5 Things You Didn't Know About Salmon Chase

Archive Pics/Alamy Stock Photo
Archive Pics/Alamy Stock Photo

Salmon P. Chase may not be history's most familiar name, but the former Senator who also served as Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court made quite a mark on American politics. Here are five things you may not know about Chase:

1. He's Probably In Your Wallet

If you're lucky enough to have a $10,000 bill tucked away in your hip pocket, you've seen Chase's face. His portrait appears on the obverse of the giant bill. When the Treasury started issuing the bills in 1928, it chose to honor Chase for his crucial role in helping to popularize modern banknotes.

Of course, Chase's role in the introduction of these banknotes wasn't entirely altruistic. As Secretary of the Treasury, Chase was in charge of introducing and popularizing the first issue of greenback bank notes in 1861. Chase was politically ambitious, so he chose to festoon the $1 bill with an image of a great American hero—Salmon P. Chase. Whatever his motivations, though, Chase did manage to get Americans to make the switch to paper money.

Chase's name might appear in another place in your wallet. Although he didn't found the institution himself, Chase National Bank was named in his honor. Over the years the bank has morphed into JPMorganChase, so Chase's name might be printed on one of your credit cards.

2. He Had an Ear for Slogans

Ever wonder how "In God We Trust" ended up on our currency? Give Chase the credit. People naturally became a bit more conscious of religion during the Civil War, and by the end of 1861 they were inundating Secretary of the Treasury Chase to put some sort of acknowledgment of God on American currency.

Chase apparently felt adding a religious note to our cash was a good call, so he instructed the director of the Philadelphia Mint to come up with "a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition." The Mint's staff suggested "Our Country, Our God" or "God, Our Trust."

Chase liked these ideas, but he changed one of them to "In God We Trust." Congress approved the change in 1864, and "In God We Trust" has appeared intermittently on coins ever since.

3. He Had a Tragic Personal Life

A contemporary biographer of Chase described him as "habitually grave and reserved in demeanor; he did not often laugh, and had but a small appreciation of humor." Chase had a good excuse for not being a barrel of laughs, though; his personal life was marked by one flurry of tragedies after another.

Chase's first wife died just two years into their marriage, and the couple's daughter died before she turned five. Chase remarried in 1839, but with similarly grim results. His wife and two of his three daughters soon died. He took a third bride in 1846, but she died just six years later, as did one of their two daughters.

4. He Really, Really Wanted to Be President

Chase was never nominated to a presidential ticket, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Chase angled for a nomination for every election between 1856 and 1872, and he wasn't afraid to jump from party to party in his efforts to nab the top spot on a ticket.

In fact, Chase made a career of jumping from party to party. He was elected to Cincinnati's city council as a Whig in 1840, but he soon jumped ship for the Liberty Party. The Liberty Party eventually morphed into the Free Soil Party; the slogan-minded Chase actually coined the rallying cry, "Free Soil, Free Labor, and Free Men."

While serving in the Senate from 1849 to 1855, Chase identified as a Democrat, but his anti-slavery stance led him to become one of the first Republicans. As a last-ditch effort to get a presidential nomination, Chase even helped form the Liberal Republican Party to oppose the reelection of Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, but the party nominated Horace Greeley instead.

5. He Didn't Love Being on the Supreme Court

Most politicians would jump at the chance to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Not Chase, though. Although the aspiring presidential candidate had served under Lincoln as Secretary of the Treasury, he still lusted after a spot in the White House for himself.

Thanks to his presidential ambitions, Chase would often threaten to resign from the Treasury post in order to make a run for the office. Lincoln declined to accept three of Chase's resignations, but the fourth try was the charm for Chase in 1864. Shortly after Chase's resignation, though, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney died. Lincoln nominated Chase for the opening, and on December 6, 1864, Chase became the sixth Chief Justice of the United States.

Chase wasn't a natural fit for the position, as evidenced by his aforementioned continued political campaigning. Although he made some progressive moves from the bench—he appointed John Rock as the first African-American to argue a case before the court—he didn't love the work. Chase held the position until his death in 1873, but he summed up his time on the bench thusly: "Working from morning till midnight and no result, except that John Smith owned this parcel or land or other property instead of Jacob Robinson; I caring nothing and nobody caring much more, about the matter."

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9 Fascinating Facts About John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams—sixth President of the United States; son of our second POTUS, John Adams; and all-around interesting guy—was born on July 11, 1767 in a part of Braintree, Massachusetts, that is now known as Quincy. From his penchant for skinny-dipping to his beloved pet alligator, here are some things you might not have known about the skilled statesman.

1. John Quincy Adams was elected president despite losing both the popular and electoral votes.

The election of 1824, which saw John Quincy Adams face off against Andrew Jackson, is the only presidential election that had to be decided by the U.S. House of Representatives, as neither candidate won the majority of electoral votes. Despite losing both the popular and electoral vote, Adams was named president by the House.

2. John Quincy Adams loved morning cardio.

When it comes to personal fitness, early birds have an edge. Studies have shown that morning workouts can curb your appetite, prevent weight gain, and even help you get a good night’s sleep later on. Nobody understood the virtues of morning exercise better than Adams. As America’s foreign minister to Russia, Adams would wake up at five, have a cold bath, and read a few chapters from his German-language Bible. Then came a six-mile walk, followed by breakfast.

3. John Quincy Adams was an avid skinny-dipper.

As president, Adams got his exercise by taking a daily dip in the Potomac … naked. Every morning at 5:00 a.m., he would walk to the river, strip down, and go for a swim. Sadly, the most famous swimming anecdote likely never happened. The story is that when Adams refused an interview with reporter Anne Royall, she hiked down to the river while he was swimming, gathered his clothes, and sat on them until he agreed to talk. But modern historians tend to agree that this story was a later invention . That’s not to say, however, that Adams never talked about Royall. In his diaries he wrote “[Royall] continues to make herself noxious to many persons; treating all with a familiarity which often passes for impudence, insulting those who treat her with incivility, and then lampooning them in her books.”

4. John Quincy Adams enjoyed a good game of pool.

Adams installed a billiards table in the White House shortly after becoming president. The new addition quickly became a subject of controversy when Adams accidentally presented the government with the $61 tab (in reality he had paid for it himself). Nonetheless, political enemies charged that the pool table symbolized Adams’s aristocratic taste and promoted gambling.

5. John Quincy Adams was an amazing orator, but terrible at small talk.

Although Adams was nicknamed “Old Man Eloquent” for his unparalleled public speaking ability, he was terrible at small talk. Aware of his own social awkwardness, Adams once wrote in his diary, “I went out this evening in search of conversation, an art of which I never had an adequate idea. Long as I have lived in the world, I never have thought of conversation as a school in which something was to be learned. I never knew how to make, to control, or to change it.”

6. John Quincy Adams kept a pet alligator in a bathtub at the White House.

Adams had a pet alligator, which was gifted to him by the Marquis de Lafayette. He kept it in a tub in the East Room of the White House for a few months, supposedly claiming that he enjoyed watching “the spectacle of guests fleeing from the room in terror.”

7. When it came to politics, John Quincy Adams played dirty.

The presidential election of 1828—when incumbent John Quincy Adams got crushed by longtime rival Andrew Jackson—is famous for the mudslinging tactics employed by both sides. Adams’s side said Jackson was too dumb to be president, claiming that he spelled Europe “Urope.” They also hurled insults at Jackson’s wife, calling her a “dirty black wench” for getting together with Jackson before divorcing her first husband. Jackson’s side retorted by calling Adams a pimp, claiming that he had once procured an American girl for sexual services for the czar while serving as an ambassador to Russia.

8. John Quincy Adams is responsible for acquiring Florida.

Next time you find yourself soaking up some rays in the Sunshine State, take a moment to thank Adams. As Secretary of State, Adams negotiated the Adams-Onís Treaty, which allowed the U.S. to acquire Florida and set a new boundary between the U.S. and New Spain. That’s right: Walt Disney World might not have been built if it weren’t for the sixth president.

9. John Quincy Adams kind of hated being president.

Adams once reportedly stated, “The four most miserable years of my life were my four years in the presidency.” But even if he hated being commander-in-chief, Adams couldn’t bear to be out of the political loop for too long. After finishing his term as president, Adams served 17 more years in the House of Representatives, where he campaigned against further extension of slavery. In fact, he died shortly after suffering a stroke on the House floor.