Salmon Portland Chase was born in New Hampshire on 13th January, 1808. After his father died in 1817, he lived with his uncle, Philander Chase, the Bishop of Ohio. After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1826 he worked briefly as a school teacher in Washington.
In 1830 Chase moved to Cincinnati where he established himself as a lawyer. A member of the Anti-Slavery Society, Chase defended so many re-captured slaves and became known as the "attorney general for runaway negroes". He also provided free legal advice for those caught working for the Underground Railroad.
Chase was originally a member of the Whig Party but joined the Liberty Party in 1841. However, in August 1848, Chase and other members of the party joined with anti-slavery members of the Whig Party to form the Free-Soil Party. The following year Chase was elected to the United States Senate. Together with Joshua Giddings, Chase was seen as the leader of the anti-slavery group in Congress and played an important role in the campaign against the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
In 1855 Chase was elected as the governor of Ohio. A founder member of the Republican Party he sought the party presidential nomination in 1860 but on the third ballot asked his supporters to vote for Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln became president he appointed Chase as his Secretary of the Treasury and had responsibility for organizing the finance of the Union war effort. He also helped to establish a national banking system and another innovation was the employment of women clerks.
Chase was the most progressive member of Lincoln's Cabinet and shared many of the views being expressed by the Radical Republican group. He constantly clashed with the more conservative William Seward and on several occasions came close to resigning.
Chase was highly critical of those officers in the Union Army such as Irvin McDowell, George McClellan and Henry Halleck who appeared unwilling to attack the Confederate Army in 1862. He himself wanted the war to be a crusade against slavery and told Lincoln: "Proslavery sentiment inspires rebellion, let anti-slavery sentiment inspire suppression."
Slavery in the United States (£1.29)
In the summer of 1862 Chase and Abraham Lincoln clashed over the treatment of General David Hunter. In May, Hunter began enlisting black soldiers in the occupied districts of South Carolina and soon afterwards issued a statement that all slaves owned by Confederates in the area were free. Lincoln was furious and instructed him to disband the 1st South Carolina (African Descent) regiment and to retract his proclamation. Chase agreed with Hunter's actions and once again came close to resigning.
The main argument that Chase had with Lincoln was that the president refused to state that emancipation of the slaves was an object of the war. In Cabinet meetings Chase was the only member to argue for black suffrage. Chase eventually resigned in June, 1864. Lincoln wrote a letter accepting Chase's resignation agreeing that their relationship had "reached a point of mutual embarrassment that could not be overcome".
In December, 1864, Abraham Lincoln appointed Chase as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Like other Radical Republican, Chase was highly critical of Lincoln's Reconstruction Plans. He was even more critical of those followed by Andrew Johnson and as Chief Justice presided over the Senate impeachment proceedings against Andrew Johnson.
Over the next few years Chase interpreted the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution in ways that helped to protect the rights of blacks from infringement by state action. Salmon Portland Chase died on 7th May, 1873.