Old Bacon Face, the Demosthenes of
Samuel Chase (April 17, 1741 – June 19, 1811) was an Associate
Justice of the United States Supreme Court and a signatory to the
United States Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of
Maryland. He was impeached on grounds of letting his partisan leanings
affect his court decisions, but was acquitted by the Senate and
remained in office.
Born near Princess Anne, Maryland, Chase established a legal practice
in Annapolis, Maryland. He served in the
Maryland General Assembly for
several years and favored independence during the American Revolution.
He won election to the
Continental Congress before serving on the
Baltimore District Criminal Court and the
Maryland General Court. In
George Washington appointed Chase to the United States
After the 1800 elections, President
Thomas Jefferson and the
Democratic-Republicans sought to weaken Federalist influence on the
federal courts. Chase's actions on the court had been accused of
demonstrating bias and Jefferson believed that Chase should be removed
from office. The House of Representatives impeached Chase on eight
articles of impeachment, all centering on Chases's alleged political
bias. The Senate voted to acquit Chase on all counts, and Chase served
on the Supreme Court until his death in 1811. Some historians have
argued that Chase's acquittal set an important precedent regarding the
independence of the federal judiciary.
1 Youth and early career
2 Family and personal life
3 Career in Annapolis
3.1 Continental Congress
4 Judicial career
7 Further reading
8 External links
Youth and early career
Samuel Chase was the only child of the Reverend Thomas Chase (c.
1703–1779) and his wife, Matilda Walker (? – by 1744), born
near Princess Anne, Maryland.
His father was a clergyman who immigrated to Somerset County to become
a priest in a new church. Samuel was educated at home. He was eighteen
when he left for Annapolis where he studied law under attorney John
Hall. He was admitted to the bar in 1761 and started a law
practice in Annapolis. It was during his time as a member of the bar
that his colleagues gave him the nickname of "Old Bacon Face."
Family and personal life
In May 1762, Chase married Ann Baldwin, daughter of Thomas and Agnes
Baldwin. Samuel and Ann had had three sons and four daughters, with
only four surviving to adulthood. Ann died in 1776.
In 1784, Chase traveled to England to deal with Maryland's Bank of
England stock, where he met Hannah Kilty, daughter of Samuel Giles, a
Berkshire physician. They were married later that year and had two
daughters, Hannah and Elisa.
Career in Annapolis
In 1762, Chase was expelled from the Forensic Club, an Annapolis
debating society, for "extremely irregular and indecent" behavior.
In 1764, Chase was elected to the
Maryland General Assembly where he
served for twenty years.
In 1766, he became embroiled in a war of words with a number of
loyalist members of the
Maryland political establishment. In an open
letter dated July 18, 1766, Chase attacked Walter Dulany, George
Steuart (1700–1784), John Brice (1705–1766) and others for
publishing an article in the
Maryland Gazette Extraordinary of June
19, 1766, in which Chase was accused of being: "a busy, reckless
incendiary, a ringleader of mobs, a foul-mouthed and inflaming son of
discord and faction, a common disturber of the public tranquility". In
his response, Chase accused Steuart and the others of "vanity...pride
and arrogance", and of being brought to power by "proprietary
influence, court favour, and the wealth and influence of the tools and
favourites who infest this city." 
In 1769, he started construction of the mansion that would become
known as the Chase–Lloyd House, which he sold unfinished in 1771.
The house is now a National Historic Landmark.
He co-founded Anne Arundel County's
Sons of Liberty
Sons of Liberty chapter with his
William Paca as well as leading opposition to the 1765
From 1774 to 1776, Chase was a member of the Annapolis Convention. He
Maryland at the Continental Congress, was re-elected in
1776 and signed the United States Declaration of Independence.
He remained in the
Continental Congress until 1778. The involvement of
Chase in an attempt to corner the flour market, using insider
information gained through his position in the Congress, resulted in
his not being returned to the
Continental Congress and damaging his
In 1786, Chase moved to Baltimore, which remained his home for the
rest of his life. In 1788, he was appointed
Chief justice of the
District Criminal Court in
Baltimore and served until 1796. In 1791,
he became Chief Justice of the
Maryland General Court, again serving
On January 26, 1796, President
George Washington appointed Chase as an
associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Chase
served on the Court until his death on June 19, 1811.
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President Thomas Jefferson, alarmed at the seizure of power by the
judiciary through the claim of exclusive judicial review, led his
party's efforts to remove the Federalists from the bench. His allies
in Congress had, shortly after his inauguration, repealed the
Judiciary Act of 1801, abolishing the lower courts created by the
legislation and terminating their Federalist judges despite lifetime
appointments; Chase, two years after the repeal in May 1803, had
denounced it in his charge to a
Baltimore grand jury, saying that it
would "take away all security for property and personal liberty, and
our Republican constitution will sink into a mobocracy." Earlier in
April 1800, Chase acting as a district judge, had made strong attacks
upon Thomas Cooper who had been indicted under the Alien and Sedition
Acts; Chase had taken the air of a prosecutor rather than a judge.
Also in 1800, when a grand jury in
New Castle, Delaware
New Castle, Delaware declined to
indict a local printer, Chase refused to discharge them, saying he was
aware of one specific printer that he wished them to indict for
seditious behavior. Jefferson saw the attack as indubitable bad
behavior and an opportunity to reduce the Federalist influence on the
judiciary by impeaching Chase, launching the process from the White
House when he wrote to Congressman
Joseph Hopper Nicholson of Maryland
asking: "Ought the seditious and official attack [by Chase] on the
principles of our Constitution . . .to go unpunished?"
John Randolph of Roanoke
John Randolph of Roanoke took up the challenge
and took charge of the impeachment. The House of Representatives
served Chase with eight articles of impeachment in late 1804, one of
which involved Chase's handling of the trial of John Fries. Two more
focused on his conduct in the political libel trial of James
Callender. One article covered Chase's conduct with the New Castle
grand jury, charging that he "did descend from the dignity of a judge
and stoop to the level of an informer by refusing to discharge the
grand jury, although entreated by several of the said jury so to do."
Three articles focused on procedural errors made during Chase's
adjudication of various matters, and an eighth was directed at his
“intemperate and inflammatory … peculiarly indecent and unbecoming
… highly unwarrantable … highly indecent” remarks while
"charging" or authorizing a
Baltimore grand jury. The United States
Senate—controlled by the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans—began
the impeachment trial of Chase in early 1805, with Vice President
Aaron Burr presiding and Randolph leading the prosecution.
All the counts involved Chase's work as a trial judge in lower circuit
courts. (In that era, Supreme Court justices had the added duty of
serving as individuals on circuit courts, a practice that was ended in
the late 19th century.) The heart of the allegations was that
political bias had led Chase to treat defendants and their counsel in
a blatantly unfair manner. Chase's defense lawyers called the
prosecution a political effort by his Republican enemies. In answer to
the articles of impeachment, Chase argued that all of his actions had
been motivated by adherence to precedent, judicial duty to restrain
advocates from improper statements of law, and considerations of
The Senate voted to acquit Chase of all charges on March 1, 1805. He
is the only U.S. Supreme Court justice to have been impeached.
Alexander Pope Humphrey recorded in the
Virginia Law Register an
account of the impeachment trial and acquittal of Chase.
The impeachment raised constitutional questions over the nature of the
judiciary and was the end of a series of efforts to define the
appropriate extent of judicial independence under the Constitution. It
set the limits of the impeachment power, fixed the concept that the
judiciary was prohibited from engaging in partisan politics, defined
the role of the judge in a criminal jury trial, and clarified judicial
independence. The construction was largely attitudinal as it modified
political norms without codifying new legal doctrines.
The acquittal of Chase—by lopsided margins on several counts—set
an unofficial precedent that many historians say helped ensure the
independence of the judiciary. As Chief Justice William Rehnquist
noted in his book Grand Inquests, some senators declined to convict
Chase despite their partisan hostility to him, apparently because they
doubted that the mere quality of his judging was grounds for removal.
All impeachments of federal judges since Chase have been based on
allegations of legal or ethical misconduct, not on judicial
performance. For their part, federal judges since that time have
generally been much more cautious than Chase in trying to avoid the
appearance of political partisanship.
Samuel Chase died of a heart attack in 1811. He was interred in what
is now Old Saint Paul's Cemetery.
^ Scharf, John Thomas (1879). History of Maryland: 1765-1812.
^ a b c d e f "Chase, Samuel (1741–1811)".
Maryland Online Encyclopedia, a joint project of
Maryland Historical Society, the
Maryland Humanities Council, the
Enoch Pratt Free Library, and the
Maryland State Department of
Education. 2005. Archived from the original on May 9, 2008. Retrieved
December 5, 2007.
^ a b c d e f "Samuel Chase". The Supreme Court Historical Society.
Archived from the original on July 13, 2007. Retrieved December 5,
^ "Marbury v. Madison: Nail-Biting Drama?". Legalities, ABC News Blog.
Retrieved August 27, 2009.
^ "Biography of Anne Baldwin Chase - Colonial Hall".
^ Sanderson, John J, p. 67, Biography of the Signers To the
Declaration of Independence, Volume 5, published by R W Pomery (1823).
Retrieved January 21, 2010.
^ Rehnquist, William H. Grand Inquests: The Historic Impeachments of
Samuel Chase and President Andrew Johnson. Quill: 1992, p. 52.
^ "The Sedition Act Trials – Historical Background and Documents".
Federal Judicial Center. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
^ Jerry W. Knudson, "The Jeffersonian Assault on the Federalist
Judiciary, 1802–1805: Political Forces and Press Reaction," American
Journal of Legal History 1970 14(1): 55–75; Richard Ellis, "The
Impeachment of Samuel Chase," in American Political Trials, ed. by
Michael R. Belknap (1994) pp. 57–76, quote on p. 64.
^ Humphrey, Alexander Pope (1899). "The Impeachment of Samuel Chase".
The Virginia Law Register. 5 (5): 281–302. doi:10.2307/1098896.
Retrieved December 29, 2017.
^ Keith E. Whittington, "Reconstructing the Federal Judiciary: The
Chase Impeachment and the Constitution," Studies in American Political
Development 1995 v9#1: 55–116.
^ Richard Lillich, "The Chase Impeachment," American Journal of Legal
History 1960 4(1): 49–72.
^ "Christensen, George A. (1983) Here Lies the Supreme Court:
Gravesites of the Justices, Yearbook". Archived from the original on
September 3, 2005. Retrieved September 3, 2005. Supreme Court
Historical Society at Internet Archive.
^ See also, Christensen, George A., Here Lies the Supreme Court:
Revisited, Journal of Supreme Court History, Volume 33 Issue 1, pp.
17–41 (February 19, 2008), University of Alabama.
Abraham, Henry J. (1992). Justices and Presidents: A Political History
of Appointments to the Supreme Court (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford
University Press. ISBN 0-19-506557-3.
Cushman, Clare (2001). The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated
Biographies, 1789–1995 (2nd ed.). (Supreme Court Historical Society,
Congressional Quarterly Books). ISBN 1-56802-126-7.
Frank, John P. (1995). Friedman, Leon; Israel, Fred L., eds. The
Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major
Opinions. Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 0-7910-1377-4.
Hall, Kermit L., ed. (1992). The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court
of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press.
Haw, James; F. F. Beirne; R. S. Jett (1980). Stormy Patriot: the Life
of Samuel Chase. Baltimore:
Maryland Historical Society.
Martin, Fenton S.; Goehlert, Robert U. (1990). The U.S. Supreme Court:
A Bibliography. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Books.
Papenfuse, Edward C (July 1, 1987). Biographical Dictionary of the
Maryland Legislature. 2 Vol. Set. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins
University Press. ISBN 0-8018-3570-4.
The Impeachment of Justice Samuel Chase.
Urofsky, Melvin I. (1994). The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical
Dictionary. New York: Garland Publishing. p. 590.
Wikisource has the text of a 1999 New International Encyclopedia
article about Samuel Chase.
Samuel Chase at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public
domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
ColonialHall.com: Samuel Chase
Samuel Chase, Freedom Firebrand – Delmarva Heritage Series
Oyez Project, Supreme Court media, Samuel Chase.
Samuel Chase, Supreme Court Historical Society.
Booknotes interview with
William Rehnquist on Grand Inquests: The
Historic Impeachments of Justice
Samuel Chase and President Andrew
Johnson, July 5, 1992.
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Signers of the United States Declaration of Independence
Physical history of the Declaration of Independence, Memorial
Marshall Court (1801–1835)
Criminal law (list)
Judiciary Act of 1789
Crimes Act of 1790
Judiciary Act of 1793
Midnight Judges Act
Midnight Judges Act (1801)
Judiciary Act of 1802
Crimes Act of 1825
Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States
S. P. Chase
Note: Seats 5 and 7 are defunct
Supreme Court of the United States
The Ellsworth Court
Oliver Ellsworth (1796–1800)
The Marshall Court
John Marshall (1801–1835)
H. B. Livingston
H. B. Livingston
ISNI: 0000 0000 2303 6066
US Congress: C000334