Amazing articles on just about every subject...

American Statesman:
 John Quincy Adams

 Henry Clay

 Daniel Webster

 John C. Calhoun

 Abraham Lincoln

 William H. Seward

 Salmon P. Chase

 Charles Summer

 Sir John Alexander Macdonald, G. C. B.


 Read More Articles About: American Statesman

Salmon P. Chase

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Salmon Portland Chase, Father of the American Greenback, and first Anti-Slavery Chief Justice of the United States, was born in Cornish, N. H., January 13, 1808. His name, Salmon Portland, was given to him to commemorate the death of his uncle Salmon at Port-land. He was wont to say that he was his uncle's monument. He wrote that his earliest recollection of himself was of a dangerous attack of fever, He was a bright little child at school, and possessed a copy of "Rollin's Ancient History" (now out of vogue), which he treasured as a thing of priceless value. When he was eight years old his father removed the family to Keene, where he died in 1817. Salmon went to Latin school three years at Keene. Then his uncle, the Episcopal Bishop of Ohio, took him West to Worthington, O., where he again attended school, learning Greek, and worked on a farm. It was the intention of the Bishop to educate his nephew for the priest-hood, and the lad bowed devoutly to that wish, receiving confirmation with deep conviction and awe. In 1822 the Bishop took the Presidency of the Cincinnati College, which closed in a year, and Salmon was sent back to his mother. He studied more at Royalton, Vt., and then entered the junior class at Dartmouth College. In the winters he taught school and "boarded round." He graduated with honor in 1826, and began the study of law in the office of William Wirt, at Washington, D. C., teaching school six hours a day in a private seminary in order to defray his expenses. He was anti-Jackson and anti-Slavery in principle, and, being naturally a censorious young man, narrowly restricted with conventions and forms, he was shocked by the levity of Congress, whose sessions he first attended in 1828. He especially abominated John Randolph; his idol was William Wirt. He was enabled to pass a legal examination through the kind heartedness of Justice Cranch, because the young man intended to begin practice in Cincinnati. "I would rather be first in Cincinnati twenty years hence than in Baltimore," he said. A more ardent personal ambition has rarely been seen than was betrayed by Salmon P. Chase, while a high moral plane, strictly conventional conduct, and vigilant inspection of the deportment of others deprived him of the popular hold on his fellows which Lincoln so easily enjoyed. This liking of the people for Lincoln rather than for him (Chase), who had been altruistic, clean, pure, brave, who was learned, polite, handsome in after life afflicted him deeply, but dissatisfied the people still the more. On the whole, at last, the masses thought Abraham Lincoln was too kind to Salmon P. Chase, yet none could deny that, to uphold both the freed-man and the greenback in the Supreme Court, the proper man was made Chief Justice.

Salmon P. Chase did not possess that scintillating quality of intellect which arouses interest and enthusiasm, nor did he admire such parts in others. His idea of a great man was undoubtedly statuesque the result of centuries of etiquette and form in England. Outside of this stated, somewhat majestic aspect of his character, we shall behold a very noble man, indeed. A Salmon P. Chase without insatiable desire for political promotion at the expense of all other men, would be an ideal character.

He was married three times : First, March 4, 1834, to Kathrine J. Garniss, who died December 1, 1835; their one child died. Second, September 26, 1839, to Eliza A. Smith, who died September 29, 1845; the eldest of their three children became the celebrated and beautiful Kate Chase Sprague; the two other children died. Third, November 6, 1846, to Sarah B. D. Ludlow, who died in 1852; they had two children, one of whom died. The other became the wife of W. S. Hoyt, of New York City. Thus only two daughters survived him, and he outlived all three of his wives. His married life lasted only thirteen years. In the entire Chase family no sons were left.

At Cincinnati he undertook the compilation of "Chase's Statutes 0f Ohio," a work which tried the solidity of his intellect, and at once introduced him to the attention of all the judiciary. Few young men have attempted so much, or performed a similar task so successfully. In a word, he gathered the laws of Ohio out of several hundred volumes, and reduced by a thousand-fold the labors of all counselors and advocates in the new State. In 1832 he voted for his patron, William Wirt, for President; in 1836, for General Harrison; in 1840, for Harrison.

James G. Birney, a reformed slaveholder, published an Abolition paper, The Philanthropist, at Cincinnati. In 1836 his printing office was gutted, and the mob then made an attack on the homes of colored persons. The Mayor sympathized with the mob. Seeing this mob aroused the anti-Slavery feelings of Mr. Chase. Shortly afterward, he defended the escaped slave Matilda, and carried an action growing out of her case to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which "dodged" the main question, but decided in favor of the appellant (Birney) on a technicality, which Mr. Chase would not deign to note in his plea. The Birney mob caused Mr. Chase to lay down extreme doctrine touching the freedom of the press, for which he would not recede in war times, when Story's newspaper at Chicago was suppressed by General Burnside (until Mr. Lincoln reversed the order). As soon as Tyler became President, Mr. Chase publicly advocated the formation of a new party, with a platform (r) That Slavery must stay in its own States; (2) That Slavery must not dominate in federal affairs, and must there be overthrown.

Although he had not voted for his client, Birney, for President, in 1840, Mr. Chase called a State Convention at Columbus in December, 1841, and there formed the Liberty party. In this convention he was the most influential member, wrote the address, and suggested the State ticket. He defended so many slave cases that he was known in Kentucky as "the attorney-general for runaway negroes." In the celebrated case against John Van Zandt, of Ohio, for harboring fugitive slaves, Governor Seward joined Mr. Chase as counsel for Van Zandt before the Supreme Court of Ohio. The case was decided for the slaveholders, and Van Zandt was ruined, but the two eminent lawyers charged no fees. The thought that the laws were doing moral wrong nerved generous men all over the North to further efforts toward freedom. Van Zandt had merely given nine negroes a ride in his wagon. Highwaymen had captured the negroes while they were riding, and returned them to slavery without process, receiving head-money, and yet Van Zandt was mulcted while the highwaymen escaped all punishment. In 1840 903 Ohio voters called for the unconditional abolition of Slavery. Chase was not yet one of these. For his State candidates, in 1842, on his platform, 5,305 votes were cast. In 1843 the Liberty party at Buffalo again nominated Birney for President, Mr. Chase writing the platform. In June, 1845, Mr. Chase and others called a convention at Cincinnati of 2,000 delegates in the interest of the Liberty party. Mr. Chase wrote the Address. This Convention caused Calhoun the deepest distress, and made a sensation throughout the Nation. The Watson fugitive slave case followed in the Ohio courts. The brave advocate of freedom received a silver pitcher, with the following inscription:




In his speech accepting this gift, Mr. Chase denounced that clause of the State Constitution which refused, to free colored men of proper age, the right to vote.

Although he attended the Liberty Convention of 1847 which nominated John P. Hale, Mr. Chase was looking on every side for broader political action, with more power. He called a Convention at Columbus in June, and this called a Free-Soil Convention later at Buffalo, where he presided. Ex-President Van Buren was nominated for President, and the Barn-Burners joined. This combination of Abolitionists with anti-Slavery men polled a vote of 291,263, when Taylor and Fillmore were elected.

So great was the success of his political movements in Ohio that he was able to control the Legislature, which by a very narrow vote elected him to the United States Senate as an Independent Democrat or Free-Soiler, but his election was bitterly denounced by the Whigs, who hoped to hold their party together in the South, and viewed Free-Soil sentiments as sectional and seditious.

Like Governor Seward, Mr. Chase arrived in the Senate at Washington at a time when spectators of events had no eyes for new members. The old and dying Sena-tors saw the storm coming, and had small regard for the audacious younger men who were welcoming civil war. The sublime efforts of Clay, the neutral or subservient attitude of Webster, the bitter feelings of Calhoun, with the profound legal questions of Mexican free-soil and slave-extension in the Southwest, were so deeply impressed on the slave-holding capital city as to cast almost the tinge of criminality on all Senators who stood in the way of compromise. That Clay should solve the problem seemed like a miracle to nearly all. One feature of the compromise was the Fugitive Slave law, and it happened that Senator Chase, of all persons was best fitted to forecast the harm it would wreak on the cause of the Union, and the ardor with which its terms would be resisted in Ohio and New England. Mr. Sumner also entered the Senate soon after-ward, and came to the assistance of Chase and Seward. Then followed in the North what was called "the era of slave-hunting," while the Independent-Democratic and Free-Soil movement seemed to lose half its force, and both the old (Democratic and Whig) parties accepted Clay's compromise for their platform. This platform implied a slave-holding Union in the near future. But as free and slave labor could not both exist in the same markets, such a platform controverted nature, and the period of calm was wholly illusory. During these years, the outlook of anti-Slavery politicians was cheerless. When Douglas brought in his Kansas-Nebraska bill, disclosing the arrogations of the slaveholders and their disinclination to abide by even the compromise, Mr. Chase recomposed, from Giddings' draft, the Address of the Independent Democrats. This Address was the charter on which the Republican party sprang out of the soil of the North. At last some signs of martial feeling answered the never-ceasing taunts of the South. Douglas made a furious speech in the Senate when he read the Address. He called Chase and Sumner "Abolition confederates in slander," who were calling up "an Abolition tornado." Douglas pushed his bill through, and, as Chase and Sumner went down the steps of the Capitol together, after the session, the slaveholders were firing cannon. "They celebrate a present victory," said Chase, "but the echoes they awaken will never rest till Slavery itself shall die."

Pugh succeeded Chase in 1855, but the retiring member had personally made a record as a patrician Senator of the approved school, and only his principles of human rights were lamented by the statesmen of that sorry time.

July 13, 1855, the ex-Senator was nominated for Governor of Ohio by a union of stray Whigs, Free-Soil Democrats, and Know-Nothings, called as a whole, Republicans. Chase was elected, and a solid Republican State party at once came into form and organization, to hold power for twenty years. Governor Chase's administration was noted for the slave-hunts that were prosecuted by Southerners in Ohio, and the energy with which he strove to defend the small remaining rights of his State. He raised and equipped 15,000 State troops, with artillery, and had at hand a respectable anti-Slavery army, while not a man in uniform had been seen in Ohio before the new Governor was elected. This force made Buchanan respect Ohio's court decisions against the slavehunters. Chase was reelected Governor for 1858-9. He went into Illinois to aid Lincoln's canvass. When John Brown, of Ossawatomie, set the ball of civil war rolling, Governor Chase wrote to his Legislature : "While we will not disavow just admiration of noble qualities by whomsoever displayed, we must not the less, but rather the more earnestly, condemn all inroads into States," etc. On this feeling he was reelected to the United States Senate. John Brown had appealed to the Higher Law; the less said about it the bet-ter, for action would come soon enough. Already, the solemn chant of freemen over his fate was setting up. His soul was marching on.

Ohio went to Chicago in 1860 with a solid delgation for Governor Chase. Some of Chase's votes nominated Lincoln. Chase could have nominated Seward. He had his choice, and Lincoln never forgot the debt, despite the feeling often displayed by the Ohioan. Governor Chase made a protracted canvass for Lincoln in 1860. January 3, 1861, he arrived at a hotel in Springfield, where Lincoln called on him, and offered 'him the Treasury Department, which seemed a subordinate place, so strongly did old traditions cling to the office of foreign affairs. Governor Chase finally accepted the portfolio of finance only because Governor Seward himself was to be Secretary of State; and, again, and in fact, because Mr. Lincoln did not feel bound to respect the expressed disinclination of Governor Chase to resign an independent position as Senator, which he liked, in order to accept a place which linked him to the fortunes of a political rival. National events, however, were so harassing that he had no time to consult personal interests. He therefore took the Treasury, and in doing this he unwittingly paved the way to his subsequent elevation to the Chief Justiceship.

His labors as Secretary of the Treasury were prodigious. For one thing, he passed upon 50,000 formal applications for office with all their papers. But the great work of his life, and one of the greatest acts of any man, was the successful issue of $450,000,000 of green-backs; which created cash without borrowing; which furnished a currency of equal value throughout the Nation; of which nominally $336,000,000 remain in circulation to-day, in the highest and best form "legal tender," and above the imputation of debasement or dishonesty. This amount has saved the people over $400,000,000 of taxation for interest, and subtracted that vast sum (compounded) from the centralization of capital that is every-where lamented as a natural ill. To make the greenbacks acceptable, he established the National Banking system, which was reŽnacted in 1882. By this means he gathered and borrowed the capital of the private banks as a National resource, and authorized a large issue of auxiliary green-backs called national bank notes, whose value as currency has never been questioned east of the Rocky Mountains. He organized four new bureaus Internal Revenue, Currency, Printing of Currency, and Inter-State Commerce. The system of taxation made necessary by the war was as drastic and penetrating as could be conceived. The only man who did not feel its heavy burden was the soldier, and he was offering his life. The Secretary raised $3,000,-000,000 by bond-selling and currency printing. He often sat in his office-chair for ten hours at a time. Before Stanton's arrival, even the details of the War Department were crowded also upon Secretary Chase. It must be considered that, when the newly elected President arrived with his advisers, he was in a rebel town. Had the South opined the trend of future events, it would have held the Capital, but it desired to withdraw in peace, and believed it had constitutional rights to do so. Thus a small group of civilians Lincoln, Seward, Cameron, Chase, Welles, Smith, Blair, Bates with a sick old soldier, General Scott, in bed, must debate the relief of Fort Sumter and the organization of the army. Even the preparation of the earliest army orders fell upon Governor Chase, who, as ex-Commander-in-Chief of the 15,000 Ohio militia, loomed up as an actual man-of-war to the startled gaze of the rest of the Cabinet. Secretary Chase hailed the advent of McClellan with delight. Soon McClellan filled him with disgust, almost with hatred, for the Secretary had gone to New York City and on his word of honor had promised a vigorous prosecution of the war, while McClellan, as it proved, had been too cautious to advance on wooden cannon at Manassas, and was tempted to surrender on the Chickahominy. The Secretary was strongly reinforced by Stanton, whereafter the war was pushed more to the satisfaction of the Treasury. The "funny stories" of the President annoyed the Secretary, for he had no sense of humor, and Lincoln had no respect for human dignity. "O why should the spirit of mortal be proud ?" he asked, when he ruffled the exterior of the grave Episcopalian. Neither did Secretary Chase perceive that Lincoln was capable of keeping still till he learned, with-out abdicating one iota of his power. This made it distressing for the Secretary when he inadvertently put the President where he could not retreat any further; then the calm assurance of Abraham Lincoln stood forth. "I am where I am because the people had confidence in me I must decide. I beg your indulgence, but all the same, I must decide, and I decide against you." Secretary Chase did not like to see Lincoln's ward-workers appointed to office. There was a sharp touch of John Quincy Adams in him what was afterward called "mugwumpery." When Lincoln would please two Senators at the expense of one Secretary, the Secretary would resign. In fact, in political parlance, Salmon P. Chase clubbed Abraham Lincoln with his resignation from March 5, 1861, until it was accepted, June 29, 1864, when Mr. Lincoln knew that Secretary Chase had angled strenuously for the nomination for President. The final crisis arose over the nomination of an Assistant Treasurer at New York, and after Lincoln had been renominated. The great Lincoln had kept a powerful political rival in his Cabinet until he no longer needed to fear him. In the acceptance of the resignation, the President praised the Secretary. "And yet," he concluded, "you and I have reached a point of mutual embarrassment in our official relations which, it seems to me, cannot be overcome or longer sustained consistently with the public service."

The President did not permit the fallen Secretary to depart from Washington without sending Mr. Hooper to him with the comforting assurance that the Chief Justice-ship awaited him after election, and this news, coming to Governor Chase, sent him into the Presidential canvass with a will. McClellan was overwhelmingly defeated for the Presidency, the ex-Secretary's State of Ohio drowning Vallandigham under 100,000 majority, and on December 6, Mr. Lincoln sent the following short but momentous message to the Senate :

"EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, Dec. 6, 1864. "To the Senate of the United States :

"I nominate Salmon P. Chase, of Ohio, to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, vice Roger B. Taney, deceased. ABRAHAM LINCOLN."

This is one of the few times that Mr. Lincoln's name will be found spelled in full in his own signature. He undoubtedly had a higher regard for Governor Chase than he ever felt for any other man of the professedly genteel class, and therein demonstrated the high order of state-craft that was in him. Mr. Fessenden, Secretary Chase's successor at the Treasury, constantly and continuously lamented the absence of his predecessor from the Department. The praise that is bestowed on Alexander Hamilton might be multiplied ten times, we think, without exaggerating the value of Salmon P. Chase's service in raising money and furnishing currency for the preservation of the Union. It was he who drove into the museums the "wild-cat" currency of America, which no previous legislator had been able to prohibit practically.

The Chief Justice now began to plan for universal suffrage. April I I, 1865, he congratulated the victorious President, advising the recognition of Pierpont's Virginia government, with negro suffrage in the rebel States. On the 12th, finding that the President, in a public speech, had not resented his advice, he elaborated it, in the interest of negro suffrage. This was a long letter. On Friday, the fatal 14th, the President having arrived in Washington, the Chief Justice was anxious to talk with the President, but restrained himself, fearing that he would annoy Mr. Lincoln. In the night the Chief Justice was awakened with the news of the assassination. Guards had been put around his house. He thought he would be wise to stay at home. "It was a night of horrors."

"April 15th, Saturday. Up with the light. A heavy rain was falling, and the sky was black. Walked up with Mr. Mellin to Mr. Seward's, crossing the street on which is Ford's Theater, and, opposite, the house to which the President had been conveyed. Was informed that the President was already dead. Continued on to Mr. Seward's."

The Chief Justice next visited the Vice-President at his hotel, and met McCulloch and Speed, who told him of the President's friendly reception of the letters. The Attorney-General's office was visited in order to study the precedents of Tyler and Fillmore's time, and, on returning to the hotel, the Chief Justice administered the oath of office as President to Andrew Johnson, in the presence of twelve or fourteen persons. "I said to him: 'May God guide, support, and bless you in your arduous labors.' " The Chief Justice met the two Blairs, whom he had hated. "I had determined to bury all resentments, and greeted both kindly. All Mr. Speed said, deepened my sorrow for the country." Now that Lincoln was no more, it seemed to dawn on Chase that the Emancipator had really loved his fellowman, white or black.

In the spring of 1865, in a Government vessel, the Chief Justice made a journey to the South, returning northward up the Mississippi River. May 20, 1865, he informed Sumner that at Fernandina he had administered the oath to a Mayor elected by white and black votes. "Was not that an event ?" he asked. Johnson's Mississippi proclamation disappointed Chase deeply.

When Jefferson Davis was captured, he was to be tried in the circuit assigned to the Chief Justice. But this circuit was under martial law. The disinclination of the Chief Justice to allow a Supreme Justice to subordinate his jurisdiction to the will of a military commander, led him to advise that action in Davis' behalf, looking to bail, be brought before the puisne or minor federal court at Richmond. The Chief Justice did not, in fact, deign to hold court anywhere under military rule, and opened his tribunal in the South first in June, 1867, at Raleigh, N. C., where every right of peace had been restored. And he took care to state the fact, solemnly, at the assembling of the court. In 1868, at Richmond, the Chief Justice, sitting on the Circuit bench, continued the case of Davis. Before it came to trial the President's amnesty proclamation brushed it out of the way.

Early in 1868, the radicals of the House impeached President Johnson, and it fell upon Chief Justice Chase to preside over the Senate as a High Court of Impeachment. The Congressional cabal were bent on depriving him of his vote and his constitutional dignity as a portion of the court, but he very ably answered both. The sessions of the court continued well into the summer, and the high-handed plan to make Benjamin Wade President by his own vote failed, and was finally discredited, although the ultra-war party and vengeance-shriekers relegated all the independent Senators to obscurity. Through the entire imbroglio, more disagreeable than the Jefferson Davis adjudication, the Chief Justice steadily rose in public esteem.

On the 4th of July, 1868, the Democratic National Convention met at New York City, with Horatio Seymour as presiding officer and Chief Justice Chase as a "dark horse." The party had not mustered courage enough to pit a soldier against Grant, and it had been so slow that Grant, a Democrat, had been allured into the Republican camp. It appeared, to the astonishment of the Nation, that the Chief Justice would not have rejected a nomination. His course for free press and free courts had aroused Democratic enthusiasm in his favor. There were few Americans, however, who did not think that the evident desire of the Chief Justice for the Presidency had carried him off his balance. Fortunately for him, he was not nominated, nor did he make an attempt to be. In 1872 he was too ill to think of further honors, but received 36 votes in the Schurz-White-MedilI anti-Grant convention at Cincinnati, which first nominated Greeley and Brown.

Chief Justice Chase was a very large, tall, near-sighted man. He attracted unusual attention in any gathering of men, and was a highly-impressive person, without speaking. After acquaintance, he strengthened the earlier impressions in his auditors. Hard work began to tell on him in 1869, and he lost flesh so rapidly that he took alarm. In the spring of 1870, he went for the summer to Minnesota, where he stayed out-doors nearly all the time. On his way back, in the autumn, traveling in New York State, on a Pullman car, he was stricken with paralysis through his entire right side. His hair turned white, and the impressive statesman and jurist fell in majestic ruin, to the sorrow of his admirers. In June, 1871, he visited the St. Louis Springs in Michigan, and spent two months at Waukesha, Wis. He recovered so far as to resume his work on the Supreme Bench, but again manifestly over-taxed himself. He left the court late in April, 1873, on its adjournment, and visited his daughter, Mrs. Hoyt, in New York City. There, on May 6, he suffered a second and fatal stroke of paralysis, lingering alive till May 7 at 10 a. m.

His body lay in state in the Episcopal Church of St. George from Friday morning of May 9, until the evening of the next day. Funeral services were held Saturday afternoon, the Rev. Dr. Hall officiating. Among the pall-bearers were General W. T. Sherman, Gideon Welles, Gerrit Smith, W. M. Evarts, Charles O'Conor, and General McDowell.

On May 11, the body was placed within the bar of the Supreme Court at Washington on the same catafalque that, eight years before, had upheld the coffin of Abraham Lincoln. On Monday the final services were held in the Senate chamber. The President attended. The body was taken to Oak-Hill Cemetery for temporary sepulture.

There is little doubt that Salmon P. Chase sacrificed his life to the Union in his herculean labors at the Treasury Department. No other man except Lincoln, after 1850, left so deep a mark as Chase upon American institutions, and all that he did looked to the ratification and vindication of the rights of man. No other financier, in the history of the race, accomplished so much in the interests of the people's pocketbook, and the black man has not had a firmer or more consistent personal, philosophical, or political friend.

Home | More Articles | Email: