Samuel Chase, signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in Somerset County, Maryland, on April 17, 1741. His father was a well-educated clergyman in the Protestant Episcopal Church, and he instructed his son so well in the "study of the classics" and the "common branches of an English education that he was sufficiently prepared to enter the "professional life." Samuel began studying law at the age eighteen years under the direction of Mr. Hammond and Mr. Hall of Annapolis; he was admitted to practice law before the mayor's court at age twenty and became a member of the bar at age twenty-two when he was allowed to practice law in other courts. He soon became a successful lawyer in Annapolis.
Mr. Chase was also elected to be a member of the Provincial Assembly at age twenty. There he was independent in both feeling and action about matters of principle that he offended those legislators who were there to please the royal governor. It was in the Provincial Assembly that he first manifested his "stamina of character" that was so evident during the Revolution.
Samuel was among the first people in Maryland to lift both his voice and hand against the Stamp Act. His group of young patriots styled themselves after the "Sons of Liberty" in Massachusetts, and they opposed every form of the Stamp Act, going so far as to attack the Stamp Offices and destroy the Stamps. The authorities of Annapolis tried to dampen his spirit, but they increased his popularity by persecuting him.
Mr. Chase went to the first Continental Congress, in 1774, as one of the five delegates appointed by the people of Maryland. At the same convention, he was appointed to be on the "Committee of Correspondence" for Maryland. The committees of correspondence had a powerful effect in uniting the patriots in their cause of liberty and helped them to prepare to act promptly when needed. Samuel was "bold and energetic" and "expressed his sentiments freely in favor of absolute independence" in the General Congress. The people in the colonies were desirous to settle their differences with England and didn't particular want independence.
Samuel was elected to Congress again in 1775 and was zealously active in strengthening the military located around Boston. He used his growing popularity and political power to influence the Maryland convention to remove its prohibitions on its delegates to the General Congress to vote in favor of independence. This restriction was especially difficult on him, and he yearned to have it removed. He was elected to Congress again in 1776.
In the spring of 1776 Samuel was appointed to a committee with Dr. Benjamin Franklin and Charles Carroll to travel to Canada to "effect a concurrence" with the English colonies there. The mission was unsuccessful, and they returned to Congress just in time to join the discussion about independence. He was very much in favor of independence and was grateful that Maryland had lifted her restrictions, which left her delegates free to vote as they desired. Samuel voted in favor of independence and willingly signed the Declaration of Independence.
Samuel continued as a delegate to the General Congress until 1778 when he resigned his public position to give his attention to his personal affairs. He resumed his law practice in Annapolis and did not enter the political arena again until 1788 when he was appointed Chief Justice of the criminal court in Baltimore. That same year he was elected as a delegate to the state convention of Maryland that was considering the United States Constitution for ratification. At about the same period of time he was appointed to be the Chief Justice of the Maryland Supreme Court.
In 1796 President George Washington nominated Samuel to become a judge on the United States Supreme Court. His nomination was confirmed by the Senate, and he held the position for fifteen years. He was considered as having the highest degree of "honesty of purpose and integrity of motives, but his political opponents still tried to impeach him for misconduct on the bench. He was honorably acquitted.
Judge Chase was benevolent to his fellowman. Close to the end of the Revolutionary War, he met a young man in a debating society in Baltimore and was so impressed with the young man that met with him and advised him to study law. When the young man frankly expressed his state of poverty, Samuel offered him a place to stay and "free access to his extensive library." The young man accepted the Judge's offer, studied law, and was accepted to the bar "after passing an examination with distinguished ability." The young man's name was William Pinkney, who later became United States Attorney General and U.S. minister at the Court in Great Britain.
Samuel was a "sincere professor" of Christianity and was a member of St. Paul's church in Baltimore, the same parish where his father served when Samuel was a child. Judge Chase died on June 19, 1811, in the seventieth year of his life.
Facts and quotes are from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, pp. 146-150.
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