Salmon Portland Chase (1808-1873)

Attorney General of Fugitive Slaves

In the early years in Cincinnati Chase was more concerned with his family affairs and Sunday School Unions and Temperance Societies than he was with being an advocate of anti-slavery causes. At that time, 1836, protecting the civil liberties of white men was more important to Chase than the civil liberties of blacks. Only when an angry mob tried to shut down the abolitionist newspaper 'The Philanthropist' did Chase become involved. Defending editor James Birney, the editor, against the riotous mob Chase became labeled as one of 'Birney's supporters'. Birney hired Chase in another case for him, and soon the New Hampshire native was defending runaway slaves. Chase became convinced that slavery was a sin. His belief that black people had the right to vote and to an education, and the right to testify in court against white people, alienated him from white society. In a name meant to be uncomplimentary Kentucky opponents called him 'The Attorney-General of Fugitive Slaves'. Chase soon used the title with pride. He never refused to help fugitive slaves or people indicted for aiding the escape of slaves. Appearing in defense of many fugitives he never won a case but his fervent efforts made him a 'friend and counselor to the distressed colored people in Ohio and all over the country'.

Taking on these cases brought little else but publicity for he was seldom paid for his services and may have lost clients due to his association with the blacks and abolitionists. At some anti-slavery rallies Chase was pelted with eggs, on one occasion he was hit with a brick.

To show their strong sense of gratitude for Chase's defense of Samuel Watson, a runaway slave, and for his other undertakings on behalf of slaves, he was presented with a sterling silver pitcher, as a testimonial of gratitude for his efforts in the Watson case and for other services. The pitcher bore the following inscription:

A testimonial of gratitude to 'SALMON P. CHASE FROM THE COLORED PEOPLE OF CINCINNATI, for his various public services in behalf of the oppressed and particularly for his ELOQUENT ADVOCACY OF THE RIGHTS OF MAN in the case of Samuel Watson, who was claimed as a fugitive slave, Feb. 12, 1845.'[3]

Accepting the gift Chase stated the beliefs from which he was never to waiver.

"True democracy makes no inquiry about the color of the skin, or the places of nativity , or any other similar circumstances of condition. Whenever it sees a man, it recognizes a being endowed by his Creator with original inalienable rights... I regard, therefore, the exclusion of colored people from the election franchise as incompatible with true democratic principles."

Future Governor Chase would serve proponents of slavery lemonade from the same pitcher at the governor's mansion in the summers of 1856 to 1860. [4]

From 1840 to 1849 Chase had his anti-slavery pursuits, the task of organizing the Liberty and Free-Soil Parties, and his private practice to attend to. During this time his second wife Eliza died in 1845 leaving him with his daughter Catherine, Kate Chase, Sprague, who would make her own mark on Washington in the years Chase was Treasury Secretary.

The Liberty Party and the Free Soil Party became one with the call of the Free Soil Party Convention in Buffalo, N.Y, Aug. 9, 1848. Writing strong resolutions Chase, wrote most of the platforms for the Free Soil Party. 'No more slave states and no more slave territory were the party's main agenda. The platform called for an end to slavery in the territories and a ban on the admission of any new slave states to the union.[6]

It also demanded free homesteads for settlers on the public domain. 'Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men,' a slogan that climaxed the platform declarations, gave the party its name. Martin Van Buren became the presidential nominee. Although far from being a radical anti-slavery man, he had opposed on anti-slavery grounds the annexation of Texas.[7]Delegates from eighteen states adopted the platform. Van Buren failed to carry a state.