Congress was right in not limiting, by its reconstruction acts, the right of suffrage to whites; but wrong in the exclusion from suffrage of certain classes of citizens and all unable to take its prescribed retrospective oath, and wrong also in the establishment of despotic military governments for the States and in authorizing military commissions for the trial of civilians in time of peace. There should have been as little military government as possible; no military commissions; no classes excluded from suffrage; and no oath except one of faithful obedience and support to the Constitution and laws, and of sincere attachment to the constitutional Government of the United States.
For his defense of escaped slaves seized in Ohio under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793, Chase was dubbed the Attorney General for Fugitive Slaves. His argument in the case of Jones v. Van Zandt on the constitutionality of fugitive slave laws before the U.S. Supreme Court attracted particular attention. In this and similar cases, the court ruled against him, and the judgment against John Van Zandt was upheld. Chase contended that slavery was local, not national, and that it could exist only by virtue of positive state law. He argued that the federal government was not empowered by the Constitution to create slavery anywhere and that when a slave leaves the jurisdiction of a state where slavery is legal, he ceases to be a slave; he continues to be a man and leaves behind the law that made him a slave.
Chase was born in Cornish, New Hampshire, on January 13, 1808, to Janette Ralston and Ithamar Chase, who died in 1817 when Salmon was nine years old. His paternal immigrant ancestor was Aquila Chase from Cornwall, England, a ship-master who settled in Newbury, Massachusetts about 1640, while his maternal grandparents Alexander Ralston and Janette Balloch were Scottish; originally from Falkirk. His mother was left with ten children and few resources, and so Salmon lived from 1820 to 1824 in Ohio with his uncle Bishop Philander Chase, a leading figure in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the West. U.S. Senator Dudley Chase of Vermont was another uncle.
He studied in the Common schools of Windsor, Vermont, and Worthington, Ohio, and at Cincinnati College before entering the junior class at Dartmouth College. He was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity and Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated from Dartmouth with distinction in 1826. While at Dartmouth, he taught at the Royalton Academy in Royalton, Vermont. Chase then moved to the District of Columbia, where he opened a classical school while studying law under U.S. Attorney General william Wirt. He was admitted to the bar in 1829.
Chase moved to a country home near Loveland, Ohio, and practiced law in Cincinnati from 1830. He rose to prominence for his authoritative compilation of the state's statutes, which long remained the standard work on the topic.
From the beginning, despite the risk to his livelihood, he defended runaway slaves and those tried for assisting them. He became particularly devoted to the abolition of slavery from the death of his first wife, Katherine Jane Garmiss, in 1835, shortly after their March 1834 wedding, an event which was a spiritual reawakening for him. He worked initially with the American Sunday School Union. At a time when public opinion in Cincinnati was dominated by Southern Business connections, Chase, influenced by local events, including the attack on the press of James G. Birney during the Cincinnati Riots of 1836, associated himself with the anti-slavery movement. Chase was also a member of the literary Semi-Colon Club; its members included Harriet Beecher Stowe and Calvin Stowe. Chase became the leader of the political reformers, as opposed to the Garrisonian abolitionist movement.
Elected as a Whig to the Cincinnati City Council in 1840, Chase left that party the next year. For seven years he was the leader of the Liberty Party in Ohio. He helped balance its idealism with his pragmatic approach and political thought. He was skillful in drafting platforms and addresses, and he prepared the national Liberty platform of 1843 and the Liberty address of 1845. Building the Liberty Party was slow going. By 1848 Chase was leader in the effort to combine the Liberty Party with the Barnburners or Van Buren Democrats of New York to form the Free Soil Party.
Born in Cornish, New Hampshire, Chase studied law under Attorney General william Wirt before establishing a legal practice in Cincinnati. He became an anti-slavery Activist and frequently defended fugitive slaves in court. Chase left the Whig Party in 1841 to become the leader of Ohio's Liberty Party. In 1848, he helped establish the Free Soil Party and recruited former President Martin Van Buren to serve as the party's presidential nominee. Chase won election to the Senate the following year, and he opposed the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas–Nebraska Act. In the aftermath of the Kansas–Nebraska Act, Chase helped establish the Republican Party, which opposed the extension of slavery into the territories. After leaving the Senate, Chase served as the Governor of Ohio from 1856 to 1860.
Chase drafted the Free-Soil platform and it was chiefly through his influence that Van Buren was their nominee for President in 1848. In 1849, Chase was elected to the U.S Senate from Ohio on the Free Soil ticket. Chase's goal, however, was not to establish a permanent new party organization, but to bring pressure to bear upon Northern Democrats to force them to oppose the extension of slavery.
During his Service in the Senate (1849–1855), Chase was an anti-slavery champion. He argued against the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. After the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska legislation and the subsequent violence in Kansas, Chase cut back on his efforts to influence the Democrats.
He was a leader in the movement to form a new party opposing the extension of slavery. He tried to unite the Free Soilers and the anti-slavery Democrats with the dwindling Whig Party, which led to establishment of the Republican Party. "The Appeal of the Independent Democrats in Congress to the People of the United States", written by Chase and Giddings, and published in the New York Times on January 24, 1854, may be regarded as the earliest draft of the Republican party creed.
In 1855 he was elected governor of Ohio. Chase was the first Republican governor of Ohio, serving from 1856 to 1860, where he supported women's rights, public education, and prison reform.
Chase was elected as a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 1860. However, two days after taking his seat, he resigned to become Secretary of the Treasury under Lincoln.
The first U.S. federal currency, the greenback demand note, was printed in 1861–1862 during Chase's tenure as Secretary of the Treasury. It was Chase's responsibility to design the notes. In an effort to further his political career, his face appeared on a variety of U.S. paper currency, starting with the $1 bill so that the people would recognize him.
On October 10, 1862, Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles wrote that "a scheme for permits, special favors, Treasury agents, and improper management" existed and was arranged by Treasury Secretary Chase for General John A. Dix. The motive of Chase appeared to be for political influence and not for financial gain.
But to placate the Radical wing of the party, Lincoln mentioned Chase as a potential Supreme Court nominee. When Chief Justice Roger B. Taney died in October 1864, Lincoln named Chase to replace him. Lincoln issued the nomination on December 6, 1864. Chase was confirmed by the Senate that very day, and immediately received his commission, holding the office from 1864 until his own death in 1873. Chase was a complete change from the pro-slavery Taney; one of Chase's first acts as Chief Justice was to admit John Rock as the first African-American attorney to argue cases before the Supreme Court.
In May 1865, Chase was elected a 3rd class companion of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS). MOLLUS was an organization of Union officers who had served in the Civil War which allowed distinguished civilians who had supported the Union cause to join as 3rd class companions. Chase was one of the first to receive this honor and was assigned MOLLUS insignia number 46.
Chase County, Kansas, and Chase City, Virginia, are named in his honor. Chasevilles in Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina (which only lasted from 1868 to 1871), New York, Ohio, and Tennessee were also named for him. Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio, and Chase Hall, the main barracks and dormitory at the United States Coast Guard Academy, is named for Chase in honor of his Service as Secretary of the Treasury, and the United States Coast Guard Cutter Chase (WHEC 718) is named for him, as are Chase Hall at the Harvard Business School and the Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University.
After Chase's death in 1873, the Supreme Court established a tradition that a newly deceased Justice's chair and the front of the bench where the Justice sat will be draped with black wool crêpe, with black crêpe hung over the Court's entrance.
To honor Chase for introducing the modern system of banknotes, he was depicted on the $10,000 bill printed from 1928 to 1946. Chase was instrumental in placing the phrase "In God We Trust" on United States coins in 1864.
Although not referred to by name, Chase was portrayed by Shakespearean actor Montagu Love (who closely resembled him) in the 1942 film Tennessee Johnson during Andrew Johnson's impeachment scenes. Chase was also portrayed by Josh Stamberg in the 2013 movie Saving Lincoln.
Chase's portrait appears on the United States $10,000 bill, the largest denomination of U.S. currency to publicly circulate. The bill was last printed in 1945. In 1969, the Federal Reserve began withdrawing high-denomination bills from circulation and as of 2009 only 336 $10,000 bills had not been returned for destruction.