The espousal of Abolitionism by Mr. Chase was a remarkable circumstance. He was not an enthusiast like Garrison and Lundy and many other Anti-Slavery pioneers, but precisely the opposite. He was cold-blooded and cool-headed, a deliberate and conservative man. His speeches were described as giving light but no heat. His sympathies were seemingly weak, but his sense of justice was immense. Apparently, he opposed slavery because it was wrong rather than because it was cruel. He had a big body, a big head, and a big conscience, the combination making a strong man and a good fighter.
That he did, in fact, sympathize with the slaves was shown by his professional work in their behalf, more particularly in pleading without fee or other reward the cases of escaped fugitives in the courts. So numerous were his engagements in this regard that his antagonists spoke of him sneeringly as the “Attorney-General for runaway niggers.” Upon some of his Anti-Slavery cases he bestowed an immense amount of work. His argument in the case of Van Zant—the original of Van Tromp in Mrs. Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin,—an old man who was prosecuted and fined until he was financially ruined for giving a “lift” in his farm wagon to a slave family on its way to Canada, was said at the time to have been the most able so far made in the Supreme Court of the United States. That and other similar utterances by Mr. Chase were published for popular reading, and were widely distributed by friends of the cause.
It is possible that, in performing this arduous labor, Mr. Chase, who was not without personal ambition, was able, with his great native sagacity, to foresee, although it must have been but dimly, the possibilities of political development and official promotion, but at the same time, for the same reason, he could the more clearly realize the wearisome, heart-breaking struggle that was before him.
It was an enormous sacrifice that he made. Journeymen printers and saddlers, like Garrison and Lundy, who had never had as much as one hundred dollars at one time in their lives, and who had no social position and no influential kinsfolks, had little to lose. But it was very different with Chase. He had a profession that represented great wealth. He had distinguished and aristocratic family connections. He had a high place in society. All these he risked and largely lost.
In speaking of his sacrifices at that time in a subsequent letter to a friend, he wrote:
“Having resolved on my political course, I devoted all the time and means I could command to the work of spreading the principles and building up the organization of the party of constitutional freedom then inaugurated. Sometimes, indeed, all I could do seemed insignificant, while the labors I had to perform, and the demand upon my very limited resources by necessary contributions, taxed severely all my abilities.”
The writer hereof was a witness to one incident that showed something of the loss that Mr. Chase sustained in a business way because of his principles. While a law student in a country village he was sent down to Cincinnati to secure certain testimony in the form of affidavits. During his visit he called at Mr. Chase’s law office, introduced himself, and was very pleasantly received. He noticed that there was a notary public in the office.