cover image Salmon P. Chase: Lincoln’s Vital Rival

Salmon P. Chase: Lincoln’s Vital Rival

Walter Stahr. Simon & Schuster, $35 (848 pages) ISBN 978-1-5011-9923-3

Biographer Stahr (Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man) delivers a comprehensive and largely admiring portrait of U.S. Treasury Secretary and Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase (1808–1873). Contending that “Lincoln could never have become president without the vital work that Chase had done in the two preceding decades,” Stahr documents the Ohio lawyer’s evolution from a “rank-and-file Whig, with no strong views on slavery” in the late 1830s to a prominent legal defender of fugitive slaves and abolitionists. A founder of the Republican Party, Chase actively campaigned for Abraham Lincoln after falling short in his own quest for the party’s nomination in the 1860 presidential election. Lincoln put Chase in charge of the U.S. Treasury, where he created a national standard currency, known as the “greenback,” and helped establish a national bank system. In 1864, Lincoln appointed Chase to the Supreme Court, where he presided over the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson in 1868. Prodigious research and abundant use of diaries, letters, and other primary sources support Stahr’s nuanced portrait, which makes room for criticism that Chase put his presidential ambitions ahead of his principles in seeking the 1868 Democratic nomination for president. This robust reassessment sheds new light on an undersung hero in the battle to end slavery. (Nov.)