The New International Encyclopædia/Chase, Salmon Portland

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The New International Encyclopædia
Chase, Salmon Portland
Edition of 1905. See also Salmon P. Chase on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

CHASE, Salmon Portland (1808-73). An American statesman. He was born in Cornish, N. H., January 13, 1808, and was a nephew of Bisliop Chase, who supervised his earlier education in Ohio. He graduated at Dartmouth College in 1826, opened a school for boys in Washington, D. C., where he studied law under William Wirt; was admitted to the bar in 1830, and began to practice in Ohio, where almost his earliest work was the preparation of an edition of the statutes of Ohio with annotations, and a sketch of the history of the State. This work assisted him in gaining practice, and in 1834 he was appointed solicitor in Cincinnati for the Bank of the United States. His first effort in a cause touching slavery was in defense (1837) of a colored woman claimed as a fugitive, and of James G. Birney (q.v.) for harboring her. This was the celebrated Matilda case. He maintained that the Fugitive Slave Law (q.v.) of 1793 was void, because unwarranted by the Federal Constitution, and argued that slavery was a local institution; and that, as the slave had been brought into a free State by her master, she was in fact free. In 1847, in the Van Zandt ease, before the United States Supreme Court, he took the ground that under the Ordinance of 1787 (q.v.) no fugitive from service could be reclaimed from Ohio unless he had escaped from one of the original thirteen States; that it was the understanding of the framers of the Constitution that slavery was to be left to the disposal of the several States, without sanction or support from the Federal Government; and that the clause in the Constitution relating to persons held to service was a compact between the States, conferring no power of legislation on Congress and never being intended to confer such power. Chase also took part in many other cases involving the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Law and came to be known among the slave-holders of Kentucky as the ‘attorney-general of fugitive slaves.’ Being in active correspondence with editors, clergymen, and politicians engaged in the anti-slavery movement, he soon became a recognized leader of the cause in Ohio. Although favoring the abolition of slavery, he differed radically from Garrison both as to methods of effecting that end and as to the relation of such movements to the existing law of the land. He voted for Harrison in 1840; but after the death of the President, when it became clearly apparent that the Whig Party could never be made a party of freedom, he withdrew from it in 1841, and was thereafter prominent as a member of the Liberal Party in Ohio, which he helped to organize. He took part in the National Liberty Convention in Buffalo in 1S43, and subsequent conventions, until the nomination by the Free-Soilers (in 1848) of Martin Van Buren for President; was a leading member, and in most cases directed the proceedings. He was frequently called upon to prepare formal addresses and platforms for his party, and, in particular, was the author of the Liberty Platform of 1843, the Liberty Address of 1845, the resolutions of the People's Convention of 1847, and the Free Soil Platform of 1848. In February, 1849, he was chosen United States Senator from Ohio, his vote coming from all the Democrats and from a few of the Free Soil members. In the Senate he was an outspoken opponent of slavery extension, and he refused to accept Clay's compromise measures in 1850. Though under obligations to no one party for his election, he usually acted with the Democrats, until the nomination, in 1852, of Pierce on a strongly pro-slavery platform, when he withdrew and undertook the formation of an independent Democratic Party.

Remaining in the Senate entirely independent of party relations, he became, even at the side of Sumner and Seward, the leader in the opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Bill (q.v.), and, acting with Giddings and Sumner, he sent out the historic “Appeal of the Independent Democrats.” In 1855 the ‘anti-Nebraska’ elements in Ohio fixed upon him as their candidate for Governor, and, after a vigorous and close contest, he defeated the candidate of the Old Democrats, and brought Ohio into line as a probable Republican State in the campaign of 1856. In that year Chase was put forward as a candidate for the Republican nomination for the Presidency, but he withdrew his name. In 1857 he was re-elected Governor of Ohio, and became recognized thenceforth as a leader in the new national party. During his service as Governor he was much occupied with matters connected with the slavery problem, and at the expiration of his term he was (in February, 1860) elected again to the Senate for the term beginning March 4, 1861. He was one of the candidates for the Republican nomination for the Presidency in 1860, and, failing to secure it, he was later appointed by Lincoln Secretary of the Treasury. In that office, which he held until June, 1864, when he resigned owing to differences between himself and President Lincoln, Chase rendered important public service. The maintenance of national credit and the supply of funds with which to prosecute the war, the provision and regulation of a currency system, the creation of a national banking system, and the administration of a national finance under conditions never before experienced or anticipated, mark these years as the most important in the history of the department, and distinguish Chase as one of the great Secretaries of the Treasury.

In the autumn of 1864 Chief Justice Taney died, and Chase was appointed as his successor in December of that year, retaining the office through a period in which were handed down a series of decisions second in importance only to those of Marshall. Chase dissented from the court's decision in the Milligan Case and in the so-called Slaughter-House Cases; he wrote the decision in Hepburn vs. Griswold, which held that the Legal-Tender Act, so far as it compelled the acceptance of paper money in payment of debts antedating the statute which provided for such money, was unconstitutional. The effect of this was naturally to disprove an important part of Chase's work as Secretary of the Treasury; and this decision against his own work was soon afterwards, in the Legal-Tender Cases, reversed by a slightly reorganized court. He also wrote the opinion in the case of Texas vs. White, in which the nature of the Union and the effect thereon of the Civil War were clearly expounded, the nation being characterized as “an indestructible Union composed of indestructible States.” As Chief Justice, Chase presided over the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson. He became separated from the Republican Party, and was in 1868 a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency, while his willingness to secure the same nomination in 1872 emphasized the weakness of his position. There is no doubt that as early as 1864 be had set his heart upon a Presidential nomination, and that he had to some extent intrigued against Lincoln, even while sitting in his Cabinet. In 1870 he was stricken with paralysis, from the effects of which he died, May 7, 1873, in New York. For his biography, consult: Warden (Cincinnati, 1874), a work undertaken at Chase's own request; Schuckers (New York, 1874); and for the most recent and authoritative “Life,” Hart (Boston, 1899), in the “American Statesmen Series.”