SALMON PORTLAND CHASE, sixth chief justice of the United States, and one of the most eminent of American jurists,
was born in Cornish, New Hampshire, January 13, 1808. At the age of nine he was left in poverty by the death of
his father, but means were found to educate him. He was sent to his uncle, a bishop, who conducted an academy near
Columbus, Ohio, and here young Chase worked on the farm and attended school. At the age of fifteen he returned
to his native state and entered Dartmouth College, from which he graduated in 1826. He then went to Washington,
and engaged in teaching school, and studying law under the instruction of William Wirt. He was licensed to practice
in 1829, and went to Cincinnati, where he had a hard struggle for several years following. He had in the meantime
prepared notes on the statutes of Ohio, which, when published, brought him into prominence locally. He was soon
after appointed solicitor of the United States Bank. In 1837 he appeared as counsel for a fugitive slave woman,
Matilda, and sought by all the powers of his learning and eloquence to prevent her owner from reclaiming her. He
acted in many other cases, and devolved the trite expression, Slavery is sectional, freedom is national."
He was employed to defend Van Zandt before the supreme court of the United States in 1846, which was one of the
most noted cases connected with the great struggle against slavery. By this time Mr. Chase had become the recognized
leader of that element known as free soilers." He was elected to the United States senate in 1849, and was
chosen governor of Ohio in 1855 and re-elected in 1857. He was chosen to the United States senate from Ohio in
1861, but was made secretary of the treasury by Lincoln and accepted. He inaugurated a financial system to replenish
the exhausted treasury and meet the demands of the greatest war in history and at the same time to revive the industries
of the country. One of the measures which afterward called for his judicial attention was the issuance of currency
notes which were made a legal tender in payment of debts. When this question came before him as chief justice of
the United States he reversed his former action and declared the measure unconstitutional. The national banking
system, by which all notes issued were to be based on funded government bonds of equal or greater amounts, had
its direct origin with Mr. Chase.
Mr. Chase resigned the treasury portfolio in 1864, and was appointed the same year as chief-justice of the United
States supreme court. The great questions that came up before him at this crisis in the life of the nation were
no iessthan those which confronted the first chief justice at the formation of our government. Reconstruction,
private, state and national interests, the constitutionality ot the acts of congress passed in times of great excitement,
the construction and interpretation to be placed upon the several amendments to the national constitution, -these
were among the vital questions requiring prompt decision. He received a paralytic stroke in 1870, which impaired
his health, though his mental powers were not affected. He continued to preside at the opening terms for two years
following and died May 7, 1873.
A Biographical Record
Of Schuyler County, New York
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
New York and Chicago 1903.
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