Vanderbilt Law Review


David F. Hughes

First Page



This article is not an in-depth study of some aspect of Salmon P. Chase's career as Chief Justice. Nor is it a survey of his judicial career. Rather, it is an attempt to present an overall view of Chase as Chief Justice through an examination of a limited number of topics. Such an approach seemed appropriate, for the sweep of his days on the Court are not well enough known to make a detailed study of one aspect of his career particularly valuable, nor is enough known about him to make a summary more than an exercise in superficiality. In finally placing this effort on what is hopefully a feasible ground somewhere between breadth and depth, I find myself beset with misgivings,some of which should be shared. Many signal events in Chase's career as Chief Justice are put to one side. The Legal Tender episodes, the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson (probably Chase's moment of greatest public triumph as a judicial figure), his strong role in settling vexing legal and constitutional problems growing out of the Civil War, and his political adventures while on the bench are barely alluded to, not to mention many significant areas unnoticed by even an allusion. On the other hand, I find my prose is too often compelled to hasten over events and on to swift conclusions with little pause to share the reasoning and evidence with the reader. Lastly, and most important, I am struck by the way in which Chase tends to emerge on the pages that follow as a politician only incidentally on the bench, largely lacking in a proper sense of the judicial responsibilities of his office.