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The Salmon R Chase Papers: A Review Essay Fred Blue The publication of The Salmon P. Chase Papers, volume 5, Correspondence, 1865-1873 by the Kent State University Press brings to a conclusion a project begun more than ten years ago. It also coincides with the untimely passing of John Niven, the project's editor. The Chase Papers has already become of immense value to scholars and students of nineteenth-century American politics. Needless to say, its editor will be sorely missed by friends and colleagues. Salmon P. Chase was an enigma both to his contemporaries and to twentiethcentury historians. Both groups have pictured him as being caught between antislavery and egalitarian principle on the one hand and a relentless political ambition on the other. Not surprisingly, today there is no more consensus on which motivation was dominant than there was during Chase's lifetime. In 1 830, at the age of twenty-two, he settled in Cincinnati and sought his place in society as a rising young attorney. He quickly revealed both his desire for material gain and a sincere interest in humanitarian reform. As his law career blossomed, so did his concern for fugitive slaves; in fact, he was soon known to friends and foes alike as "the Attorney General for Runaway Negroes ." His genuine interest in the plight of fugitives also led him into politics, first on the third-party level as a Liberty and Free Soil leader; the latter party's bargaining power in the Ohio legislature gave him an opening to win a controversial election to the U.S. Senate in 1 849. Yet to critics, he had placed his own electoral success above Free Soil principle and had sacrificed the party's independence for his own selfish ambition. Helping to found the Republican party, he immediately became an aspiring presidential contender. Election as Ohio's first Republican governor in 1 855 was for Chase little more than what he hoped would be a stepping stone to the White House. ' The Salmon P. Chase Papers, volumes 1 through 4, edited by John Niven and published by the Kent State University Press (1993-97), include: Journals: 1829-1872, Correspondence: 18231857 , Correspondence: 1858-March 1863, and Correspondence: 1863-1864. 1 Chase's motivation has long intrigued historians. The most recent effort to deal with his sometimes contradictory and sometimes consistent motives is that of Stephen E. Maizlish in "Salmon P. Civil War History, Vol. xliv No. 4 © 1998 by The Kent State University Press 286CIVIL WAR HISTORY The rest of Chase's career is better known to students of the Civil War era. As presidential contender, Abraham Lincoln's secretary of the Treasury, and chief justice during the Reconstruction era he continued to display the conflicting goals of reform and personal political power. Yet for Chase the two concepts were thoroughly compatible and in fact could be achieved simultaneously. Due to his cold and aloof personality and his unremitting ambition to be president, Chase developed few close personal friendships. Yet no one, critic or defender alike, could deny his achievements. Never winning the office he most desired, he nevertheless helped push a cautiousAbraham Lincoln toward emancipation and a measure ofracial equality forAfricanAmericans. Earlier in Ohio he had used his election to the Senate as a way to bring a partial repeal of the state's infamous black laws. Despite his determined drive for the White House, as secretary oftheTreasury he was responsible for significant reform in the nation's financial affairs, and as chiefjustice he helped restore prestige to the Supreme Court and personally created ajudicial record ofindependence and impartiality. Chase's life was thus one of achievement as well as political ambition. Because of the multifaceted aspects of Chase's forty years in politics and reform his career provides an important window on the events of the critical middle decades of the nineteenth century. Thus the publication of his papers allows scholars in the field as well as those with a more casual interest in these years to watch politics unfold through the eyes of one of its most important players and his many correspondents. Niven and his editorial staff sorted through thousands of Chase letters...


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