Samuel Chase

Samuel Chase

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Samuel Chase
1743-1811


In the year 1786, at the pressing invitation of his friend, Colonel Howard, he removed from Annapolis to Baltimore. By this gentleman, he was generously presented with a square of ten lots of land, upon a spot in which he erected a house, in which he lived until his death. On his removal from Annapolis, the corporation of that city tendered to him the expressions of their respect, in the following address: "Sir, the mayor, aldermen, and common councilmen of the city of Annapolis, impressed with a due sense of the services rendered to this corporation by you, in the capacity of recorder thereof, do take this occasion to assure you of their entire approbation of your conduct in the performance of the duties of that trust, and to acknowledge your ready exertion, at all times, to promote the interest and welfare of this city, They sincerely regret the occasion of this address, as your removal from the city of Annapolis will deprive this body of a faithful and able officer, and the city of a valuable citizen. You have our warmest wishes for your happiness and welfare.''
To this address, Mr. Chase returned the following answer: "The address of the mayor, aldermen, and common councilmen of this city, presented me this day, affords me just pleasure, as I flatter myself they speak the genuine sentiments of the citizens. As recorder of the city, duty and inclination urged me to enforce due obedience to the by-laws, and assist in the framing of ordinances for the regulating the police of the city. In the discharge of this duty, I ever received the ready assistance of my brethren on the bench, and of the other members of the corporation, and but a small portion of merit is due to me. My abilities have been much overrated by the corporation; I only wish they had been equal to my inclination to serve them.
"As one of the delegates of Annapolis, my public powers were exerted on all occasions to promote the interest and welfare of the city; and supported by my colleagues, my endeavors were in some instances crowned with success. I feel myself amply rewarded by the approbation of the body over whom you have the honor to preside. There can be nothing more agreeable

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to a public character, than to receive the public approbation of his conduct, from those who speak the collected and unbiased sense of his constituents; and it is the only reward a free and virtuous people can bestow, and the only one an honest representative can expect.
"Be pleased to present the corporation my warmest wishes for their prosperity, and I sincerely hope that the city of Annapolis may be forever distinguished for the harmony and friendship, the benevolence and patriotism of its citizens."
In the year 1788, Mr. Chase was appointed the presiding judge of a court of criminal jurisdiction, for the county and town of Baltimore, at that time organized. This situation, however, did not prevent him from the practice of his profession, in which he continued until the year 1791, when he accepted the appointment of chief justice of the general court of Maryland. In a previous year, Mr. Chase had served in the convention of Maryland, assembled to ratify the federal constitution on the part of Maryland. With this instrument he was not entirely pleased, considering it not sufficiently democratic. He is said to have belonged to the Federal party in the country, and so to have continued to the end of his life; but not to have entertained that partiality for England which has been ascribed to that party. With this peculiarity of views and feelings, Mr. Chase was not, as might be expected, without his enemies.
In the year 1794, an event occurred in the city of Baltimore, which gave an opportunity to Judge Chase of exhibiting the firmness of his character, in respect to maintaining the dignity of the bench and the supremacy of the law. The event to which we allude was the tarring and feathering of two men, in the public streets, on an occasion of some popular excitement. The circumstances of the case were investigated by Judge Chase, in the issue of which investigation, he caused two respectable and popular men to be arrested as ring-leaders.
On being arraigned before the court, they refused to give bail. Upon this the judge informed them that they must go to jail. Accordingly, he directed the sheriff to take one of the prisoners to jail. This the sheriff informed the judge he could not do, as he apprehended resistance. "Summon the posse comitatus then," exclaimed the judge. "Sir," said the sheriff; "no one will serve." "Summon me then," said Judge Chase, in a tone of lofty indignation, "I will be the posse comitatus, and I will take him to jail."
A member of the bar now begged leave to interpose, and requested the judge to waive the commitment. "No, God for-bid," replied tile judge, "I will do my duty, whatever be the consequences to myself or my family." He now directed the parties to meet him tile next day, and to give him the required security. He was told that the next day would be the Sabbath. "No better day," said Judge Chase, "can be named, on which to execute the laws of the country. I will meet you here, and from this seat of justice I will go to tile house of God."
The parties in question, however, neglected to give the required security, on the Sabbath, on account of which neglect, the judge dispatched an express to the governor and council, calling upon them for assistance in the execution of the laws. On Monday the required security was given; but when the grand jury met, instead of finding a bill against the accused, they delivered a presentment against Judge Chase himself; in which they reflected with severity upon his censure of the sheriff; and charged him with having violated the bill of rights, by holding at the same time two incompatible offices, viz. the office of chief justice of the criminal court, and that of the general court of the state. To this presentment Judge Chase replied with becoming moderation, and yet with firmness. In conclusion, he informed the jury that they had touched upon topics beyond their province; he advised them to confine themselves to the line of their duty, assuring them that what-ever opinions they might form, or whatever resentments they might indulge, he should ever respect them as the grand in-quest of the state of Maryland.
In the year 1796, he was appointed by Washington an associate judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, a station which he continued to occupy for fifteen years, and in which he generally appeared with great dignity and ability. It was the ill fortune of Judge Chase, however, to have his latter days on the bench embittered by an impeachment by the house of representatives, on which he was tried before the Senate of the United States, where he narrowly escaped condemnation. This impeachment was made in 1804, and was recommended by a committee of inquiry, raised, it is said, on the motion of John Randolph, of Virginia, to which he was incited through political animosity. The articles of impeachment originally reported were six in number, to which two others were afterwards added. On these articles Judge Chase was put upon his trial, which began on the second of January, and was finally ended on the fifth of March, 1805.
The articles of impeachment were founded on certain con-duct of the judge, on different occasions, at Philadelphia, Richmond, and other places, in which he was said to have transcended his judicial powers. The minute history of this affair, our limits forbid us to detail. It is sufficient to say, that much exertion was made by his political opponents to pro-duce a conviction, but without effect. On five of the charges a majority of the senate acquitted him. On the others, a majority was against him: but as a vote of two thirds is necessary to conviction, he was acquitted of the whole.
This was a severe trial to a man of the independent spirit of Judge Chase. Its disagreeableness was not a little increased by a severe attack of the gout, during the progress of the impeachment. After his acquittal, he continued to exercise his judicial functions, unmolested by his enemies, and with his usual ability.
In the year 1811, his health began to fail him, and though his disease was slow in its progress, he well understood, that it was of a nature to bring him to the grave. His death occurred on the nineteenth of June. In his dying hour, he appeared calm and resigned. He spoke of his domestic affairs with great propriety, and to his weeping family recommended composure and fortitude. He was a firm believer in Christianity, and but a short time before his death, having partaken of the sacrament, he declared himself to be in peace with all mankind. In his will, he directed that no mourning should be worn for him, and requested that only his name, with the dates of his birth and death, should be inscribed on his tomb.
From the foregoing sketch, it is easy to perceive that Judge Chase was no ordinary man. He possessed an intellect of great power, and a courage which was at all times undaunted. It was his unhappiness to have feelings which were too irascible and vehement for his personal comfort, and which betrayed him at times, into a course of conduct, that sober judgment would have pronounced at least impolitic. Yet few men were more sincere or more firmly patriotic. He ardcnt1y loved his friends, and by them, was ardently loved in turn. He loved his country. In the days of her deepest depression, he stood firm to her interests, and will occupy a distinguished place among those who have "graced the rolls of fame."
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