Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Salmon P. Chase (1861–1864): Secretary of the Treasury

Salmon Portland Chase was born in 1808 in Cornish, New Hampshire. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1826, taught school, studied law, and was admitted to the state bar.

Chase established a law practice in Cincinnati in 1830 and soon began compiling the Ohio statutes into a three-volume work. He was elected as a Whig to the Cincinnati City Council in 1840, but he switched his allegiance first to the abolitionist Liberty Party, then to the Free-Soil Party, and ultimately to the Republican Party.

In 1842, Chase began defending those accused of violating the Fugitive Slave Act and followed up, after election to the U.S. Senate in 1848, by opposing the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Chase remained in the Senate until 1855, when he was elected governor of Ohio; he was reelected in 1857 and served until 1860, when his name was touted for a second time as a Republican presidential nominee. That year he again won election as a U.S. senator.

In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln tapped Chase to become his secretary of the treasury, a post Chase held until 1864. At that point, Lincoln finally accepted Chase’s resignation after the treasury secretary had repeatedly offered it. Later that year, Lincoln appointed Chase to become chief justice of the Supreme Court, and it was during Chase’s tenure on the bench that he upheld the validity of the Reconstruction Acts, presided over President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial, and helped draft the wording of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Salmon Portland Chase remained on the Supreme Court until his death in 1873.