Ostracism was the title of a law once in full and practical force in the Republic of Athens. It required the banishment of any citizen when six thousand of the people voted for his expulsion--there being about twenty thousand voters--thus violating the fundamental principle of a republican government--_the majority must rule and be obeyed_. Ruin was the natural result.
Each voter wrote the name of the citizen that was to be banished on a shell called in Greek--_Ostralcon._ These were deposited as are ballots at our elections and were counted by persons appointed by law. To the ruin of Athens, envy, jealousy, and intrigue caused the banishment of several of her most illustrious sages and heroes who loved their country more than they did political corruption. Among them was Aristides--a noble patriot, statesman and general. When the people were voting in his case he mingled with the crowd and met an illiterate peasant who did not know him, who asked him to write Aristides upon his shell. _What injury has Aristides done you?_ The peasant quickly answered--_None at all but I am tired of hearing him called the just._ Without revealing himself the patriot wrote his own name upon the fatal shell and handed it back to the deluded voter. He bowed submissively to his sentence of banishment for ten years and invoked a blessing on his enemies as he departed.
A species of political persecution practically analogous to the law of ostracism commenced its career in our country as early as the American Revolution. Political cliques and venal presses have been the executioners. No one of the sages or heroes of that eventful period was so severely persecuted by party ostracism after the formation of our republic as Samuel Chase who was born in Somerset County, Maryland, on the 17th day of April, 1741. He was the son of Rev. Thomas Chase who came from England to that province and became pastor of St. Paul's Parish in Baltimore, then a new country village and destitute of good schools. At the age of two years Samuel was deprived of the tender care of his mother by her premature death. Under the instruction of his father he became an accomplished classical scholar. At the age of eighteen he commenced the study of law under the direction of John Hammond and John Hull of Annapolis. At the age of twenty he was admitted to the bar of the Mayor's Court and two years after to that of the County Court and the Court of Chancery. He located at Annapolis and filled up the rib vacuum by marrying the worthy and intelligent Ann Baldwin--a very sensible and fair business transaction.
Mr. Chase was not long in acquiring the reputation of a sound lawyer and able advocate. He was of a sanguine temperament--bold, fearless, undisguised, independent in mind, language and action but honest, patriotic, and pure in his motives--immovable in his purposes--qualities that dignify a man if prudently balanced and prepare him for just such times as the Revolution--qualities that often rouse the spirit of ostracism in those who aim to ruin those they cannot rule. These leading traits, constitutional with Samuel Chase, with the times and circumstances that influenced his judgment and governed his actions must be kept constantly in view to enable the reader to form a just estimate of his character which I will impartially and plainly portray.
On the flood tide of a prosperous business--celebrated for his legal acumen and forensic fame--in the full enjoyment of domestic felicity and social intercourse with friends--Mr. Chase glided smoothly along until his country began to writhe under kingly oppression. The Stamp Act, the first born of the scrofulous revenue system devised by the putrescent British ministry, met with a hostile reception at Annapolis. Mr. Chase and a band of kindred spirits under the cognomen of "Sons of Liberty," forcibly seized and destroyed the newly imported stamps and burned in effigy the stamp distributer. No further violence was then committed. The king's officers opened a newspaper battery against this "furious mob" directing their whole artillery against Mr. Chase complimenting him with the courtly names--"busy restless incendiary--ringleader of mobs--foul mouthed inflaming son of discord and faction--a common disturber of the public tranquillity--a promoter of the lawless excesses of the multitude" and other similar emphatic appellations--conferring upon the young patriot a diploma of distinction little anticipated by them. His answers to these vituperations were manly, charged with strong and conclusive logic--keen and withering sarcasm. The attack brought him fairly into the political field. So delighted were the people with the manner he handled the hirelings of the crown that they elected him to the colonial assembly. There he took a conspicuous part and became the uncompromising opposer of all measures that were not within the pale of the constitution or were tinctured with oppression. So strongly was he in favor of liberal principles that he gave his whole influence and vote in favor of the repeal of the law that compelled the people to support the clergy by which the stipend of his father was reduced one-half. Pursuant to the law of primogeniture then in force this was voting money out of his own pocket. His bold and independent course made him a subject of persecution with the creatures of the crown and an object of pride and admiration with the people. His enemies found him a bramble full of the keenest thorns and were awfully scarified every time they approached him. His tongue, pen, logic, sarcasm--all were blighting as a sirocco wind.
After the repeal of the Stamp Act a calm in the public mind ensued but it was a calm of delusion such as precedes a tornado. The inquisitorial rack of the ministry was again put in motion--fresh impositions commenced--the fire of discontent was again blown to a blaze. The Bill closing the port of Boston with directions to the King's officers to seize and send to England for trial those who dared resist the royal authority--roused the indignation of colonies that had been rather passive. The Congress of 1774 was then devised of which Mr. Chase was a member. The deep solemnity, unparalleled wisdom and patient deliberations that marked the proceedings of that Congress--shed a lustre upon the cause of liberty then in embryo that forced applause from its most violent opposers. Had not the cabinet of Great Britain been blinded by sordid avarice, mad ambition and political delusion--had not the King been a mere automaton, scarcely a moving, walking, talking machine--the loyal and logical appeals from that august body of sages would have been treated with merited respect and quiet restored. The colonists asked for nothing but what was clearly right and asked in the most respectful and even suppliant manner. Ministers were left without excuse for their subsequent course. _Their_ sacrilegious hands broke the great seal of the social compact--_their_ agents sowed the seeds of rebellion--_their_ cruelty kindled the flame that devoured them--_their_ visionary policy severed the cords of maternal affection--_their_ treachery spread the mantle of righteousness over the cause of the Revolution. We justly censure them for their corrupt designs but rejoice in the glorious result of their plans. Haman erected his own gallows. Grenville and North destroyed their own power.
In 1775 Mr. Chase was returned to Congress with instructions to pursue a conciliatory course contrary to his judgment but which he implicitly obeyed. He was active and persevering on committees and took a deep interest in every measure proposed in favor of freedom. He was returned to Congress the next year still trammelled with instructions which he truly predicted would soon be removed. In the spring of 1776 he was associated with Messrs. Franklin, Charles and Bishop Carroll on a mission to Canada to induce the people there to join in the struggle for liberty. They wanted courage to be free and still wear the yoke of bondage. On his return he was delighted to find the question of final separation from mother Britain under consideration and boldly advocated the measure. It was the very proposition to animate the soul of Samuel Chase. His instructions became burdensome as the discussion increased. They were removed just in time for him to record his vote in favor of that imperishable instrument that has immortalized the names of the signers and is the pride of every true American. The act of signing the Declaration of Rights gave him more joy than any public duty he had ever performed. A short time previous to the glorious 4th of July Mr. Chase discovered that a Judas was among them in the person of Rev. Dr. Zubly of Georgia who was clandestinely corresponding with the enemy. So bold and so suddenly did he expose the traitor on the floor of Congress that "the gentleman from Georgia" plead guilty and suddenly retired. His arrest was ordered but when the officer went to his cage the bird had flown and was never bagged. As an able statesman recently remarked, he was left in the very worst company--with himself. Mr. Chase was all industry in every position in which he was placed. In the discussions upon the Articles of Confederation he took a deep interest and active part. He considered their adoption indispensable in carrying on the good work of political regeneration. The basis of representation and the mode of voting were the two great points at issue that consumed the most time in argument.
In the fall of 1776 Messrs. Chase, Wilson, Clymer, Stockton and Smith were made a committee to take charge of the War Department--then the most important of either. Mr. Chase was upon the committee for suppressing internal enemies and became a terror to the tories and certain Quakers in and adjacent to Philadelphia who were circulating papers adverse to the American cause and were in communication with the enemy. A report, with documents proving the charge was submitted to Congress. Several leading members of the Society of Friends were confined--the seditious papers suppressed and a respectful neutrality induced on the part of that very respectable Society whose creed opposing war had led some of its members into an erroneous interference. The tories took shelter under the wings of the British army. The course pursued by Congress was then deemed harsh by some and will still appear so to a casual reader who is not familiar with the rules of war. Agreeably to the martial code of other nations--then the precedent guide for Congress--the punishment would have been much more severe. The mildness of the sentence was an antepast of a more enlarged liberty under the new form of government. By the religious tenets of the Friends it can never be sanctioned--by every friend of liberty the necessity of such a case is always regretted. Each social compact and individual in every government must be subject to the laws of the land--must submit to the ruling power that order may be maintained.
In 1778 the British Parliament devised a stratagem by which they hoped to create a division among the patriots. Printed papers were circulated among the people containing conciliatory and flattering propositions and announcing the appointment of commissioners to perfect these inglorious terms of peace. So ingeniously were these papers worded that it was deemed necessary to prepare an answer. This important task was imposed upon Mr. Chase. Most ably did he perform his duty. He unmasked the base hypocrisy of the scheme--exposed the delusive gull-trap to the consuming fire of sarcastic logic--poured upon it the burning lava of ridicule and raised the indignation and scorn of the people against it to ninety degrees above zero. So well was it received by Congress that a larger number than usual was ordered printed and a resolution passed recommending all the clergy to read it to their congregations after service on Sunday. Like all the other plans the British ministers devised to enslave the colonies--it recoiled upon their own heads with all the force of fearful reaction.
This brilliant display of talent closed the congressional labors of this devoted friend of liberty. He retired crowned with the rich honors of an able statesman, sage, patriot and honest man. He had stood firm at his post--a faithful public servant, a bold advocate for freedom, a safe counsellor in every emergency, a fearless champion when danger pressed, an ornament to his country, a terror to the enemies of liberty. As a working man he had no superior--as a debater he had few equals. Without the mellifluous elocution of a Cicero--free from pleonastic parade--he spoke forcibly, reasoned closely, demonstrated clearly, deduced conclusively. He sought to inform the judgment, enlighten the understanding and convince by sound argument. Until the close of the struggle for freedom he continued to render efficient service to the glorious cause and then resumed his profession in the full enjoyment of the confidence of his constituents and the consolation of an approving conscience.
Soon after the close of the Revolution Mr. Chase was employed by the state of Maryland to prosecute a claim for bank stock in England and obtained for it six hundred and fifty thousand dollars. His journal shows that he was a minute observer of men and things. His high legal attainments, scholastic and legislative reputation, gentlemanly deportment, thorough business habits--combined to make a favorable impression upon parliament, the English courts and barristers generally. He was absent less than a year and accomplished more business than some would have done in five. On his return he again took his place at the Bar.
In 1786 his worthy friend, Col. Howard, conveyed to him a square of ten lots in the city of Baltimore near the site of the public buildings, on condition of his locating there. He accepted the proposition and changed his residence to that city. This square is bounded by Eutaw, Lexington, Fayette and Paca streets. The mansion-house built by Mr. Chase is still owned by his descendants. In 1788 he was appointed Chief Justice of the new criminal court organized for the county of Baltimore. The same year he was a member of the Maryland Convention that ratified the Federal Constitution. In 1791 he was appointed Chief Justice of the General Court of Maryland. In 1796 he was appointed an Associate Judge of the Supreme Court of the United States by President Washington which dignified station he filled with great ability to the time of the illness which terminated his life. He was considered one of the ablest judges upon the bench. When he presided in the lower courts his decisions, when carried up to the higher legal tribunals, were seldom reversed. His expositions of law and charges to juries were plain, learned, luminous, logical, profound. His manner was forcible, impressive, commanding. With all this lustre clustering around him, encircled by the sacred halo of great and acknowledged services in the cause of Independence, still green and fresh in the memory of millions--Judge Chase was placed in the crucible of unrelenting ostracism prompted by political animosity created by the lofty independence of thought and expression constitutional with him and which prompted him to act a bold and conspicuous part when the vials of British wrath were poured out upon our bleeding country. As I shall attempt carrying him through his persecutions unscathed the critical attention of the reader is requested. He was a federalist--I am an old school democrat and go for the compromises and our UNION.
In January 1804, John Randolph obtained the passage of a resolution in the House of Representatives of the United States instituting an inquiry into the official conduct of Judge Chase. As a hypocritical salvo the name of Judge Peters was joined with his. No one was more competent and no one could be more persevering than was Mr. Randolph in his gigantic efforts to destroy Judge Chase. The committee to which the resolution was referred reported on the 6th day of the ensuing March, acquitting Judge Peters and recommending the impeachment of Judge Chase, the real object of political revenge. On the 26th of the same month articles of impeachment were reported based upon the following premises.
In 1800 Judge Chase presided on the bench of the U. S. Circuit Court at Philadelphia, assisted by Judge Peters of the District Court of Pennsylvania when and where John Fries was put upon his trial a second time for high treason against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, owing to some informality in his previous trial before Judges Iredell and Peters. Having been fully informed of the points of law at issue and of the proceedings at the first trial, Judge Chase had prepared an elaborate exposition of the law upon treason without referring to a single fact in the case. With the approval of Judge Peters he furnished a copy to the counsel for defendant, the District Attorney and reserved one for the jury after the trial should be completed. Messrs. Lewis and Dallas, counsel for the prisoner, affected to consider this a pre-judgment of the case and permitted Fries to be tried without the aid of counsel--unquestionably intending and successfully succeeding in creating a general sympathy that procured his pardon immediately after conviction. Fries subsequently called on Judge Chase and thanked him for his impartial and generous course upon the trial. The whole matter was then looked at in its true light--a _ruse_ of ingenious counsel. No one attributed bad motives to the bench. The approval of honest clear-headed Judge Peters is conclusive proof that Judge Chase was judicially right--_prima facie_ evidence that his motives were pure. He had written an opinion upon the _law_--not upon the _facts_ of the case. This he had frankly furnished to the counsel--not to the jury before the trial. He was bound to explain the law to the grand jury before they should proceed to their business--to the traverse jury when he gave them their charge. This constituted the first charge in the articles of impeachment.
Shortly after the trial of Fries he presided at Richmond, Virginia, when and where one Callendar was tried under the Sedition Law for publishing a libel upon the President. During the trial Judge Chase refused the admission of certain testimony offered on the part of the prisoner which exasperated those who were opposed to the law in question. He honestly believed the law salutary as a check upon the venality of the press--others thought differently. Right or wrong--his oath of office bound him to act _under_ the law so long as it remained in force. That his decision was legally correct must be presumed from the fact that under the great excitement then existing no writ of error was taken in the case. This formed the foundation of the second charge.
From Richmond he proceeded to New Castle, Delaware, where he presided, aided by Judge Bedford. In his charge to the grand jury he gave his views frankly upon the Sedition Law that they might fully understand what constituted a breach of its provisions, knowing that one or more cases of its violation would come before them. As an illustration he alluded to certain matter published in a high-toned party paper printed in that district that violated the provisions of this law. This gave great offence to the opposite party. The allusion to the paper was legal under any circumstances by way of explanation but may be considered uncourteous until we understand that it went immediately into the hands of the grand jury as testimony which made it in all respects a legitimate document to be alluded to by him. Ingenuity could not _then_ nor with its prolific growth could it _now_ construe the act into a pre-judgment of the case. The publication was before him--he alluded to _that_ but to no individual. It was clearly a violation of the meaning and intent of the law--who published it was left for the jury to determine if they could. This constituted the ground of the third article of impeachment.
In delivering his charge to the grand jury in 1803, Judge Chase made sundry remarks upon the polities of the day reflecting upon certain acts of the democratic party. This was a surplusage of duty but not cause for impeachment. It resulted from his sanguine temperament, the great political excitement of that period--not from any impurity of motive. He believed laws had been passed for party purposes that were unconstitutional. If _he_ was in error then, his position has often been verified since. Freedom of speech is a constitutional privilege--he used the same liberty practised by his opponents and which was not then trammelled by the obnoxious Sedition Law. It was not a proper time or place to read a political lecture but it does not follow that his designs were corrupt or his conduct criminal. The ermine of a judge is not beautified by being powdered with the farina of politics--his right to think and speak upon the subject none will question. If he speaks at an improper time and place it is an error--not a crime. He animadverted upon the change of the right of suffrage in the constitution of his own state to which he had strong objections. With him many of the devoted patriots of the revolution deemed the elective franchise unsafe with ignorant men who did not fully comprehend and appreciate their rights. The reasons for this opinion grow less as intelligence increases. In some of the states a property qualification is still necessary to entitle a man to vote and in others he must be a freeholder to entitle him to hold certain town offices. An anxiety to preserve the government pure unquestionably pervaded the bosom of Judge Chase.
In concluding his charge he spoke strongly against the changes that had been made in the judiciary system of the United States. He attributed them to party politics--deemed them personal in their object and not conducive to public good in their operations. As these related to his official duties they were legitimate points for remark. It was a matter of course that a man like him should comment freely and severely upon what he conceived a personal and public wrong. He never dined at the half-way house. In all that has been presented I can find nothing to impugn the honesty of his intentions or the purity of his motives.
Upon these premises six articles of impeachment were framed at first and at the next session of Congress two more were added--the natural increase of a year. On the 2d of January 1805 Judge Chase was arraigned before the Senate of the United States. A majority of the members were politically opposed to him but amongst them were men who loved justice more than party. The herculean powers of John Randolph were brought to bear upon him in the full plenipotence of their force. The trial continued until the first of March except a short recess. A portion of this time the Judge was confined by illness. He was ably and successfully defended by Messrs. Martin, Hopkinson, Harper and Key. Of five of the charges he was acquitted by a majority of the Senate. A constitutional number could not be obtained to convict him on the others--he stood approved, acquitted, triumphant over his enemies at the highest tribunal of his country--looking upon his colossal vanquished political foes, with mingled pity and contempt. He had never doubted the favorable result and properly regarded the prosecution as a political bagatelle.
From that period to the time of his last illness his peace was undisturbed. He continued to be an ornament to the judiciary, an honor to his country, the faithful friend of human rights and equal justice. On the 19th of June 1811, surrounded by his family and friends, he bade a last farewell to sublunary things and died peaceful and happy. A large number of relatives, an extensive circle of friends and a grateful nation mourned his loss.
In the character of this great and good man we find no corruption to condemn--many strong and brilliant traits to admire. As a revolutionary patriot he stood on a lofty eminence--as a statesman he rendered many and important services--as a lawyer he enjoyed a high reputation--as a judge he sustained an exalted position. All the charges against him have been faithfully spread before the reader. The result of their investigation caused his powerful enemies to weave for him a higher eulogium than language can express. I find no evidence of guile in his heart. He felt strongly--expressed his opinions freely and acted sincerely so far as we can judge from the record.
Against his private character slander and malice never directed an arrow. He was in all respects above suspicion. He was a kind husband, an affectionate father, a warm friend--an open, honorable, scarifying opponent. His sanguine temperament was calculated to gain strong friends and violent enemies. He handled his political opposers with great severity which accounts for the mighty effort made to ostracise him from the Bench. He possessed a noble and benevolent disposition--was a friend to the poor and needy, to education and to everything that enhanced the happiness of those around him and the human family. Under his benefaction the celebrated William Pinkey was educated and made a man. He often referred gratefully to his benefactor in after life. He was an active member of St. Paul's church and did much to promote practical piety, sound morals and social order. His force, vigor, decision of character and stern integrity were well calculated for the period in which he lived. If he sometimes offended by soaring above the non-committal system of technical politics, it resulted from the strong combination of conflicting circumstances that uniformly attend the period of a revolution, the formation of a new government and the asperity of high toned party feeling operating upon the sensitive feelings of an ardent, patriotic, honest, independent mind.
Source: Sages and Heroes of the American Revolution, by L. Carroll Judson: Copyright, 1854 Available for download at the Project Gutenberg website.