The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 11, Number 21, May 25, 2008, Article 15


Fred Reed submitted the following item on the topic of politicians and portraits on U.S. paper money. -Editor.
In working on my Abraham Lincoln book for Whitman, I came across a note in a folder, that I took more than four years ago. In 2004 Stefan Herpel of Ann Arbor, MI had inquired in The E-Sylum about Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase's motives in positioning himself on $1 Legal Tender Notes, and Lincoln on $10 bills.

The gist of Mr. Herpel's inquiry was whether Chase thought having his face on the more plentiful lower denomination notes vis a vis his political rival Lincoln's mug on the tenspots would be good salesmanship for his presumptive campaign for the 1864 Republican nomination.

Chase's mania for higher office is well known. It was described by one intimate as a "mad hunt after the Presidency," and has been characterized in Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals" as "Chases's implacable yearning for the Presidency."

So such duplicity would not be beyond Chase's machinations. Mr. Herpel was looking for confirmation of this thesis, and I hope he remains a subscriber, or this might be forwarded to him (I would also like to correspond with him!)

Ms. Goodwin is a careful historian and excellent narrator. In her book's chapter "Fire in the Rear" about intramural squabbles in Washington she writes: "He [Chase] was also pleased by the fact that his own handsome face would appear in the left-hand corner of every dollar bill. He had deliberately chosen to place his picture on the ubiquitous one-dollar bill rather than a bill of a higher denomination, knowing that his image would thus reach the greatest number of people." (page 510)

Ms. Goodwin cites: Salmon P. Chase, "'Going Home to Vote,'" Authentic Speeches of S.P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, During His Visit to Ohio, with His Speeches at Indianapolis, and at the Mass Meeting in Baltimore, October, 1863" (Washington, D.C.: W.H. Moore, 1863), p. 25; and a secondary source from newspaper correspondent Noah Brooks' "Mr. Lincoln's Washington," p. 176.

While I certainly have no desire to pick a fight with an eminent historian, I have real questions about this thesis, although it's certainly a pat notion.

Chase abhorred the fiat paper greenbacks, even as he used them advantageously to pay federal invoices. Furthermore, he led the Supreme Court majority in 1870 when he was Chief Justice of the United States in declaring the greenbacks unconstitutional in Hepburn v. Griswold (75 U.S. 603); and Chase dissented when this opinion was subsequently overturned after Grant had packed the Supreme Court.

This alone raises red flags. That would be equivalent to Honus Wagner permitting his picture to appear on tobacco cards, when he was a vigorous opponent of smoking and conscious of being a role model.

Also, Lincoln had already appeared on the $10 Demand Notes, issued the year before Legal Tenders were authorized. Chase had been very solicitous of having a good and correct likeness of Lincoln appear on this paper currency so these notes would do their part in sustaining the war effort.

Lincoln's appearance on the $10 U.S. Notes (the very same likeness by the way) was merely an encore. When these U.S. Notes were authorized in Feb. 1862, no small notes (under $5) were authorized nor even anticipated. Small notes were anathema.

As late as June, 1862, Lincoln vetoed legislation that would have allowed federally-chartered banks in the District of Columbia to issue small bank notes. Federal government policy was long established as hostile to small notes because they competed with federal seigniorage revenues.

When greenback inflation drove federal coinage underground, the issue of small ($1 and $2) greenbacks, as well as federal Postage Currency was an economic necessity, not a political choice. When Chase's image did eventually appear on $1 greenbacks in summer 1862, it may have been perceived by him as politically expedient in furthering his aspirations to be President. He may have even joked about this with his daughter Kate, who was her father's panzer corps. I don't have access to the 1863 pamphlet that Ms. Goodwin references, but I would be most surprised if Chase announced publicly that he had done such a subversive act, while he was still serving in Lincoln's cabinet in the middle year of the Civil War! I'll check to see what Noah Brooks says when I get home from my trip, but Brooks is hardly an objective source. He was a confidante and often a flak for Lincoln.

Lincoln could well have planted this notion with Brooks as he was warily eying his political foe, Chase.

Even saying that Chase and his daughter thought it (Chase's appearance on the dollar) was a coup, is NOT equivalent to saying Chase put Lincoln on the tenspot because that disadvantaged his political rival.

To read the original E-Sylum article, see: SALMON P. CHASE INFO SOUGHT

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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