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Salmon Portland Chase was born in New Hampshire on 13th January, 1808. After his father died in 1817, he lived with his uncle, Philander Chase, the Bishop of Ohio. After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1826 he worked briefly as a school teacher in Washington.
In 1830 Chase moved to Cincinnati where he established himself as a lawyer. A member of the Anti-Slavery Society, Chase defended so many re-captured slaves and became known as the "attorney general for runaway negroes". He also provided free legal advice for those caught working for the Underground Railroad.
Chase was originally a member of the Whig Party but joined the Liberty Party in 1841. However, in August 1848, Chase and other members of the party joined with anti-slavery members of the Whig Party to form the Free-Soil Party. The following year Chase was elected to the United States Senate. Together with Joshua Giddings, Chase was seen as the leader of the anti-slavery group in Congress and played an important role in the campaign against the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
In 1855 Chase was elected as the governor of Ohio. A founder member of the Republican Party he sought the party presidential nomination in 1860 but on the third ballot asked his supporters to vote for Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln became president he appointed Chase as his Secretary of the Treasury and had responsibility for organizing the finance of the Union war effort. He also helped to establish a national banking system and another innovation was the employment of women clerks.
Chase was the most progressive member of Lincoln's Cabinet and shared many of the views being expressed by the Radical Republican group. He constantly clashed with the more conservative William Seward and on several occasions came close to resigning.
Chase was highly critical of those officers in the Union Army such as Irvin McDowell, George McClellan and Henry Halleck who appeared unwilling to attack the Confederate Army in 1862. He himself wanted the war to be a crusade against slavery and told Lincoln: "Proslavery sentiment inspires rebellion, let anti-slavery sentiment inspire suppression."
In the summer of 1862 Chase and Abraham Lincoln clashed over the treatment of General David Hunter. In May, Hunter began enlisting black soldiers in the occupied districts of South Carolina and soon afterwards issued a statement that all slaves owned by Confederates in the area were free. Lincoln was furious and instructed him to disband the 1st South Carolina (African Descent) regiment and to retract his proclamation. Chase agreed with Hunter's actions and once again came close to resigning.
The main argument that Chase had with Lincoln was that the president refused to state that emancipation of the slaves was an object of the war. In Cabinet meetings Chase was the only member to argue for black suffrage. Chase eventually resigned in June, 1864. Lincoln wrote a letter accepting Chase's resignation agreeing that their relationship had "reached a point of mutual embarrassment that could not be overcome".
In December, 1864, Abraham Lincoln appointed Chase as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Like other Radical Republican, Chase was highly critical of Lincoln's Reconstruction Plans. He was even more critical of those followed by Andrew Johnson and as Chief Justice presided over the Senate impeachment proceedings against Andrew Johnson.
Over the next few years Chase interpreted the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution in ways that helped to protect the rights of blacks from infringement by state action. Salmon Portland Chase died on 7th May, 1873.
I should be glad to learn your views as to the probable destiny of the Afro-American race in this country. My own opinion has been that the black and white races, adapted to different latitudes and countries by the influences of climate and other circumstances, operating through many generations, would never have been brought together in one community, except under the constraint of force, such as that of slavery. While, therefore, I have been utterly opposed to any discrimination in legislation against our coloured population, and have uniformly maintained the equal rights of all men to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I have always looked forward to the separation of the races.
Salmon P. Chase, the anti-slavery Senator from Ohio, was one of the stateliest figures in the Senate. Tall, broad-shouldered, and proudly erect, his features strong and regular and his forehead broad, high and clear, he was a picture of intelligence, strength, courage and dignity. He looked as you would wish a statesman to look. His speech did not borrow any charm from rhetorical decoration, but was clear and strong in argument, vigorous and determined in tone, elevated in sentiment, and of that frank ingenuousness which commands respect and inspires confidence.
It is unsatisfactory to some to know that the elective franchise is not given to the coloured man. I would myself prefer that it were now conferred on intelligent coloured men, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers.
Once I should have been, if not satisfied, partially, at least, contented with suffrage for the intelligent and those who have been soldiers; now I am convinced that universal suffrage is demanded by sound policy and impartial justice. I shall return to Washington in a day or two, and perhaps it will not be disagreeable to you to have the whole subject talked over.
The abolition of slavery and the establishment of freedom are not the one and the same thing. The emancipated negroes were not yet really freemen. Their chains had indeed been sundered by the sword, but the broken links still hung upon their limbs. The question, "What shall be done with the negro? agitated the whole country. Some were in favour of an immediate recognition of their equal and political rights, and of conceding to them at once all the prerogatives of citizenship. But only a few advocated a policy so radical, and, at the same time, generally considered revolutionary, while many, even of those who really wished well to the negro, doubted his capacity for citizenship, his willingness to labour for his own support, and the possibility of his forming, as a freeman, an integral part of the Republic.
The idea of admitting the freedmen to an equal participation in civil and political rights was not entertained in any part of the South. In most of the States they were not allowed to sit on juries, or even to testify in any case in which white men were parties. They were forbidden to own or bear firearms, and thus were rendered defenceless against assault. Vagrant laws were passed, often relating only to the negro, or, where applicable in terms of both white and black, seldom or never enforced except against the latter.
In some States any court - that is, any local Justice of the Peace - could bind out to a white person any negro under age, without his own consent or that of his parents? The freedmen were subjected to the punishments formerly inflicted upon slaves. Whipping especially, when in some States disfranchised the party subjected to it, and rendered him for ever infamous before the law, was made the penalty for the most trifling misdemeanor.
These legal disabilities were not the only obstacles placed in the path of the freed people. Their attempts at education provoked the most intense and bitter hostility, as evincing a desire to render themselves equal to the whites. Their churches and schoolhouses were in many places destroyed by mobs. In parts of the country remote from observation, the violence and cruelty engendered by slavery found free scope for exercise upon the defenceless negro. In a single district, in a single month, forty-nine cases of violence, ranging from assault and battery to murder, in which whites were the aggressors and blacks the sufferers, were reported.
General Howard issued his first order defining the general policy of the Bureau on the 19th day of May 1865, at once appointed his Assistant Commissioners, and entered upon the work assigned to him. In this work he was greatly embarrassed by the lack of any governmental appropriations for his Bureau, by the opposition in the South to any measures looking towards the elevation of the freed people, and by the very widespread distrust in the North of their capacity for improvement.
What is to be the effect of emancipation upon the industry of the community at large, upon the amount of production, upon the intelligence and morals of the people, upon commerce, trade, manufactures, agriculture and population, can as yet be only a matter of conjecture; and yet such and so marked even in these respects have been the results already, that probably few, if any, of the intelligent portion of the Southern people would desire to see slavery re-established. Wherever the planter has honestly and intelligently accommodated himself to the system of free-labour, freedom has reaped a larger harvest than ever was garnered by slavery.
But the effect upon the freed people is no longer a matter of question. They have refuted slavery's accusation of idleness and incapacity. They have not only worked faithfully and well under white employers, but, when facilities have been accorded them, have proved themselves capable of independent and even self-organized labour. They are not generally extravagant or wasteful. The church and the schoolhouse are alike crowded with eager, expectant people, the rapidity of whose development under these fostering influences has amazed both foes and friends, and contributed more, perhaps, than any other cause to mitigate the prejudice which survived slavery, and make the work of enfranchisement complete.
Eliza ChaseSalmon P. Chase: Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary
And husband of Eliza Chase
Henry Ulke, Artist
Salmon Portland Chase was born on January 13, 1808, in Cornish, New Hampshire. He was the ninth of eleven children born to Ithmar Chase and Janet Ralston Chase. His father died when Salmon was nine years old, leaving his widow a small amount of property and ten surviving children. Chase’s education began in 1816 in Keene, New Hampshire, than at a better school in Windsor, Vermont.
His uncle, Philander Chase, an Episcopal Bishop, took Salmon to the woods of Ohio. Young Chase attended the bishop’s school at Worthington, near Columbus. Chase had no love for the monotonous life of farm work. His uncle worked him hard while he simultaneously studied Greek for two years.
In 1822, Cincinnati College appointed Bishop Chase president of the college. At fifteen years old, Salmon Chase was admitted as a sophomore. The Bishop only served there a year, then traveled to Great Britain to raise money for the founding of the Theological Seminary in Ohio, later to be called Kenyon College.
When his uncle left his position as president the following year to travel to England, Salmon Chase returned to New Hampshire, and enrolled at Dartmouth College as a junior, graduating with honors in 1826.
After graduation, Chase moved to Washington, DC, where he taught school while studying law under William Wirt, who was United States Attorney General in the administration of John Quincy Adams. Although he wanted to practice law in Washington, Chase did not meet the residency requirement.
Ohio allowed him to use the time he had lived there with his uncle after he passed the bar in 1829, he moved to Cincinnati to set up his 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.
Marriage and Family
Chase married Catherine Jane Garniss on March 4, 1834. She died the following year while giving birth to the couple’s first child, a girl who died a few years later.
Chase married Eliza Ann Smith on September 26, 1839. Eliza gave birth to Kate (Katherine Jane) Chase on August 13, 1840, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Eliza Chase died of consumption shortly after Kate’s fifth birthday. Consumption, known today as tuberculosis, was a common disease with no cure.
On November 6, 1846, Chase married Sarah Bella Dunlop Ludlow, with whom Kate Chase had a difficult relationship. After Sarah’s death, also of consumption, on January 13, 1852, Chase did not remarry. Widowed three times and haunted by the deaths of four children, Salmon Chase cherished his two surviving daughters – Kate and her younger sister Nettie, who both survived their father.
Kate Chase grew into a beautiful and smart young woman, who was the apple of her father’s eye. She is best known as a society hostess during the Civil War, and a strong supporter of her father’s political ambitions.
The effects of death, always so near, deepened Salmon Chase’s religious fervor. Days spent in Bible reading and prayer, and soul torture for possible neglect of duty in not impressing others with the need of salvation, left a deep mark on Chase.
Chase as a Young Lawyer
As a practicing attorney, Chase made his permanent home in Cincinnati. It was a wise choice. Located on the north bank of the Ohio River, with its busy western trade and with slave territory on the opposite bank, Cincinnati offered splendid opportunities for a young lawyer of ability and strong moral views.
Chase became convinced that slavery was a sin and that African Americans deserved not only freedom but also civil rights. He took part in the antislavery movement and other reform activities. Chase’s legal talents were quickly recognized. He defended a number of escaped slaves in local as well as federal courts, including the Supreme Court, and he was soon being called the attorney for runaway slaves. In 1834, Chase defended abolitionist editor and activist James Birney, who had been arrested for helping a runaway slave to escape.
His most famous case was the defense of John Van Zandt, who had been arrested while carrying a number of Kentucky runaway slaves to freedom under a load of hay in 1842. Chase and William H. Seward, acting as unpaid lawyers, carried Vanzant’s case to the U.S. Supreme Court, where their eloquent appeals for minority rights on constitutional grounds attracted national attention.
Chase’s insistence that no claim to persons as property could be supported by any United States law won antislavery support among those who rejected William Lloyd Garrison’s extreme militant views. It also served to advance Chase’s political standing in Ohio and led to correspondence with such national antislavery figures as Charles Sumner.
Chase in Politics
Initially a Whig, Chase helped form the antislavery Liberty Party, and became one of its leaders, and of the Free-Soil Party in Ohio in 1848, which was dedicated to the non-expansion of slavery. A coalition of Free Soilers and Democrats in Ohio elected Chase to the United States Senate in early 1849.
During his single term, Chase vehemently condemned the Fugitive Slave Law, and used his position to protest measures such as the Compromise of 1850. His Appeal of the Independent Democrats was a classic expression of protest against a conspiracy to nationalize slavery.
Chase’s opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 provoked him to help organize the Anti-Nebraska Party in Ohio, which soon became known as the Republican Party.
In 1855, Chase successfully ran for governor of Ohio as a Republican. Slavery was the dominant issue of the campaign. As governor he advocated public education and prison reform. He also supported reform of the state militia and improved property rights for women. Chase was re-elected as governor in 1857, but his second term was much less productive as Democrats gained control of the state legislature.
Chase’s ultimate political goal was to become President of the United States, but he failed to gain the Republican nomination in 1856. The principal reason for these losses was his radical abolitionist views.
In the meantime, Republicans regained control of the Ohio legislature in 1859 and sent Chase back to the Senate. His chances for the Republican nomination for president in 1860 seemed promising. But at the Republican convention, the Ohio delegation was divided, and on the third ballot, transferred four votes to Abraham Lincoln, which gave him the necessary majority, placing Chase in a favorable position for a cabinet post if Lincoln was elected.
Chase as Secretary of the Treasury
Only two days after taking his seat in the Senate, Salmon 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. Vast sums of money had to be borrowed, bonds marketed, and the national currency kept as stable as possible.
With customs revenue from the Southern cotton trade cut off, Chase had to implement internal taxes. The Bureau of Internal Revenue, later the Internal Revenue Service, was created in 1862 to collect stamp taxes and internal duties. The next year, it administered the nation’s first income tax.
Interest rates soared, and soon a resort to paper currency was reluctantly accepted. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing was established in 1862 to print the government’s first currency, known as greenbacks because of their color. Chase disapproved of them in principle – these were legal tender notes not backed by specie, and could be printed in unlimited quantities and were therefore inflationary.
During Chase’s years as secretary of the treasury, the United States began to print “In God We Trust” on all currency. 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.
He was instrumental in establishing the National Banking System in 1863, which opened a market for bonds and stabilized currency. The greenbacks, within a new network of national banks, directly involved the government in banking for the first time.
The Emancipation Proclamation
In his diary, Secretary Chase recorded the cabinet meeting on September 22, 1862, where the draft Emancipation Proclamation was approved: “To Department about nine. State Department messenger came, with notice to Heads of Departments to meet at 12.—Received sundry callers.—Went to White House.”
After reading a second draft to the Cabinet, Lincoln issued his preliminary Proclamation, which announced that emancipation would become effective on January 1, 1863, in those states ‘in rebellion’ that had not, during the interim period, ceased hostilities. He issued and signed the supplementary or real Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. It says, in part:
Whereas, on the September 22, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
Chase was often critical of the president, whom he viewed as incompetent and confused. His main complaints were against keeping General George B. McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac and the refusal to use Negro troops. Chase’s radical antislavery views, as well as his political ambitions, put him at odds with the more moderate Lincoln.
Chase’s constant disagreement with administration policies gained him a following among the Radical Republicans in Congress. Chase was a bureaucratic meddler whose interests ranged well beyond the Treasury Department. He often involved himself in policy regarding the army and allied himself with the Radicals, while using Treasury agents to set up a political network around the country.
After the terrible Union loss at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, a group of senators, influenced by Chase’s complaints, held a secret caucus and drew up a document to be presented to the President, demanding “a change in and a partial reconstruction of the Cabinet.” It was, in fact, an effort to remove Seward and to advance Chase. On learning of the plan, Seward sent his resignation to the President, who put it aside.
Then, by bringing the protesters and the rest of the Cabinet together for a frank discussion, Lincoln skillfully led Chase to repudiate some of his charges. This hurt Chase with both friend and foe. The next morning he offered his own resignation. Lincoln now held both Seward’s and Chase’s resignations and, having gained the upper hand, refused to accept either.
A Chase associate, Hugh McCulloch, later wrote that “personal relations between Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Chase were never cordial. They were about as unlike in appearance, in education, manners, in taste, and temperament, as two eminent men could be.” But Lincoln did admire Chase, once saying, that “Chase is about one and a half times bigger than any other man that I ever knew.”
As the war dragged on, Chase became increasingly convinced of the impossibility of Lincoln’s re-election. The Emancipation Proclamation had been satisfactory as far as it went, he felt, but it had not gone far enough. A new leader with a new approach was needed Chase decided that it was his duty to seek the Republican nomination in 1864.
A group of Radical leaders issued a pamphlet declaring Chase as the man who best fit the party’s needs. The Chase boom, however, collapsed as Lincoln’s hold on the public became clear. Chase was unsuccessful in gaining the Republican presidential nomination in 1864, losing out to Lincoln as he had in 1860. This made Chase’s place as a Cabinet member embarrassing, and soon Chase submitted his resignation. In October 1864, Lincoln accepted it, much to the chagrin of the secretary.
Chase as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
In spite of their disagreements, Lincoln still respected Chase. When Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney died in October 1864, Lincoln chose Chase to replace him and become the sixth chief justice in the history of the court, a position he held until his death.
In one of his first acts as Chief Justice, Chase appointed John Rock as the first African-American attorney to argue cases before the Supreme Court. Soon thereafter, President Lincoln was assassinated, and Chase administered the presidential oath to Andrew Johnson.
Chase presided over the Court during the difficult period of Reconstruction. The important tasks were to restore the Southern judicial systems and to uphold the law against congressional invasion. In December 1868, Chase confirmed the pardon of former Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Chase was unable to forge a solid majority during his tenure as Chief Justice and often found himself in dissent on important cases.
In March 1868, Chase presided over the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in the U.S. Senate. The Chief Justice brought to the trial a much needed air of dignity and impartiality. As the first impeachment trial of a President under the Constitution, Chase realized that the procedure would set important precedents. He insisted that the Senate conduct itself as a court of law, not as a legislative body.
Meanwhile, the ambitious Chase still wanted to be president of the United States. Abandoning the Republican party, actively sought the presidential nomination of the Democratic party in 1868. He had the aid of his brilliant, beautiful and wealthy daughter, Kate Chase Sprague, who, as Washington’s most lavish hostess, sought to promote her father’s political career. In spite of the combined efforts of father and daughter, Chase never succeeded in capturing that office.
Chase became less involved in politics as his health began to fail. He 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. Toward the end of his life, he made an unsuccessful effort to secure the nomination of the Liberal Republican party for the Presidency in 1872, but they chose Horace Greeley.
Chase’s arduous duties as chief justice and fruitless exertions to gain the presidency led to rapid decline in health. Chase suffered another stroke at the home of his daughter Nettie in New York City.
Salmon Portland Chase died in New York City on May 7, 1873, at the age of sixty-five, with his two daughters at his side.
A funeral was held in the Episcopal Church of St. George in New York City. On May 11, the body was taken back to Washington, DC, for a formal state funeral, lying in state in the Old Senate Chambers on the same catafalque that had held the bier of President Lincoln. He was laid to rest at the Oak Hill Cemetery nearby.
Image: Salmon P. Chase Grave
A docent in period dress portrays Chase’s daughter,
Kate Chase Sprague, who is buried nearby.
In 1886, the State of Ohio requested that its favorite son be buried in Cincinnati. Salmon Chase and his daughter Kate, who died in poverty in 1899, rest together at the Spring Grove Cemetery outside Chase’s beloved Cincinnati.
In 1877, New York banker John Thompson named the Chase Manhattan Bank after Chase, because of his efforts in passing the National Bank Act of 1863.
Chase received one final honor in 1934, when the United States Treasury chose to place his portrait on the $10,000 bill.
The Trouble With Treason: Prosecuting Jefferson Davis
Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez is both a Civil War historian and a trial attorney in Austin, Texas. That background helped him delve into the details of each side of Jefferson Davis’ treason trial. Although the political head of the Confederacy was captured in 1865 and charged with treason in 1866, he spent only two years in captivity, and the charges were ultimately dropped. Icenhauer-Ramirez tracks the case at every turn in his recent book Treason on Trial, discovering shocking irregularities in the prosecution of Davis and the complicity of Chief Justice Salmon Chase in impeding the progress of the case.
CWT:What was Jefferson Davis imprisoned for?
RIR:Once Lincoln was murdered, the people that were closest to Lincoln believed that Davis had a hand in it. I think if they had come up with a strong link to the assassination, he would have been tried for the murder by a military tribunal, but they couldn’t establish it conclusively. He was placed in prison and indicted for treason, something that was obvious as a charge.
Treason on Trial: The United States v. Jefferson Davis
LSU Press, 2019, $55
CWT:Talk about Virginia attorney Lucius Chandler, who wrote the treason indictment.
RIR:Chandler was the U.S. district attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, an appointed attorney. But the reason he was appointed had nothing to do with his skill level and everything to do with the fact that he was one of the few attorneys in the Eastern District who had been loyal to the North. Chandler, a transplanted Yankee, had remained loyal to the North, but he had no trial skills and really did not have the temperament or even the interest in being a trial lawyer.
CWT:You found something astounding in the Davis indictment.
RIR:A book about Aaron Burr had a copy of his indictment for treason and I saw that the language was exactly the same as the Davis indictment. Chandler just substitutes Davis’ name for Burr’s and that indictment stands for a couple of years in the case. When Attorney General William Evarts finds out that Chandler has not redrafted the indictment, he is livid. It is inconceivable that a well-trained prosecutor would think he could go to trial with that indictment.
CWT:Talk about the challenge of trying Davis in Virginia.
RIR:The U.S. Constitution says that treason will be tried in the location where it was committed. To be true to the Constitution, they’ve got to try him in Richmond. That’s a terrible spot for the federal government to try the president of the Confederacy. Not only because the jury pool is going to be tainted against the federal government but if you find people who are loyal to the Union, to try the Confederate president, there’s going to be the intimidation factor, especially for African Americans. That’s very real in the South after the Civil War.
CWT:There was also resistance from Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon Chase.
RIR:As Lincoln said, Chase got the presidential bug, and once you get it, you don’t lose it. His circuit happened to include Virginia, where he could go down and try cases. The last thing he wanted to do was alienate the people in the returning states. He knew this was going to be very divisive and kept it from being tried for a good long while and undermined the prosecution once it looked like it might actually go to trial. He privately insinuated to one of the defense lawyers that the 14th amendment would shield Davis from prosecution. There are signs that everybody knows what Chase is doing is improper, but he’s doing it anyway.
CWT:Would losing a treason trial against Davis bolster the legitimacy of secession?
RIR:I do not think so. But Richard Henry Dana Jr., one of the prosecution’s lawyers, is convinced that Davis’ attorney, Charles O’Conor, is going to say secession is legal, and, if secession was legal, Davis could not have committed treason. Occasionally, lawyers lose faith in their ability to win a case and begin to pitch ideas against trying it, in the hopes that their client will agree in its futility. Their client of course, was Andrew Johnson.
CWT:Andrew Johnson had made a campaign pledge to prosecute Davis.
RIR:Johnson never forgave Davis for slights toward him in the Senate, and he goes into the 1864 election campaigning that treason needs to be made odious. He thought the South’s leadership had led the good people of the South into a horrendous war. He thought the aristocratic leadership of the South had committed treason and he wanted people hanged for that. After the war, the Radical Republicans think Johnson is going to be more likely to hang people than Lincoln would have been. But when they began butting heads over how Reconstruction should proceed, Johnson is faced with the choice of either losing the support of the Radical Republicans and having no real political support, or moving over to the Democrats and working with them, and that’s what he chooses to do. The Democrats had no interest in trying Davis. For several years after the war, Johnson was interested in trying Davis. But I think by the time he gets impeached, he has bigger fish to fry.
CWT:In February 1869, the case is dismissed. What happened?
RIR:The prosecution was convinced that it’s going to be useless to try Davis. If they lose, it will look really bad for the feds. If they convict him, it will look like retribution rather than a just punishment. Attorney General Evarts solicits a letter from Richard Henry Dana recommending that the case be dismissed. When he finally presents it to the president, Johnson allows the case to be dismissed. Davis is in Europe and the case just fizzles. The people driving the case early on were the people that loved Lincoln like Edwin Stanton and Joseph Holt. But they begin to leave the government, and more people take office who have no interest in prosecuting Davis.
CWT:The delay in prosecution allowed the case to wither on the vine.
RIR:Davis’ reputation seemed to rise the longer he remained in jail. He became a martyr, and his embracing of the role of martyr was something that played into the Lost Cause myth. Early on, with the right prosecutor and the right judges, I think that the federal government likely could have gone to trial. Johnson would have wanted them to go to trial. But it just lingers and lingers and lingers. And Davis, charged with a capital offense, is out on bond. That’s an acknowledgement that you’re not really very dangerous. It was really the individuals who had their hands on the case who put it in a spot where it just didn’t make sense to try it.
This story appeared in the December 2019 issue of Civil War Times.
Blue, Frederick J. 1987. Salmon P. Chase: A Life in Politics. Kent, Ohio: Kent State Univ. Press.
Cushman, Claire, ed. 1993. The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789–1993. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.
Friedman, Leon, and Fred L. Israel, eds. 1969. The Justices of the United States Supreme Court, 1789–1969: Their Lives and Major Opinions. New York: Chelsea House.
Hyman, Harold Melvin. 1997. The Reconstruction Justice of Salmon P. Chase. Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas.
Niven, John. 1995. Salmon P. Chase: A Biography. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
The Law of the Land: Chief Justice Salmon P. ChasePhotograph of Salmon P. Chase, ca. 1865-1870, via Ohio Memory. Chase’s argument in the Jones v. Van Zandt case, via the State Library of Ohio Rare Books Collection.
With a U.S. Supreme Court nomination in the news recently, this seems like a good time to look at the history of our nation’s highest court. Since the Supreme Court met for the first time in February 1790, ten justices have been either Ohio residents at the time of their appointment, or Ohio natives, including three chief justices: Morrison Waite, William Howard Taft, and Salmon P. Chase, the first Ohioan to become chief justice.
Chase was born in New Hampshire on January 13, 1808. After his mother died when he was young, he came to Ohio to live with his uncle, Episcopal bishop Philander Chase. He attended Cincinnati College and later Dartmouth, but moved back to Ohio in 1830 to practice law in Cincinnati.
Chase was a strong abolitionist, known for defending escaped slaves and those who were arrested for helping them. He argued against the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act before the U.S. Supreme Court in Jones v. Van Zandt (1847), in which a Kentucky slave owner sought compensation from an Ohio abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor for the cost of recovering escaped slaves. Although Chase argued that Van Zandt could not be found guilty of aiding a fugitive slave because slavery was illegal in Ohio, the court ruled against him and forced Van Zandt to pay damages.
Letter from the Hamilton County prosecuting attorney to Governor Chase regarding the Margaret Garner fugitive slave case (the inspiration for Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved). Via Ohio Memory.
Chase was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1849, where he continued to oppose the Fugitive Slave Act and also fought against the expansion of slavery permitted by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. He then served two terms as Ohio governor from 1856-1860. (You can read Governor Chase’s “State of the State” addresses for 1857, 1858, 1859 and 1860 on Ohio Memory.) He was elected to the Senate again in 1859, but served only two days before resigning to become secretary of the treasury for Abraham Lincoln. In this role he oversaw the creation of a national banking system (which allowed the sale of government bonds to finance the Civil War) and also designed and issued the first U.S. paper currency. The politically ambitious Chase put his own image on the $1 bill so voters would be familiar with his name.
Chase desired high political office he unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1856, 1860 and 1864, and would later seek the Democratic nomination in 1868. Chase’s relationship with Lincoln was contentious, and he threatened to resign his cabinet position more than once until Lincoln finally surprised Chase by accepting. However, after former Chief Justice Roger B. Taney died, Lincoln nominated Chase to serve in his place on December 6, 1864. Chase was confirmed by the Senate the same day.
One of Chase’s first acts as chief justice was to admit John Rock as the first African American attorney to argue cases before the Supreme Court. He also presided over the 1868 impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson, and later that same year, confirmed the pardon of former Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Chase served as chief justice until his death in 1873 in New York City.
Thank you to Stephanie Michaels, Research and Catalog Services Librarian at the State Library of Ohio, for this week’s post! Check back in coming weeks to learn more about Ohio’s other chief justices.
Salmon P. Chase
Salmon Portland Chase was born in Cornish Township, New Hampshire, the son of a tavern keeper and minor public official. Following the death of his father, Chase lived with an uncle, Philander Chase, the Episcopal bishop of Ohio. In 1826, he graduated from Dartmouth College and later studied law in Washington under the respected U.S. attorney general, William Wirt. Chase established a law practice in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1830. He defended runaway slaves and those who aided them (see Underground Railroad) he also wrote and lectured on Abolitionism and other reform topics. Chase’s initial political allegiance was to the Whig party, but in 1848 he assisted in the establishment of the Free-Soil Party. From 1849 to 1855, Chase served in the U.S. Senate where he was an outspoken critic of the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Joining the new Republican Party, Chase was elected governor of Ohio in 1855. His home state returned him to the Senate in 1861, but he soon resigned to accept a position in Lincoln’s cabinet. Chase actively pursued the presidency. He unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination in 1856 and again in 1860, when was considered a frontrunner with William H. Seward. In the latter instance, he released his delegates to help assure Lincoln’s nomination on the third ballot. In 1864, Chase maneuvered behind the scenes, hoping to win the nomination at Lincoln’s expense. Even as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Chase hoped to engineer his way to the presidency in 1868 and 1872. As Lincoln’s secretary of the treasury, Chase performed ably in guiding wartime financing. However, he clashed repeatedly with the president, pushing him to make the end of slavery a major war aim Lincoln resisted. Chase also was critical of the military abilities of Irvin McDowell, Henry Halleck and George B. McClellan. In mid-1864, the president accepted Chase’s resignation, but by year’s end he was appointed Chief Justice. Though not particularly judicial in temperament, Chase performed well. He presided over the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson with fairness and, while often in the minority, sought to protect the former slaves under the 13th and 14th amendments.
What the Original $1 Bill Looked Like
I've been reading The End of Money, a book packed with tidbits about the history of money, with a special focus on the greenback. The book mentions former Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, who was in the enviable position of designing the original US $1 bill in 1862. So who do you think he put on that bill? Himself, of course. Chase wanted to be President, and he figured that having his face on popular currency would be killer buzz-marketing -- obviously, that didn't pan out. Above is a (suitably low-fi and non-counterfeity) image of that first dollar bill, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Chase's visage also graces the obverse of the 1929 $10,000 bill, as a kind of consolation prize for his demotion from $1 fame. Other relevant fun facts: the "P" in Salmon P. Chase stands for "Portland" Chase National Bank was named after him (though he wasn't actually involved in its operation) and in 1869 George Washington replaced Chase on our $1 notes -- by that time, Chase was a member of the Supreme Court, busily declaring his own creation of the greenback to be unconstitutional. You had a good (seven-year) run, Salmon.
What other large currency denominations have been printed by the US?
The 2nd largest banknote created by the US government was the 1934 series $100,000 gold certificate. These notes were only made by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing during a three-week period from December 1934 through January 1935. However, there were not that many plutocrats who had this much cash during the time of the Great Depression to carry around one of those $100,000 bills. Just like with the $1 million dollar bill, they were only used in official transactions in between the various Federal Reserve Banks, and they were only issued by the U.S. Treasurer to the Federal banks that had an equivalent amount of gold with the treasury. As you can see in the picture, Woodrow Wilson’s picture was featured on the note.
Chief Justice Chase Scolds the Senate for Premature Impeachment Activities (1868)
On February 24, 1868, three days after President Johnson dismissed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton without Senate concurrence, the House voted 126-47 in favor of a resolution “[t]hat Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, be impeached of high crimes and misdemeanors.” For a while, exactly what Johnson had done to merit impeachment remained (at least formally) unknown. Yet the Senate went about organizing itself to try Johnson’s impeachment, adopting on March 2 a set of “Rules of Procedure and Practice in the Senate when sitting on the Trial of Impeachments.”
On March 4, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase dashed off a letter to the Senate, “submitting some observations in respect to the proper mode of proceeding upon the impeachment which has been preferred by the House of Representatives against the President now in Office”:
Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution says the “Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments,” but it’s unclear when the Senate may organize itself to try impeachments (when it’s been informed of an affirmative impeachment vote, or only after it’s received detailed articles of impeachment?) and whether it must wait until “sitting for that purpose” to establish rules and procedures for the trial.
Chase’s chief “observation” addressed the timing question. In his view, the Senate could not organize itself under oath as an impeachment court until it had received concrete articles of impeachment. (The articles actually arrived in the Senate later on the afternoon of March 4.) Furthermore, “no summons or other process should issue except from the organized Court, and . . . rules for the government of the proceedings of such a Court should be framed only by the Court itself.” Chase knew the Senate had “proceeded upon other views.” Rather than purport to nullify what it had done, he set out to convince posterity that the Senate’s premature issuances should not be repeated in the event that, God forbid, the chronology of this first presidential impeachment should ever need to be consulted as a precedent.
Here’s page one of the letter Chase wrote to the Senate:
Here’s the full text of Chase’s letter:
- Inasmuch as the sole power to try impeachments is vested by the Constitution in the Senate, and it is made the duty of the Chief Justice to preside when the President is on trial, I take the liberty of submitting, very respectfully, some observations in respect to the proper mode of proceeding upon the impeachment which has been preferred by the House of Representatives against the President, now in office.
- That when the Senate sits for the trial of an impeachment it sits as a Court, seems unquestionable.
- That, for the trial of an impeachment of the President, this Court must be constituted of the members of the Senate, with the Chief Justice presiding, seems equally unquestionable.
- The Federalist is regarded as the highest contemporary authority on the construction of the Constitution and in the sixty-fourth number the functions of the Senate ‘‘sitting in their judicial capacity as a court for the trial of impeachments’’ are examined.
- In a paragraph explaining the reasons for not uniting ‘‘the Supreme Court with the Senate in the formation of the court of impeachments’’ it is observed that ‘‘to a certain extent the benefits of that union will be obtained from making the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court the President of the Court of Impeachments, as is proposed in the plan of the convention, while the inconveniences of an entire incorporation of the former into the latter will be substantially avoided. This was, perhaps, the prudent mean.’’
- This authority seems to leave no doubt upon either of the propositions just stated.
- And the statement of them will serve to introduce the question upon which I think it my duty to state the result of my reflections to the Senate, namely, At what period, in the case of an impeachment of the President, should the Court of Impeachment be organized under oath as directed by the Constitution?
- It will readily suggest itself to anyone who reflects upon the abilities and the learning in the law which distinguish so many Senators, that besides the reason assigned in the Federalist, there must have been still another for the provision requiring the Chief Justice to preside in the Court of Impeachment. Under the Constitution, in case of a vacancy in the office of President, the Vice President succeeds and it was doubtless thought prudent and befitting that the next in succession should not preside in a proceeding through which a vacancy might be created.
- It is not doubted that the Senate, while sitting in its ordinary capacity, must necessarily receive from the House of Representatives, some notice of its intention to impeach the President at its bar but it does not seem to me an unwarranted opinion, in view of this constitutional provision, that the organization of the Senate as a Court of Impeachment under the Constitution, should precede the actual announcement of the impeachment on the part of the House.
- And it may perhaps be thought a still less unwarranted opinion that articles of impeachment should only be presented to a Court of Impeachment that no summons or other process should issue except from the organized Court, and that rules for the government of the proceedings of such a Court should be framed only by the Court itself.
- I have found myself unable to come to any other conclusions than these. I can assign no reason for requiring the Senate to organize as a Court under any other than its ordinary presiding officer, for the later proceedings upon an impeachment of the President, which does not seem to me to apply equally to the earlier.
- I am informed that the Senate has proceeded upon other views and it is not my purpose to contest what its superior wisdom may have directed.
- All good citizens will fervently pray that no occasion may ever arise when the grave proceedings now in progress will be cited as a precedent but it is not impossible that such an occasion may come.
- Inasmuch, therefore, as the Constitution has charged the Chief Justice with an important function in the trial of an impeachment of the President, it has seemed to me fitting and obligatory, where he is unable to concur in the views of the Senate, concerning matters essential to the trial, that his respectful dissent should appear.
Salmon P. Chase
“The second man in importance and ability to be put into the Cabinet was Mr. [Salmon P.] Chase, of Ohio,” wrote fellow Administration official Charles A. Dana. “He was an able, noble, spotless statesman a man who would have been worthy of the best days of the old Roman republic. He had been a candidate for the presidency, though a less conspicuous one than Seward. Mr. Chase was a portly man tall, and of an impressive appearance, with a very handsome, large head. He was genial, though very decided, and occasionally he would criticize the President, a thing I never heard Mr. Seward do. Chase had been successful in Ohio politics, and in the Treasury Department his administration was satisfactory to the public. He was the author of the national banking law. I remember going to dine with him one day – I did that pretty often, as I had known him well when I was on the Tribune – and he said to me: ‘I have completed to-day a very great thing. I have finished the National Bank Act. It will be a blessing to the country long after I am dead.'” 1
Historian Allan Nevins wrote that the prospect of war made Chase cautious in March 1861. Chase “had gone into the Cabinet with the reputation of an unflinching radical, the doughtiest champion of those whom C[harles]. F. Adams called the ramwells – that is, the diehards. But at the moment it was actually true that, as Greeley’s Washington correspondent wrote, he was no extremist, but ‘moderate, conciliatory, deliberate, and conservative.’ One important factor in his hesitation was his fear that a war would be very difficult, and perhaps impossible, to finance. He was under pressure from Eastern bankers who had warned him that they would not take his pending eight-million-dollar loan unless the government pursued a peace policy. Now he wrote Lincoln that if relieving the fort meant enlisting huge armies and spending millions, he would not advise it. It was only because he believed that the South might be cajoled by full explanations and other conciliatory gestures into accepting the relief effort without war that he supported it. That is, he was for relief only with careful explanations.” 2
Chase was as difficult as he was capable. Pennsylvania editor Alexander K. McClure wrote: “Salmon P. Chase was the most irritating fly in the Lincoln ointment from the inauguration of the new administration in 1861 until the 29 th of June, 1864, when his resignation as Secretary of the Treasury was finally accepted. He was an annual resigner in the Cabinet, having petulantly tendered his resignation in 1862, again in 1863, and again in 1864, when he was probably surprised by Mr. Lincoln’s acceptance of it. It was soon after Lincoln’s unanimous renomination, and when Chase’s dream of succeeding Lincoln as President had perished, at least for the time. He was one of the strongest intellectual forces of the entire administration, but in politics he was a theorist and a dreamer and was unbalanced by overmastering ambition.” 3
Salmon Portland Chase was born in 1808 in New Hampshire, the son of a farmer-manufacturer. His father died when he was nine and when he was 12, he was sent to Ohio to leave with his Uncle Philander where he was educated as schools his uncle headed until he was 15. Like Mr. Lincoln, he found farming chores distasteful. He returned to New Hampshire where he entered Dartmouth as a 16-year-old sophomore, graduating when he was 18. Like eventual Republican rival William H. Seward, he tried an early stint at teaching. He taught school while in college and on graduation went to Washington on his uncle’s recommendation where he spent three years as a teacher. He was not, however, very patient in teaching or politics.
Chase’s high birth helped to give him a high opinion of himself. According to biographer John Niven, “As a politician he was not trusted even by close associates. His family and his education marked him as an aristocrat in the frontier city where he settled. And even after Cincinnati became a more populous, cosmopolitan urban center in the 1840s and 1850s. Chase’s eastern college background and his Episcopalian faith did not evoke the mass enthusiasm that would have made him more attractive to his political associates.” 4
Chase studied law without much diligence, was admitted to the bar at age 24, and moved to Cincinnati to begin his practice. (In Washington, he had become something of a protégé of Attorney General William Wirt, who acted as a father figure to him.) He was perhaps a better editor and writer than attorney in 1832 Chase published a edition of the collected laws of Ohio that gained him a legal reputation in Ohio and adjoining states. He subsequently won sufficient bank business to make his legal profession a profitable one. He took on a succession of partners and a parade of legal clerks, who were expected to aid in Chase’s own political pursuits as well as his legal ones.
In marriage, Chase had less luck than in the law. His first wife died less than two years after their marriage in 1834 their daughter died before she reached five. He had three daughters by his second marriage in 1839 two daughters died as did his wife in 1845. His third marriage in 1846 lasted only six years before his wife died, survived by one of their two children.
Progressively during the 1830s, Chase was drawn into the association with abolitionists James Birney (a newspaper editor who later moved to New York) and Gamaliel Bailey – and into legal cases on behalf of the abolitionist cause. In so doing, he seems to have been motivated primarily by religious and moral reasons. There certainly was no political advantage to Chase, since Cincinnati was too close to the South to encourage abolitionist thinking. He developed a reputation as the “attorney general of fugitive slaves” – even though he lost all of his cases. 5 Chase argued repeatedly: “The honor, the welfare, the safety of our country, imperiously require the absolute and unqualified divorce of the government from slavery.” 6
Chase advocated the “denationalization of slavery” – restricting it in all places over which the federal government had control and limiting to slave-holding states. According to Chase, the Constitutional prohibition against deprivation of “life, liberty or property except by due process of law” meant that the Constitution could not be used to justify slavery.
Chase’s political career was much more checkered than Mr. Lincoln’s. He spent most of the 1830s as a Whig, abandoning that party in 1841 for the Liberty Party, then helping to organize the Free Soil Party in 1848. He became a Democrat with his election to the Senate in 1849 (over Whig Joshua Giddings) and was effectively frozen out of Senate business and the Democratic caucus by his abolitionist ideas. He was also pro-immigrant, pro-land grants, but anti-pork. Along with New York Senator William H. Seward he gave one of the great speeches against the Compromise of 1850 although he lacked much personal or political empathy with Seward. He worked during this period to strengthen “free Democracy” without much success.
Like Mr. Lincoln, he cultivated the newspaper editors. Like Mr. Lincoln, he was appalled by mobs – as when mobs threatened newspaper editor James Birney (in a case similar to that of Elijah Lovejoy in Illinois) Like Mr. Lincoln, he helped found a “Lyceum,” and one of the lectures he delivered was entitled the “Effects of Machinery.” Unlike Mr. Lincoln, he was not a good stump speaker but he was a good writer, especially of political platforms. He was better at speaking to small groups than with large audiences. Biographer Albert Bushnell Hart wrote: “Though Chase never could learn the quickness and adroitness which made Seward and [John] Hale such formidable debaters, he knew how to argue, and especially how to state great principles in a popular form.” 7 Biographer Hart wrote: “It was not in Chase’s nature to be persuasive in all his public life his successes were those of the downright man, convincing without pleasing. Himself a most capable legislator when in the Senate, he had little patience with slow intellects, and less of that urbane yielding of non-essentials which secures the adoption of the larger matters of principle.” 8
Chase was also a good slogan maker. In the Senate, he coined the phrase: “Freedom is national slavery only is local and sectional.” He wrote President-elect Lincoln, “let the word pass from the head of the column before the Republicans move…the simple watchword – Inauguration first – adjustment afterwards.” 9 He also came up with “In God We Trust.” 10 He coined the phrase, “Free Soil, Free Labor and Free Men.”
Historian Eric Foner wrote: “Chase’s interpretation of the Constitution thus formed the legal basis for the political program which was created by the Liberty party and inherited in large part by the Free Soilers and Republicans….In 1850, Chase wrote to Charles Sumner that his political outlook could be summarized in three ideas: 1. That the original policy of the Government was that of slavery restriction. 2. That under the Constitution Congress cannot establish or maintain slavery in the territories. 3. That the original policy of the Government has been subverted and the Constitution violated for the extension of slavery, and the establishment of the political supremacy of the Slave Power.” 11
In 1854, Senator Chase was responsible for the “Appeal of the Independent Democrats in Congress to the People of the United States” – a strong criticism of Douglas’ proposal on slavery. He was one of the leading constitutional theorists for the anti-slavery movement. “Chase developed an interpretation of American history which convinced thousands of northerners that anti-slavery was the intended policy of the founders of the nation, and was fully compatible with the Constitution. He helped develop the idea that southern slaveholders, organized politically as a Slave Power, were conspiring to dominate the national government, reverse the policy of the founding fathers, and make slavery the ruling interest of the republic.” 12
In some ways, he was caught between his ambition and his sense of duty. Like Mr. Lincoln, he had trouble helping to provide for his relatives, especially his alcoholic brother Alexander and younger brother William. But Chase had even less luck with political friends. His pursuit of compromise among those who were not accustomed to compromise led to misunderstandings and accusations of betrayal – especially when he was nominated to the U.S. Senate. He sought to replace James Birney as the presidential candidate of the Liberty Party in 1848. As biographer John Niven noted: “From that encounter and kindred experiences he learned that one must be very careful with abolitionists, who dealt in moral absolutes. They were a querulous, changeable lot, suspicious and with good reason of political parties. Coming from an evangelistic tradition – many of them Protestant ministers – they were accustomed to exhortation and moral persuasion through the religious press, pamphlets, books and lectures. Most considered themselves missionaries carrying God’s will to a heathen nation.” 13 Niven quotes John McLean as observing: “Chase is the most unprincipled man politically that I have ever known. He is selfish beyond any other man, and I know from the bargain he has made in being elected to the Senate, he is ready to make any bargain to promote his interest.” 14 In his biography, Frederick Blue observed of Chase in 1848: “…at this early stage in his career, he sought high station instead by operating as a manager and organizer, a behind-the-scenes ‘compromiser’ who also turned his private tragedies into deep, uncompromising concerns for the oppressed.” 15
Curiously, Chase was both a moral puritan and an opportunistic politician. Chase lacked charisma but he had no lack of moral rectitude. He lacked a knack for political manipulation. He sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1856 but suffered from a divided Ohio delegation. His reelection in 1857 suffered from revelations of corruption within his own administration (but not him) – he won by only 1500 votes. Part of Chase’s problem was that his own concept of moral error was not shared. Purity conflicted with deal-making. One Democratic leader told some Cincinnati men: “Boys! I see you have been talking with Chase. He is courting you young men. Avoid him. He is a political vampire. No! He’s a sort of moral bull-bitch.” 16 His subordinates at the Treasury Department frequently did not have the same rectitude – whether supervising customs or the cotton trade. William Reynolds, the Chase appointee for Port Royal, was one of those associated with corruption. 17 Problems with his appointees led to a confrontation with President Lincoln and Chase’s resignation in late June 1864.
Fellow Ohioan Benjamin Wade said of Chase: “Chase is a good man, but his theology is unsound. He thinks there is a fourth person in the Trinity.” 18 Biographer Albert Bushnell Hart wrote: “As a politician, Chase lacked conciliation and alertness yet he did first and last win many votes for the measures and the men whom he supported. He was in large degree an opportunist. In the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, where his qualities as a man were perhaps more clearly revealed than in any other episode of his life, he did everything that could be done to modify the bill, except to give up the principles upon which his objection was founded….,”
But Chase’s moralism had an important impact wrote biographer Hart. “Chase saw more clearly than any other public man of his time, except Lincoln, the importance, the necessity, and the moral effect of sticking to a consistent principle. He entered public life as an anti-slavery man, and nothing ever drew him aside from what he conceived to be the right of the bondman, and the parallel right of the community to be freed from bondage.” 19 He had difficulty inspiring warm political allies, but managed to be a mentor to many younger politicians and lawyers like future President James Garfield.
Biographer Albert Bushnell Hart wrote: …in his own lifetime Chase had fewer warm friends and admirers than almost any one of these rivals, and that somehow he repeatedly gave an impression of smallness in small matters, which dimmed his reputation. This came first of all from his measuring himself with Lincoln, and in that unhappy difference he did not show a great man’s appreciation of another great man’s character and personality.” 20 That deficiency was clear at the 1860 Republican National Convention. At the State Convention, Chase was endorsed 375-73. Unlike Mr. Lincoln, he did not assure the unity of his home state delegation in 1860. He got 34 of the state’s votes on the first ballot 12 delegates supported other candidates. He got only 15 votes from other non-Ohio delegates. However, the chairman of the Ohio delegation, former Congressman David Carrter, was not a strong Chase Partisan. And, noted biographer John Niven, Senator “Ben Wade was running a covert campaign in part to block Chase for whom he had formed a distinct personal dislike and in part because he thought his credentials were as good if not better than any other western man for the nomination.” 21 At the Chicago convention, David Carrter changed four votes to Lincoln when he stuttered: “I rise (eh) Mr. Chairman (eh), to announce the change of four votes of Ohio from Mr. Chase to Mr. Lincoln.” 22 Chase simply did not inspire enthusiasm or loyalty.
Chase had again been elected to the Senate on February 3, 1860, defeating George Pugh, the Democrat who had been elected to succeed him six years earlier. He had to relinquish that position to join the cabinet in March 1861. After Mr. Lincoln’s election in November 1860, Chase tried to keep New York’s William H. Seward and Indiana’s Caleb Smith out of Lincoln’s cabinet. Chase worried about too many Whigs in the Cabinet. Seward’s friends worried about too many Democrats. Seward tried to keep out Chase, Welles and Blair, all former Democrats. Meanwhile, Senator Chase served as an Ohio representative on the Peace commission and used his influence to see that it did not go anywhere.
Like other members of the Lincoln cabinet, Chase was a busybody who refused to confine his thoughts to his responsibilities. At the beginning of the War, he took particular responsibility for affairs in Kentucky. He also took an active part in military appointments. “Throughout the war Chase kept up his great interest in the conduct of the army, and he maintained close correspondence with many of the commanders, – at first with McClellan, later with Hooker, Lander, H.B. Carrington, Mitchell, Garfield, McCook, W.B. Smith, Benham, and many others. Western officers and politicians were especially fond of seeking his military influence,” wrote biographer Bushnell. 23 Chase’s own responsibilities include a trade, revenue, and expenditures as well as some elements of reconstruction.
Patronage was important to cabinet officers. They were not shy about imposing their wishes on departments other than their own. Chase interfered in the War Department and criticized Seward for appointing an insufficient number of diplomats from Ohio. Well-placed patronage was one of the great advantages of the Treasury Department. Customs agents were the most lucrative positions, but Chase also utilized agents who worked with freed slaves and in collecting revenue.
Although Chase tried to align patronage with principle, he may have been less successful than he believed. Historian William Frank Zornow wrote: “”When someone implored him once for an appointment on the ground that it would help his campaign for the Presidency, Chase wrote with much repugnance, ‘I should despise myself if I felt capable of appointing or removing a man for the sake of the Presidency.’ Yet on many occasions he betrayed much interest in the matter of making proper appointments for political reasons, and Edward Bates confided in his diary that ‘Mr. Chase’s head is turned by his eagerness in pursuit of the presidency. For a long time back he has been filling all the offices in his own vast patronage with extreme partisans and contrives also to fill many vacancies properly belonging to other departments.’ 24
“Chase got appointments in other departments for his old law partner, Ball, for his brother, and for other kinsmen, and he himself appointed many other old friends but the evidence shows that he made it a principle to recognize merit and efficiency, and was glad to find it among his own friends and adherents, all of whom were of course Republicans or strong war Democrats,” wrote Albert Bushnell Hart. 25
Historian Burton J. Hendrick wrote: “Chase was opposed to compensated emancipation he agreed with the abolitionist view that this was giving malefactors payment for the restoration of stolen goods. Colonization, which Lincoln had been advocating for a long time, the Secretary also disapproved. His treatment for the Negro insisted on his elevation, so far as civil rights and citizenship were concerned, to an equality with whites. ‘How much better,’ he said, ‘would be a manly protest against prejudice against color! And a wise effort to give freemen homes in America! A military officer, emancipating at least the slaves of South Carolina, Georgia, and the Gulf States’ – the reference, of course, is to General Hunter, who had attempted the very thing – ‘would do more to terminate the war and ensure an early restoration of solid peace and prosperity than anything else that can be devised.” 26
Biographer Frederick J. Blue wrote: “The Sea Islands of South Carolina fell under Union control early in the war when Samuel F. DuPont’s South Atlantic Squadron took the area in November 1861. The Treasury Department, with its responsibility for confiscated and abandoned property, was given the task of administering the region. Because the planters had left behind many of their slaves as they fled inland, Chase had an opportunity to direct the first significant experiment in working with freedmen. In his eyes, those who had been abandoned could never be ‘reduced again to slavery’ by the government ‘without great inhumanity.’ He therefore quickly appointed his abolitionist friend Edward I Pierce of Boston to direct the effort to prepare them ‘for self-support by their own industry.’
Chase understood that he could not only use the Treasury Department to advance himself, politically, he could use the Treasury Department to advance the welfare of freed blacks in the South. “Chase received little encouragement in this effort from the rest of the cabinet or the president,” wrote biographer Frederick J. Blue. “He nonetheless reluctantly authorize Chase to give Pierce ‘such instructions in regard to Port Royal contrabands as may seem judicious.'” 27
Blue concluded: “To Chase the war had become a means to his long sought goal of emancipation, whereas to Lincoln emancipation was the means to a successful war and restoration of the Union. In other respects, their relationship had long since begun to deteriorate.” 28
Chase’s efforts to use the Treasury Department to advance to collapsed in February 1864 and his relations with the President deteriorated until he resigned at the end of June. Lincoln biographer Alonzo Rothschild wrote that the “seeming indifference of the Preident to his Secretary’s rivalry, as well as Mr. Lincoln’s failure to respond to that gentleman’s professions of affection, greatly mortified Mr. Chase. He had, to be sure, been retained in the cabinet under conditions that would ordinarily have warranted his dismissal but the relations between him and his superior were, from that time, less cordial even than ever.” 29
Even contemporary observers saw Chase’s duplicity. “When the true history of the differences between President Lincoln and Secretary of the Treasury Chase shall be written, it will not redound to the credit of the Secretary or his indiscreet and ambitious friends. The persistent effort of these men to break down the President during a great civil war were discreditable in the extreme,” wrote Ohio newspaperman William H. Smith. 30