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Salmon Portland, statesman, born in
Cornish, N. H., 13 Jan., 1808 ; died in New York City, 7 May, 1873. He was named
for his uncle, Salmon, who died in Portland, and he used to say that he was his
uncle's monument. He was a descendant in the ninth generation of Thomas Chase,
of Chesham, England, and in the sixth of Aquila Chase,
who came from England and settled in Newbury, Mass., about 1640. Sahnon Portland
was the eighth of the eleven children of Ithamar Chase and his wife Jannette
Ralston, who was of Scottish blood.
He was born in the
house built by his grandfather, which still stands overlooking Connecticut river
and in the afternoon shadow of Ascutney mountain. Of his father's seven
brothers, three were lawyers,
Dudley becoming a U. S. senator ; two were physicians ; Phblander became a
bishop of the Protestant Episcopal church ; and one, like his father, was a
farmer. His earliest teacher was Daniel Breck, afterward a jurist in Kentucky.
When the boy was eight years old his parents removed to Keene, where his mother
had inherited a little property. This was invested in a glass factory; but a
revision of the tariff, by which the duty on glass was lowered, ruined the
business, and soon afterward the father died. Salmon was sent to school at
Windsor, and made considerable progress in Latin and Greek.
In 1820 his uncle, the
bishop of Ohio, offered to take him into his family, and the boy set out in the
spring, with his brother and the afterward
famous Henry R. Schoolcraft, to make the journey to what was then considered the
distant west. They were taken from Buffalo to Cleveland by the "WalkintheWater,"
the first steamboat on the great lakes. He spent three years in Worthington and
Cincinnati with his uncle, who attended to his education personally till he went
to England in 1823, when the boy returned home, the next year entered Dartmouth
as a junior, and was graduated in 1826. He at once established a classical
school for boys in Washington, D. C., which he conducted with success, at the
same time studying law with William Wirt.
Mr. Chase gave much of
his leisure to light literature, and a poem that was addressed by him to Mr.
Wirt's daughters was printed and is still extant. In 1830, having completed his
studies, he closed the school, was admitted to the bar in Washington, and
settled in Cincinnati, where he soon obtained a large practice. In polities lie
did not identify himself with either of the great parties; but on one point he
was clear front the first: he was unalterably opposed to slavery, and in this
sentiment he was confirmed by witnessing the destruction of the "Philanthropist"
office by a proslavery mob in 1836. In 1837 he defended a fugitive slave woman,
claimed under the law of 1793, and took the highest ground against the
constitutionality of that law. One of the oldest lawyers in the courtroom was
heard to remark concerning him: "There is a promising young man who has
just ruined himself."
In 1837 Mr. Chase also
defended his friend James G. Birney in a suit for harboring a Negro slave, and
in 1838 he reviewed with great severity a report of the judiciary committee of
the state senate, refusing trial by jury to slaves, and in a second suit
defended Mr. Birney. When it became evident, after the brief administration of
Harrison was over and that of Tyler begun, that no more effective opposition to
the encroachments of slavery was to be expected from the Whig than from the
Democratic party, a Liberty party was organized in Ohio in December, 1841, and
Mr. Chase was foremost among its founders. The address, which was written by Mr.
Chase, contained these passages, clearly setting forth the issues of a mighty
struggle that was to continue for twenty-five years and be closed only by a
bloody war: "The constitution found slavery, and left it, a state
institution the creature and dependant of state law wholly local in its
existence and character. It did not make it a national institution .... Why,
then, fellow citizens, are we now appealing to you ? . . . Why is it that the
whole nation is moved, as with a mighty wind, by the discussion of the questions
involved in the great issue now made up between liberty and slavery ? It is,
fellow citizens and we beg you to mark this it is because slavery has overleaped
its prescribed limits and usurped the control of the national government. We ask
you to acquaint yourselves fully with the details and particulars
belonging" to the topics which we have briefly touched, and we do not doubt
that you will concur with us in believing that the honor, the welfare, the
safety of our country imperiously require the absolute and unqualified divorce
of the government from slavery." Writing of this late in life Mr. Chase
said : "Having resolved on my political course, I devoted all the time
and means I could command to the work of spreading the principles and building
up the organization of the party of constitutional freedom then inaugurated.
Sometimes, indeed, all I could do seemed insignificant, while the labors I had
to perform, and the demands upon
my very limited resources by necessary contributions, taxed severely all my
ability .... It seems to me now, on looking back, that I could not help working
if I would, and that I was just as really called in the course of Providence to
my labors for human freedom as ever any other laborer in the great field of the
world was called to his appointed work."
Mr. Chase acted as
counsel for so many blacks who were claimed as fugitives that lie was at length
called by Kentuckians the " attorney general for runaway Negroes," and
the colored people of Cincinnati presented him with a silver pitcher "for
his various public services in behalf of the oppressed." One of his
most noted cases was the defense of John Van Zandt (the original of John Van
Trompe in " Uncle Tom's Cabin ") in 1842, who was prosecuted for
harboring fugitive slaves because he had overtaken a party of them on the road
and given them a ride in his wagon. In the final hearing, 1846, William H.
Seward was associated with Mr. Chase, neither of them receiving' any
When the Liberty party,
in a national convention held in Buffalo, N. Y., in 1843, nominated James G.
Birney for president, the platform was almost entirely the composition of Mr.
Chase. But he vigorously opposed the resolution, offered by John Pierpont,
declaring that the fugitive slave law clause of the constitution was not binding
in conscience, but might be mentally excepted in any oath to support the
constitution. In 1840 the Liberty party had cast but one in 360 of the entire
popular vote of the country. In 1844 it cast one in forty, and caused the defeat
of Mr. Clay. The free-soil convention that met in Buffalo in 1848 and nominated
Martin Van Buren for president, with Charles Francis Adams for vice president,
was presided over by Mr. Chase. This time the party cast one in nine of the
whole number of votes. In February, 1849, the Democrats and the free-soilers in
the Ohio legislature formed a coalition, one result of which was the election of
Mr. Chase to the U. S. senate. Agreeing with the Democracy of Ohio, which, by
resolution in convention, had declared slavery to be an evil, he supported its
state policy and nominees, but declared that he would desert it if it deserted
the antislavery position. In the senate, 26 and 27 March, 1850, he made a
notable speech against the so called "compromise measures,"
which included the fugitive slave law, and offered several amendments, all of
which were voted down.
When the Democratic
convention at Baltimore nominated Franklin Pierce for president in 1852, and
approved of the compromise acts of 1850, Senator Chase dissolved his connection
with the Democratic party in Ohio. At this time he addressed a letter to Hon.
Benjamin F. Butler, of New York, suggesting and vindicating the idea of an
independent democracy. He made a platform, which was substantially that adopted
at the Pittsburg convention, in the same year. He continued his support to the
independent democrats until the Kansas Nebraska bill came up, when he vigorously
opposed the repeal of the Missouri compromise, wrote an appeal to the people
against it, and made the first elaborate exposure of its character. His
persistent attacks upon it in the senate thoroughly roused the north, and are
admitted to have influenced in a remarkable degree the subsequent struggle.
During his senatorial career Mr. Chase also advocated economy in the national
finances, a Pacific railroad by the shortest and best route, the homestead law
(which was intended to develop the northern territories), and cheap postage, and
held that the national treasury should defray the expense of providing for safe
navigation of the lakes, as well as of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
In 1855 he was elected
governor of Ohio by the opponents of the Pierce administration. His inaugural
address recommended single districts for legislative representation, annum
instead of biennial sessions of the legislature, and an extended educational
system. Soon after his inauguration occurred the Garner tragedy, so called, in
which a fugitive slave mother, near Cincinnati, attempted to kill all of her
children, and did kill one, to prevent them from being borne back to slave life
in Kentucky. This and other slave hunts in Ohio so roused and increased the
antislavery sentiment in that place that Gov. Chase was re-nominated by
acclamation, and was reelected by a small majority, though the American or
know-nothing party had a candidate in the field.
In the national
Republican convention, held at Chicago in 1860, the vote on the first ballot
stood: Seward, 173 1/2; Lincoln, 102; Cameron, 50½; Chase, 49. On the third
ballot Mr. Lincoln lacked but four of the number necessary to nominate, and
these were given by Mr. Chase's friends before the result was declared. When Mr.
Lincoln was inaugurated President, 4 March, 1861, he made Gov. Chase secretary
of the treasury. The difficulty that he was immediately called upon to grapple
with is thus described by Mr. Greeley: "When he accepted the office of
secretary of the treasury the finances were already in chaos; the current
revenue being inadequate, even in the absence of all expenditure or preparation
for war, his predecessor (Cobb, of Georgia) having attempted to borrow
$10,000,000, in October, 1860, and obtained only $7,022,000 the bidders to whom
the balance was awarded choosing to forfeit their initial deposit rather than
take and pay for their bonds. Thenceforth he had tided over, till his
resignation, by selling treasury notes, payable a year from date, at 6 to 12 per
cent. discount ; and when, after he had retired from the scene, Gen. Dix, who
succeeded him in Mr. Buchanan's cabinet, attempted (February, 1861) to borrow a
small sum on twenty-year bonds at 6 per cent., he was obliged to sell those
bonds at an average discount of 9½ per cent. Hence, of Mr. Chase's first loan
of $8,000,000, for which bids were opened (2 April ten days before Beauregard
first fired on Fort Sumter, the offerings ranged from 5 to 10 per cent.
discount; and only $3,099,000 were tendered at or under 6 per cent. discounthe,
in the face of a vehement clamor, declining all bids at higher rates of discount
than 6 per cent., and placing soon afterward the balance of t, he $8,000,000 in
twoyear treasury notes at par or a fraction over."
When the secretary went
to New York for his first loan, the London Times declared that he had "coerced
$50,000,000 from the banks, but would not fare so well at the London
Exchange." Three years later it said " the hundredth part of
Mr. Chase's embarrassments would tax Mr. Gladstone's ingenuity to the utmost,
and set the [British] public mind in a ferment of excitement." In his
conference with the bankers, the secretary said he hoped they would be able to
take the loans on such terms as could be admitted. "If you can
not," said he, "I shall go back to Washington and issue notes
for circulation; for it is certain that the war must go on until the rebellion
is put down, if we have to put out paper until it takes a thousand dollars to
buy a breakfast."
At this time the amount
of coin in circulation in the country was estimated at $210,000,000; and it soon
became evident that this was insufficient for carrying on the
war. The banks could not sell the bonds for coin, and could not meet their
obligations in coin, and on 27 Dec., 1861, they agreed to suspend specie payment
at the close of the year. In his first report, submitted on the 9th of that
month, Sec. Chase recommended retrenchment of expenses wherever possible,
confiscation of the property of those in arms against the government, an
increase of duties and of the tax on spirits, and a national currency, with a
system of national banking associations.
recommendation was carried out in the issue of "greenbacks,"
which were made a legal tender for everything but customs duties, and the
establishment of the national banking law. His management of the finances of the
government during the first three years of the great war has received nothing
but the highest praise. He resigned the secretary ship on 30 June. 1864, and was
succeeded a few days later by William P. Fessenden.
On 6 Dec., 1864,
President Lincoln nominated him to be chief justice of the United States, to
fill the vacancy caused by the death of Roger B. Taney, and the nomination was
immediately confirmed by the senate. In this office he presided at the
impeachment trial of President Johnson in 1868. In that year his name was
frequently mentioned in connection with the Democratic nomination for the
presidency, and in answer to a letter from the chairman of the democratic
national committee he wrote:
"For more than
a quarter of a century I have been, in my political views and sentiments, a
Democrat, and I still think that upon questions of finance, commerce, and
administration generally, the old Democratic principles afford the best
guidance. What separated me in former times from both parties was the depth and
positiveness of my convictions on the slavery question. On that question I
thought the Democratic party failed to make a just application of Democratic
principles, and regarded myself as more democratic than the Democrats. In 1849 I
was elected to the senate by the united votes of the old-line Democrats and
independent Democrats, and subsequently made earnest efforts to bring about a
union of all Democrats on the ground of the limitation of slavery to the states
in which it then existed, and nonintervention in these states by congress. Had
that union been effected, it is my firm belief that the country would have
escaped the late civil war and all its evils. I never favored interference by
congress with slavery, but as a war measure Mr. Lincoln's proclamation of
emancipation had my hearty assent, and I united, as a member of his
administration, in the pledge made to maintain the freedom of the enfranchised
people. I have been, and am, in favor of so much of the reconstruction policy of
congress as based the reorganization of the state governments of the south upon
universal suffrage. I think that President Johnson was right in regarding the
southern states, except Virginia and Tennessee, as being, at the close of the
war, without governments which the U. S. government could properly recognize
without governors, judges, legislators, or other state functionaries; but wrong
in limiting, by his reconstruction proclamations, the right of suffrage to
whites, and only such whites as had the qualification he required. On the other
hand, it seemed to me, congress was right in not limiting, by its reconstruction
acts, the right of suffrage to the whites; but wrong in the exclusion from
suffrage of certain classes of citizens, and of all unable to take a prescribed
retrospective oath, and wrong also in the establishment of arbitrary military
governments for the states, and in authorizing
military commissions for the trial of civilians in time of peace. There should
have been as little military government as possible; no military commissions, no
classes excluded from suffrage, and no oath except one of faithful obedience and
support to the constitution and laws, and sincere attachment to the
constitutional government of the United States. I am glad to know that many
intelligent southern Democrats agree with me in these views, and are willing to
accept universal suffrage and universal amnesty as the basis of reconstruction
and restoration. They see that the shortest way to revive prosperity, possible
only with contented industry, is universal suffrage now, and universal amnesty,
with removal of all disabilities, as speedily as possible through the action of
the state and national governments. I have long been a believer in the wisdom
and justice of securing the right of suffrage to all citizens by state
constitutions and legislation. It is the best guarantee of the stability of
institutions, and the prosperity of communities. My views on this subject were
well known when the Democrats elected me to the senate in 1849. I have now
answered your letter as I think I ought to answer it. I beg you to believe me
for I say it in all sincerity that I do not desire the office of president, nor
a nomination for it. Nor do I know that, with my views and convictions, I am a
suitable candidate for any party. Of that my countrymen must judge."
subsequently prepared a declaration of principles, embodying the ideas of his
letter, and submitted it to those Democrats who desired his nomination, as a
platform in that event. But this was not adopted by the convention, and the plan
to nominate him, if there was such a plan, failed. In June, 1870, he suffered an
attack of paralysis, and from that time till his death he was an invalid. As in
the case of President Lincoln and Sec. Stanton, his integrity was shown by the
fact that, though he had been a member of the administration when the government
was spending millions of dollars a day, he died comparatively poor. His remains
were buried in Washington ; but in October, 1886, were removed, with appropriate
ceremony, to Cincinnati, Ohio, and deposited in Spring Grove cemetery near that
city. Besides his reports and decisions, Mr. Chase published a compilation of
the statutes of Ohio, with annotations and an historical sketch (3 vols.,
Cincinnati, 1832). See "Life and Public Services of Sahnon Portland
Chase," by J. W. Schuckers (New York, 1874). -- Edited
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Portland Chase 5
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Salmon Portland Chase. 1808
1873. Bartlett, John. 1919. ...
... John Bartlett, comp. (1820 1905). Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. 1919. Salmon
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Chase Birthplace and Boyhood Home
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Politics & Politicians Salmon Portland Chase "The Man Who Wanted
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Salmon Portland Chase. 1808-1873. Ohio. United States Senator, 1849-55; Governor
of Ohio; Secretary of the Treasury, 1861-64; sworn in as Chief Justice of the
Salmon Portland Chase
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CHASE, Salmon Portland (b. Cornish, NH, Jan. 13,
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New Hampshire Historical Markers. Cornish (76) 1971. SALMON PORTLAND CHASE. In
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... Legislation | Topics | Courthouses | Publications | Links | Contact ] Chase,
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Salmon P. Chase
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Author, Editor and/or Translator: CHASE, Salmon Portland. Authored: Anti-Slavery
Addresses of 1844 and 1845 2068 (June 15,1867). ...
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Salmon P Chase, Attorney
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... Salmon Portland Chase Attorney General of Fugitive Slaves 1808-1873 Salmon
Secretary of the Treasury Courtesy of the US Treasury Department Prepared ...