Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Axtell on the Antislavery Legal Practice of Salmon P. Chase

Matthew Axtell, Supreme Court Fellow and Princeton University, has posted What is Still 'Radical' in the Antislavery Legal Practice of Salmon P. Chase? which appeared in the Hastings Race & Poverty Law Journal 11 (Summer 2014): 269-320. Here is the abstract:
Salmon P. Chase (LC)
This Article is an in-depth study of the early commercial law career of Salmon P. Chase,U.S.Secretary of Treasury between 1861 and 1864 and President Lincoln’s choice to replace Roger B. Taney (author of the Dred Scott opinion) as the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Occasionally portrayed in his latter political career as “the most radical” member of Lincoln’s war cabinet, Chase’s early law practice is best known for its defense of people of color seeking to escape slavery, at the time earning him the nickname as the “Attorney General for Fugitive Slaves.” In recent years, Chase’s reputation as a legal “radical” has been in decline. Focusing narrowly on Chase’s reading of the U.S. Constitution, subsequent historians have categorized Chase as merely taking a “moderate” approach to ending the peculiar institution, with some even suggesting that his work had a conservative bent containing a latent “apology for slavery.” Looking broadly at Chase’s active Cincinnati-based law office work for both white and black clients between 1831 and 1849 while drawing upon unpublished materials from Chase’s papers, this Article suggests ways that the “radical” label may still fit. At the heart of Chase’s radical side, it suggests, was a strain of utopian egalitarianism - modeled upon the theoretical equality imagined as existing between trading partners on western waterfronts - that relentlessly denied the power of American legal institutions to honor any distinctions between litigants based on their actual or perceived social position. At a time when some contemporaries viewed the world as divided into a series of “patriarchal relations,” Chase’s was an outsider’s perspective, disciplined through nearly two decades of commercial law services provided to a socially marginal clientele from both sides of the color line.