Ohio History Journal

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Salmon P. Chase, First Historian of

the Old Northwest


The name of Salmon Portland Chase rarely comes to mind when

early historians of the Old Northwest are recalled. Yet in 1833, as a

struggling young attorney of twenty-five, he produced a succinct

account of Ohio's history which served as a valuable guide for several

decades. Not surprisingly, the young writer's study reflected his own

social standing and political ideology as well as contemporary atti-

tudes. In recounting Ohio's early development, he patriotically pre-

sented the facts in their best light, describing a story of a people of

virtue destined for greatness. Chase's interpretation was in keeping

with the nationalistic views of other historians of the early nineteenth

century best represented by George Bancroft.

Chase was born in New Hampshire in 1808, and had lived briefly in

Ohio under the guidance of his uncle and Episcopal bishop, Philander

Chase. At fourteen he attended Cincinnati College, presided over by

his uncle. Unhappy with the stern discipline of Philander Chase, he

returned east in 1823 and, three years later, graduated from Dartmouth

College. Eager to pursue the law, he left New Hampshire's quiet

surroundings for the bustle of Washington D.C. in late 1826 and there

established a private school for boys. Among his students was the son

of Attorney General William Wirt. Taking advantage of this contact, he

persuaded the elder Wirt to direct his legal studies.Although exerting

only a minimal effort, he passed the Maryland bar and moved to the

rapidly growing frontier city of Cincinnati, a place where the opportu-

nities appeared limitless for an ambitious young lawyer eager to make

his mark on society.1

Initially, clients were few, leaving Chase with much spare time.

Some of that time was occupied in intellectual and cultural pursuits. He





Frederick J. Blue is Professor of History at Youngstown State University.

1. For an account of Chase's early career, see Albert Bushnell Hart, Salmon

Portland Chase (Boston, 1899), pp. 1-12, and Frederick J. Blue, Salmon P. Chase: A

Life in Politics (Kent, Ohio, 1987), pp 1-13.