Monday, June 12, 2006

Who The Hell Is Salmon P. Chase?

When I wrote that Alexander Hamilton was one of two non-presidents to appear on paper money, I was only thinking as high as $100. True, there are no denominations higher than the 100 in circulation now, but there used to be. And at least one, my boss pointed out to me, had a non-president: Salmon Portland Chase appeared on the $10,000 bill. Who the hell is Salmon P. Chase?

According to a Tulane University webpage, Salmon P. Chase (1808-1873) was an anti-slavery lawyer, then a twice-elected governor of Ohio (1855 and 1857), then a senator (1860, R-Ohio). He was considered as a Republican presidential candidate, but Lincoln got the nomination instead. Lincoln made him secretary of the treasury in 1861. He helped start the national banking system in 1863, but resigned in 1864 because of his political differences with Lincoln. But Lincoln appointed him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court later that year. He appointed a man named John Rock as the first black lawyer to argue cases in front of the Supreme Court. He gave Andrew Johnson the oath when Lincoln was assassinated, and then presided over Johnson's impeachment removal trial. He made a play for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1868, but his unpopular support for black (male) voting rights prevented it.

Chase created the country's first paper money, which were nicknamed "greenbacks" because of the green ink on one side. Chase himself appeared on the first one dollar bill. When he was the chief justice he tried to get the paper money taken out of circulation as unconstitutional.

So did Chase have anything to do with the bank with the same name? Sort of. As far as I can tell, the Bank of Manhattan, which was started by Aaron Burr (the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel), was later called Chase Manhattan Bank, named after Salmon Chase, though he had nothing to do with it.

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