Zachariah Montgomery

Zachariah "Zach" Montgomery (March 6, 1825 in Nelson County, Kentucky – September 3, 1900 in Los Angeles, California) was a publisher, lawyer, politician, and author, particularly known for his skills as an orator.

Montgomery's speeches were often published in newspapers of the day and in pamphlet form. Although his widely published and forceful critiques of the compulsory public education system were never embraced by the public at large, his book Poison Drops in the Federal Senate (1886) is considered by some contemporary writers as a landmark study of the relevant issues. This work continues to elicit discussion amongst home school organizations, teachers' associations, political scientists, and politicians. He was a proponent of the voucher system for the funding and maintenance of primary and secondary schools.

Montgomery received his Bachelor of Arts (1847), and Master of Arts in Law (1848) from St. Joseph's College (now part of the complex that contains the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral and Spalding Hall) in Bardstown, Kentucky. While at St. Joseph's, he befriended fellow student Augustus Hill Garland and studied for the bar exam in the offices of Benjamin Hardin Helm (1784–1852), a noted lawyer, statesman, member of the Kentucky Legislature and U.S. Congress. Montgomery was admitted to the bar in Kentucky in 1850.

In July 1850, Montgomery immigrated to California via covered wagon in response to the California Gold Rush. Following a very brief and unsuccessful stint as miner, he returned to the practice of law.

Legal careerEdit

Montgomery held law partnerships in several California cities including: Sacramento (1850–1852), Yuba City (1854–1864), San Francisco (1868–1871), Oakland (1871–1881), San Diego (1884–1885 and 1890–1894) and Los Angeles (1894–1900). He served as District Attorney for Sutter County in northern California (1856, 1858–1860).

Montgomery was the founding President of the Oakland Bar Association (1877), and served as United States Assistant Attorney General in first Administration of President Grover Cleveland (1885–1889).

Notable activities as a lawyerEdit

Political careerEdit

While in California, Montgomery served the public in numerous capacities as an elected official. He was a Representative of the California State Legislature 15th District (12th session; 1860–1861)[4] and served on the Judiciary and Indian Affairs Committees. Montgomery was a delegate to the State Democratic Convention (John C. Breckinridge Party on Democratic ticket; 1860) and was nominated for Speaker of the House (California State Assembly) but lost this election. Notably, he authored California State Assembly Bill AB 348, The Montgomery Bill – an education reform bill to amend the California School Law Act of May 3, 1855.

On February 11, 1861, Montgomery delivered the State of The State speech to the California State Assembly. He was petitioned by colleagues to become a United States Senator (1867) but declined due to political ideological differences with the Lincoln Administration.

In the summer of 1884 Montgomery mounted an unsuccessful bid for the office of District Attorney of San Diego County.[citation needed]


On July 4, 1854 Montgomery married Helen Francis Graham (December 20, 1835 – July 18, 1856) who died some months after giving birth to their son Thomas (1855 – 1861).[5]

On April 28, 1857 he married Eleanor Bridget Evoy (1828–1923). They had six children including famed aviation pioneer John Joseph Montgomery (1858–1911), Zachariah Montgomery Jr. (1858–1861), Mary 1859–1948, twins Ellen (1861–1864) and Margaret (1861–1931), Richard (1863–1932), James (1865–1956) and Jane (1869–1955).

Notable activities as a publisherEdit

  • When the news of President Abraham Lincoln's death reached San Francisco, April 15, 1865, the offices and printing press for the Occidental were destroyed by an angry mob that targeted newspapers sympathetic to the southern cause.[6]


Montgomery was benefactor of Reverend Lawrence Serda, the founding pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Oakland. Father Serda said Mass from January 16, to December 10, 1876 in the parlor of the Montgomery home at the northwest corner of Telegraph Avenue and 41st Street. The Montgomery sons were altar boys. Montgomery and J.H. McCourtney donated the land at 40th and Grove Streets where Sacred Heart Church was built in 1876.



  • Montgomery, Zachariah. The Poison Fountain or Anti-Parental Education, self-published, San Francisco, 1879.
  • Montgomery, Zachariah. Poison Drops In the Federal Senate, Gibson Bros., Washington D.C., 1886. (republished 1972, 1883; St. Thomas Press).

See alsoEdit

Subjects Montgomery wrote about
  • John Swett, a founder of American public education.


  1. ^ "Charles Robinson - Kansapedia - Kansas Historical Society". Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  2. ^ Chandler, Robert J. (24 October 1979). "California's 1863 Loyalty Oaths: Another Look". Arizona and the West. 21 (3): 215–234. JSTOR 40168852.
  3. ^ Court, United States Supreme (24 October 1890). "135 US 1 Cunningham v. Neagle". US (135): 1. Retrieved 24 October 2018. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ "JoinCalifornia - Zach Montgomery". Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  5. ^ "New York Times August 8, 1854, California Marriages and Deaths, In Marysville, July 4, Zachariah Montgomery, of Marysville Bar, formerly of Kentucky and recently of Shasta, and Miss Helena Graham, of Marysville" (PDF). Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  6. ^ "San Francisco History - Events of 1865". Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  7. ^ [The Poison Fountain, pg 117, He states he was editor in 1867]


  • Baker, Joseph E. History of Alameda County, Calif., vol II, p. 547., 1914.
  • Bancroft, Hubert Howe History of the Pacific States 1860-1890, Vol. VII, pgs. 270–271, 312. 1885.
  • Bancroft, Hubert Howe The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Vol. 24, pgs. 270, 312.
  • Davis, Winfield History of Political Conventions in California: 1849-1892.
  • Ellison, William H. A Self Governing Dominion: California, 1849 - 1860, 1950.
  • Guinn, J.M., History of the State of California and Biographical Record of the Sacramento Valley, California, also Containing Biographies of Well-Known Citizens of the Part and Present, p. 210, 1907.
  • Guinn, J.M., History of the State of California and Biographical Record of Oakland and Environs also Containing Biographies of Well-Known Citizens of the Part and Present, Vol 2, p. 733 – 736, 1907.
  • Herringshaw, T. W., Herringshaw's Encyclopedia of American Biography of the Nineteenth Century, p. 668
  • Hittell, Theodore Henry History of California, - 1885 (also 1897)
  • O'Brien, Michael D. Centennial Souvenir 1876 - 1976 -- The Story of Sacred Heart Church -- Oakland, California, 1976. pgs 5–6.
  • Scanlan, Peter, 1876 - 1926 Golden Jubilee Souvenir -- Sacred Heart Church - Oakland, California, 1926. pgs. 6–8.
  • Shanahan, J.J., F.S.C, Masters Thesis. Thesis on Zachariah Montgomery - Agitator for individual and States Rights, U.C. Berkeley, 1955.

External linksEdit