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Salmon P. Chase: A Biography Hardcover – March 9, 1995

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (March 9, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195046536
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195046533
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #597,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"John Niven...presents a meticulous study of Chase--the man and the politician. In the process, he throws a laser beam on the inner-workings of the Lincoln presidency and, more broadly, the politics of the age....Salmon P. Chase is a fine biography of a complex man maneuvering through a complex time."--The Times (Trenton)

"One of the Salmon P. Chase paradoxes is the fact that, among Lincoln's contemporaries, he has been relatively neglected because of his very importance. He was engaged in such a wide range of public activities as to intimidate biographers. Now, having mastered the sources, John Niven in the first comprehensive biography re-creates the man in all his complexity, personal as well as political. The book is as readable as it is authoritative."--Richard Nelson Current

"A brilliant account of the public and personal life of one of the most complex and fascinating major figures of the Civil War era."--Kenneth Stampp, author of America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink

"Niven's smooth but thorough biography reminds us of the importance to history of a long-forgotten player."--Booklist

"In detailing Chase's quest for ever higher office, the author reveals a complex will."--The New Yorker (Recommended Reading)

About the Author

John Niven is Professor Emeritus of American History at Claremont Graduate School and is editor of the papers of Salmon P. Chase. His many books include Gideon Welles, Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy, Martin Van Buren and the Romantic Era of American Politics, and John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union: A Biography.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Maier on July 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Prof. Niven isn't the most exciting writer, yet he fearlessly approaches one of America's most important political figures of the 19th century. No small undertaking.
Chase emerges as a deeply conflicted man whose inability to reconcile what he wanted for himself and what he knew to be right shaped not only his rising career as a politician, but his inability to find true happiness throughout his life, particularly as Lincoln's Treasury Secretary and, later, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Whether one pities Chase or lauds his accomplishments --or both-- one cannot come away from this highly informative biography about one man's chosen path and where it led him -and America- in the crucial time of the American Civil War and its aftermath, including the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson and how Chase presided over that turbulent affair, without a greater understanding of American history and, perhaps, ourselves. Many readers will surely recognize some part of themselves in the complexities of Chase's thoughts, actions; his ability to rationalize, his pridefulness, and doubtless will admire the brilliant legal mind of a thoughtful yet driven man who was undone before his time (i.e., Chase was almost always his own worst enemy).
Niven is not always thorough in exploring many of the events surrounding Chase's life decisions, decisions that forever shaped America, particularly on issues legal. In spite of this, one is afforded a look at the sincere humanity of a man who, in his own words, never felt at home "in this great Babylon," never quite at ease with himself, the world, or his place in it.
Anyone desiring to enrich their knowledge of the man whose portrait graces the $10,000 bill, his life and times, will certainly find this a worthwhile read.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By S. A. Kuipers on April 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Salmon P. Chase wanted to be President so bad that it hurt. His great ambition almost consumed him. From the 1850 on, as he became more and more prominent in politics, he planned, plotted and schemed unabashedly to get into the White House. He never got there, well not as President anyway. Chase hid his burning ambition behind an exterior of dull respectability, humourless piety, and lots of sanctimonious, pretentious pontificating.

Yet Chase was also a man of great intelligence and enormous ability: he was an excellent Secretary of the Treasury from 1861 to 1864. He did a great job putting the Union war effort on a sound financial and fiscal basis. In doing so he undoubtedly made a powerful contribution to the Union victory.
But he was ever ridden by the demon of his own ambition, even during the war, when he should have put his ambitions aside. But Chase never forgave Lincoln for becoming President in 1860 and in order to trip Lincoln up he stooped very low. He spread vicious stories about Mary Todd Lincoln and more than once tried to undermine the President's position.
Lincoln, who had seen through Chase from the start, was convinced it would be better having him in the Cabinet p***ing out of the Administration, than having him in Congress p***ing in. He deftly avoided the traps Chase laid for him, but made sure Chase trod in quite a few that Lincoln set up for him.
Powerless against Lincoln's wily political handiwork Chase resorted to huffiness and wounded pride and time and again offered to resign form the Cabinet. In the spring of 1864, when the country's finances were in fine order and the war effort assured, and Lincoln did no longer need Chase in Cabinet, he accepted Chase's umpteenth offer of resignation, to Chase's surprise and dismay.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Schmerguls VINE VOICE on April 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I read John Niven's biography of Martin Van Buren, and thought it was often dull. This biography is some better, tho there are dull portions, especially some of the pages during the time Chase was Secretary of the Treasury. But the life and the period is so fascinating that I found when I had finished the book that I felt I had really learned a lot. There is no bibliography in the book, tho there are many pages of notes and with work one can deduce therefrom the books consulted. I sure wish the book had a bibliography, since the notes cite various interesting books I'd like to read.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John Oller on September 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Professor Niven is a competent and thorough historian, but unfortunately this book is almost unreadable. There are occasional nuggets but they are too few and far between. The author never draws the reader into the story and life of Chase, and instead spends countless pages focusing on a blizzard of details, especially in the earlier years, many of them inconsequential and dull. The last few chapters, including on such dramatic subjects as impeachment and the 1868 presidential election, feel rushed and underwritten in comparison with the laborious treatment of less important earlier events. Blue's book on Chase's political life is much more engaging, even though it hardly touches upon Chase's personal life. I would recommend that book, in conjunction with a reading of Chase's correspondence and journals, over this well-meaning but lifeless tome.
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