Salmon P. Chase

“Would rather have Swallowed his Buckhorn Chair”

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December 15, Thursday. The Members of Congress have hardly commenced work as yet. They are feeling about. The malcontents are not in better mood than before the election. Chase’s appointment gives satisfaction to Senator Sumner and a few others; but there is general disappointment. Public sentiment had settled down under the conviction that he could not have the position. Sumner helped to secure it for him. The President told Chandler of New Hampshire, who remonstrated against such selections, that he would rather have swallowed his buckhorn chair than to have nominated Chase.

Sumner declares to me that Chase will retire from the field of politics and not be a candidate for the Presidency. I questioned it, but S. said with emphasis it was so. He had assured the President that Chase would retire from party politics. I have no doubt Sumner believes it. What foundations he has for the belief I know not, though he speaks positively and as if he had assurance. My own convictions are that, if he lives, Chase will be a candidate and his restless and ambitious mind is already at work. It is his nature.

In his interview with me to-day, it being the first time we have met since he reached Washington, Sumner commenced by praising my report, which he complimented as a model paper, – the best report he had read from a Department, etc., etc. As he is a scholar and critic, a statesman and politician capable of forming an opinion, has culture, discrimination, and good judgment, I could not but feel gratified with his praise. He says he read every word of it. Very many Members have given me similar complimentary assurances, but no one has gratified me so much as Sumner.

Quoted in Entry for December 15, 1864, Welles diary, Vol. II, p. 196.

“I Would not Hesitate a Moment”

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The late Vice-President Wilson, shortly before his death,said that Blair met him one day near the War Department and solicited his good word, saying that Chase would certainly not be nominated. Wilson was startled by Blair’s confident tone and went at once to the President, to whom he reiterated the arguments already used in favor of Mr. Chase’s nomination, saying that the President could well afford to overlook the harsh and indecorous things which Chase had said of him during the summer. “Oh ! as to that,” replied Lincoln, “I care nothing. Of Mr. Chase’s ability and of his soundness on the general issues of the war there is, of course, no question. I have only one doubt about his appointment. He is a man of unbounded ambition, and has been working all his life to become President. That he can never be; and I fear that if I make him Chief-Justice he will simply become more restless and uneasy and neglect the place in his strife and intrigue to make himself President. If I were sure that he would go on the bench and give up his aspirations and do nothing but make himself a great judge, I would not hesitate a moment.”

Quoted in John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Vol. IX (New York: Century Co., 1890), p. 394.

“I Know Meaner Things about Governor Chase”

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If Mr. Chase departed from the Cabinet with any unfriendness towards the President, we may be sure that Lincoln did not hold any such feeling towards Chase. When Roger B. Taney, Chief-Justice of the United States, died in 1864, the friends of Mr. Chase clamorously demanded that the ex-Secretary of the Treasury should take the place thus made vacant on the bench of the Supreme Court. Indeed, there was a very general public feeling that this appointment would be a wise one, although Mr. Lincoln’s immediate friends, mindful of Chase’s conduct in the Cabinet, remonstrated against his elevation to the lofty post of Chief-Justice. While this discussion was going on, the writer of these lines had occasion to visit the President in his private office. The President, who was in a happy frame of mind, jocularly asked, “What are people talking about now?” His caller replied that they were discussing the probability of Chase’s being appointed Chief-Justice. The smile on the President’s face faded, and he said with gravity and sadness: “My friends all over the country are trying to put up the bars between me and Governor Chase. I have a vast number of messages and letters, from men who think they are my friends, imploring and warning me not to appoint him.” He paused for a moment, and then, pointing to a pile of telegrams and letters on the table, said: “Now, I know meaner things about Governor Chase than any of those men can tell me; but I am going to nominate him.” Three days after that the appointment was made public.

Abraham Lincoln: the nation’s leader in the great struggle through which was maintained the existence of the United States,by Noah Brooks    Noah Brooks, “Personal Reminiscences of Lincoln,” Scribner’s Monthly 15 (March 1878), p. 677.

“I Should Despise Myself”

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The Hon. Mr. Frank, of New York told me that just after the nomination of Mr. Chase Chief Justice, a deeply interesting conversation upon this subject took place one evening between himself and the President, in Mrs. Lincoln’s private sitting-room. Mr. Lincoln reviewed Mr. Chase’s political course and aspirations at some length, alluding to what he had felt to be an estrangement from him personally, and to various sarcastic and bitter expressions reported to him as having been indulged in by the ex-Secretary, both before and after his resignation. The Congressman replied that such reports were always exaggerated, and spoke very warmly of Mr. Chase’s great services in the hour of the country’s extremity, his patriotism, and integrity to principle. The tears instantly sprang into Mr. Lincoln’s eyes. ” Yes,” said he, “that is true. We have stood together in the time of trial, and I should despise myself if I allowed personal differences to affect my judgment of his fitness for the office of Chief Justice.”

Quoted in Francis B. Carpenter, The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House (New York:Hurd and Houghton, 1867), 219.