Chase, Salmon P.

Born: 1808-01-13 Cornish, New Hampshire

Died: 1873-05-07 New York, New York

Salmon P. Chase was a lawyer, anti-slavery politician, city government official, U.S. senator, governor, secretary of the treasury, and chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The eighth of eleven children born to Ithamar and Janette Ralston Chase, Salmon P. Chase received his early education in public schools in Windsor, New Hampshire. Ithamar Chase died when Salmon was nine years old, and Salmon, to ease the financial burden on his mother, moved to Ohio to live with Philander Chase, his paternal uncle. Salmon continued his education at schools in Worthington, Ohio and at Cincinnati College before matriculating to Dartmouth College, where he became heavily involved in the Second Great Awakening and the revivals sweeping over the college at that time. Upon his graduation in 1826, Chase moved to Washington, DC, where he taught school and read law. He earned admission to the bar in 1829 and moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he commenced practicing law in 1830. In a few years, Chase had become a relatively successful attorney. He also became a recognized legal scholar, authoring a three-volume edition of the Statues of Ohio (1833-1835).

By the late 1830s, Chase had become heavily invested in the anti-slavery movement. He spearheaded the argument that slavery was an essentially local institution and that any enslaved person leaving a slave state was automatically free. This allowed Chase, unlike William Lloyd Garrison and the radical abolitionists, to view the Constitution as an anti-slavery document. He tried to use this reasoning to temper the Liberty Party's strict abolitionist stance in the early 1840s and, in doing so, developed the platform that would guide the party through the 1840s and eventually become central tenants of the Republican Party.

Chase initially identified with the Whig Party, and in 1840, he won election, as a Whig, to the Cincinnati City Council. In 1841, Chase moved to the Liberty Party, and in 1848, he became a leading force in the organization of the Free Soil Party. In 1849, the Ohio General Assembly elected Chase to the U.S. Senate, where he served from March 1849 to March 1855. As a senator, Chase opposed both the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act for their concessions to slaveholders. Chase worked feverishly to transform opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act in Ohio into a new political coalition, and in 1855, he succeeded in pulling together anti-Nebraska Whigs, disaffected Democrats, Know-Nothings, Free Soilers, and Protestant Germans into the new Republican Party. In 1855, Ohio voters elected Chase as governor, and he won reelection in 1857, serving as governor from January 1856 to January 1860.

Chase played a key role in the organization of the national Republican Party, and he was among the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 1856. His reputation as a radical abolitionist and concern about his ambition cost Chase the nomination. In early 1860, the Ohio General Assembly returned him to the U.S. Senate. Chase hoped to be the Republican Party's standard bearer in the presidential election of 1860, but delegates to the Republican National Convention opted for Abraham Lincoln. During the Secession Crisis, Chase represented Ohio at the Washington Peace Conference, where he opposed any compromise that would take effect before Lincoln's inauguration. Chase took his seat in the Senate on March 4, 1861, but resigned two days later to join Lincoln's cabinet as secretary of the treasury. Chase effectively financed the war effort, managed the ballooning federal wartime budget and, most significantly, introduced paper money as the nation's primary currency. Chase also managed military affairs in the western theater, and he was deeply involved in federal policy toward escaped and confiscated enslaved people, continually pushing Lincoln to declare emancipation and support enlistment of free blacks into the U.S. Army.

As the war progressed, Chase became increasingly disgruntled in the Lincoln administration and began to position himself as a potential Republican alternative to Lincoln in the presidential election of 1864. A dispute over patronage prompted Chase to sever ties with the Lincoln administration, and in June 1864, Lincoln, having received the Republican nomination for president, accepted Chase's resignation. In December 1864, Lincoln nominated Chase to become chief justice of the Supreme Court, and the Senate confirmed this appointment on the same day. Chase remained on the court until his death.

Salmon P. Chase married three times. In 1834, he wed Catherine Jane Garniss, who died after only a year. He married Eliza Ann Smith in 1839. In 1845, Eliza died, and in 1846, Chase married Sarah Bella Dunlop. Sarah Chase died in 1852. Chase fathered six children, four of whom died in childhood.

Stephen E. Maizlish, "Chase, Salmon Portland," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 4:739-43; John Niven, Salmon P. Chase: A Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Frederick J. Blue, Salmon P. Chase: A Life in Politics (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1987); Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1996 (Alexandria, VA: CQ Staff Directories, 1997), 805.