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Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase
Insists on Proper Funding for Soldiers
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Important letter to the chair of the Senate Finance Committee on how to pay for new conscripts and volunteers following Lincoln’s call for an additional 300,000 troops. Chase’s final version went to Fessenden on 11 January 1864. Fessenden’s “infernal tax bill” was introduced in May. After more than 300 amendments, it passed in June only one vote shy of unanimity.

SALMON PORTLAND CHASE. Autograph [draft] Letter Signed “S.P. Chase” as Secretary of the Treasury, to Sen. William P. Fessenden, no date [ca. January 1864], 7¾ x 9¾ in., 6 pp.

Inventory #22307       Price: $3,750

Partial Transcript:

Twenty one millions of dollars will probably be wanted for bounties to Veterans. The same likely to be required for recruits to fill up old regiments in the states; but if the number be assumed as equal to the number of veterans expected to reenlist, the amount required for the bounties will be 15.750.000. If one hundred thousand men are then obtained and the remainder of the three hundred thousand men called for be filled up by Volunteers for new organizations, the further sum of twelve millions will be needed… I must not omit, however, to observe that every addition to the appropriations demanded by existing estimates enhances the difficulty of obtaining the vast sums required to satisfy them. The first duty of the Republic to its soldiers & sailors is prompt payments & sure supplies. Payment cannot be brought or supplies be sure if appropriations exceed the probability of certain provision... If vigor & decision & earnestness in the work of suppressing the rebellion shall be attended by marked progress toward its consummation then large sums and the additional sums now required for bounties can, I think, be obtained at reasonable rates. But the whole of this additional sum...should be raised by taxation. No uncertainty can be safely allowed to attend to the question of prompt payment...

Historical Background

Congress contemplated a plan for awarding re-enlisting veterans an extra $102 in addition to the $300 enlistment bounty. Senator Fessenden asked Chase for his thoughts for its likely impact on the Treasury. Chase responds here with a detailed summary of anticipated costs, and adds a spirited plea to raise taxes to pay for it. Chase does not think the measure poses any dangers from a fiscal point of view.

Salmon Portland Chase (1808-1873) rose to prominence as an Ohio-based lawyer defending the rights of fugitive slaves. He then helped found the Liberty Party, the Free Soil Party (for which he coined the slogan, “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men”, and the Republican Party. He served as U.S. Senator, Governor of Ohio, and Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury. Lincoln accepted his third offer of resignation, in 1864. Chase had presidential ambitions, but because of his anti-slavery leadership he was appointed by Lincoln as the sixth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He presided over the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson in 1868, and appointed the first African-American attorney to argue cases before the Court.

William Pitt Fessenden (1806-1869), graduated from Bowdoin College, severed as a Representative and a Senator from Maine, and as Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury, 1864-1865.

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee during the Civil War, Fessenden was one of the architects of many of the nation’s wartime revenue policies. When the Revenue Act of 1861 failed to generate necessary funds, Fessenden revised a House revenue bill in early 1862. After consultation with members, lobbyists, and the Lincoln administration, Fessenden introduced “this infernal tax bill” in May, igniting two weeks of intense debate among senators. The Senate finally approved the bill with more than 300 amendments on June 6, 1862, with only dissenting vote—an indication of Fessenden’s adroit political skill.

It was his intimate knowledge of the nation’s wartime financial needs that led President Abraham Lincoln to nominate Fessenden as Secretary of the Treasury, a position he held from July 1864 until March 1865. The Maine legislature returned Fessenden to the Senate in 1865 and he served until his death in Portland, Maine, in September 1869.

In 1868, a year before his death, Fessenden was one of seven Republican Senators to oppose the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. The 35/19 vote was only one short of the 2/3 needed to remove the president.


Minor even toning. Pages are joined with period metal punch dread.

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