13, 1808–May 7, 1873
Salmon Portland Chase was the twenty-third Governor of Ohio, a U.S. Senator, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury during the Civil War, and the Sixth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Born on January 13, 1808, in Cornish, New Hampshire, Salmon Portland Chase was the ninth of eleven children born to Ithmar Chase and Janet Ralston Chase. Chase's father died when Salmon was just nine years old, and Chase's mother sent her son to live with Philander Chase, his uncle who operated a school near Worthington, Ohio and who was the Episcopal Bishop of the State of Ohio. Philander Chase eventually became president of Cincinnati College in Cincinnati, Ohio. Salmon Chase enrolled at the institution that same year, but withdrew after a single year when his uncle left the college. Salmon Chase returned to New Hampshire, where he enrolled in Dartmouth College. He graduated from this institution in 1826.
In 1826, Chase moved to Washington, DC to study the law with William Wirt, the Attorney General of the United States of America. He also taught school to support himself financially. Upon passing the bar exam in 1829, Chase relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he established a law practice. His practice quickly flourished, and other attorneys soon grew to respect the young legal scholar especially after he created a reference work of Ohio's laws. Chase condensed the state's statutes to just three volumes, greatly aiding attorneys and government officials in learning and understanding Ohio's laws.
While residing in Cincinnati, Chase began his own family. On March 4, 1834, he married Catherine Jane Garniss. In 1835, Catherine Chase died from complications of childbirth. She did successfully birth a daughter, but the child died in just a few years. Salmon Chase remarried on September 26, 1839. His new wife, Eliza Ann Smith, died of tuberculosis in 1845. On November 6, 1846, Chase married a third time, this time to Sarah Bella Dunlop Ludlow. She died less than six years later from tuberculosis on January 13, 1852. Following Sarah Chase's death, Salmon Chase never remarried. Chase and his three wives gave birth to a total of six children. Only two daughters lived to adulthood.
Upon the death of his first wife, Chase became a devout Christian and active supporter of the temperance movement. He also financially supported his church and became involved in its Sunday School Union. Beginning in this same period, Chase became involved in the abolition movement. He believed that slavery was morally wrong and that African Americans deserved the same rights as whites. Chase did not give lectures, publish papers, or participate in the Underground Railroad like most other abolitionists. Instead, he provided abolitionists and African Americans with free legal representation. Among his most famous clients was Cincinnati newspaper editor James Birney. Birney published an anti-slavery paper to educate white Northerners about slavery's brutality. On several occasions, white Cincinnatians attacked Birney's newspaper office and threatened Birney's life. Chase represented Birney when the editor was accused of assisting a runaway slave in escaping from the South. Chase also defended accused runaway slaves themselves. Chase's opponents called the attorney abolitionist the "Attorney General of Fugitive Slaves."
In 1840, Chase embarked upon a political career, winning election to Cincinnati's City Council. As a young adult, he supported the Whig Party, but beginning in the 1840s, due to his abolitionist beliefs, he became a supporter of and leader in the Liberty Party, a political party that sought the immediate end to slavery. In 1840 and 1844, the Liberty Party's presidential candidate was James Birney, Chase's former client. With the Liberty Party's demise, Chase became a leader of the Free Soil Party in Ohio by 1848. The Free Soilers opposed slavery's expansion into any new territories acquired by the United States. Many Ohioans opposed slavery's expansion. Some Ohioans objected to the institution's expansion for moral reasons, but most people simply did not want to compete economically with slaveowners in the new territories.
In 1850, the Ohio General assembly appointed Chase as one of Ohio's two United States Senators. In this position, Chase unsuccessfully lobbied for the end to slavery as well as the extension of rights to African Americans. He also objected to any federal government actions that permitted slavery to expand or denied African Americans opportunities. Chase was an outspoken opponent of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which required federal marshals to assist slaveholders in finding runaway slaves. He also objected to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed the residents of the Kansas and Nebraska Territories to vote via popular sovereignty on whether or not slavery would exist in these areas. The Kansas-Nebraska Act overturned the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which determined that the Kansas and Nebraska Territories would not have slavery when opened to white settlement.
Many Ohioans appreciated Chase's views, and in 1855, Ohio voters elected the senator governor of Ohio. Chase ran as a member of the Fusion Party, the pre-cursor to the Republican Party in Ohio. Fusionists and Republicans generally opposed slavery's expansion and encouraged states that allowed slavery to end the institution. Most of these people did not believe that the federal government could end slavery where it already existed, but many abolitionists joined these two parties and encouraged their fellow members to challenge the slave institution. Chase defeated incumbent governor William Medill, the Democratic Party's candidate, and former Governor Allen Trimble, the American Party's candidate. The American Party principally opposed immigration to the United States.
As governor, Chase sought to extend additional rights and opportunities to African Americans. His efforts failed, as many Ohioans did oppose slavery but did not necessarily favor equal rights for African Americans with whites. Chase also tried to implement legal protections for women and to improve Ohio's militia forces, which had been in decline since the end of the War of 1812. Chase won reelection as governor in 1857, despite having unsuccessfully sought the Republican Party's nomination for president in 1856. He again unsuccessfully lobbied for his party's nomination for president in 1860, losing to Abraham Lincoln. Republican leaders feared that Chase's abolitionist views would alienate voters and label the party as an anti-slavery one, when most of its members simply opposed slavery's expansion.
In 1860, the Ohio General Assembly appointed Chase as one of Ohio's two United States senators. Upon assuming his seat in the Senate in 1861, Chase resigned in just two days to become Secretary of the Treasury. With the American Civil War's outbreak in April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln turned to Chase to find a way to finance the Union war effort. The Secretary of the Treasury eventually helped implement the first federal income tax in United States history and the printing of "greenbacks"–paper money–to finance the conflict. Desiring even higher office, Chase desired for the American people to become familiar with him. To accomplish this, he place his own portrait on the one dollar bill, earning himself the nickname "Old Mister Greenbacks." Chase was responsible for also having the phrase "In God We Trust" on United States money.
Lincoln's and Chase's relationship was contentious, primarily due to Chase's desire to be president. In 1864, Chase again unsuccessfully sought the Republican Party's nomination against the incumbent Lincoln. Tensions between the two men caused Chase to offer to resign on several occasions, finally carrying out his threat in July 1864. Despite the difficulties between Lincoln and Chase, the President respected Chase's legal abilities, prompting him to nominate the attorney as the sixth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court in October 1864. Chase accepted the nomination and became Chief Justice, although he again unsuccessfully sought the presidency in 1868, this time losing the Democratic Party's nomination.
As Chief Justice, Chase and the Supreme Court heard numerous cases involving the constitutionality of Reconstruction. Many members of Congress, especially the Radical Republicans, desired to punish the South for the Civil War. Southerners and supporters of a more lenient Reconstruction policy filed numerous cases to overturn the Radical Republican's policy. Among these cases were Ex parte Milligan in 1866, which successfully questioned the government's use of military courts to try civilians accused of treason, and Texas v. White in 1869, when the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could enact Reconstruction policies, including requiring states to approve the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed African Americans equal protection under the law, to the Constitution before being readmitted as states within the United States of America. The Supreme Court, including Chase, also ruled in Ex parte Garland in 1867 andCummings v. Missouri in 1867 that the federal government could not require Southerners to take loyalty oaths to the United States.
One of the Supreme Court's more interesting cases during this time period was Bradwell v. Illinois in 1872. In this case, a woman who desired to be a practicing attorney in Illinois sued the state for denying her the right to engage in this vocation. The woman contended that the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed women equal rights and opportunities with men. The Supreme Court ruled against the woman, siding with the State of Illinois. Only Chief Justice Chase dissented with the majority decision.
Chase served as chief justice for nine years. His last three years as chief justice were plagued with ill health. In 1870, Chase suffered a stroke that caused him to take a leave of absence. Chase never fully recovered from the stroke, but he was able to return to the bench in 1871. Chase died on May 7, 1873 in New York City, New York. The chief justice died while on vacation at his daughter's home. His funeral took place in the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. He was initially buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, but in 1886, his family had his body exhumed and reinterred in Spring Grove Cemetery outside of Cincinnati, Ohio.
In honor of Chase's term as Secretary of the Treasury and his important role in financing the Union effort during the American Civil War, the United States Treasury Department honored Chase by placing his portrait on the 10,000 dollar bill. The only other Secretary of the Treasury to be honored with his portrait on a piece of United States money was Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, whose portrait appears on the ten dollar bill.