Chase: Lawyer, Politician, and Antislavery Leader

Salmon B Chase

Salmon Portland Chase (January 13, 1808 – May 7, 1873), was a lawyer, politician and antislavery leader before the Civil War. He served as secretary of the Treasury in President Lincoln’s cabinet and was a Supreme Court justice for two terms. He was the subject of several paintings by Henry Ulke.


Salmon Portland Chase (1808-1873) was a lawyer and politician who was active in the antislavery movement before the Civil War and served as secretary of the treasury in President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet and as chief justice of the Supreme Court. He also repeatedly sought the presidency, but never succeeded.

Born in Cornish, New Hampshire, in 1808, Chase was raised by his uncle Philander Chase, Bishop of Ohio and early leader of the American Episcopal Church. He was taught classical and religious studies at his uncle’s church schools before moving to Washington, D.C. to study law at the Washington Academy under William Wirt, a noted jurist and renowned attorney general of the United States.

After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1826, Chase taught school and studied law. He was admitted to the Cincinnati bar in 1830 and soon began his practice. His abolitionist beliefs earned him the nickname “attorney general for runaway negroes.” He wrote a treatise on Ohio law and was a founding member of the Free Soil party.


In this lucid, accessible biography, Harvard law professor Walter Stahr examines Salmon Portland Chase’s constitutional approach to anti-slavery politics. Beginning his career as an Ohio lawyer and antislavery leader, Chase went on to serve as a member of the Republican Party’s national committee and vied for the party’s presidential nomination in 1860 before becoming secretary of the treasury in President Lincoln’s wartime cabinet. He also served as sixth chief justice of the US Supreme Court (1864-73). An invaluable study.


Salmon Portland Chase was born in Cornish, New Hampshire in 1808. His father died at age nine and he went to live with his uncle Philander Chase, an Episcopal bishop. He studied at Dartmouth and taught school before moving to Washington, DC to study law under the renowned jurist, US Attorney General William Wirt. He set up a law practice in Cincinnati in 1830 and became active in the antislavery movement, becoming known as the “attorney general for runaway slaves”. Chase was a Whig, but later joined the abolitionist Liberty Party and Free Soil Party, and then the Republican Party. Chase Hall, the main barracks and dormitory at the United States Coast Guard Academy, is named for him.


Salmon Portland Chase was a consummate politician: He served as governor of Ohio, United States senator and secretary of the treasury under Abraham Lincoln, and chief justice of the Supreme Court during Reconstruction. He also was an accomplished lawyer and a leading supporter of the anti-slavery movement. He was buried in Cincinnati with his daughters, Kate and Nettie.

He was born in Cornish, New Hampshire on January 13, 1808. When he was nine his father died and Chase moved to the home of his uncle, Episcopal bishop Philander Chase, in Cornish and then to Ohio where he attended schools run by his uncle. He found teaching more to his liking than farm work and he went to Dartmouth College and then studied law in Washington under famed attorney general William Wirt.

A passing comment Erika Kreger made to a colleague 17 years ago inspired a fascinating historical project that has now been published as a five-volume set of letters between Chase and his daughters, Nettie and Kate. The letter collection is called Spur Up Your Pegasus: The Family Letters of Salmon and Nettie Chase, 1844-1873 (Kent State University Press).

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