Lincoln and Chase
By Ken Zurski
In the summer of 1861, after the Battle of Bull Run disproved the theory that the Civil War would end quickly, the U.S. Treasury Secretary at the time, Salmon Portland Chase, turned to the option of paper money to help pay Union soldiers.
This included the first government-issued dollar bill. A bill that looked much different than it does today.
For instance, the man on the front of the bill was Chase himself who did the honors of appointing his own likeness to the first “greenbacks (named for the green ink used on the back, with black ink in front).
Although serving the same party, Chase was still considered a savvy political nemesis of Abraham Lincoln, when in 1861, the newly elected 16th president tapped him as Treasury Secretary. The feuding didn’t end with the appointment. Seeking the high office himself, Chase’s frustration with the president would result in the secretary threatening to quit until Lincoln diffused the matter, as he often did, with a joke.
Chase resigned from the cabinet in June 1864 shortly before Lincoln was reelected to a second term. Later that year, Lincoln nominated Chase to the Supreme Court where he served as chief justice until his death in 1873 at the age of 65.
Eventually, Chase would be replaced by George Washington on the dollar bill.
But in 1928, more than 50 years after his death, Chase was honored again with his picture on the newly minted $10,000 bill.
The big dollar bills, like the $1,000 bill (Grover Cleveland), the $5,000 bill (James Madison), along with the $10,000 bill (with Chase) were used mainly for large transfers between banks. The largest paper denomination ever, printed in 1934, was the $100,000 bill featuring Woodrow Wilson.
Although it eventually went out of circulation, Chase’s $10,000 bill is still considered legal tender and banks would be glad to exchange it if collectors were crazy enough to pass on the market price that is now ten times more than its original face value.
Chase is also remembered to this day, by a large bank, now a merged institution, with his name still on the logo.