SALMON PORTLAND CHASE
If I were asked to name the man to whom the colored people of this country, who were slaves, or were liable to become slaves, are under the greatest obligation for their freedom, I would unhesitatingly say Salmon Portland Chase.
If I were asked to name the man who was the strongest and most useful factor in the Government during the great final contest that ended in the emancipation of the black man, I would say Salmon Portland Chase.
In expressing the opinions above given, no reproach for Abraham Lincoln, nor for any of the distinguished members of his Cabinet, is intended or implied. Inferiority to Salmon P. Chase was not a disgrace. Physically he rose above all his official associates, which was no discredit to them, and in much the same way he towered intellectually and administratively. His was the most trying, the most difficult position, in the entire circle of public departments. It was easy to get men to fight the battles of the Union if there was money to pay them. It was easy to furnish ships and arms and supplies in sufficient quantity, notwithstanding the terrible drain of the greatest of civil wars, as long as the funds held out. Everything depended on the treasury. Failure there meant irretrievable disaster. It would not answer to have any serious mistakes in that quarter, and in fact no fatal mistakes were there made. In all other departments there were failures and blunders, but the financial department met every emergency and every requisition. Chase’s financial policy it was that carried the country majestically through the war, and that afterwards paid the nation’s debts.
There is a circumstance that has not been mentioned, as far as the writer knows, by any of Mr. Chase’s biographers, which seems to him to be significant and worth referring to. During the Civil War, Walter Bagehot was editor of the Economist, the great English financial journal. His opinion in financial matters was regarded as the highest authority. It was accepted as infallible. He discussed the plans of Mr. Chase with great elaborateness and great severity. He predicted that they were all destined to failure, and proved this theoretically to his own satisfaction and the satisfaction of many others. The result showed that Mr. Chase was right all the time, and the great English economist was wrong.
The entrance of such a man into the Abolitionist movement marked an era in its history. It was the thing most needed. He gave it a leader who, of all men then living, was most competent for leadership. From that time he was its Moses.
The greatest service rendered to the Abolition cause by Salmon P. Chase was in pushing it forward on political lines. There was a contest for the mastery of the Government from the hour he took command. The movement was to be slow, sometimes halting and apparently falling back, in some respects insignificant, in all respects desperate, but there was to be no permanent defeat and no compromise.