Salmon Portland Chase (1808-1873)

US Senator

Democratic Senator from Ohio

In 1850 on the votes of the Free Soil-Democratic coalition Chase was elected to the United States Senate. The freshman senator from Ohio fought feverishly against the Compromise of 1850. Opposing the Kansas­Nebraska Act of 1854, Chase helped organize the Anti­Nebraska Party, as many northern Whigs and The Independent Democrats, discontented with the Democrats liberal view on slavery, severed their political affiliations for the new anti-slavery Republican party. In 1853 Senator Chase introduced the Pacific Rail Act to Congress and it passed.

The Republican party nominated Chase for Governor of Ohio.8 He was elected and served two terms as the first republican governor of Ohio. (1856-60). Governor Chase promoted education, pushed for reform in the prison system of Ohio, established an insane asylum and promoted women's rights.

'Presidential Fever'

Chase was smitten by a malady that would plague him the rest of his life, 'presidential fever'. He tried to secure the presidential nomination of the first republican convention in 1856 but failed. Trying for the nomination again in 1860 Chase felt he was entitled to the republican presidential nomination.

Failing to muster even the support of the Ohio Delegation Chase lost the nomination to Illinois Senator Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln made the comment about Chase, "I prefer him to myself; for Doctor Branford says Governor Chase combines greater executive, administrative and high statesmanlike ability than any man living."[9]

Ohio, however, preferred Chase in the US Senate in 1860, and returned him there as a republican. In the campaign of 1863 Treasury Secretary Chase would try unsuccessfully to replace Lincoln on the republican ticket.

During the Impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, 1868, the democrats began to solicit Chief Justice Chase as a presidential candidate. Chase was not opposed to a democratic nomination if that party accepted universal suffrage.

Secretary of the Treasury

Two days after being sworn as senator for the second time Chase resigned to accept the offer of Secretary of Treasury from the newly elected president Abraham Lincoln. Chase brought to the office his fear of monopolies, distrust of bankers, a preference for revenue tariffs and a belief in hard money.

His principles would be tested by an empty treasury coffer and a long civil war that would cost the nation more than twenty billion dollars.

Professing a total ignorance of financial matters, Lincoln placed the entire problem of financing the Civil War to Salmon Chase. The Treasury Secretary would issue create the Internal Revenue Division and adopt a national banking system in attempts to keep the nation from going bankrupt. Against his beliefs, and believing that issuing greenbacks to be unconstitutional, but with the debts from the war mounting and not being paid, Chase lobbied the congress to pass the Legal Tender Acts of 1862 and 1863. This enabled the printing of paper money as a legal substitute for gold and silver for pre-existing debts including taxes, internal duties, personal debts, and excise taxes. debts. After the war as Chief Justice, Chase would disown his own offspring and declare the Legal Tender Acts unconstitutional.

'In God We Trust' was printed on every piece of U.S. currency for the first time in 1864 by order of the Secretary of the Treasury. The face of the Treasury Secretary graced the one dollar dominations. The most common of the bills, it was the one the public was most like to possess. Thereby keeping Mr. Chase's image in the mind of the potential voters in the next presidential elections. He was nick named 'Old Mr. Greenbacks.'

While Lincoln admired Chase's financial genus, relations between the two men were never cordial. Lincoln's goal was to preserve the Union at all costs. Chase would not comprise on the abolition of slavery for all states.

'And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of all mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.'

The last line of the Emancipation Proclamation was written by Chase at the suggestion of Lincoln when Chase called to the President's attention that there was no mention of the Deity.[10]

A devout religious man, Chase read the Bible every day and sought comfort from the loss of his wives and children in God.

Disagreements between Chase and Lincoln were common occurrences, when a matter arouse Chase didn't like the Treasury Secretary would render his resignation. However, Lincoln always managed to persuade Chase to reconsider. The fourth time Lincoln when accepted the resignation no one was more surprised than Chase.

"....I will tell you how it is with Chase. Chase has fallen into two bad habits. He thinks he has became indispensable to the country . . . He also thinks he ought to be President. He has no doubts whatever about that. It is inconceivable to him why people have not found it out, why they don't as one man rise up and say so...He is either determined to annoy me, or that I shall pat him on the shoulder and coax him to stay. I don't think I ought do it. I will not do it. I will take him at his word . . . And yet there is not a man in the Union who would make as good a Chief Justice as Chase, and if I have the opportunity I will make him Chief Justice of the United States .." [11]

Lincoln's only concern about the appointment of Chase was that the black robes of the court would not cloak Chase's ambition to be president. Lincoln thought about asking Chase to agree not to seek the presidency but Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, friend of Chase, advised the President against it. A few days later a secretary brought Lincoln a letter from Chase.

"Simply a kind and friendly letter,' Secretary Nicolay replied to Lincoln's question of what it was about. Lincoln without reading it, smiled and told the secretary to 'File it with his other recommendations." [12]