "Whatever side he was on had a 'living force.'"
Declining a third re-election for Congress, he devoted himself mostly to his profession until his death, although he was made a delegate to the State Republican Convention which met at Harrisburg in 1874, was the author and mover of the resolution that brought Gen. Hartranft prominently before the public as a candidate for the Presidency, and he was chosen a delegate to the National Republican Convention at Cincinnati, which duty to fill devolved upon his alternate, B. F. Eshleman, on account of his death.
Altogether he was a member of fifteen State and two National Conventions, one of them being that which met at Chicago, and nominated Abraham Lincoln for the Presidency. In the State Convention at Harrisburg in 1874 he made a very effective speech against a "third term" for President of the United States, in which he said, "I don't believe that Gen. Grant has such an aspiration, but if he has, then it is time for the great Republican party to say one and all that they will stand by the precedent of Washington and the fathers of the Republic, a precedent that has become the common law of the nation." Mr. Dickey was exceedingly liberal in his opinions, never permitting difference of sentiment to alter his conduct towards a personal friend, and during the dark days of the Rebellion he could accord to individuals of different opinions from his own the same honesty of sentiment as he himself entertained.
During the late civil war he was in the service as lieutenant-colonel of the Tenth Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 10th regiment, serving until the expiration of the time for which the regiment enlisted. He again served twice, each time as colonel of regiments in the Pennsylvania volunteer militia.
He was one of the original owners and builders of the Fulton cottonmill, and retained an interest in it for five years, and he was an ex-president of the Shiffler Hose Company.
Mr. Dickey was known throughout the State as an able advocate, and his fame as Congressman reached throughout the United States, not only for the important part he took while a member of Congress, but as the successor to the great Pennsylvania commoner, Thaddeus Stevens. Mr. Dickey was well versed in English literature and classical lore, and his occasional references thereto, either in private conversation or in the argument of causes, were always apt, and displayed a refined taste in the selection of his reading.
On one occasion when traveling across the continent in company with several of his friends from Lancaster and other parts of the State, after viewing for a short time in profound silence the sublimities of the great Yosemite Valley from Inspiration Point, he broke the silence by asking the guide, "Which is called the Sentinel Dome?" He was pointed out one of the smaller peaks, when he said, addressing Messrs. Reynolds and North, "This is wonderful, surely there is a God, and the great architect of the universe has made El Capitan yonder the silent sentinel of the earth."
In private life he was a genial and sincere friend, sympathizing with the needy, and assisting them with his means and counsel. In the social circle he was a most agreeable and refined gentleman. With a thorough knowledge of polite literature, and a high appreciation of the amenities of social life, he was in the drawing-room the centre of an admiring and appreciative circle, and in his own family loved by a devoted wife and children.
In 1857 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Christian Shenk, of Lancaster County, and granddaughter of Rudolph Shenk, of Erie, Pa., and sister of the late Maj. R. B. Shenk, of Lancaster City. Their children are Maria Elvira, Elizabeth (died in June, 1880, aged nineteen), John, and Anna Dickey.
Source: History of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, with Biographical Sketches of Many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men; Philadelphia; Everts and Peck, 1883.
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