1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Chase, Samuel
CHASE, SAMUEL (1741–1811), American jurist, was born in Somerset county, Maryland, on the 17th of April 1741. He was admitted to the bar at Annapolis in 1761, and for more than twenty years was a member of the Maryland legislature. He took an active part in the resistance to the Stamp Act, and from 1774 to 1778 and 1784 to 1785 was a member of the Continental Congress. With Benjamin Franklin and Charles Carroll he was sent by Congress in 1776 to win over the Canadians to the side of the revolting colonies, and after his return did much to persuade Maryland to advocate a formal separation of the thirteen colonies from Great Britain, he himself being one of those who signed the Declaration of Independence on the 2nd of August 1776. In this year he was also a member of the convention which framed the first constitution for the state of Maryland. After serving in the Maryland convention which ratified for that state the Federal Constitution, and there vigorously opposing ratification, though afterwards he was an ardent Federalist, he became in 1791 chief judge of the Maryland general court, which position he resigned in 1796 for that of an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. His radical Federalism, however, led him to continue active in politics, and he took advantage of every opportunity, on the bench and off, to promote the cause of his party. His overbearing conduct while presiding at the trials of John Fries for treason, and of James Thompson Callender (d. 1813) for seditious libel in 1800, drove the lawyers for the defence from the court, and evoked the wrath of the Republicans, who were stirred to action by a political harangue on the evil tendencies of democracy which he delivered as a charge to a grand jury at Baltimore in 1803. The House of Representatives adopted a resolution of impeachment in March 1804, and on the 7th of December 1804 the House managers, chief among whom were John Randolph, Joseph H. Nicholson (1770–1817), and Caesar A. Rodney (1772–1824), laid their articles of impeachment before the Senate. The trial, with frequent interruptions and delays, lasted from the 2nd of January to the 1st of March 1805. Judge Chase was defended by the ablest lawyers in the country, including Luther Martin, Robert Goodloe Harper (1765–1825), Philip Barton Key (1757–1815), Charles Lee (1758–1815), and Joseph Hopkinson (1770–1842). The indictment, in eight articles, dealt with his conduct in the Fries and Callender trials, with his treatment of a Delaware grand jury, and (in article viii.) with his making “highly indecent, extra-judicial” reflections upon the national administration, probably the greatest offence in Republican eyes. On only three articles was there a majority against Judge Chase, the largest, on article viii., being four short of the necessary two-thirds to convict. “The case,” says Henry Adams, “proved impeachment to be an impracticable thing for partisan purposes, and it decided the permanence of those lines of constitutional development which were a reflection of the common law.” Judge Chase resumed his seat on the bench, and occupied it until his death on the 19th of June 1811.
See The Trial of Samuel Chase (2 vols., Washington, 1805), reported by Samuel H. Smith and Thomas Lloyd; an article in The American Law Review, vol. xxxiii. (St Louis, Mo., 1899); and Henry Adams’s History of the United States, vol. ii. (New York, 1889).