Sunday, August 6, 2017
The Most Underrated Chief Justice: Salmon Chase (Part I)
Salmon Chase is underrated both as a Chief Justice and as a citizen fighting for the abolishment of slavery. In 1837, at the age of 29, Chase defended a women named Matilda. Matilda was a runaway slave and her owner wanted her returned to bondage. Chase argued that the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was unconstitutional and beyond the enumerated powers of Congress. However, Article IV of the Constitution contains the “Fugitive Slave Clause” stating: “No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation thereof, be discharged from such service of labor; but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service may be due.” Chase astutely argues “Does this clause confer any power on government, or on any officer or department of government?” Clearly it does not, “The parties to agreement” in this clause “are the states.” Chase says that the government cannot claim the “necessary and proper” clause to carry out the Fugitive Slave Act because that power is not enumerated in the grants of power given to Congress. Hence, Chase says such power is delegated to the states through the Tenth Amendment. Another clause in Article IV of the Constitution says “Full faith and credit shall be given, in each state, to the public acts, records, and judicial proceeding of every other state.” Chase argues that this clause is similar to the Fugitive Slave clause because it also confers no power to the federal government. Why would the founders confer legislative power in one clause of Article IV but not the other? Of course, Chase also argues to free Matilda in the “name of justice, of liberty, and of our common humanity.” Chase lost his case and Matilda was returned to bondage. In 1842, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the Fugitive Slave Act in Prigg v. Pennsylvania. Even though the Constitution does not refer to “slaves” the majority in Prigg states that the clause in Article IV is about “slaveholding”. Therefore, the Court ruled that Congress has “exercised powers which were necessary and proper as means to carry into effect rights expressly given, and duties expressly enjoined thereby” to uphold the Act. Of course, in 1857, the Taney Court held in Dred Scott v. Sanford that slave owners could not be deprived of “property (slaves)” without due process of the law. When Chief Justice Roger Taney died in 1864, Abraham Lincoln replaced him with Salmon Chase. Before becoming Chief Justice, Chase contended that Congress had the power to abolish slaver in the District of Columbia and any U.S. territories. When Chase was unable to make headway into abolishing slavery as lawyer he turned his focus to politics. Chase was instrumental in the formation of the anti-slavery Republican Party. The Republican Party platform in 1856 and 1860 adopted Chase’s views on slavery. Chase was elected governor of Ohio in 1855 and lost the 1860 Republican presidential nomination to Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln would appoint Chase as the Secretary of the Treasury from 1861 to 1864, a position he would hold until being named Chief Justice. Secretary of the Treasury was a tough job during the Civil War but first on his agenda was to hire thousands of women and blacks to serve in the department.