The Who2 Blog

The ‘Fishy’ Name of Salmon P. Chase

“In addition to the humiliation he felt over his speaking voice, Salmon Chase was tormented by his own name. He fervently wished to change its ‘awkward, fishy‘ sound to something more elegant. ‘How wd. this name do (Spencer de Cheyce or Spencer Payne Cheyce),’ he inquired of [his friend Charles] Cleveland. ‘Perhaps you will laugh at this but I assure you I have suffered no little inconvenience.'”

The touching words of ambitious young Salmon P. Chase, later Secretary of the Treasury under Abraham Lincoln, from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2006 biography Team of Rivals.

We had wondered about that unusual name, it’s true. (His own father was named Ithamar, and he was raised by an uncle named Philander.) Still… Spencer de Cheyce? He made the right choice.

Salmon Chase rose above a remarkably difficult life: three wives and two young daughters died before he had turned 45. Yet he went on to be a U.S senator, governor of Ohio, Secretary of the Treasury, and finally Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Party allegiances weren’t exactly set in stone in those days. Here’s a passage from Chase’s official Congressional biography:

“Elected as a Whig to the Cincinnati City Council in 1840; identified himself in 1841 with the Liberty Party, and later with the Free Soil Party; elected to the United States Senate as a Free Soil candidate and served from March 4, 1849, to March 3, 1855; elected Governor of Ohio in 1855 as a Free Soil Democrat and reelected in 1857 as a Republican; elected as a Republican to the United States Senate in 1860.”

That’s four jobs and five parties, if we’re counting right.

He had hoped to be elected president himself in 1860, so the second Senate election was a bit of a disappointment. Two days after he was sworn in in 1861, he resigned to join Lincoln’s cabinet.

Quite a guy. And a very good book.

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