Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

Salmon P. Chase

excerpt from: L.J. Bigelow, Bench and Bar: A Complete Digest
of the Wit, Humor, Asperities, and Amenities of the Law

(New York: Harper & Brothers, 1871)

Salmon Portland Chase, now Chief Justice of the United States, was born in Cornish, New Hampshire, January 13, 1808. His father having died, he was sent, at the age of twelve, to Ohio, and placed under the care of his uncle, Bishop Chase. After studying for a year at Cincinnati College he entered Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire, from which he graduated in 1829. He went to Washington, where he opened a school, at the same time studying law under the direction of William Wirt. Having been admitted to the bar, he went to Cincinnati, and entered upon the practice of his profession. To this for some years he applied himself exclusively, taking no prominent part in politics, though he belonged to the Democratic party. In 1841 he first took a decided part in politics. He was then a member of the Convention of those opposed to the farther extension of slavery, and was the author of the address unanimously adopted by that body. He took a prominent part in all the subsequent movements having this end in view, and was president of the Free Soil Democratic Convention at Buffalo in 1848. The Democratic party in Ohio had at this time assumed the position of hospitality to slavery in the Territories. Mr. Chase was chosen United States senator in February, 1849, receiving the votes of all the Democratic members of the Legislature, together with those of others who were in favor of free soil. Though elected as a Democrat, he declared that if the party withdrew from its position in regard to slavery, he should withdraw from it. This he did formally, in consequence of the action of the Democratic Convention held at Baltimore in 1852. When the Republican party was organized, Mr. Chase took the position of one of its acknowledged leaders. Soon after the close of his senatorial term in 1855 he was elected Governor of Ohio. He was re-elected, his second term closing in 1860. In the Republican Convention at Chicago in that year he was next, after Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward, the leading candidate for the presidency. He had in the mean time been again elected to the Senate of the United States, and, had he taken his place, would undoubtedly have been the leader in that body. But he resigned hi seat in order to accept the position of Secretary of the Treasury—a position for which he was especially pointed out by the success of his financial policy while Governor of Ohio. It is honorable to all the persons that the three leading competitors of Mr. Lincoln for the presidential nomination should have received and accepted his nomination as members of his cabinet. As the presidential canvass of 1864 approached, a strong effort was made to bring forth Mr. Chase as the Union candidate; but the current of popular feeling was so unmistakably in favor of the re-election of Mr. Lincoln that Mr. Chase refused to become a candidate, and gave his cordial support to Mr. Lincoln. Meanwhile, finding that Congress hesitated to carry out the financial system which he proposed, Mr. Chase had, on the 30th of June, 1864, resigned the post of Secretary of the Treasury. Almost the first important public act of Mr. Lincoln after his re-election was to appoint Mr. Chase to the most important position within the executive nomination. Mr. Chase entered upon the duties of his high office at the age of fifty-six, with a sound legal reputation, and with a physical vigor which gives reason to hope that he may be able to perform its duties for a period as long as that of his predecessor.

Chief Justice Taney was the author of the saying found in his opinion in the case of Dred Scott, and which will always be associated with his name, "A black man has no rights that a white man is bound to respect." The present Chief Justice Chase uttered the eloquent aphorism, "Congress has no more power to make a slave than to make a king."

The following has been told of Judge Chase's father:

"In New Hampshire they used to choose all their state, county, and town officers, from governor down to hogreeves, at one town-meeting—the annual March meeting. As the town officers were very numerous, it was customary, as fast as they were chosen, to walk them up before a justice of the peace, and have them sworn into office ‘by companies, half companies, pair, and single.' ‘Squire Chase,' of Cornish (father of Secretary Chase), being the most prominent justice, had this task to perform, and a severe task it was, occupying much of his time from morning till night.

"It was on one of these occasions, after the labors and toils of the day were over, he returned to his home weary and overcome with the fatigues of his employment, and, throwing himself into his easy-chair, fell into a sound sleep. In the mean time, a couple, who had been waiting impatiently for some time for the justice to join them in wedlock, presented themselves in another part of the house, and made known their interesting desire to Mrs. Chase, who, somewhat confused and agitated, attended them to the sleeping justice, whom she found it difficult to arouse. Shaking him by the shoulder, she called out, ‘Mr. Chase, Mr. Chase, do pray wake up; here is a couple come to be married.' The justice, having administered oaths all day, was dreaming of nothing else. Half waked, rubbing his eyes, and looking at the wistful pair, he asked,

"‘Are you the couple?'

"They nodded assent.

"‘Well, hold up your hands.' They did so, with some hesitation. ‘You severally solemnly swear that you will faithfully perform the duties of your offices respectively according to your best skill and judgment, so help you, etc.'

"The astonished couple looked wild; the justice added, soothingly, ‘That's all, excepting the fee—one dollar,' which was quickly dropped into his hand, and they were off, doubting as they went the legality of the process; but they concluded to go according to the oath."