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Salmon P. Chase: A Biography by John Niven
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Salmon P. Chase: A Biography

by John Niven

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Salmon P. Chase was one of the preeminent men of nineteenth-century America. A majestic figure, tall and stately, Chase was a leader in the fight to end slavery, a brilliant administrator who as Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury provided crucial funding for a vastly expensive war. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court during the turmoil of Reconstruction, he was the presiding officer of the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson. Yet he was also a complex figure. As John Niven reveals in this magisterial biography, Chase was a paradoxical blend of idealism and ambition. If he stood for the highest moral purposes--the freedom and equality of all mankind--these lofty motives failed to mask a thirst for power so deeply ingrained in his character that it drove away many who shared his principles, but invariably mistrusted his motives. What emerges is a portrait of a tragic figure, whose high qualities of heart and mind and whose many achievements were ultimately tarnished by an often unseemly quest for power. It is a striking look at an eminent statesman as well as a revealing glimpse into political life of nineteenth-century America, all set against a background of the antislavery movement, the Civil War, and the turmoil of Reconstruction.… (more)

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3567. Salmon P. Chase A Biography by John Niven (read 10 Apr 2002) Though I was less than admiratory of Niven's biography of Martin Van Buren, (which I read 15 Sep 1983) I decided to read this book. Chase was born in Cornish, NH, on Jan 13, 1808, attended Dartmouth, went to Cincinnati, never went to law school but in June 1830 was admitted to the bar. In 1849, though he was not a Democrat, the Democrats in Ohio elected him U.S. Senator and he served one term. He was elected Governor of Ohio and served two terms. He sought the Republican nomination for President in 1860, and Lincoln selected him as his Treasury Secretary in 1861. He resigned as such in 1864 and when Taney died Lincoln named Chase Chief Justice. The book is very interesting in all its parts except the account of the time as Treasury Secretary did not enthrall. Niven is not a felicitous writer, and the book is good only because the subject matter is so interesting. There are oodles of notes--76 pages of them--but they are largely citations to letters. There is no bibliography, though the notes mention many books which intrigue. The Chase home was at 6th and E Sts in Washington, which is very near where I lived when I attended Georgetown Law School (as I recall my address was 421 6th St. N.W.). ( )
  Schmerguls | Jul 28, 2013 |
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