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BOOK REVIEWS Salmon P. Chase: A Life in Politics. By Frederick Blue. (Kent: The Kent State University Press, 1987. Pp. xiii, 421. $28.00.) Salmon P. Chase has longbeen the only major Civil War personage lacking a modern biography. In 1954 David Donald edited a portion of his diary; in 1956 Thomas G. and Marva R. Beiden wrote a collective work about the immediate family, and now John Niven has completed and will shortly publish an edition of the papers. But not since 1899, when Albert Bushneil Hart contributed his volume to the old American Statesmen series, has anyone completed a full-size Life. Perhaps this is because Chase's many faceted career makes inordinate demands on any wouldbe biographer, who has to be familiar with the antislavery crusade, Civil War finance, and the Reconstruction court decisions, to say nothing of Chase's nearly indecipherable handwriting. Whatever the reason, until now Lincoln's secretary of the treasuryhas remained a figure ofcomparative neglect. Fortunately, this void has now been filled by Frederick J. Blue. The author of Free Soldiers: Third Party Politics, 1848-54, Professor Blue brings considerable expertise to his new study. This is particularly true of Chase's early career and his emergence as an antislavery leader, and the result, a biography which is readable, well researched, and up to date. In general, Blue treats his subject with sympathy. Giving Chase credit for sincerity in his antislavery, hard money, and judicial opinions, he has presented us with a portrait of a forward-looking, capable, and honest statesman, whose wartime management of the nation's finances was remarkable . Yet, although he flatly rejects the Beldens' charges of financial peculation, he does not overlook Chase's shortcomings. Neither excusing nor omitting his hero's overweening ambition, his often ineffectual political intrigues, and his inordinate self-esteem, the author himself quotes Benjamin F. Wade's famous characterization: "Chase is a good man, but his theology is unsound. He thinks there is a fourth person in the Trinity." Professor Blue's thorough use of sources from widely scattered depositories constitutes one of the strongest points of this book. Relying not BOOK REVIEWS71 merely on the voluminous Chase diaries and correspondence, he has forged far and wide in the papers of contemporaries, so that his documentation is sound and well-rounded. If Chase emerges from this biography as the major figure he was, it is surprising that the author has not put more emphasis on the Ohioan's position as a radical leader. The struggle between radicals, moderates, and conservatives, and Abraham Lincoln's role in it, has long been a subject of general interest. While Blue does not fail to mention this controversy , he makes little of it, and it would be difficult to tell from this volume how the President took advantage of the situation. Modern writers have shown that despite his frequent clashes with many radicals, Lincoln was more favorably inclined toward their goals than had long been believed, and he made use of their demands to effectuate many of their aims in his own good time. Chase's role in this contest ought to be developed more fully, particularly in connection with the election of 1864. Nor is it clear why Chase changed his early Whignotions to sympathize with Democratic ideas on finance, a transition which Professor Blue might have clarified a bit more completely. It would perhaps be asking too much to expect the author to have covered the period of the chief justiceship in the same depth in which he treated earlier phases of Chase's career, but in view of its importance, a slightly more extended discussion might have been in order. As it is, however, the three phases of Chase's life emerge very clearly from this biography, and the author is to be congratulated on having completed so difficult an undertaking. A few minor errors ought to be corrected. It was in May 1861, not 1862, that Benjamin F. Butler called slaves used against the Union "contraband of war"; nor did he label all the insurgents' slaves in that manner. Lincoln wrote his famous letter suggesting limited black suffrage to Governor Michael Hahn of Louisiana...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 70-71
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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