Abraham Walter Lafferty (June 10, 1875 – January 15, 1964) was a U.S. Representative from the state of Oregon. Lafferty spent the majority of his career both as a legislator and as an attorney attempting to have millions of acres of land previously owned by the Oregon and California Railroad come under Oregon state control, rather than the control of the U.S. federal government.
Lafferty grew up in Missouri. He was born near Farber to Abraham M. and Helen Kinney Lafferty. He attended public schools in Pike County and went on to study law at the University of Missouri, graduating in 1896. He was admitted to the bar that year and commenced practice in Montgomery City. He served as prosecuting attorney of Montgomery County from 1902 to 1904. He also served three years as a captain in the Missouri National Guard.
In 1905, he was appointed special agent for the United States Department of the Interior‘s General Land Office in Portland, Oregon. He served in that position for a year before resigning to open a law practice in Portland.
In 1907, Lafferty took a case that would define the rest of his career: representing 18 western Oregon counties against the Oregon and California Railroad to claim timber revenue from, and possession of, the O&C lands formerly granted to the railroad by the U.S. government. In 1870, the United States government had granted the railroad three million acres (12,000 km2) of land to build a line from Portland south to California. The railroad was to sell land to settlers at $2.50 an acre, but widespread abuse resulted in developers, aided by politicians, acquiring large parcels through fraudulent means in what became known as the Oregon land fraud scandal. Then in 1903, the Southern Pacific Railroad, which had acquired the O&C, had stopped selling the parcels altogether. Lafferty fought the case for years and in 1915, it ended when the U.S. government took back control of the land, paying the railroad $2.50 per acre for the land. Lafferty did not consider this a victory since the railroad was compensated and the state of Oregon did not get possession of the land.
With his fame earned from this case, in 1910, Lafferty was elected as a Republican to the United States House of Representatives, representing Oregon’s 2nd congressional district. In 1912, after Oregon was granted another congressional district based on the 1910 census, he was elected to represent Oregon’s 3rd congressional district, running as both a Republican and a Progressive, allying himself with Progressive Presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt. Lafferty identified himself as a Progressive Republican for the 63rd United States Congress. While in Congress, Lafferty continued his fight on behalf of his constituents affected by the railroad land issue. He also supported equal suffrage for men and women.
When a “vice scandal” broke out in Portland in November 1912 surrounding the city’s gay male subculture, Lafferty vowed to bring the scandal to Washington’s attention, though his efforts were short-lived.
In 1914, Lafferty again ran for the Republican nomination for his seat, but was defeated in the primary by Clifton N. McArthur. Despite the loss, Lafferty ran in the general election as an Independent Progressive, but McArthur prevailed by a slim plurality over Lafferty, DemocratAustin F. Flegel, and Progressive Arthur Moulton. In 1916, the situation repeated itself: Lafferty sought the Republican nomination and lost to McArthur, and then ran as an Independent in the general election. As before, McArthur again defeated him, along with Democrat John J. Jeffery.