Presiding over the first impeachment trial of an U.S. president, Chief Justice Chase exercised judicial restraint in a highly partisan atmosphere. As an influential national figure, he brought political wisdom and moderation to the constitutional issues raised by the Reconstruction of the South after the Civil War.
Chase was the eighth child of a Cornish, New Hampshire, couple. His father was a farmer, but several of his uncles were well-educated professionals. One uncle supervised his early education, and an aunt assisted the hard-pressed family by financing further study at Dartmouth College. Young Chase studied law under U.S. attorney general William Wirt
Salmon P. Chase.
In an early indication of a compelling interest, Chase defended in 1837 a black woman employed by abolitionist James G. Birney but arrested under provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. Chase lost the case but impressed observers by his argument that the United States and state governments were mutually independent entities, neither of which could regulate the other. An intensely ambitious man, Chase led the Liberty Party in Ohio in the 1840’s and, as a United States senator from 1849 to 1855, spearheaded opposition to the extension of slavery into the territories.
After contributing to the formation of the Republican Party and serving as the first Republican governor of Ohio (1855-1859), he failed in 1856 and 1860 to gain his party’s nomination for president but served ably as Abraham Lincoln
Chase’s reputation as a leader added greatly to the Court’s prestige, then at low ebb. He regarded universal male suffrage as the key to Reconstruction
Reconstruction challenged the Court with a series of thorny jurisdictional problems. In Ex parte Milligan
Late in Chase’s term as chief justice, Collector v. Day
Chase presided at the first impeachment
Bader, William H., and Roy M. Mersky, eds. The First One Hundred Eight Justices. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 2004. Blue, Frederick. Salmon P. Chase: A Life in Politics. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1987. Fairman, Charles. Reconstruction and Reunion, 1864-1888. New York: Macmillan, 1971. Kutler, Stanley I. Judicial Power and Reconstruction Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968. Lurie, Jonathan. The Chase Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2004. Niven, John. Salmon P. Chase: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Collector v. Day
Impeachment of presidents
McCardle, Ex parte
Milligan, Ex parte