Anne Chase

Wife of Declaration of Independence Signer Samuel Chase

Anne Baldwin was born in Annapolis, Maryland, daughter of Thomas Baldwin and his wife Agnes. Samuel Chase was born on April 17, 1741, in Somerset County, Maryland. His father, Thomas Chase, was a British-born clergyman for the Church of England. His mother, Matilda Walker Chase, died when he was born. In 1744, Samuel and his father moved to Baltimore, where Samuel grew up and received a classical education under his father’s supervision.

Anne Baldwin Chase
With her daughters Anne and Matilda
Charles Willson Peale, 1772

Chase studied law in Annapolis, Maryland, at the office of Attorney John Hall from 1759 until he was admitted to the bar in 1763. William Paca was a fellow student of Samuel’s in the office of Hammond & Hall, and there began a friendship which lasted their entire lives. The two young men became members of the Provincial Legislature the same year and together were sent to the Continental Congress.

In May 1762, Samuel Chase married Anne Baldwin, and they settled in Annapolis, where they had seven children, three sons and four daughters, three of whom died in infancy. Samuel was twenty-one years old at the time of his marriage, and had just completed his legal studies.

Chase established a lucrative law practice in Annapolis, and began taking an active interest in public affairs that was later to make him an uncompromising patriot. He practiced law at the Mayor’s Court in Annapolis and appeared before other courts throughout the County. In 1764, he was elected to the Maryland Assembly as a representative of Annapolis, where he served until 1784.

An early and active opponent of the British crown, at the young age of 24, Chase openly challenged the right of the English Parliament to tax the Colonies without their consent. In reaction to the Stamp Act of 1765, the Sons of Liberty, of which Chase was most active member, forcibly opened the public offices in Annapolis, seized and destroyed the hated stamps. The stamp distributor or agent was burned in effigy.

Chase’s activities in these riotous demonstrations caused him to be denounced by the city officials as a “busy, restless incendiary, and ringleader of mobs, a foul-mouthed and inflaming son of discord and faction, a common disturber of the public tranquility, and a promoter of the lawless excesses of the multitude.” Chase admitted his participation but maintained that the so called mob was composed of “men of reputation and merit” superior to the court officials. This was a bold stand for a young man to take against the authorities in the Colony.

By the early 1770s, Chase had become well-known as a skillful legislator and outstanding leader. After the Boston Tea Party controversy in 1774, he was a member of the Maryland Committee of Correspondence and a delegate to the First Continental Congress. He represented Maryland in the Congresses from 1774 to 1778 and 1784 to 1785 ,and served on as many as thirty committees in his tireless efforts to advance the cause of independence from Britain. He advocated a boycott of British goods and a political confederation of the colonies.

In 1775, Chase returned to Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress and served in the Maryland Convention and Council of Safety. Chase was the most aggressive anti-British leader in Maryland, and when the Maryland Convention would not allow the delegates to vote for independence, he and his colleague, Charles Carroll, took to the open road on horseback to make impassioned speeches for independence at farms and towns throughout the colony.

Their campaign was successful and the Maryland delegation reversed its position and urged an all out vote in favor of independence. Chase signed the Declaration of Independence with the other delegates on August 2, 1776, and helped draft the Maryland Constitution later that year.

Declaration signature
Samuel Chase’s Signature
On the Declaration of Independence

Chase’s young wife was not permitted to enjoy the honors that were to come to her husband. There is no record of her death, but Anne Baldwin Chase died sometime between 1776 and 1779.

In 1778, however, Chase’s reputation was suddenly shadowed. Chase, the great champion of American liberty, and a long-time fighter for the rights of the people, was involved in an attempt to corner the flour market. He did so while a member of the Continental Congress, at a time when they were authorizing the purchase of flour for the revolutionary soldiers. Chase lost his seat in Congress and much of his reputation.

Referring to this affair in a New York newspaper, Alexander Hamilton, who intensely disliked Chase, had this to say of Chase: “It is your lot to have the peculiar privilege of being universally despised …Were I inclined to make a satire upon the species I would attempt a faithful description of your heart.”

For the next two years, of the Maryland delegation to Congress; and though he was later reappointed, he rarely attended and played only a minor role. Temporarily retired from national politics, Chase still remained a dominant figure in Maryland politics.

In March, 1783, Chase was appointed by the State of Maryland to go to England, in an attempt to recover some bank stock which belonged to the former colony. Chase achieved very little success in this matter for the issue was tied up in court proceedings. While there, he met and married Hannah Kilty Giles of London, who bore him two daughters.

In 1786, Chase moved to Baltimore, where his friend Colonel John Howard, son-in-law of Benjamin Chew and later US Senator, presented him with a square of land in a newly laid out part of the city, provided he would make his residence there. Chase was not a man of means, but value of this property – which comprised many city lots, aside from what the Judge reserved for his own spacious mansion – rose rapidly.

Samuel Chase was not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia, which adopted the US Constitution on September 17, 1787, but he criticized the US Constitution as undemocratic and voted against ratification. When the Constitution came before the Maryland Convention for ratification, Chase was in the minority of delegates who voted against it. He was an ardent Anti-Federalist at the time and argued that the Constitution concentrated too much power in the hands of the central government.

His opposition to the Constitution cost him his state legislative seat in 1788. The same year, Chase went bankrupt after several of his speculative business ventures failed. These business risks had also damaged his political career, which had been plagued with charges that he used his office for personal gain.

Dogged by bankruptcy and charges of corruption, Chase sought refuge in the position of a local judge in Baltimore Criminal Court in 1788. In 1791, he was concurrently appointed Chief Judge of the General Court of Maryland from 1791 to 1796. The state assembly, upset with his overbearing manner on the bench and his holding two positions as judge, tried unsuccessfully to remove him from both positions.

Chase in the Supreme Court
While Samuel Chase might seem an unlikely choice, President George Washington nominated Chase to the Supreme Court on January 26, 1796. Over the years, Washington had been impressed by Chase’s legal skills and the zeal with which he had worked for independence and his support of Washington in the Continental Congress. The Senate confirmed Chase’s appointment; he was commissioned on January 27, 1796, and sworn in on February 4, 1796. In the first five years on the Supreme Court, Justice Chase delivered several precedent-making opinions, but he is best remembered for the contentious behavior that he carried to the bench.

Originally an anti-Federalist opposed to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution on grounds that it deprived the states of their independence and sovereignty, Samuel Chase changed his opinion about a strong central government. By the time he was seated on the nation’s high court, he had earned a reputation for his zealous defense of the Federalist Party and his harsh criticism of the Democratic-Republican Party.

Generally speaking, the Federalist Party favored a strong national government, promoted legislation that advanced mercantile interests, supported the creation of a national bank, and believed that the federal government should be run by the most well-educated and affluent Americans.

The Democratic-Republican Party generally favored stronger and more independent state governments, promoted legislation that advanced agricultural interests, opposed the creation of a national bank, and believed that the federal government should be run as a popular democracy, with its power being directly and closely derived from average Americans.

Chase’s political beliefs endeared him to the White House while Federalist John Adams was in office. But in 1800, Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson defeated Adams to become the third president of the United States, and his Democratic-Republican Party took control of both houses of Congress.

Supreme Court Justice
Justice Samuel Chase

After Jefferson took office, Chase sharpened his criticism of Jefferson and the Congress, and probably reached the peak of judicial impropriety on May 2, 1803, when he delivered a tirade against the Jefferson administration in front of a Baltimore grand jury.

The “hanging judge,” as the Republican press called Chase, was dismayed that the Jeffersonians in Maryland had established universal male suffrage. He suggested to the grand jurors that “the country… [is] headed down the road to mobocracy, the worst of all popular governments” and that, if left in power, Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans would eliminate “all security for property, and personal liberty.” The “modern doctrine… that all men in a state of society are entitled to equal liberty and equal rights,” Chase warned, will bring “mighty mischief upon us.”

This angered President Jefferson and other Democratic-Republicans. In 1804, a majority of the House of Representatives voted to impeach Chase on charges of judicial misconduct and seditious criticism of Jefferson. Chase argued that he had done nothing wrong, and that a Federal judge should not be impeached and removed from office for criticizing the President.

As provided in the Constitution, the case then went to the Senate for trial, where two-thirds of the Senators had to vote against Chase to remove him from office. Federalists defending Chase argued that he had committed no wrongdoing, and that he could not be convicted under the constitutional definition of high crimes and misdemeanors in Article III of the Constitution.

Persuaded that the prosecution of Chase represented an inappropriate attack on the independence of the judiciary, some Jeffersonian Republicans joined the Federalist Senators in voting to acquit Chase. The Senate failed to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary to impeach Chase, and he remained on the Court. On March 1, 1805, the Senate announced its verdict: Chase was acquitted on all counts, and he returned to his duties on the court.

Chase avoided controversy in his subsequent work on the Court. His near impeachment served as a warning both to him and to other justices to be careful in their choice of words while in office. As Chase suffered in later years from declining health, John Marshall became the most vocal justice and assumed Chase’s position as the lightning rod for the Court.

Chase remained a Justice of the Supreme Court until his death. But he was often absent his last ten years on the bench due to gout, and his productivity was far less than that of his first five years.

Justice Samuel Chase died in Baltimore on June 19, 1811, at the age of 70, and was Interred at St. Paul’s Cemetery. He left an estate of $15,000 in personal property, about 2,500 acres, and a number of Baltimore City lots. Chase’s financial difficulties continued to the end, however, as his estate did not cover his outstanding debts.

Samuel Chase served on the Supreme Court for 15 years, but most of that time he was overshadowed by the more famous John Marshall, who came to the court in 1801. The Chase impeachment proceeding is also said to have left a lasting impression on Marshall, who spent much of his later career attempting to demonstrate that the nation’s high court was separate from and even above party politics.

In the final analysis, these two results represent flip sides of the same coin: one result increased the independence of the federal judiciary from interference by the legislative and executive branches, while the other result revealed the danger to that independence created by unelected federal judges who publicly attacked the popular policies of democratically elected lawmakers.

The failure to impeach Chase showed that a judge could not be removed simply for taking politically unpopular positions. Less often observed is that the Chase impeachment caused the Supreme Court to shy away from overt displays of politics. It also allowed Justice Marshall to assert and define the powers of the Court in future decisions with more confidence. It was thus a step in the process of defining the independence of the Supreme Court as one of the three primary branches of the US government.

Anne Baldwin Chase
Supreme Court Justices
Wikipedia: Samuel Chase
US Supreme Court: Samuel Chase
Samuel Chase – Freedom Firebrand
Impeachment Trial of Samuel Chase

Leave a Reply