The New International Encyclopædia/Chase, Samuel

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CHASE, Samuel (1741-1811). An American jurist, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He was born in Somerset County, Md., studied law in Annapolis, was admitted to the bar in 1761; soon attained a considerable practice; and became prominent in colonial politics. He served for more than twenty years in the General Assembly of Maryland; was prominent as one of the ‘Sons of Liberty’ during the Stamp Act excitement; was one of the framers of the ‘Declaration of Rights of Maryland;’ and from 1774 to 1778 was a member of the Continental Congress. In 1775 he was associated with Franklin and Carroll in an unsuccessful mission to secure the good will of Canada, and soon after his return advocated and signed the Declaration of Independence. As agent for the State of Maryland, he went to England in 1783 to recover the value of stock held by it in the Bank of England before the outbreak of the war, and after remaining a year succeeded in obtaining about $650,000. In 1788 he was a member of the convention which ratified the Federal Constitution for Maryland, but was himself, along with Luther Martin, opposed to that document. He was appointed Judge of the General Court of Maryland in 1791, and Judge of the Criminal Court for Baltimore County in 1793, and in 1796 became, by Washington's appointment, an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. He presided over the trials of Thomas Cooper, John Fries, and Thomas Callender in 1800, and conducted the two latter with such asperity and apparent favoritism that the counsel for the defendants indignantly withdrew. As a judge, though frequently presiding with firmness and ability, he was unable to suppress or conceal his decided political predilections, and on various occasions, notably in Baltimore on May 2, 1803, delivered what his political opponents regarded as partisan harangues to the grand jury. This harangue in Baltimore attracted the notice of prominent Democrats, who were then engaged in a general movement to diminish the influence of the judiciary, and, on John Randolph's motion, the House of Representatives passed a resolution of impeachment in 1804. In the following year the trial was conducted with much ceremony before the Senate, Chase being represented by Luther Martin, R. G. Harper, Charles Lee, P. B. Key, and Joseph Hopkinson, and the prosecution by John Randolph, G. W. Campbell, Joseph Nicholson, C. A. Rodney, John Boyle, Peter Early, and Christopher Clark. By the latter, eight articles were exhibited, two setting forth Chase's oppressive treatment of Fries, two more charging similar treatment of Callender, two others charging an infringement of the laws of Virginia in the Callender case, one relating to alleged unbecoming and unfair conduct before a Delaware grand jury, and the last calling Chase to account for his harangue before the Baltimore grand jury. Chase was finally acquitted on all but two charges—partisanship in the Callender trial and ‘electioneering’ before the Baltimore grand jury—and no article received the two-thirds vote requisite for impeachment. This decision has been regarded as of considerable significance in the history of the American judiciary, serving as it did to discountenance impeachment trials unless based on really serious grounds, and at the same time warning judges to suppress all manifestations of partisanship on the bench. After the trial, until his death, Chase continued to serve as a member of the Supreme Court. Consult an article “The Impeachment Trial of Judge Samuel Chase” in the American Law Review, Vol. XXXIII. (Saint Louis, 1889), and Smith and Lloyd (reporters). The Trial of Samuel Chase (Washington, 1805).