Portrait of an Ambitious Young Man
As the Civil War raged over the battlefields of the Confederacy during the winter of 1863-64, Salmon Portland Chase took time from his busy schedule as secretary of the Treasury to write a long series of autobiographical letters. They were written to be used by his house guest and friend John T. Trowbridge as a campaign biography should the secretary decide to pursue his challenge to Abraham Lincoln for the Republican presidential nomination the following spring. The letters reveal much of what we know about the young Salmon Chase and the environment in which he grew up.1 They tell of an able and ambitious young man who climbed from an obscure New Hampshire boyhood to a position of national prominence, who was proud of his humble beginnings, yet eager to rise above them.
The story of Salmon P. Chase and his immediate family began on the New Hampshire frontier in 1763 when a struggling young Massachusetts farmer named Dudley Chase moved with his wife, Alice, and seven children to the Connecticut River Valley where they helped to found the town of Cornish. Before the year was over an eighth child, Ithamar, was born.2 Forty-five years later on January 13, 1808, Ithamar's wife, Janet Ralston Chase, gave birth to Salmon Portland in the same small New Hampshire community. Originally from England in the mid-seventeenth century, the Chase family had become well established in Cornish before Salmon's birth.