Salmon Portland Chase Birthplace and Boyhood Home

Salmon Portland Chase Birthplace and Boyhood Home

Site: N08-17
Municipality: Cornish, NH
Location: Route 12A, eastside. Site Type: House
UTMs: (Zone 18) E: 711392. N: 4814664.


National Register Nomination Information:


The Colonial-style, 2-1/2-story frame house, in which Salmon Portland Chase was born in 1808, was apparently built around 1790. Chase lived in the house until he was about 8 years old, and it is believed to be the only extant building associated with his life. How it appeared during his boyhood is not known. Until around 1848, though, it stood on the opposite side of current New Hampshire 12A. At that time the railroad line was put through, and the house was moved to make way. A History of the Town of Cornish, New Hampshire, published about 1912, contains a contemporary photograph of the house, which shows it little changed since then. The covered, one-bay front entrance porch and exterior window shutters are gone, and a connective wing to the barn at the rear has also been removed. Though deteriorating, the barn remains. Finally, during the 1940's, gray asbestos shingles were installed over the exterior clapboards.

The modified L-shaped house now comprises three sections. The 2-1/2-story front north-south portion is two bays deep and five bays wide with a pilastered center-front bay and pilasters at all corners. The section has a slate roof that two red brick interior chimneys, located behind the gable, pierce. Most windows in the main portion are six-over-six sash, and those on the first story have ornamental cornices. A 12-over-12 window lies beneath each gable end, and the frontispiece entrance contains a front door topped by a semicircular fanlight.

Although lower and narrower than the front section, the middle east-west portion of the house is also 2 1/2 stories high. Topped by a tar-papered gable roof, this section has one exterior east end chimney and a narrow exterior stack on the north side. Most windows are two-over-two, but beneath the east gable end lies an 8-over-12 sash window. The rearmost east-west house section is narrower than the middle portion. It stands 1-1/2 stories high and has a tar-paper gable roof. The north entrance door of the rear section is topped by a hood on brackets, and the south, barnlike door has strap hinges. The rapidly deteriorating weatherboard barn stands at the north-rear of the house.

Inside, the altered residence serves as a two-family dwelling. The front central-hall openings into first-floor rooms have been blocked off, and the open two-run stairway mounts directly to the second-story apartment. The three first-floor front rooms, now used as bedrooms, are the most interesting. Located to either side of the closed-off central hall, each has an apparently original floor of wide, wooden boards held in place by tapered, headless nails. A similar floor is found in one second-story room, and similar nails hold the board walls of the rearmost house section. Throughout the first story, simple four-panel interior doors are found. In the three front rooms, some are held by iron "H-L" hinges and fastened with straight latches. In the front south room, Colonial-style interior shutters glide across front windows to keep out sunlight.

Recently, the State of New Hampshire placed a roadside historical marker near the north drive to the dwelling, and an older stone marker lies in the front yard. Along this stretch of New Hampshire 12A, other, similar-period farmhouses dot the picturesque Connecticut River Valley countryside.


During his lifetime, Salmon Portland Chase served in all three branches of the Federal Government. Before the Civil War, he was an antislavery U.S. Senator, and during most of the war, he served as Secretary of the Treasury. In 1864 President Abraham Lincoln appointed him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Less than 6 months later Chase administered the Presidential oath of office to Andrew Johnson, and in 1868 he presided fairly over the Johnson impeachment trial Also, during his 9 years on the Supreme Bench, Chase wrote opinions for many important cases concerning both Reconstruction and American fiscal policy. Despite his place on the High Court, Chase was eager for either the Republican or the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1868. Four years later he showed interest in the Liberal Republican Party candidacy. In fact, he was a perennial Presidential candidate, and he suffered repeatedly from disappointed hopes and bruised dignity "Chase could never have been a father of his country," writes his biographer Albert Bushnell Hart, but "his life was sincerely given to [its] service."(1)

In 1808 Chase was born in a Colonial style, 2-1/2-story frame house, where apparently he lived for 8 years. Set in the rugged New Hampshire hills close by the Connecticut River, the farm residence has undergone alteration through the years, and about 1848 it was moved across the road to make way for a railroad line. Today, the house lies slightly more than 1 mile south of the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge and 3 miles south of Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in a portion of New Hampshire that is rich in American history It is the only known extant structure associated with the life of Salmon Portland Chase.

Salmon Portland Chase was born in 1808 at Cornish, then a northern frontier community. Salmon's father, Ithamar Chase, farmed and was active in Federalist Party politics. About 1816, the Chase family moved to Keene, N.H.(2) Salmon attended school first in Keene and later in Windsor, Vt.

When Salmon was about 9, Ithamar Chase died. Roughly 3 years later, Salmon's Uncle Philander Chase, Episcopal Bishop of Ohio, took the boy west. After 3 or 4 years in Worthington and Cincinnati, Ohio, Salmon returned to New Hampshire and entered Dartmouth College. He was graduated in 1826. To raise money to undertake law studies, Salmon next decided to teach school. Armed with letters of introduction from his Uncle Philander, he obtained a boys school in Washington, D.C. For 3 years, he conducted the school and read law.

At the close of 1829, Chase passed the bar in Washington. Several months later he went to Cincinnati to start his practice in less competitive, more promising surroundings. In 1832-34, still awaiting clients, he compiled a comprehensive study of Ohio law that helped make his legal reputation. Also in 1834, he married Catherine Jane Garniss. She died within a year, though, and in 1839 Chase married Eliza Ann Smith, who died in 1845. A year later he married Sarah Bella Dunlop Ludlow, but she died in 1852. Of Chase's six children, only two daughters lived to adulthood. Rather than despair Chase found solace in his strong and steady religion.

Meanwhile Cincinnati developed as the focus of slavery agitation. In 1836 Chase first joined in defending the abolitionist editor James G. Birney against a proslavery mob. The following year he represented Birney in the Matilda case. Chase's deep moral and religious convictions made him an effective antislavery advocate, and soon he spent so much time defending fugitive slaves and their protectors that he earned a sobriquet, "Attorney General for the Negro."(3)

In 1841, although formerly a Whig, Chase joined Birney's Liberty Party, and for 7 years he organized its antislavery conventions and wrote numerous addresses. In the Presidential election of 1848, however, he saw that the Liberty Party was too weak to win nationally, and he led a faction to the Free Soil Party in support of Martin Van Buren. Van Buren polled fewer than 36,000 votes in Ohio, but Free Soilers won the balance of power in the State legislature. In 1849 Chase exploited a resultant deadlock between the two major parties, persuaded the Democrats to vote for him, and won a U.S. Senate seat. Thus, Chase began thinking of himself as a Democrat. Ambitiously, he dreamed of leading an antislavery "Free Democracy." In 1851 he joined the regular Democratic Party, but most Democrats ignored him. Moreover, with just three other antislavery Senators, he voted for repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act.

In 1853 Ohio party affiliations started disintegrating, and the following year Chase urged the State's Free-soil Democrats to fuse with the Ohio Whigs in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. That fall the State anti-Nebraska coalition enjoyed an overwhelming victory, and the next year Chase won the Ohio Governorship. In 1856, though he longed to become the Republican Presidential nominee, Chase obtained little support and soon left the race.

The following year, he won reelection as Governor and began preparing to seek the 1860 Presidential nomination. Abraham Lincoln became the Republican candidate, however. Chase failed largely because the delegates believed that he was too closely linked with radical antislavery sentiment. Others found his low tariff record unacceptable. Also, Chase lacked skilled lieutenants, an organization, and the undivided support of the Ohio delegation President Lincoln wished to include representative elements of the Republican Party in his Cabinet, though, and so invited Chase to become Secretary of the Treasury. Because the Ohio Legislature had just returned him to the Senate, Chase accepted somewhat reluctantly. Like the more radically antislavery Republicans, he felt, however, that his presence would counteract the influence of the pragmatic Secretary of State, William H. Seward.

As Treasury Secretary for most of the Civil War, Chase proposed new taxes, placed large loans with reluctant investors, managed captured and abandoned properties, and directed vast expenditures. To bolster the status of U.S. currency, he developed an original and workable national banking system. Chase became the Cabinet's Radical spokesman, also. From early in the war, he urged Lincoln to emancipate the slaves and prosecute the war vigorously. Chase dabbled in military affairs, too. He favored Edwin M. Stanton for Secretary of War in 1862, supported the more radical generals, and made numerous recommendations.

As early as 1862, Chase believed that he could replace Lincoln, whose leadership Chase thought inadequate, as the 1864 Republican standard bearer, and gradually the Secretary became the center of an anti-Lincoln movement. The President had the support of the people, however, as well as that of the most powerful professional politicians. Early in 1864 the "Pomeroy Circular," meant to promote Chase's candidacy, backfired against the unhappy Secretary of the Treasury and ruined his plans. Chase offered his resignation, but Lincoln refused to accept it. At midsummer, though, embroiled in a fairly minor patronage fight, Chase again submitted his resignation, and to his surprise, the President agreed.

Some lobbying for a Chase Presidency persisted during the summer but bolstered by Union military successes in the fall, Lincoln won reelection. In December 1864 the President appointed Chase to the vacant position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Barely 4 months later Chase administered the Presidential oath to Andrew Johnson.

In May and June 1865 Chase toured the defeated South. Because he would not accept subordination of the civil courts to military authority, however, Chase delayed reopening of his circuit courts in the South. Also, because he was reluctant to judge the Jefferson Davis treason case in civil court, he delayed action on that matter until December 1868, when President Johnson issued a proclamation of general amnesty. Subsequently, Chase ruled that the pardon included the former Confederate leader.

Meanwhile, from March through May 1868, as Chief Justice, Chase presided constitutionally over the Senate trial of Johnson. Because he demanded fair, judicial rules and moderate nonpolitical proceedings, Chase incurred the wrath of many of his former Radical Republican associates. This reasonable attitude ended any chance he had had to secure the Republican Presidential nomination that year. At the same time, though, some Democrats began to promote Chase as their candidate. He agreed with such party positions as opposition to military government and the congressional reconstruction plan but as a prewar antislavery man, he now strongly endorsed black suffrage and helped frame the 14th amendment to the Constitution. In the end, therefore, southern and regular Democrat reaction against his candidacy ruined Chase's hopes.

Under Chase, the Supreme Court dealt sensibly and humanely with the problems arising from the Civil War and Reconstruction periods. By refusing to assume jurisdiction in Mississippi v. Johnson (1867), the Court avoided entanglement in essentially political and executive Reconstruction issues. For the majority in Texas v. White (1869), Chief Justice Chase wrote that seceded States remained always part of the indissoluble American Union. Thus, when Texans chose to reconstitute government, Texas recovered its statehood. Chase rendered some financial decisions, too. In 1869-70, he wrote the majority opinion for Veazie Bank v. Fenno, which upheld a high tax on State banknotes to promote the national banking system that Chase had begun as Secretary of the Treasury. Also in 1870, Chase wrote a majority report for Hepburn v. Griswold, which declared that greenbacks were not constitutionally legal tender for contracts made prior to the Legal Tender Act of 1862. Because as Treasury Secretary, Chase had cooperated in issuing these notes, he received much criticism for his view. The next year, with two changes in personnel, the Court reversed this decision, and Chase voted in the minority. At this time, he was in very poor health having suffered a stroke in the summer of 1870, but Chase recovered, returned to the Bench, and hoped fruitlessly for the 1872 Liberal Republican Presidential nomination. In 1873 he suffered the second stroke that ended his life.

(1) Albert Bushnell Hart, Salmon Portland Chase (Boston, 1899), 435.
(2) Ibid., p. 3
(3) Donnal V. Smith , Chase and Civil War Politics (Columbus, 1931), 5.


Child, William H., History of the Town of Cornish, New Hampshire, with a Genealogical Record, 1763-1910, vol. I (Concord, circa 1911-12).

Coleman, Charles H., The Election of 1868; The Democratic Effort to Regain Control (New York, 1933).

Luthin, Reinhard H., "Salmon P. Chase's Political Career Before the Civil War," The Mississippi Valley Historical Review XXIX (March 1943), 517-40.

Smith, Donnal V., Chase and Civil War Politics (Columbus, 1931).

Williams, T. Harry. Lincoln and The Radicals (Madison, 1941).

FORM PREPARED BY: Cathy A. Alexander, Assistant Editor, American Association for State and Local History, 1315 Eighth Avenue South, Nashville, TN. Tel: not given. Date: September 1, 1974.

DATE ENTERED: May 15, 1975.
(Source 27)