Salmon P. Chase was the first of three Treasury Secretaries appointed by Abraham Lincoln. Born in Cornish, New Hampshire in 1808, Chase lost his father at age nine and from age 12 was raised in Ohio by his uncle, Episcopal bishop Philander Chase. He graduated from Dartmouth in 1826 and taught at an academy in Vermont before moving to Washington, DC to study law under famed jurist and US attorney general William Wirt. Chase moved to Cincinnati in 1830 where he became active in the abolition movement. He served Ohio as governor and in the US Senate and was a prominent founding member of the Free Soil movement and, later, the Republican Party.
As Treasury Secretary, Chase was instrumental in the Union war effort. He increased taxes and improved the efficiency of their collection with the establishment of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, now called the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). He also created demand for Union war bonds by establishing a national banking system that required member banks to secure their note issues with government bonds. Most controversially, Chase issued fiat paper currency (bills of credit), called greenbacks, which created considerable inflation. Later, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Chase ruled the money that he helped to create unconstitutional!
Chase and Lincoln were often at loggerheads, but Lincoln rebuffed his first two resignation attempts. Only in June 1864, with the war, its financing and his nomination in hand, did Lincoln let him go. After Roger B. Taney died in October of the same year, however, Lincoln rewarded Chase with the post of Chief Justice. Chase died in New York City in 1873 after twice failing to be nominated for President. His portrait graced the $10,000 Federal Reserve Note before that denomination was discontinued after the Depression. Several buildings, municipalities and a bank and law school are named after Chase.
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Memo from President Abraham Lincoln to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase listing assets Lincoln wanted converted into bonds.
Bond issued to Abraham Lincoln featuring his portrait, 1864. Courtesy of the Bureau of the Public Debt.