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Salmon P. Chase

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Chase, Salmon P. (2).jpg
Chase, Salmon P., Secretary of the Treasury; three- quarter-length, standing

Salmon Portland Chase was an Ohio governor and prominent political leader during the mid-nineteenth century.

Chase was born on January 13, 1808, in Cornish, New Hampshire. He was the ninth of 11 children born to Ithmar Chase and Janet Ralston Chase. His father died when Salmon was about nine years old, and Chase moved to Ohio to live with his uncle, Philander Chase. Philander Chase was the Episcopal bishop of Ohio and ran a school near Worthington. Salmon Chase attended the school. When his uncle became president of Cincinnati College, he enrolled as a student at the college. When the bishop left his position as president the following year to travel to England, Chase returned to New Hampshire. He enrolled at Dartmouth College, graduating with honors in 1826.

After graduation, Chase moved to Washington, D.C. He taught school while studying the law with U.S. Attorney General William Wirt. Chase passed the bar examination in 1829 and moved to Cincinnati to set up his own law practice. As a young lawyer, Chase consolidated Ohio's statutes into a three-volume reference work. This important contribution to Ohio's legal literature helped improve his professional reputation.

Chase married his first wife, Catherine Jane Garniss, on March 4, 1834. She died the following year giving birth to the couple's first child, a girl who died a few years later. Chase married a second time on September 26, 1839. His bride was Eliza Ann Smith. Eliza died of consumption only six years later. On November 6, 1846, Chase married Sarah Bella Dunlop Ludlow. After Sarah's death, also of consumption, on January 13, 1852, Chase chose not to remarry. Many women died in childbirth during this time, and consumption, known today as tuberculosis, was a common disease with no cure in the 1800s. Two of Chase's children, both daughters, survived their father.

In Cincinnati, Chase became involved in a number of activities other than his legal practice. He was a deeply religious man and supported his church's Sunday School Union. He also was involved in temperance activities. Beginning in the mid-1830s, Chase began to be associated with abolitionism. He defended anti-slavery editor James Birney in court. Birney had been arrested for helping a fugitive from slavery to escape. Chase soon began to defend fugitives themselves and believed that African Americans deserved not only freedom but also civil rights. Southerners began to refer to him as the "Attorney General of Fugitive Slaves," and did not mean the title to be a compliment. Chase did not win these cases, but his efforts earned him the gratitude of the local African-American community.

Chase originally associated himself with the Whig Party and was elected to the Cincinnati City Council in 1840. In the 1840s, he became involved in the creation of the Liberty Party, a party dedicated to slavery's demise. In 1848, he helped organize the Free Soil Party in Ohio. Chase also contributed to the national platform of the new Free Soil Party, which sought to limit slavery to states where the institution already existed. In Ohio, the Free Soil Party and Democrats within the state legislature worked together to elect Chase as a U.S. senator in 1850. During Chase's term in the Senate, he was actively involved in fighting against the expansion of slavery. He unsuccessfully opposed the Fugitive Slave Law, which was one part of the Compromise of 1850. He also spoke out against the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. Because of his stance on these issues, Chase participated in the founding of the new Fusion Party in Ohio. The new party soon came to be known as the Republican Party.

In 1855, Chase successfully ran for governor of Ohio as a Republican. He ran against Democratic governor William Medill and former governor Allen Trimble, who identified himself with the Know-Nothing Party. Slavery was the dominant issue of the campaign. As governor, Chase continued to focus on the issue of slavery, but he also supported a number of other ideas that were of interest to many Ohioans of this era. He supported reform of the state militia, improved property rights for women, and changes in public education. Chase was reelected as governor in 1857, but his second term was much less productive as Democrats gained control of the state legislature. Chase also sought the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1856 and 1860, but he was unsuccessful. The principal reason for these losses was Chase's radical abolitionist views. In the meantime, Republicans regained control of the Ohio legislature in 1859 and chose to send Chase back to the U.S. Senate in 1860.

Only two days after taking his seat in the Senate, Chase resigned to become Abraham Lincoln's secretary of the treasury. Chase had an immediate challenge: the American Civil War began, and it was his job to find a way to finance the Union war effort. During Chase's years as secretary of the treasury, the United States began to print "In God We Trust" on some of its coins, including the two-cent piece and coins made of gold or silver. Chase earned the nickname "Old Mister Greenbacks" after placing his own face on the front of the one-dollar bill. His motive was to make sure that Americans knew who he was. While Chase was a good treasury secretary, he did not always get along well with President Lincoln. Many people believed that their disagreements were due to Chase's ambition to become president. Chase was unsuccessful in gaining the Republican presidential nomination in 1864, losing out to Lincoln as he had in 1860. Chase threatened to resign a number of times during his years as secretary of the treasury, ultimately following through on his threat in July 1864.

In spite of their disagreements, Lincoln still respected Chase. Chief Justice of the United States Roger Taney died in October 1864, and Lincoln chose Chase to replace him and become the sixth chief justice in the history of the court. Chase's years on the Supreme Court were busy ones. Within a short time, Lincoln was assassinated, and Chase administered the presidential oath to Andrew Johnson. He also appointed John Rock to be the first African-American attorney to argue a case before the Supreme Court. When President Johnson was impeached in 1868, Chase presided over his trial in the Senate. Understanding that this trial would set a precedent for future generations, Chase insisted that it follow the traditional processes of a court of law. Once again, Chase attempted unsuccessfully to gain a presidential nomination in 1868, this time from the Democratic Party. Chase became less involved in politics as his health began to fail in the years after the Civil War. In December 1868, Chase confirmed the pardon of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis.

During Chase's time as chief justice, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a number of important cases. Many of these cases dealt with the constitutionality of Reconstruction. Ex parte Milligan (1866) challenged the right of military courts to try civilians for treason. The cases of Ex parte Garland (1867) and Cummings v. Missouri (1867) together overturned laws that required loyalty oaths from Southerners. In another case, Texas v. White (1869), the court ruled that Congress had the right to impose Reconstruction upon the South. The chief justice believed that southern states should be required to accept the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution as a condition for re-admittance to the Union. In Bradwell v. Illinois (1872), the court ruled that states that did not allow women to practice law were not in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. This set the precedent that women's rights were not granted by this amendment. In this case, Chase was the only justice to dissent.

Chase suffered a stroke in 1870 that temporarily kept him from participating in the Supreme Court. In spite of poor health, he returned to the bench in 1871 and continued to preside as chief justice until his death. Chase died at his daughter's home in New York City on May 7, 1873. He received a formal funeral, lying in state in the nation’s capital before being buried at Oak Hill Cemetery near Washington, D.C. In 1886, Chase's body was moved to Spring Grove Cemetery near Cincinnati.

Chase received one final honor in 1934, when the United States Treasury chose to place his portrait on the ten thousand dollar bill.

See Also


  1. Blue, Frederick J. Salmon P. Chase: A Life in Politics. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1987.
  2. Chase, Salmon P. Diary and Correspondence of Salmon P. Chase. New York, NY: Da Capo Press, 1971.  
  3. Dee, Christine, ed. Ohio's War: The Civil War in Documents. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.  
  4. Middleton, Stephen. Ohio and the Antislavery Activities of Attorney Salmon Portland Chase, 1830-1849. New York, NY: Garland Pub., 1990.
  5. Niven, John. Salmon P. Chase: A Biography. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  6. Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War: Her Statesmen, Generals and Soldiers. Cincinnati, OH: Clarke, 1895.
  7. Roseboom, Eugene H. The Civil War Era: 1850-1873. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1944.