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August 2010


Kate Chase was said to be the most beautiful and the most intelligent woman of her age. Her father, Salmon P. Chase, is remembered today as Lincoln’s secretary of the treasury and as a chief judge of the U. S. Supreme Court. In his own time, Chase was considered one of the nation’s political giants; Abraham Lincoln described him as “one and a half times bigger than any other man” he had ever known. Carl Schurz’s summary still echoes today: “More than anyone else he looked the great man. Tall, broad-shouldered, and proudly erect, . . . he was a picture of intelligence, strength, courage and dignity. He looked as you would wish a statesman to look.”

Throughout his political career, Chase sought ways to better the position of African Americans. A man of deep convictions, he publicly and consistently advocated voting rights for African Americans as early as 1845. While his political affiliations often shifted, to the end of his life he was consistent in his advocacy of universal male suffrage for African Americans. While his lieutenants were negotiating for his election by the legislature to the U.S. Senate, Chase insisted that part of the “deal” would be the repeal of Ohio’s Black Laws, which discriminated against African Americans.

Chase devoted much of his legal talent to creating a nationwide legal strategy by which slavery would be divorced from the national government and be solely dependent upon local government. His policy was summed up in his antislavery slogan: “Freedom National, Slavery Local.” As Harold Hyman noted, “for a tumultuous one-third of a century [Chase] was the antislavery crusaders’ premier legal strategist.”

In spite of Chase’s egalitarian sentiments on race that our stereotypes suggest would be a hindrance to his political career, he was twice elected governor of the State of Ohio, twice elected to the U.S. Senate, and served as secretary of the treasury under President Lincoln. As Les Benedict has observed, Chase was a serious and important contender for the nomination of president of the United States in every election from 1856 through 1872. As chief justice of the United States, Chase is chiefly remembered for his nationalistic opinion in Texas v. White and his dissent in the Legal Tender Cases. His judicial reputation no doubt suffered from Felix Frankfurter’s conclusion that his commerce clause opinions were of no value to the modern era and the negative assessment of Chase’s chief justiceship by Frankfurter student and protégé Charles Fairman. Modern biographers have offered a significantly more balanced assessment of Chase.

Chase participated in some of the most important constitutional cases of his times, including authoring majority opinions in seven of the court’s major Reconstruction cases. This article explores the influence that Kate Chase may have had on her father’s dissent without opinion in the Fourteenth Amendment case of Bradwell v. Illinois.

Publication Title

Ohio History

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