An absorbing political and legal biography of a complicated and important figure of the 19th century. Niven (American History/Claremont Graduate School; Martin Van Buren and the Romantic Age of Politics, 1983, etc.) accomplishes for Salmon P. Chase previously what he did for Martin Van Buren, rescuing him from historical obscurity. Chase, a prominent politician and jurist, is today best remembered as Lincoln's secretary of the treasury, a post from which he secured funding to wage the Civil War and oversaw the creation of a new national banking system. Born in New Hampshire in 1808, he was shuttled off to relatives when financial crisis struck his family after the death of his father. Yet he still managed to attend Dartmouth. After studying law in Washington, D.C., with Attorney General William Wirt, he moved to Cincinnati, where he quickly became a leader in the antislavery movement. He defended so many runaway slaves that he earned himself the epithet ``the attorney general of fugitive slaves.'' Serving in the Senate and as governor of Ohio, he joined the new Republican Party and sought its nomination for president in 1860, losing to Lincoln. Instead, he accepted the treasury post. In 1864, Lincoln named him chief justice of the Supreme Court, in which capacity he is best known for presiding at the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's successor. Though Johnson wanted to dismantle Reconstruction and was a staunch political opponent of all Chase stood for, the justice reigned over the proceedings with stony decorum, ensuring a fair trial that led to Johnson's acquittal. Niven limns a complex portrait of a man he describes as a tragic and ultimately unfulfilled figure. Chase spent his life in public service but was egotistical and intensely ambitious. He was a man of lofty principles who nonetheless compromised them at important moments. With its thorough research and fine writing, this volume surpasses the high standard Niven set for himself in his biography of Van Buren.
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