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Samuel Chase - Signer of the Declartion of Independence Biography by Appleton's edited by Stanley L. Klos

Samuel Chase

Signer of the Declaration of Independence


SAMUEL CHASE was born April 17, 1741 in Somerset County, Maryland. His father was an Episcopalian clergyman of English birth, and a fine classical scholar who had charge of his son's early education and sent him at the age of eighteen to study law at Annapolis. Samuel was admitted to the bar in 1761 and began his practice. 

He was soon a prominent lawyer and became a member of the colonial legislature where he distinguished himself by his independent bearing and by his opposition to the royal governor. He was an ardent patriot, vehemently resisting the Stamp Act. He was prominent in the "Sons of Liberty", a group of patriots in Annapolis that forcibly opened the public offices, destroyed the stamps and burned the collector in effigy. The Maryland convention sent him as one of five delegates to the first continental congress of 1774 and he continued a member of successive congresses until the end of 1778.

Chase continuously debated aggressively for independence, although his Maryland delegation had been restricted from voting for independence from Britain. Mr. Chase could not stand the thought of being obliged to withhold support from a measure he so enthusiastically favored, gladly accepted from congress a mission to Canada in the company of Charles Carroll and Benjamin Franklin. The object of the mission was to persuade Canada to join the colonies, but the journey was fruitless. Chase was the most aggressive anti-British leader in Maryland and upon his return from Canada he and his colleague, Charles Carroll, took to the open road on horseback to make impassioned speeches for independence at farms and towns throughout the colony. Their campaign was successful and the Maryland delegation reversed its position and urged an all out vote in favor of independence.

Chase returned to Philadelphia just in time to join in adopting the decisive resolution. He was appointed on most of the important committees where his industry was unwearied. He remained in Congress several years, but became discredited in 1778 when charged in the newspapers with taking advantage of inside information in order to deal in flour; he did not regain political prominence for a decade. During the last two or three years of the war he devoted himself to his private law practice and in 1783, he was sent to England by the Maryland legislature to recover money that had been invested in the Bank of England before the war. He remained there for nearly a year and succeeded in recovering $650,000 and made the acquaintance of many prominent lawyers.  

Business enterprises into which he entered turned out badly, and in 1789 he was insolvent. Meanwhile, he had assumed judicial office in Baltimore and he afterward became chief judge of the general court of Maryland. All his actions were accompanied by considerable turmoil and he was criticized for holding so many offices.

In the 1790's, Chase became a pronounced Federalist, and in 1796 President Washington appointed him as associate justice of the Supreme Court. His colleagues did not view him very favorably at the time, and his career on the bench turned out to be one of the stormiest on record. He revealed his intellectual power in some of the most important decisions, but his bullying tactics in the sedition trials, and his use of the bench for partisan harangues against the Republicans, led to his impeachment during the Presidency of Jefferson. He deserved rebuke for his highhanded partisanship, but he had not been guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors within the constitutional framework, and he was acquitted. Chase's judicial career was relatively unimportant from that time on, partly because of his sufferings from gout. He remained on the court until he died in Baltimore on June 19, 1811 at the age of seventy.

Chase was twice married: to Ann Baldwin of Annapolis, who bore him two sons and two daughters; and to Hannah Kilty Giles, an Englishwoman by whom he had no children.





Source: Centennial Book of Signers


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