There is something inspiring in the record of a busy and useful life; something stimulating in the details of a career that is marked by a generous and beneficent purpose; something worthy of emulation in the success that has been wrought by unselfish means. Such has been the record of the gentleman whose name is the title of this biography, and so thoroughly have the varied lines of his efforts been blended with the agencies which have been conducive to the material progress of the Pacific Northwest during many years that no history of this portion of the Union, and especially of the State of Oregon, would be complete which failed to give him honorable mention.
He was born in Wurtemberg, Germany, March 25, 1839. His youth was spent in the old country in attendance at the common schools of that day. At the age of fourteen years he came to America, and soon after his arrival in New York, secured a clerkship in a store in New Haven, Connecticut. Here he remained but a few months, when he returned to New York, and a short time thereafter accepted a position in an office in Rochester, New Hampshire, where he remained until 1858. He then came to Oregon by the way of the Isthmus of Panama, reaching Portland about the middle of April in 1858. A few weeks later he started in business at Dallas, in Polk County, in partnership with his brother, Edward Hirsch, who had accompanied him to Oregon, and who has since held many high and responsible positions in the State, including two terms as State Treasurer. They remained for two years in Dallas and then removed to Silverton, Marion County. Here they continued together in business until 1861, when the subject of this sketch disposed of his interest, and went to Salem to assist his elder brothers, one of whom, Mayer Hirsch, was well known by early Oregonians.
With a view of giving himself a broader sphere in which to exercise his mercantile sagacity, Mr. Hirsch came to Portland in the fall of 1864, and in partnership with L. Fleischner and A. Schlussel, under the well remembered firm name of L. Fleischner & Co., bought out the wholesale general merchandise house of Haas Brothers. They continued the business with great success until 1874, when the same partners formed a new partnership with Jacob Mayer under the firm name of Fleischner, Mayer & Co., and from that time have conducted a wholesale dry goods business. Their business rapidly grew in magnitude, and for many years they have had the largest establishment of its kind on the Pacific Coast, outside of San Francisco. All of the original partners are still connected with the firm, making it one of the oldest in the city. Mr. Hirsch has contributed his full share toward the work of building up the large business of this firm, and the gratifying success attained has been largely due to his careful supervision and excellent business judgment.
Mr. Hirsch has always been an ardent Republican, and during late years has borne a prominent part in shaping the political affairs of the State. His first active work in the political arena was in 1864, when he secured the selection of his brother, Mayer Hirsch, as a delegate to the Republican National Convention, which nominated for a second term the lamented Lincoln. In 1872 he was elected a member of the Lower House of the Legislature from Multnomah County, and as an acknowledgement of his well known financial ability was appointed a member of the committee on Ways and Means. In the long and exciting Senatorial contest of that year he took. a leading part, his course throughout this bitterly waged fight being in accord with party usages, and such as met with the approval of a large body of his constituents. He introduced and secured the passage of a bill providing for the establishment of a public school to be taught in the German language. Under this bill such a school was opened in Portland and has since been maintained. In 1874 he was nominated by the Republicans of Multnomah County for the State Senate, and was the only candidate elected in opposition to the Independent ticket then in the field, notwithstanding the high standing and popularity of his opponent, Judge William Strong. So satisfactory to the people was his discharge of the duties of this office during his term, that in 1878 he was again nominated for the same position, and elected by a largely increased majority over the vote he received in 1874. His efforts during his second term were largely in behalf of a bill, which in Oregon would take the place of the National Bankrupt Act, the latter having expired by limitation.
Senator Hirsch’s bill provided for a pro-rata division of the property of insolvent debtors among creditors. The bill was strongly opposed, but was finally passed. Under the workings of this law the results have been such as to meet with the heartiest approval by the commercial community. So thoroughly was Senator Hirsch identified with this important measure that it is often referred to as the Hirsch Assignment Law. Owing to a popular demand for a change in the statutes of limitations as to real estate, Senator Hirsch introduced a bill during the session of 1878, which became a law, providing that ten instead of twenty years of peaceable possession should constitute an incontestable title to property.
In 1880, Senator Hirsch was honored by receiving the unanimous vote of his party associates, both in the caucus and open session, for President of the Senate.
He made an excellent presiding officer, and by his firmness and impartiality won the esteem of both political sides of the Chamber. While occupying the position he delivered the address of welcome to President R. B. Hayes, and other distinguished guests who were tendered a reception in the Senate Chamber during their memorable visit to the Northwest.
Much against his will and protest Mr. Hirsch was nominated for a third term in the Senate in 1882, and although he devoted little time to a personal canvass he was elected by nearly 1,200 majority, the largest majority ever given in the State on the election of a State Senator. This was a magnificent compliment, and showed the appreciation in which his past services were held by the people. Daring the State political campaign which followed his nomination, Mr. Hirsch’s time and energies were almost solely given up to the State campaign, to the total disregard of his personal interest. The Republican Delegation from Multnomah County to the State Convention which met in Portland in April, 1882, unanimously recommended him as a member of the State Central Committee from this county, and he was afterwards unanimously elected as Chairman of that organization. From that time until the election closer he was indefatigable in his exertions for the success of his party. His successful management of the campaign is a matter of history, the defeat of the Democratic party being as disastrous as was the success of the Republican party brilliant. Never was a campaign in this State better managed, its organizations more complete, its work more effective and its result more successful, for which in a large measure credit was freely given to the judicious labors of Senator Hirsch. For the first time since 1870, the fall Republican State ticket was elected, while a Republican majority was secured in both branches of the Legislative Assembly.
During the Legislative session of 1885, Mr. Hirsch, at the request of many friends, consented to the use of his name as a candidate for the United States Senate, and in open session on several ballots received within one vote of an election. The balloting was continued for many days but no candidate received the requisite number of votes, and the Legislature was compelled finally to adjourn without a choice being made. A special session was afterwards called, when the present Senator, John H. Mitchell, was elected.
At the expiration of his third term in the Senate, Mr. Hirsch refused to become a candidate for another term, but he continued to be an active power in politics, preferring, however, to work in the ranks without expectation of reward for his services. During his legislative career he was one of the most active and useful officials in the service of the State. A man of calm judgment, of marked intelligence, of keen perceptive faculties, abounding in sensible practical ideas and of unsullied integrity, his opinions never failed to receive the careful consideration of his colleagues. The interests of his constituents were carefully and conscientiously protected and his entire record met the heartiest approval of the most intelligent, liberal minded element of the entire community. He was especially active in securing appropriations for the State Board of Immigration and in securing several important amendments to the pilot laws.
In December, 1888, Mr. Hirsch made a journey to Europe. While located at Karlsbad, Germany, he was surprised to receive the announcement of his appointment as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Turkey, by President Harrison. This was an honor which was most unexpected and entirely unsolicited, not having been an applicant for any position of a political nature. His appointment was speedily confirmed by the Senate and most favorably endorsed by the leading journals all over the country, while the people of his adopted city and State, regardless of party lines, hailed his selection as an honor worthily bestowed and which his high character and conceded fitness richly merited. Soon after his confirmation, Minister Hirsch proceeded to Constantinople where he was received by the Sultan, after which he was granted a leave of absence to return home and make the necessary arrangements for taking up his residence with his family at the capitol of Turkey, where he is now stationed. Possessed of a large fortune, a man of broad, liberal views, cultured mind, polished manners, and of the most pleasing personal address, Minister Hirsch is by nature and cultivation well calculated to worthily uphold the dignity and honor of the United States in its relations with one of the oldest and most important powers of the Old World. The people of his State who in the past have delighted to honor him, will watch his course with pride, knowing that he will be equal to all the requirements of his new and exalted station.
The career of this gentleman which has been here but briefly outlined, presents many strange contrasts. Thirty-five years ago a poor boy, seeking a new home in a foreign land, he arrived in the city of New York, a stranger in a strange land. The years roll by and he makes a right use of his opportunities; gains wealth, is the recipient of the honor, esteem and confidence of his fellow men in the home of his adoption, and to-day, to crown a life in every way worthy of emulation we find him selected by the chief magistrate of the greatest and strongest government of modern times, as the representative at the court of one of the oldest powers of Europe, of the very country to whose shores, a comparatively few years ago, he came a poor and friendless boy. Such achievements as have followed his career would be possible in no other country but America, where every avenue is open to true merit and where the best types of manhood are created and developed. It is impossible not to admire the courage which no adversity could crush, the patient, persistent devotion to a high and worthy purpose from which no temptation could allure him, such as have been so conspicuous in all the acts, public and private, of Mr. Hirsch. The elevation of such men to positions of power and influence is a tribute to true manhood, and serves as an incentive to stimulate the ambition of every youth who is compelled by his own unaided efforts to work out his own destiny.
Mr. Hirsch was married in 1870 to Miss Josephine Mayer, daughter of Jacob Mayer, of Portland. She is a lady of culture and refinement and well adapted to grace and adorn the high social sphere she has been called upon to fill as the wife of the United States Minister at Constantinople.