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This Month in Business History

Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury Born

Hon. Salmon P. Chase. Between 1855 and 1865. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Salmon P. Chase was born January 13, 1808, in New Hampshire and later moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. He became well known locally, and even wrote a treatise on the laws of Ohio that was used for many years. Chase was an ardent abolitionist and his argument before the Supreme Court in Jones v. Van Zandt caught the attention of those outside of Ohio.

In 1849 he was elected to the Senate, where he championed the abolitionist cause, and later served as governor of Ohio. While serving a second term in the U.S. Senate, he was tapped by Abraham Lincoln to become Secretary of the Treasury.

As Secretary, Chase was instrumental in establishing a national banking system after the National Banking Acts of 1863 and 1864 were passed. The 1863 act, originally known as the National Currency Act, (ch. 58, 12 Stat. 665; February 25, 1863) established the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) External, as well as a national currency. The National Bank Act of 1864 (ch. 106, 13 Stat. 99; June 3, 1864) reaffirmed the status of the OCC and established federal authority over the issuance of national bank charters, leading to a more uniform system for the establishment of banks in the United States.

Chase was also instrumental in creating the new paper money authorized by the National Currency Act. Chase took an active roll in designing this new currency – later called greenbacks. He was also responsible for the inclusion of the phrase "In God We Trust" on coins.

The Treasury Department was and is the agency responsible for the monies used to run the government. During Chase's tenure this job was particularly difficult because much of the government’s revenue and interest were used for the war effort. Thankfully, he had the help of Jay Cooke in insuring government revenue was available.

Chase's relationship with the President was not always smooth. But when Jacob Brinkerhoff, a Justice on the Ohio Supreme Court, wrote a letter to the President recommending Chase for the job of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court – replacing Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (who wrote the Dred Scott decision), Lincoln took Brinkerhoff's advice and nominated Chase on December 6, 1864. On the 15th of December Chase took the oath of office and wasted no time. One of his first acts was to admit John Rock External, a man born to free African-American parents, to the bar of the Supreme Court. During his tenure External he presided over many oral arguments and wrote the rulings for cases including Turner and Texas v. White and Veazie Bank v. Fenno. He even presided over the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson [artist's rendering].

Chase ran unsuccessfully for president in 1868 and 1872 and eventually died in New York on May 7, 1873. He was originally buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C., but was later re-interred in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.

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