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Salmon P. Chase
Civil War Encyclopedia >> People - Union Political
Salmon P. Chase
Salmon Portland Chase attended the National Republican Convention that nominated Henry Clay to run against Andrew Jackson in 1832. However, it was Chase's support in the Election of 1840 for William Henry Harrison that became a pivotal moment in his life. He chose his friend Harrison over Democrat Martin Van Buren because he felt Harrison would be more anti-slavery than van Buren.
In an 1849 letter to his friend and future leader of the Radical Republican movement in the Senate, Charles Sumner, he recalled his 1841 shift to organizing the Liberty Party in Ohio with another friend, James Birney. In early 1841 Chase met with the president-elect and urged him to take a strong stand against slavery in Washington D. C., reiterating his beliefs in a letter to the General two weeks before the inaugural. Harrison ignored Chase's pleas and supported the existence of slavery in the capitol. Feeling betrayed, Chase turned to the abolitionist Liberty Party.
In March 4, 1834 he married Catharine Jane ("Kitty") Garniss, and in November, 1835 she bore the couple's first child, Kate, about the time Chase formed a new law partnership. On December 1, 1835, Kitty Chase died, probably due to complications from delivery. Chase would remarry twice, once in 1839 and again in 1846. In 1838 Chase began a partnership with Flamen Ball, which would last until 1858 and represented the longest law partnership of his life.
The Lane Seminary, which had attracted Lyman Beecher and his daughter Harriet in 1832 and formed the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society in 1835 began to broaden its reach with the success of James Birney and his Philanthropist, an abolition newspaper. It would be Chase's relationship with Birney, both professional and personal that began his conversion to the abolition movement in 1835. In 1836, during the anti-Philanthropist riots Chase's sister, who was married to an abolitionist, fled her house and moved in with Chase. Chase later wrote "I was opposed to the views ... of the abolitionist at this time, but I now recognized the slave power as the great enemy of freedom." By 1837 personal correspondence indicates his strong anti-slavery stand, although he did not make his beliefs public.
Salmon Chase entered public life as a Whig Cincinnati City Councilman in April, 1840. It would become a key year in Chase's life for many reasons, especially the birth of his second daughter Catharine Jane Chase. Chase believed William Henry Harrison would bring the United States one step closer to free society, but Harrison let him down, so he began working locally with James Birney on organizing the Liberty Party.
A humorless man, Chase was sought for his writing ability starting in 1841. He is generally credited with many of the early Liberty Party documents including the national platform in 1843. Over the next seven years he began to redefine the eastern abolition concepts espoused by John Quincy Adams and expand and broaden them towards a national platform. He hoped to make the Liberty Party successful to the point that a national party would reject slavery.
About this time Salmon Chase took up the case of John Van Zandt (Jones V. Van Zandt), a stationmaster on the Underground Railroad. According to the story told by Van Zandt and never reputed, he came across 9 slaves on a roadway near the Ohio River. Van Zandt transported them to Walnut Hill, his farm, where he put them to work until a conductor could take them to their next station. A man noticed the slaves and question Van Zandt about them, and reported them to authorities. Among other things, the slave's owner, Wharton Jones, sued Van Zandt for fees associated with capturing the runaways and, in a separate suit, a $500 penalty accorded Jones under the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act.
Van Zandt eventually had to pay the $1200, but the $500 penalty case found its way to the Supreme Court and led Chase to his first meeting with New York lawyer William Seward. Under Roger Taney the Supreme Court ruled against Van Zandt and for slavery, as Taney had always done. After the trial Chase tried to convince Seward that the anti-slavery Whig should join James Birney's Liberty Party, but Seward did not see any advantage of joining the party. Seward felt Chase would be a good contact in the West for any future political endeavors.
In four years James Birney increased the abolition vote from 6,797 (1840) to 62,103 (1844), and at least some of that increase came because of Chase. Unfortunately, an 1845 accident left Birney unable to work for the rest of his life. Rather than wallow in defeat, Salmon Chase began looking for another man to carry the banner of the Liberty Party in 1848 including anti-slavery Supreme Court Justice John McLane, New York Governor William Seward, New Hampshire's John P. Hale and Gerrit Smith. When his name was suggested along with Smith's as a potential candidate, Chase replied, "I could vote for Smith." The party selected Hale as its candidate, but in early 1848, Chase came up with a new idea.
The Ohio Mass Free Territory Convention was called in June, 1848 in hopes of creating a national Freesoil party. Under Chase's leadership the convention withdrew the earlier nomination and supported the call for a national Freesoil Convention in Buffalo. At that convention Chase was a western leader and was willing to support Hale, McLane or almost any other abolition candidate.
The convention's choice was Martin Van Buren, who had been elected in 1836 but lost the Election of 1840. Chase had agreed with Van Buren Democratic Barnburners that they could select the candidate if Chase could write the platform. Chase also came up with the slogan, "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men." When the election was held in November, van Buren got 120,000 Freesoil votes in New York, 38,000 in Massachusetts and 35,000 in Ohio, the three largest vote totals. Van Buren's performance in Ohio gave Chase his first national political role, United States Senator from Ohio.
After some political haggling, including Freesoil votes seating two Democrats in the state assembly, Chase gained what Stephen A. Douglas would later call a "corrupt bargain or dishonorable coalition." Chase would not face down slavery by himself. John Hale (Independent Democrat/Freesoil, 1847) was already seated, and soon other Radical Republicans would join Chase - Charles Sumner (Democrat) joined him in 1850 and Ben Wade (Whig) joined him in 1851. These men formed the earliest anti-slavery coalition in the Senate.
The first test of Chase's effectiveness as an anti-slavery Freesoiler came during the Compromise of 1850. He repeatedly tried to offer amendments first to Henry Clay's Omnibus Bill, then to Stephen Douglas' separate bills with little effect other that Douglas actually agreeing with Chase a time or two. As the Senate prepared to pass the final act in the Great Compromise Chase wrote to Sumner "The slaveholders have succeeded beyond their wildest hopes..."
The next test of Salmon Chase came in 1851 when Shadracch (Minkins), a fugitive slave was seized in Boston. During the debates in the Senate Henry Clay asked Chase if he were an abolitionist. At the time abolitionists were closely associated with disunionists, so Chase took the opportunity to realign the abolition cause with law-abiding citizenry by declaring he was an abolitionist who "within the limits of constitutional obligation seek to rescue this government from all connection to slavery."
In spite of his guarded admission to being an abolitionist, Chase was weaving an intricate web of politics within Ohio's Democrat Party which had sent him to the Senate. During this time he continued to support Freesoil candidates behind the scenes and stood as an anti-slavery Democrat, but he could not support some old friends that joined the Freesoil Party in order to preserve his seat in the Senate.
1852 did not bode well for Chase's abolitionists. Because of Franklin Pierce's finality platform (The Compromise of 1850 settled the slavery question once and for all), Freesoil nominee John Hale did not do well at the polls. Chase's lack of platform lasted throughout 1853, but early in 1854 Stephen Douglas brought the issue up again with his Kansas-Nebraska Act. Although both Chase and Charles Sumner engaged in a battle of wits with the Illinois icon, who would later pronounce Chase "...the leader."
At first, Chase feared the abolitionists were standing alone against the Act. Douglas counted President Pierce and many Southern Democrats and Whigs on his side, along with his normal northern cabal. Douglas had renamed Lewis Cass's "squatter sovereignty" to his more familiar "popular sovereignty" only they had failed to consult Cass. Chase then checked with Northern Whigs and found them unsupportive and Representative Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri stood with Chase. Deciding he had enough support from this unusual coalition Chase completed Appeal of the Independent Democrats in Congress to the People of the United States. Although Chase is commonly credited with writing this document he "borrowed" some ideas from his friend Joshua Giddings with the Representative's approval. Chase, Sumner, Giddings and Gerrit Smith of New York signed the document. Although dated January 19, 1854, publishing began on January 24, 1854 with the first copies distributed to some senators the following day before a report from the Committee of the Territories.
Apparently, Douglas did not know of the Appeal on January 25 because he did not react to it during the report of the Committee. He returned on January 30 in a "fury" over the document denouncing each of the men who signed it. On February 7, Douglas submitted a revised bill acceptable to Chase's abolitionists, creating the state of Kansas and extending the laws of the U. S. Constitution to the territories.
When Salmon Chase left the Senate in March, 1855, he had a record of which to be proud. He had debated Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Lewis Cass and Stephen Douglas. He opposed Jefferson Davis's proposal of non-intervention with slavery in the territories. He did not support Franklin Pierce in the Election of 1852, he opposed the Compromise of 1850, especially the Fugitive Slave Act and he opposed the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. On other issues Chase took a conservative approach to national finances while fighting for a transcontinental railroad, the Homestead Act and low postage rates.
In 1854 the Republican Party began forming in Michigan and the movement spread quickly to surrounding states including Ohio. Chase was involved before the July 13 Ohio state organization convention, but his involvement became common knowledge at that time. In 1855 the Republicans nominated Chase to run on a Republican ticket for governor of Ohio. He won, but in an interesting turn of events his Lieutenant Governor received more votes than he did.
Four years (two terms) as governor can best be summed up by Salmon Chase himself: "The governor is a name almost without meaning." Although they were anti-slavery, Chase despised the Know-Nothing movement for its Nativistic core. Chase did have his eye on the Presidency in 1856, although he did little to pursue it in the way of developing an eastern organization. At the 1856 Republican Convention in Philadelphia Chase was easily defeated by John C. Fremont.
1857 brought the only hint of scandal during Chase's public life. His friend William H. Gibson had been appointed state treasurer in 1856 and a year later, in June, 1857 the state treasury was missing $500,000 from its coffers. Chase called Gibson's actions "reckless" rather than criminal, but he let Gibson go anyway. Scandal would not do a governor looking to become President any good.
The only other major group of problems in the Chase administration regarded the Fugitive Slave Law. Federal law took precedence over state law, but Chase repeatedly tried to skirt this by holding state trials against slaves in areas known to be anti-slavery. He particularly liked assigning them to Lorain County, a major stop on the Underground Railroad thanks to Oberlin College.
Also during his service as governor, Salmon Chase continued to advise the settlers of Kansas. Although he recommended accepting the Lecompton Constitution then changing it after its statehood, many of his other suggestions proved insightful. He supported John Brown throughout the turmoil, a situation which did not bode well after Harpers Ferry.
After completing four years as governor of Ohio in 1859, Chase turned his ambition towards running for President and also began a continuing correspondence with Abraham Lincoln. William Seward seemed to have the Republican Presidential nomination wrapped up. Chase, although he had been elected Senator in February, 1860, lacked deep support of party regulars in the state of Ohio. Seward also had problems, having branded the relationship between the North and South moving towards an "irrepressible conflict." May brought the 1860 Republican Convention to the forefront and on the first round Chase got 49 out of 465 votes. That would be his highest total. The anti-Seward faction of the Republicans went with Lincoln and Chase's hope of running for President were gone at least for now.
After Lincoln's win in The Election of 1860 Salmon Chase was asked to join Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois on January 4, 1861. Over the next two days Chase and Lincoln discussed the Cabinet and the political environment before attending church together.
Chase journeyed to Washington D. C. at the head of the Ohio delegation to the Peace Conference. While there the Convention of Seceded States began and Chase issued another slogan, "inauguration first, adjustment later," that was briefly popular. During the conference Chase led a group referred to as the non-compromisers, for their unwillingness to discuss anything short of immediate abolition. During the conference, President-elect Lincoln arrived in Washington and Salmon Chase brought some of the conference members to meet him.
The Conference was a complete failure, so Chase turned his attention to Lincoln's cabinet. Although Seward and Chase had been friendly during the long struggle for abolition, there was a good deal of strife between them on Lincoln's cabinet. It began early, when Seward's people including Thurlow Weed launched a campaign against Chase - he would not enforce the Morrill Tariff, he was a free-trader, he was a former Democrat... Lincoln met with Chase on the evening before the inauguration but there is no written record of what occurred, however, Chase seemed a changed man. Chase began speaking of Union more frequently than the abolition of slavery even in letters to friends.
When the question of Fort Sumter was raised on March 15, both Chase and Seward recommended not doing anything to provoke war, but Chase went a step further, recommending the resupply of the fort. At the end of March Chase went a step further, recommending the troops be reinforced.
With the attack on Sumter, Salmon Chase's role expanded because Lincoln was uncomfortable with Simon Cameron, Secretary of War. Lincoln asked Chase to write both Order No. 15 and Order No. 16 detailing the organization of new troops. After a year of war Chase would pen to a friend that "certainly I have never worked this hard in my life," but he was not working on writing military orders or making strategic plans - for the most part Salmon Chase was busy trying to find creative ways to finance The Civil War.
From April, 1861 until July, 1861, Lincoln and Chase managed the finances on the fly, with no approval from Congress. This included borrowing to pay government expenses, paying the troops and requisitioning supplies. A special session of Congress in July approved the actions of President Lincoln and Secretary Chase and gave them broad powers to continue. Another task that fell to Chase was managing the trade with cities near the action and in the border states. Conditions in the South worsened, so food and other commodities intended for people in cities in Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland and Missouri would frequent be transported into the Confederacy and sold for more money. Chase tried to control this trade by limiting the supplies for cities in border states or near hostile action. Frequent shortages occurred.
By the end of December, 1861 Chase was rewriting the financial system of the United States. He was preparing to finance a budget deficit of nearly 150 million dollars while arranging to borrow almost 100 million dollars more for the next year. Chase hoped to finance the war through borrowing while maintaining standard payment by specie. Although he would succeed in borrowing 65% of the money needed to finance the war, his concept of maintaining specie payments fell by the wayside before the end of the first year. Banks began defaulting in late December, 1861, and although technically not in default, the government began running out of cash early in 1862. In response, Chase asked for the Legal Tender Act which Congress passed in 1862.
This gave the Secretary of the Treasury the power to issue money for which no gold (or silver) reserves existed. These "greenbacks" had the power of the government behind them because they had to be accepted by banks, commercial establishments and the government for payment of public and private debts, making the money "as good as gold." The act was based on the May, 1797 Restriction Act passed in the British Parliament to offset the inability of Great Britain to fund a war with France. The act suspended specie payments and set the value of their unbacked paper currency as equal in value to the government backed money.
In analyzing Albert Gallatin's financing of the War of 1812, Chase realized that he might be able to keep the economy moving ahead if he could pay just the interest through revenue. He began pushing for increased tariffs and America's first income tax to foot the interest payments. Unfortunately, it took him nearly three years to persuade Congress to pass the necessary legislation, and by that time rising interest rates were taking a heavy toll. While the northern economy did have serious problems Chase was the most successful wartime economic manager to that time.
On July 22, 1862 Abraham Lincoln read the Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet. It was a momentous day for Chase, the culmination of almost 30 years of work. Even if it didn't free all the slaves and abolition the institution of slavery, Chase was content in the knowledge that day was not far off. It took him a little longer to accept the fact that "negro suffrage" was not that far off either.
In 1862 Chase also began to realize one of the problems with the current banking system was the lack of a national bank. When it became hard to sell government paper through banks late in 1861, a national bank could have helped. Much as Alexander Hamilton envisioned a national bank 60 years earlier, Chase wanted a system to control the issuance of coin in exchange for demand notes (redemption) and the sale of government bonds. Chase also wanted to eliminate private bank notes to create a uniform system of notes under the control of the government.
The off-year loss of seats by the Republicans in November and the Battle of Fredericksburg in December precipitated the 1862 Cabinet Crisis. Radical Republicans felt Lincoln's Cabinet needed to be reorganized because of the strong influence of William Seward on the President. Salmon Chase, who sided with the Radicals from the Senate, had a problem with the relationship, too. He thought that Seward and Lincoln relationship blossomed because they lived near each other, but in fact, Chase did not have a sense of humor and Lincoln appreciated Seward's wit. Lincoln called a meeting of the Radicals and his cabinet on December 19, 1862, (Seward had already resigned and was not asked to attend), Chase realized his error and resigned himself. Lincoln rejected both resignations and returned to fighting the war.
1863 would be a year of change for Salmon Chase. In his mind, Lincoln, Seward and Stanton were slowly moving him away from everyday involvement in the war. While Chase still had the financial problems of the United States to deal with, he did want to remain in touch with the war. When Joe Hooker was given command of the Army of the Potomac, no one was happier than Salmon Chase, who had pushed for Hooker's appointment. Five months later, when Hooker was relieved of duty, Chase took it as a personal affront.
The Battle of Chickamauga was important to Chase. Two fellow Ohioans, William S. Rosecrans and James Garfield were leaders of the Army of the Cumberland. As word reached the War Department of the worst defeat of the U. S. Army in history, Chase, Stanton, Seward and Lincoln considered their options. Garfield wired that the army could hold out for 10 days, more if resupplied. Chase helped arrange organizing the rail transport of 20,000 under the command of Joe Hooker. With that out of the way, Chase went to Ohio.
Heading west on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Chase was to solidify support for the Republican candidate and against Clement Vallandigham, whom the Ohio Peace Democrats were running for governor. Much of Chase's political work actually laid the groundwork for his bid for President in 1864. Chase's supporters included Senators John Sherman, brother of William Tecumseh Sherman, Samuel Pomeroy, and James Grimes. James Garfield, who left the Army of the Cumberland after Chattanooga to serve in the U. S. House, was also a supporter of Secretary Chase.
A driving point for Salmon Chase in seeking the Republican nomination for President was his belief that Lincoln was unfit to handle "...the crisis." He showed no reluctance in speaking of his belief, but it was nearly impossible for Chase to rally other politicians to his side. With Chase's knowledge his campaign secretary, Mr. J. M. Winchell, wrote and distributed the Pomeroy Circular, calling for a new president and specifically designating Chase as the man. Although the document was stamped "Confidential," it was fully expected that it would be leaked, according to Winchell.
When word reached the press, Chase's candidacy came to an almost immediate end. The outcry was so anti-Chase that in order to calm the press and the people, on March 5, 1864, Chase issued an announcement withdrawing his name from the race. Frank Blair, a long-time antagonist and brother to Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, launched an attack against Chase on April 27, 1864, before he left Washington D. C. to report for duty in the Atlanta Campaign
Blair's attack seemed to change the relationship between Lincoln and Chase. When Chase decided to resign over a difference in appointments to a Treasury position, Lincoln accepted his resignation. In the midst of an election, Chase found himself the odd man out. Chase languished until October, when Chief Justice Taney died. Lincoln wanted his former Secretary to support him in the upcoming election and did not replacing Taney. Chase wanted to be Chief Justice badly enough that Lincoln forced his whole-hearted support, at least publicly.
Lincoln waited a month after the election before appointing Chase to the Supreme Court. His nomination was voted on by the Senate without going to committee and Chase was approved. After the surrender of the Confederacy, Andrew Johnson asked Chase to visit the South to see if those who had engaged in the rebellion would take a part in a loyal government. Before Chase returned, however, Johnson issued a wide-ranging blanket amnesty for lower echelon soldiers and some politicians. Chase's mission proved unnecessary. In December, 1865, the 13th Amendment made slavery illegal except as a form of punishment. Chase continued to push for "negro suffrage." In 1870 Salmon Chase was stricken with paralysis and he was an invalid until his death in 1873.
Cases as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
Many of the cases heard by the Chase Court revolved around actions occurring during the Civil War and slavery. Some of the historic cases heard while he was Chief Justice were:
Ex Parte Milligan was similar to Ex Parte Vallandigham in many ways. In that case, Ohio Peace Democrat Clement Vallandigham asked that
the Supreme Court review the findings of a military court. Vallandigham had stated in a public speech that the war was "wicked, cruel and unnecessary..." among other things. Because of the year (1863) the Court did not want to overturn the actions of a sitting president. In a review of the power of the Supreme Court it was deemed that the appellate power of the Court
did not extend to a Military Commission. Ex Parte Milligan corrected some of the issues created under Ex Parte Vallandigham. The rights of some Indiana politicians had been violated because they disagreed with the Lincoln Administration. Afraid that a state court would find them not guilty, they were moved into the military justice system. The Court ruled that suspension of habeas corpus did not imply the suspension of the local and state court system, or that of the appellate courts.
In the case of the Circassian, a British ship that set sail from a Confederate port and headed for Britain. The ship was captured off the coast of Cuba and did not have proper papers. It was determined she had set sail from a port on the Mississippi River and seized as contraband. The ship was not returned to its owners. Chief Justice Chase held that a ship intending to run a blockade can be held as "prize." Chase extended this decision to include the cargo of a captured ship in rulings on the Bermuda and the Hart.
In Mrs. Alexander's Cotton, the Chase court ruled that, since cotton was the chief means of purchasing weapons, it too could be held as a prize. Finally, the case of the ironclad Atlanta. Converted from the British steamer Fingall, the Atlanta was approached by the Nahant and Weehawken. As the Nahant prepared to fire a broadside the Weehawken did serious damage with a 400 lb. ball from its cannon. The Atlanta ran aground and created a Supreme Court case because sailors were paid in part, on an incentive system. The question was should the sailors of the Nahant share the prize of the Atlanta since they were not actively engaged in the battle. Chase ruled the members of the Nahant crew deserved its share of the prize because the Atlanta intended to attack both ships.
Reconstruction also brought cases that the Chase Court was required to solve. In a typical case, The State of Georgia v. Stanton, the state held that the government was trying to "annul and abolish the existing State government of Georgia." The court found it did not have any power over political questions because "no private rights were infringed or in danger of actual or threatened infringement." Some Supreme Court historians view this ruling as retributive justice against Georgia for her failure to enforce Worcester v. Georgia.
In the long term, The State of Texas v. White had far-reaching implications, defining the nature of the relationship of the individual states to the United States. It defined the Union as "perpetual" and the cause of the Constitution as "to form a more perfect Union," making the act of secession null. Since this case involved bonds (issued before Chase's term as Treasury Secretary) some felt he should recuse himself. Hickman v. Jones held that no legal de facto state government existed and the Government of the Confederacy was "pretend."
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1860 Republican Convention
Salmon P. Chase was last changed on - December 27, 2007
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