Henry O. Beatty

In 1864, Henry Oscar Beatty became one of three men elected to be a justice on the first Nevada Supreme Court bench. He moved to Nevada at the beginning of the gold rush and left when he retired from the bench.

On December 4, 1864, the original justices took their oath of office for terms that began in January 1865. The Nevada Constitution provided that the original three justices draw lots to determine which of them would serve two- and four-year terms, and which would serve six years. From then on, the terms were for six years. The man who drew the shortest term served as the first chief justice, then, the four-year term holder, followed by the six-year-term justice. Beatty drew the four-year term and served as the chief justice from 1867 until he resigned in November 1868, before his term ended.

When he was elected at age 52, Beatty was the oldest of the original jurists. Born in Kentucky in 1812, he moved to Ohio, where he studied and began practicing law in 1836. He met and married Margaret Ruyon, and their son, William, was born there.

They moved back to Kentucky in 1838, where their daughters Mary and Margaret were born and where he practiced law until 1851. Then, the family crossed the Isthmus of Panama to move to California in 1852. He hung out his shingle in Sacramento, where their daughter Emiline was born.

Soon, his political ambition to be a state supreme court justice became evident. He joined one of the temperance organizations. These groups were dissatisfied the state legislature had failed to put prohibition to the vote of the people. Further, the temperance groups were opposed to the supreme court nominees of the Democratic and Know Nothing (American) parties. In August 1855, a state temperance convention was held and the attendees designated their group as "The Independent Democracy" of the state of California. Later, they changed their name to the "People's Party of California."

The primary purpose of the convention was to nominate two independent candidates for the California Supreme Court. One position was for a full term and one was for a short term to fill a vacancy. For the short-term slot, after John Harmon declined the nomination, the party nominated Beatty for this judicial position. Because he was a third party candidate, Beatty lost the general election. He continued his quest for the bench, first at the Democrat Party convention in 1858 and then at the Union Party convention (a temporary name for the Republican Party) in June 1863. He failed to receive the nomination from either party.

After the last loss, he moved to Nevada Territory, and the Nevada bar admitted him to practice in September 1863. In August 1864, when a vacancy occurred on the Storey County district court bench, 49 members of the Storey County Bar met in Virginia City and voted to nominate a replacement. Beatty quickly jumped into the political fray by seeking this judicial slot. In this campaign, he crossed paths with Cornelius Brosnan, one of the other original supreme court justices. In the balloting, Richard Mesick collected 26 votes, Beatty received 21, while Brosnan garnered two. The attorneys telegraphed President Abraham Lincoln their nomination. Ultimately, the territorial position remained vacant because Nevada became a state.

In October of the same year, at the Republican convention, the delegates nominated Beatty for one of the positions on the Nevada Supreme Court. At the general election, he finally achieved his goal of becoming a supreme court justice. Of the six candidates, he received 9,804 votes, the third highest number of votes to win one of the three seats on the bench.

At the same election, the voters elected Beatty's son, William, as the district court judge in Lander County. Later, when William was elected to the Nevada Supreme Court, Henry and William became the only father and son pair to ever be elected to the supreme court in Nevada.

In 1866, in addition to Beatty's court duties, he was elected trustee of the Carson City School District No. 1, and he spent two months in Sacramento supervising the printing of the first volume of the Nevada Reports, a compilation of the court's cases and decisions.

Three years into his four-year term, and now the chief justice, Henry Beatty sued in district court to compel the state treasurer, Eben Rhodes, to pay Beatty's salary in gold coin, not "greenbacks." In State ex. rel. H. O. Beatty v. Rhodes, 3 Nev. 240 (1867), Beatty argued that Rhodes illegally reduced his salary because "greenbacks" were of lesser value than gold.

Rhodes lost in district court and appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court. Amazingly, Chief Justice Beatty stepped down from the bench and personally argued his position before the court. Justices James Lewis and J. Neely Johnson overturned the district court finding that in a certain act of Congress, gold coin and "greenbacks" were determined to be equivalent when paying debts, and Beatty's salary was a debt. Therefore, they ruled he was not entitled to receive his salary in gold coin.

At the Republican Party convention the next year, the delegates ended Beatty's judicial career by nominating Bernard Whitman, instead of Beatty, for the supreme court. Whitman won the election on November 5, 1868, and on November 9, Beatty resigned, two months before his term expired. Governor Henry Blasdel appointed Whitman to fill Beatty's term.

Beatty promptly moved to Sacramento and practiced law until about 1882, retiring due to a partial hearing loss. At age 79, he died in Sacramento, on February 14, 1892. He lived longer than any of the other original jurists.

Despite Beatty's seat on the highest court in the state, he lived in Nevada for a short five years.

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