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Fundamental Documents of Ohio







1856- 1860

In 1856 Salmon Portland Chase became the first Republican governor of Ohio as a result of what may truthfully be called a party revolution. The immediate cause of the death of one old party, the Whig, and the birth of two new ones, the Republican and Know-Nothing, was the passage in 1854 of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Chase came before the people of Ohio with a long record of implacable opposition to slavery extension. Born in 1808 in Cornish, New Hampshire, of good New England stock, he first came to Ohio as a boy of twelve to live with his uncle, Bishop Philander Chase, who resided in Worthington. After about three years' tutelage under the bishop, first at Worthington and later at Cincinnati, Chase returned to his native state, where he entered Dartmouth College. Following his graduation in 1826 he went to Washington, D. C., where he taught school and read law under the nominal guidance of William Wirt, a distinguished Virginian, who was attorney general in the administration of John Quincy Adams. In 1830 Chase was admitted to the bar and returned to Cincinnati to begin his legal and political career.

Though nominally a Whig, Chase soon became convinced that the slavery issue transcended all others in importance. This conviction led him naturally into the Liberty party and later into the Free Soil party. In 1849, through a coalition of Free Soilers and Democrats in the Ohio assembly, Chase was elected to the United States Senate. There he won national recognition as an opponent of the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska bill. As a result of his forthright stand on the slavery question he naturally assumed a position of leadership in the rapidly growing anti-Nebraska, or fusionist, movement. Meeting at Columbus on July 13, 1855, the fusionists formally organized the Republican party and chose Chase as their candidate for governor.

The campaign of 1855 was one of exceptional bitterness. Chase's opponents, Governor William Medill, Democrat, and former Governor Allen Trimble, running as the candidate of a die-hard Know-Nothing remnant, charged him with favoring abolitionism, Negro equality, and disunion. Ignoring his detractors, Chase emphasized the dangers of slavery extension and what he called "Southernism." The result of the election, crucial for the future of the Republican party in Ohio, was a victory for the entire Republican ticket.

The Republican administration under Chase represented an artful blending of antislavery radicalism and economic conservatism. The ardent antislavery elements of the new party were appeased by the reelection of Benjamin F. Wade to the senate, the enactment of personal liberty laws, and the passage of strong antislavery resolutions. As for economic measures, under the skillful guidance of a veteran Whig legislator, Alfred Kelley, a law was passed exempting banks from taxation where their charters so provided and permitting deductions of debts from credits for all taxpayers. A new general banking law was passed also but was subject to popular referendum, as provided in the constitution of the state. Although favored by Governor Chase and a number of both Republican and Democratic leaders, the new general banking law was turned down by a majority of voters.

While the assembly was carrying out its program, Chase proceeded with vigor to exercise the limited prerogatives of his office. He skillfully managed the patronage and carried out a much needed reform of the state militia that proved its worth in 1861. He advocated the establish- ment of a geological survey, a bureau of statistics, and a railroad commission, the improvement of the status of women with regard to property holding, and better opportunities for the common schools and higher education.

Although he had no desire for a second term as governor, Chase was practically forced to run again in 1857 by the misconduct of the treasurer of the state. This official became involved in the misappropria- tion of about $550,000 of state funds. When the blame for the defalcation was placed on the Republican administration, Chase, stimulated rather than cowed by this challenge to his integrity, stood for reelection and conducted a vigorous campaign throughout the state. By a slim margin the electorate returned him to the governorship but sent a majority of Democrats to the general assembly. The Democrats then proceeded to repeal the personal liberty laws and to enact anti-Negro legislation, attempted to tax banks without regard to their charters, and passed an independent treasury act to divorce the state treasury from banks. The governor remonstrated against most of these measures, but lacking a veto he was powerless to prevent their passage.

When in 1859 the Republicans carried the state offices by sub- stantial majorities and proceeded to return Chase to the United States Senate, his chances for the Republican nomination for president in 1860 seemed promising. But at the Republican convention the Ohio delegation was divided and on the third ballot transferred four votes to Lincoln, which gave him the necessary majority. After the election Chase was appointed secretary of the treasury. While remaining a member of the cabinet Chase allowed himself to become the center of an oust-Lincoln movment. Tension between the president and his finance minister mounted, and when in 1864 the secretary submitted his resignation for the fourth, or perhaps fifth, time, the president accepted it, much to the chagrin of the secretary. Then, when Chief Justice Taney died on October 21, 1864, Lincoln appointed Chase to the highest judicial post in the land.

If, as some historians have suggested, Lincoln's motive in appointing Chase to the court was to put a perennial candidate in an office that would satisfy his ambition and thus "bury" him, as Chase's daughter charged, Lincoln failed, for Chase, abandoning the Republican party, actively sought the Democratic nomination in 1868. In his bid for the presidency he had the aid of his brilliant, beautiful, and wealthy daughter, Kate Chase Sprague, who, as Washington's most lavish hostess, sought to promote his advancement. In spite of the combined efforts of father and daughter, Chase never succeeded in capturing the great prize. Chase's arduous duties as chief justice and fruitless exertions to gain the presidency led to rapid decline in health and to death on May 7, 1873, at the age of sixty-five. He was survived by two daughters, Mrs. Sprague and Mrs. William S. Hoyt. The Ohio State University


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