Charles L. Terry Jr.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Charles L. Terry)
Charles L. Terry Jr.
65th Governor of Delaware
In office
January 19, 1965 – January 21, 1969
LieutenantSherman W. Tribbitt
Preceded byElbert N. Carvel
Succeeded byRussell W. Peterson
Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court
In office
May 1963 – August 19, 1964
Appointed byElbert N. Carvel
Preceded byClarence A. Southerland
Succeeded byDaniel F. Wolcott
Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court
In office
July 23, 1962 – May 1963
Appointed byElbert N. Carvel
Associate Justice of the Delaware Superior Court
In office
December 7, 1938 – April 29, 1957
Appointed byRichard McMullen
Secretary of State of Delaware
In office
GovernorRichard McMullen
Preceded byWalter Dent Smith
Succeeded byJosiah Marvel Jr.
Personal details
Charles Layman Terry Jr.

(1900-09-17)September 17, 1900
Camden, Delaware, U.S.
DiedFebruary 6, 1970(1970-02-06) (aged 69)
Dover, Delaware, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseJessica Irby
Residence(s)Dover, Delaware
Alma materUniversity of Virginia

Charles Layman Terry Jr. (September 17, 1900 – February 6, 1970) was an American lawyer and politician from Dover, in Kent County, Delaware. He was a member of the Democratic Party and served as Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court as well as Governor of Delaware.

Early life and family[edit]

Terry was born at Camden, Delaware, son of Charles Layman Sr. and Elizabeth Maxon Terry. He attended Wesley College and the University of Virginia, receiving his law degree from Washington and Lee University. At Virginia, Terry was initiated into the Psi Chapter of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.[1] Terry married Jessica Irby and had one child, Charles III. They were members of Christ Episcopal Church in Dover.

Professional and judicial career[edit]

Terry was admitted to the Delaware Bar in 1924 and practiced in Dover, serving as attorney for the Kent County Levy Court and the Delaware General Assembly. In 1936, he was appointed Delaware Secretary of State. He then served as associate justice of the Delaware Superior Court from December 7, 1938, until April 29, 1957, and, as President Judge from that date, until July 23, 1962. He was then appointed justice of the Delaware Supreme Court and in May 1963 became its Chief Justice, serving until 1964.

Henry R. Horsey and William Duffy in their article on the Delaware Courts described Terry's tenure as Judge as follows: "In his twenty-five years on the bench, Judge Terry, or just plain "Charlie" as he preferred to be called, was, through his knowledge of the legislative process and influence with the General Assembly, instrumental in obtaining numerous judicial reforms. These included an increase in judicial salaries and significant improvements in the judicial pension system, establishment of full-time Courts of Common Pleas in Kent and Sussex Counties, enduring support for the creation of the present separate Supreme Court of Delaware and extensive improvements and enlargements of the judicial facilities in both the Public Building in Wilmington and the Kent County Courthouse.

Governor of Delaware[edit]

Terry had political ambitions and with the support of the incumbent governor, Elbert N. Carvel, resigned as chief justice. He was elected as Governor of Delaware in 1964, defeating Republican David P. Buckson, a former acting governor.

As governor the former Justice instituted a major reform of the magistrate courts or justice of the peace court system, transforming a "court once ridden with politics and favoritism" into what eventually became "an efficient system of salaried, full-time judges sitting in a courtroom setting and conducting proceedings under uniform written rules of procedure." In particular, the practice of paying fees to these officials based on the number of cases was ended, and they came to receive a set salary. A second change occurred with the purchase of Woodburn, the official Governor's House. Governor Terry and his family were the first occupants. Terry's other major initiative was the founding of the Delaware Technical and Community College, with a campus in each county. The former judge was proving to be a very effective governor; as deft, charming, and authoritative as appropriate.

However, Delaware could not escape the key issues of the 1960s, particularly the issue of racial equality. In the Delaware General Assembly there were lengthy debates about equal housing, but no significant legislation could be agreed upon. In the streets of Wilmington, a few nights of shootings in 1967 resulted in a curfew and a liquor sales ban. Terry went to the Delaware General Assembly and demanded and received the authority to declare a state of emergency with crowd control powers. He immediately put the emergency into effect and although the violence was ended in a week, continued the emergency for another month. Then, a year later, real problems came with the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. A few days later Wilmington exploded in two days of self-destructive rioting, looting and burning. Terry again responded with an emergency declaration and sent the National Guard in to assist the city police. A week later, when the situation seemed under control, the mayor lifted the curfew and requested the withdrawal of the National Guard. Believing there was more violence to come, Terry refused. It was not until Terry left office, eight months later, that the National Guard was removed from the streets of Wilmington. While all this was simmering, students at Delaware State College in Dover shouted down Terry during a speech and briefly occupied the administration building. Terry responded by closing down the school for a month. Terry had become known by some as "The Great Divider."

Terry was not without considerable support for his notable accomplishments and for the way he handled the violence in Wilmington. He campaigned for a second term and only narrowly lost, believing an October heart attack and a rezoning dispute in Sussex County cost him the election. However, 1968 was a Republican sweep, and Russell W. Peterson, a chemist from New Castle County, was able to defeat the incumbent governor, undoubtedly helped by a large number of Democrats in Wilmington who were seeking new leadership to end the tension and violence.

Delaware General Assembly
(sessions while Governor)
Year Assembly Senate Majority President
pro tempore
House Majority Speaker
1965–1966 123rd Democratic Curtis W. Steen Democratic Harold T. Bockman
1967–1968 124th Democratic Calvin R. McCullough Republican George C. Herring, III

Death and legacy[edit]

Terry died at Dover and is buried there in the Christ Episcopal Church Cemetery. The Charles L. Terry Campus of the Delaware Technical and Community College at Dover is named in his honor.


Elections are held the first Tuesday after November 1. The governor takes office the third Tuesday of January and has a four-year term. All judicial positions are appointed by the governor.

Public Offices
Office Type Location Began office Ended office notes
Judge Judiciary Dover December 7, 1938 April 29, 1957 Superior Court
President Judge Judiciary Dover April 29, 1957 July 23, 1962 Superior Court
Justice Judiciary Dover July 23, 1962 May 1963 Supreme Court
Chief Justice Judiciary Dover May 1963 August 19, 1964 Supreme Court
Governor Executive Dover January 19, 1965 January 21, 1969
Election results
Year Office Subject Party Votes % Opponent Party Votes %
1964 Governor Charles L. Terry Jr. Democratic 102,797 51% David P. Buckson Republican 97,374 49%
1968 Governor Charles L. Terry Jr. Democratic 102,360 49% Russell W. Peterson Republican 104,474 51%


  1. ^ Calyx Yearbook. Lexington, Virginia: Washington and Lee University. 1922. p. 56.
  • Boyer, William W. (2000). Governing Delaware. Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press. ISBN 1-892142-23-6.
  • Davis, Ned (2000). Charles L. Terry. Wilmington, Delaware: Delaware Heritage Press. LCCN 00133337. ISBN 0-924177-15-X.
  • Hoffecker, Carol E. (2004). Democracy in Delaware. Wilmington, Delaware: Cedar Tree Books. ISBN 1-892142-23-6.
  • Martin, Roger A. (1984). History of Delaware Through its Governors. Wilmington, Delaware: McClafferty Press.
  • Martin, Roger (1997). Elbert N. Carvel. Wilmington, Delaware: Delaware Heritage Press. ISBN 0-924117-08-7.
  • Munroe, John A. (1993). History of Delaware. Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0-87413-493-5.


External links[edit]

Places with more information[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of Delaware
1964, 1968
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Delaware
Succeeded by