Chase, Salmon Portland

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

Page 322

Salmon Portland Chase served from 1864 to 1873 as the sixth chief justice of the SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES. He was also a distinguished lawyer and politician, serving as U.S. senator from Ohio (1849?55 and 1860?61), governor of Ohio (1855?59), and secretary of the treasury (1861?64). Chase also sought the presidential nomination in every election between 1856 and 1872, even while sitting as chief justice. As a result, many criticized him for neglecting his judicial responsibilities in favor of his political ambitions. Despite his extrajudicial activities, Chase helped to navigate the Supreme Court through the dangerous political waters of Reconstruction, the period following the Civil War when the country attempted to rebuild itself and readmit the Southern states to the Union, preserving the Court's powers when a Republican-dominated Congress sought to control both the presidency and the Supreme Court. As chief justice, Chase presided over the 1868 IMPEACHMENT trial of President ANDREW JOHNSON. Chase was an ardent opponent of SLAVERY his entire life, and in his last years on the Court he fought against a narrow interpretation of the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT, an interpretation that he surmised would allow future state legislatures to rescind the newly won rights of African Americans.

Chase was born January 13, 1808, in Cornish, New Hampshire, the eighth of 11 children in a family that had lived in New England since the 1600s. His father operated a tavern as well as a glass factory and distillery near Keene, New Hampshire, and died when Chase was nine years old. Chase had two prominent uncles who aided him in his father's absence: Dudley Chase, who served two terms as U.S. senator from Vermont (1813?17 and 1825?31), and Philander Chase, who became bishop of Ohio for the Episcopal Church and president of Cincinnati College. When he was 12 years old, Chase moved to Ohio to help on Philander Chase's farm. In return for his work, his uncle taught him Greek, Latin, and mathematics in his church school. Chase attended Cincinnati College for a year then eventually returned to his family in New Hampshire and entered Dartmouth College, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1826.

After college, Chase moved to Washington, D.C., where he studied law under Attorney General WILLIAM WIRT. He passed the bar exam and returned to Cincinnati to set up a legal practice. In Cincinnati, Chase's personal life was clouded by tragedy. He lost three wives between 1835 and 1852. He had one daughter by each of his last two wives. He remained single for the last part of his life and was a devoted father to his two daughters.

Chase strongly opposed slavery from his early years, a position that owed much to his deeply religious outlook. In Ohio, he was nicknamed the Attorney General for Runaway Negroes for his LEGAL REPRESENTATION of abolitionists who had aided runaway slaves from Kentucky. He even took two of these cases to the U.S. Supreme Court?Jones v. Van Zandt, 46 U.S. (5 How.) 215, 12 L. Ed. 122 (1847), and Moore v. Illinois, 55 U.S. (14 How.) 13, 14 L. Ed. 306 (1852)?both of which he lost. About his nickname, Chase commented that he "never refused ?help to any person black or white, and that he liked the office nonetheless because there were neither fees nor salary connected with it."



In 1849 Chase was elected to the U.S. Senate as a member of the Free-Soil party, which sought to keep new states in the west free of slavery. In the Senate, he and CHARLES SUMNER became leading spokesmen for the antislavery movement. He gained renown through his opposition to the 1854 KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT, which allowed each territory to conduct a popular vote deciding whether it would permit...

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