Thursday, April 16, 2009

April 17: "...I will take them to jail myself.”

Do you know who this is?
-He formed a ‘sons of liberty’ group in Maryland.
-He signed the Declaration of Independence, but opposed the Constitution.
-He was the only Supreme Court Justice to be impeached.

He was a man of strong political views and immense capabilities. Starting as a fervent advocate of independence from Britain and states rights, he moved gradually into the opposite camp, being appointed as a Supreme Court Justice with Federalist, strong central government viewpoints – and was impeached because of those viewpoints.

Samuel Chase was born on April 17, 1741, near Princess Anne, Maryland. He was the only child of an Episcopalian minister, the Reverend Thomas and Matilda Walker Chase. His mother would die soon after his birth. In 1743 his father was appointed Rector of St. Paul’s Parish in Baltimore.

Samuel was educated at home under the supervision of his father, largely through studying the classics, until he was eighteen. He then studied law under attorneys John Hammond and John Hall in Annapolis, and was admitted to the bar at the age of twenty in 1761. He would start his law practice in Annapolis. He would marry Ann Baldwin in 1762, and the couple would have three sons and four daughters. Only four of his children would survive to adulthood. Ann would die in the late 1770s. While travelling to England on business for Maryland, Samuel met and married Hannah Kilty Giles in London. They would have two daughters.

In 1764 Samuel began his public career by being elected to the Maryland General Assembly, where he would be a member for nearly twenty years. He quickly earned a reputation as a dedicated patriot, as well as using his talents to actively and zealously oppose British taxation on the Colonies. He forcibly opposed the Stamp Act, and was a framer in the Declaration of the Rights of Maryland.

In 1774 he was chosen as a delegate to the first Continental Congress, and was re-elected in 1776. He helped organize the Maryland Sons of Liberty. In 1776 Samuel was one of the advocates who encouraged Maryland’s authorization to vote for independence. John Adams described Samuel in Congress as "violent and boisterous" in debate, and he was relentless in verbally attacking those delegates who hesitated on voting for independence.

He supported his rhetoric with his actions: he was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Known as a patriot, Samuel’s patriotism was called into question by Alexander Hamilton who revealed – using the pen name ‘Publius” – that Samuel had taken advantage of knowledge gained in Congress to try to corner the flour market.

While temporarily retiring from national politics as a result of the accusation, Samuel was still influential in Maryland politics. In 1786 he would move to Baltimore, which would be his home for the rest of his life. He began his judicial role there, being appointed judge of the Baltimore criminal court in 1788; appointed judge of the general court of Maryland in 1791; and finally was appointed by President Washington an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1796.

An event occurred in Baltimore in 1794 which illustrated Samuel’s dedication and courage to the law. He demanded the maintainance of the dignity of the bench and the supremacy of the law. When two men were tarred and feathered in the streets of Baltimore, he ordered the arrest of the two ringleaders, two prominent men who appeared before the judge and refused to post bail, being confident during that rough and tumble era of being rescued by their friends. Judge Chase ordered the sheriff to take them to jail and, when the sheriff expressed concern, ordered the sheriff to “call out the posse comitatus.” The posse comitatus is simply the deputizing of men in a crisis. The sheriff replied that he could not find anyone to deputize, as the prisoners were men of influence. “Then I shall be the posse comitatus. I will take them to jail myself.”

During his tenure on the Supreme Court, Samuel would be recognized as one of the most important legal theorists during this early period of the nation. The Justices of the Supreme Court carried a double duty during its early history: that of Supreme Court Justice, sitting on the bench in Washington, D.C., as well as a circuit riding judge in the lower courts.

Samuel’s tenure on the Supreme Court would be attacked in 1804 when he was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, to be tried by the Senate, on charges of malfeasance of office. The impeachment was largely political in nature, and the success or failure of the trial would determine if the judiciary branch of government would be an independent branch and an effective part of the check and balance system devised by the authors of the Constitution. Samuel – a Federalist with a belief in a strong central government – was under attack by the Democratic-Republicans.

The allegations that led to the impeachment were that political bias led the judge to treat defendants and their counsel in a blatantly unfair manner, and that his conduct was marked by “manifest injustice, partiality, and intemperance.” Several allegations were made in the impeachment, most centering on decisions made during the Adams administration five years earlier when he had made decisions that enforced the law of the day, the Alien and Sedition acts, limiting the right of people who opposed the President from voicing their opinions. During the early Jefferson administration he had opposed Jefferson’s abolition of several federal judgeships.
The trial in the Senate attracted national attention. Vice President Aaron Burr was the presiding judge – and maintained a sense of decorum in what could have been a kangaroo court in the Democratic-Republican controlled Senate. Samuel’s lawyers included Luther Martin and Robert Goodloe Harper. He would be acquitted on March 5, 1805.

Samuel would serve for six more years on the Supreme Court, the impeachment having established precedence for future impeachments of judges that the issue had to be criminal actions, not personal opinions. This in turn, created an independent judiciary that still exists and flourishes today. He died at the age of seventy on June 19, 1811, and was buried at Old St. Paul’s Cemetery in Baltimore.


There are no biographies about Samuel Chase in our local library.


American Revolution
Baltimore Past And Present
Biographical Dictionary of Congress
Colonial Hall
National Park System


01. Portrait of Samuel Chase: Library of Congress LOC LC-USZ62-65009
02. Ann Chase and two daughters, Anne and Matilda: Smithsonian
03. Signature: Wikipedia

04.Chase seated color portrait: Wikipedia

05. Senate Journal, March 1, 1805
06. Gravestone: Find a Grave, by Michelle Baquol-Bower

1 comment: