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Short bio of Salmon P. Chase
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Salmon P. Chase  (b. 1808 d. 1873) was one of the preeminent men of 19th-century America. A majestic figure, tall and stately, Chase was a leader in the fight to end slavery, a brilliant administrator who as Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury provided crucial funding for a vastly expensive war, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court during the turmoil of Reconstruction, and the presiding officer of the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson. Yet he was also a complex figure-- a paradoxical blend of idealism and ambition. If he stood for the highest moral purposes--the freedom and equality of all mankind--these lofty ideas failed to mask a thirst for power so deeply ingrained in his character that it drove away many who shared his principles, but mistrusted his motives.

Chase's early years were spent in New Hampshire, but soon his father's failed business venture and early death left the family all but destitute. He was sent to live in Ohio with his uncle. He returned to New England to attend Dartmouth and teach in Reading, Vermont, where his mother and members of his family lived. He went back to Ohio to seek his fate and fortune and never returned to Reading, as far as I can find. In his early law career in Cincinnati, the plight of the slaves stirred this reticent young lawyer, and Chase gradually moved to the forefront of the antislavery movement. Chase was active in the abolitionist movement, opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and defended fugitive slaves in Ohio. He played a key role in creating the Free Soil Party, which opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories. At the same time, he used his growing prominence in the antislavery movement to forward his political ambitions.

Chase's had a long tenure as a public man. Twice chosen governor of Ohio (then the third most populous state in the Union), twice elected United States Senator, Chase organized the widespread but diffuse anti-slavery movement into a workable political organization, the Free Soil party (whose slogan "Free Soil, Free Labor, Freemen" Chase coined himself). Chase as Secretary of the Treasury did important work in Lincoln's war cabinet , and we also follow his many political maneuvers, his attempts to undercut rivals, and his poorly run campaigns for presidential nominations.

After 1864, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he presided over the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson and the Reconstruction Period. During his time on the bench, Chase continued to support African Americans. He drafted the first two clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Signed into law in 1868, the amendment extended citizenship rights to all people born or naturalized in the United States. In a letter to the Colored People's Educational Monument Association, Chase asserted:

Our national experience has demonstrated that public order reposes most securely on the broad basis of universal suffrage. It has proved, also, that universal suffrage is the surest broad basis of universal guarantee and most powerful stimulus of individual, social, and political progress. May it not prove, moreover, in that work of re-organization which now engages the thoughts of all patriotic men, that universal suffrage is the best reconciler of the most comprehensive lenity with the most perfect public security and the most speedy and certain revival of general prosperity?

Hon. Salmon P. Chase, Chief Justice of the United States to Wm. Syphax and John F. Cook, Committee
Celebration by the Colored People's Educational Monument Association in Memory of Abraham Lincoln . . ., 1865.

Chase had a difficult family life--he lost three wives and four of his six children, and witnessed the unfortunate marriage of his beautiful daughter Kate to a rich but dissolute man. After Chase died on May 7, 1873, he was honored with a formal state funeral and is buried in Washington, D.C.

What emerges is a portrait of a tragic figure, whose high qualities of heart and mind and whose many achievements were ultimately tarnished by an often unseemly quest for power. His life provides a striking look at an eminent statesman as well as a revealing glimpse into political life in 19th-century America, all set against a background of the anti-slavery movement, the Civil War, and the turmoil of Reconstruction.

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