On December 6, 1864, Abraham Lincoln nominated Salmon P. Chase chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; he was sworn in on December 15. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Chase studied law under Attorney General William Wirt.
He championed Sunday schools and temperance in the 1830s, and by the 1840s was an active member of the abolitionist movement. Chase defended fugitive slaves in Ohio and played a key role in creating the Free Soil Party, which opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories. With Free Soil support, Chase was elected to the Senate early in 1849.
Chase founded the Ohio Republican party and next served as the state’s first Republican governor from 1855 to 1859. In office, he vigorously opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and defended the rights of African Americans.
At the 1860 Republican convention, Chase permitted delegates pledged to support him to cast decisive votes for Abraham Lincoln. As a reward, in 1861–just two days after beginning his second term as senator, Chase left the Senate to serve as Lincoln’s secretary of the treasury.
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?
Letter from Hon. Salmon P. Chase, Chief Justice of the United States. Wakefield, R.I., August 16, 1865. [To Williams Syphax and J. F. Cook, Committee]. In Celebration by the Colored People’s Educational Monument Association in Memory of Abraham Lincoln on the Fourth of July, 1865…. Washington, D.C.: McGill & Witherow, printers 1865. African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A. P. Murray Collection, 1818-1907. Rare Book and Special Collections Division
During his time as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court—where he served until his death–Chase presided over the Senate’s impeachment trial and acquittal of President Andrew Johnson. Chase suffered a stroke and died on May 7, 1873. He was honored with a formal state funeral. Originally buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C., he was later reinterred in Spring Grove Cemetery in Ohio, the state that he served.
- Read Address and Reply on the Presentation of A Testimonial to S. P. Chase.” This 1845 document from African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A. P. Murray Collection, 1818-1907 records a ceremony honoring Chase for his defense of escaped slave Samuel Watson.
- For a less-than-flattering review of Chase’s performance on the campaign trail read page 92 of H. P. Hall’s Observations: being more or less a history of political contests in Minnesota from 1849 to 1904. A prominent Minnesota journalist, Harlan Page Hall’s memoir is available through the collection Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820 to 1910.
- Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress includes approximately 20,000 online documents. Search on Salmon P. Chase to view correspondence regarding the statesman.
- Read a letter from Chase to Mrs. Abraham Lincoln on the occasion of Lincoln’s taking the oath of office during his second inauguration.
- Search the phrase Salmon P. Chase in Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers to find newspapers articles throughout his career.