The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Chase, Salmon Portland
CHASE, Salmon Portland, an American statesman and jurist, born in Cornish, N. H., Jan. 13, 1808, died in New York, May 7, 1873. In 1815 his father removed to Keene, and died two years later. When 12 years old he went to Worthington, Ohio, where his tuition was superintended by his uncle, Philander Chase, then bishop of Ohio. He then entered Cincinnati college, and after about a year's residence there returned to his mother's home in New Hampshire, and in 1824 entered the junior class of Dartmouth college, where he graduated in 1826. In the succeeding winter Mr. Chase opened a school for boys in Washington. In 1829 he was admitted to the bar of the District of Columbia, for which he had qualified himself while discharging the duties of a teacher. In 1830 he returned to Cincinnati. While straggling through the early embarrassments of professional life, he prepared an edition of the statutes of Ohio, with copious annotations, and a preliminary sketch of the history of the state (3 vols. 8vo). This edition soon superseded all previous publications of the statutes, and is now received as authority in the courts. Aided by the reputation thus acquired, he soon gained a valuable practice, and in 1834 became solicitor of the bank of the United States in Cincinnati, and not long after of one of the city banks. In 1837 he acted as counsel for a colored woman claimed as a fugitive slave, and in an elaborate argument, afterward published, controverted the authority of congress to impose any duties or confer any powers in fugitive slave cases on state magistrates, and maintained that the law of 1793 relative to fugitives from service was void, because unwarranted by the constitution of the United States. The same year, in an argument before the supreme court of Ohio in defence of James G. Birney, prosecuted under a state law for harboring a negro slave, Mr. Chase asserted the doctrine that slavery was local and dependent on state law for existence and continuance, and insisted that the person alleged to have been harbored, having been brought within the territorial limits of Ohio by the individual claiming her as master, was thenceforth in fact and by right free. In 1846 he was associated with William H. Seward as defendant's counsel in the case of Van Zandt before the supreme court of the United States, and argued more elaborately the principles which he had advanced in former cases, maintaining that under the ordinance of 1787 no fugitive from service could be reclaimed from Ohio unless there had been an escape from one of the original states; that it was the clear understanding of the framers of the constitution that slavery was to be left exclusively to the disposal of the several states, without sanction or support from the national government; and that the clause in the constitution relative to persons held to service was one of compact between the states, and conferred no power of legislation on congress, and was never understood to confer any. — Prior to 1841 Mr. Chase had taken little part in politics. He had voted sometimes with the democrats, but more commonly with the whigs, who in the north seemed to him more favorable to anti-slavery views than their opponents. In 1841 he united in a call for a convention of the opponents of slavery and slavery extension, which assembled at Columbus in December. This convention organized the liberty party of Ohio, nominated a candidate for governor, and issued an address to the people written by Mr. Chase, defining its principles and purposes. In 1843 a national liberty convention assembled at Buffalo. Mr. Chase was an active member of the committee on resolutions, to which was referred a resolution proposing “to regard and treat the third clause of the constitution, whenever applied to the case of a fugitive slave, as utterly null and void, and consequently as forming no part of the constitution of the United States, whenever we are called upon or sworn to support it.” He opposed the resolution, and the committee refused to report it. It was, however, afterward moved in the convention by its author, and adopted. In 1845 Mr. Chase projected a southern and western liberty convention, designed to embrace “all who, believing that whatever is worth preserving in republicanism can be maintained only by uncompromising war against the usurpations of the slave power, and are therefore resolved to use all constitutional and honorable means to effect the extinction of slavery within their respective states, and its reduction to its constitutional limits in the United States.” The convention was held in Cincinnati in June, 1845, and Mr. Chase, as chairman of the committee, prepared the address, giving a history of slavery in the United States, showing the position of the whig and democratic parties, and arguing the necessity of a political organization unequivocally committed to the denationalization of slavery and the overthrow of the slave power. In 1847 he was a member of the second national liberty convention, and opposed the making of any national nomination at that time, urging that a more general movement against slavery extension and domination was likely to grow out of the agitation of the Wilmot proviso, and the action of congress and political parties in reference to slavery. In 1848, anticipating that the conventions of the whig and democratic parties would probably refuse to take ground against the extension of slavery, he prepared a call for a free territory state convention at Columbus, which was signed by more than 3,000 voters of all political parties. The convention thus called was largely attended, and invited a national convention to meet at Buffalo in August. This convention, over which Mr. Chase presided, nominated Martin Van Buren for president, and Charles Francis Adams for vice president. — On Feb. 22, 1849, he was chosen a senator of the United States from Ohio, receiving the entire vote of the democratic members of the legislature, and of those freesoil members who favored democratic views. The democratic party of Ohio, by the resolutions of its state convention, had already declared slavery an evil. Mr. Chase, coinciding with the democrats in their general views of state policy, supported their state nominees, distinctly announcing his intention, in the event of the party's desertion of its anti-slavery position in state or national conventions, to end at once his connection with it. When the nomination of Mr. Pierce by the Baltimore convention of 1852, with a platform approving the compromise acts of 1850, and denouncing the further discussion of the slavery question, was sanctioned by the democratic party in Ohio, Mr. Chase withdrew from it, and advocated the formation of an independent democratic party. He prepared a platform, which was substantially adopted by the convention of the independent democracy at Pittsburgh in 1852. He supported the nominees and measures of the independent democracy until the Nebraska bill gave rise to a new and powerful party, based substantially upon the ideas he had so long maintained. In March, 1850, he delivered in the senate a speech against Mr. Clay's compromise bill, reviewing thoroughly all the questions presented in it. He moved an amendment providing against the introduction of slavery in the territories to which the bill applied, but it failed by a vote of 25 to 30. He proposed also, though without success, an amendment to the fugitive slave bill, securing trial by jury to alleged fugitive slaves, and another conforming its provisions to the terms of the constitution, by excluding from its operation persons escaping from states to territories, and vice versa. In 1854, when the bill for the repeal of the Missouri compromise, commonly called the Nebraska-Kansas bill, was introduced, he drafted an appeal to the people against the measure, and in a speech on Feb. 3 attempted the first elaborate exposure of the features of that bill, as viewed by its opponents. In the general opposition to the Nebraska bill he took a leading part, and made an earnest protest against it on the night of its passage. Meanwhile he was constant in the discharge of the general duties of his position as senator. To divorce the federal government from all connection with slavery, to confine its action strictly within constitutional limits, to uphold the rights of individuals and of the states, to foster all the great interests of the country, and to secure an economical administration of the national finances, were the general aims which he endeavored to promote. He held that the federal treasury should defray the expense of providing for the safety of navigation on our great inland seas, as well as on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and urged liberal aid by the federal government to the construction of a railroad to the Pacific. He was an earnest supporter of the policy of the free homestead movement, and of cheap postage. — In July, 1855, Mr. Chase was nominated by the opponents of the Nebraska bill and the Pierce administration for governor of Ohio, and was elected. His inaugural address, delivered in 1856, recommended economy in the administration of public affairs, single districts for legislative representation, annual instead of biennial sessions of the legislature, and ample provision for the educational interests of the state. His state policy and senatorial course were now so much approved that at the national convention of the republican party, held the same year, a majority of the Ohio delegation and many delegates from other states desired his nomination for the presidency; but his name was at his request withdrawn. In 1857 he was reëlected by the largest vote that had ever been given for a governor in Ohio. In the republican national convention at Chicago, May, 1860, Mr. Chase was proposed as a candidate for the presidency, and on the first ballot received 49 votes out of 465. In 1861 he became secretary of the treasury in President Lincoln's cabinet, and retained the position till June 30, 1864, when he resigned. The financial policy which carried the nation through the civil war was mainly the work of Mr. Chase. Its essential features were the issue of United States notes, known as greenbacks, which bore no interest, but were made legal tender; borrowing money upon bonds maturing at various dates, and bearing different rates of interest payable in gold; and the so-called national banking system, under which each bank was required to deposit in the treasury $100 in bonds for every $90 of notes issued by it, and which, superseding state banking systems, secured at once stability to the currency and to the national credit. A large amount of the bonds first issued bore 7.3 per cent, interest (2 cts. a day on each $100), but the great majority were at 6 per cent. None were sold at less than par, and they generally commanded a premium. When Mr. Chase left the treasury department, the national debt amounted to $1,740,690,489, to which it was estimated $500,000,000 would be added in case the war continued another year. Mr. Taney, chief justice of the United States, having died in October, 1864, Mr. Chase was appointed his successor Dec. 6. In this capacity, in March, 1868, he presided at the trial of President Johnson, who had been impeached before the senate by the house of representatives. Mr. Chase had now become dissatisfied with the policy of the republican majority in congress. He was proposed in the democratic national convention held in New York in July, 1868, as a candidate of that party for the presidency. He was willing to accept the nomination upon certain conditions, and for a time it seemed probable that he would be very strongly supported; but in the actual ballots his highest vote was 4 out of 663. From that time he withdrew to a great extent from public affairs, his health having been much impaired by a paralytic stroke; but in the presidential canvass of 1872 he sided with the party opposed to the reëlection of Gen. Grant as president.