Salmon P. Chase: A Life in Politics

By Frederick J. Blue | Go to book overview
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Chief Justice as Presidential Candidate

Salmon Chase had never been content to confine his years as chief justice to judicial matters, and he therefore surprised few when his interest in politics accelerated as the presidential election of 1868 neared. Long before his role in the impeachment trial had completed his break with Republican colleagues, he had been considering a return to a more active political life. He had found the life of a Supreme Court justice "rather irksome," surmising that had he been appointed before becoming "so largely identified with political measures," he would have been more content. To his critics, his every action on the Court had a political motive. His southern tour of May 1865, they said, was designed to seek support for the 1868 Republican nomination. Especially with his close friend Cincinnati journalist Whitelaw Reid describing the trip in detail for northern readers, it could be viewed as a campaign tour. Although such an interpretation depreciated his genuine concern for southern conditions and black suffrage, the tour did afford Chase some opportunity to assess his chances for a nomination.1 And for his first three years as chief justice there were good reasons to believe that some Republicans still viewed him as a possible candidate for the presidency.

Until mid 1867, Chase remained in basic support of congressional Reconstruction. When President Johnson turned his back on Chase's proposals and alienated many of his northern supporters, Chase agreed that the only chance for an equitable policy was with the Republican members of Congress. Never happy with the military


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