Samuel Chase signed the Declaration of Independence and was appointed by President George Washington as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Born April 17, 1741, the son of an Anglican clergyman, Samuel Chase was homeschooled till age 18. He traveled to Annapolis, Maryland, studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1761. In 1764, Samuel Chase was elected to the Maryland General Assembly.
With a reputation as a firebrand, he founded a Maryland chapter of The Sons of Liberty to protest the Stamp Act of 1765 and the British Government’s usurpation of citizen’s rights. At the age of 24, Samuel Chase challenged the authority of the English Parliament to tax the colonists without their consent and forcibly opened the public offices in Annapolis, seized the hated stamps and destroyed them.
When Maryland learned that Boston’s harbor had been closed in 1774 to punish the Tea Party colonists, Samuel Chase and four other Marylanders were appointed as delegates to the Continental Congress for “agreeing on a general plan of conduct, operating on the commercial connection of the colonies with the mother country, for the relief of Boston and preservation of American liberty.”
Samuel Chase served on dozens of committees, and in the spring of 1776, even traveled with Ben Franklin and Charles Carroll of Carrollton in an unsuccessful attempt to get Canada to join the Revolution. Samuel Chase, more than any other, was responsible for persuading Maryland to vote for independence.
On Aug. 2, 1776, Samuel Chase, along with other Maryland delegates William Paca, Thomas Stone and Charles Carroll of Carrollton, signed the Declaration.
At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, political intrigues arose to remove George Washington from being commander in chief. Samuel Chase staunchly supported Washington.
After the war, at Maryland’s 1788 Convention to decide whether to accept the new United States Constitution, Samuel Chase initially voted against it, as he thought the states were relinquishing too much control. In a letter he signed “Caution,” (Maryland Journal, Oct. 12, 1787), Samuel Chase warned of the rush to adopt the Constitution: “Suspicion should take the alarm. … Questions of consequence … ought not to be hastily decided. … The decision, for or against the plan … involves no less than the happiness or misery of you and all your posterity forever.”
In 1788, Samuel Chase was appointed chief justice of Baltimore’s District Criminal Court, and in 1791, he became chief justice of the Maryland General Court. In 1796, President George Washington appointed Samuel Chase as an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.
A controversial personality, Samuel Chase had articles of impeachment filed against him in 1804, but he was acquitted of all charges.
Samuel Chase was one of the most influential justices on the early Supreme Court, following Chief Justice John Marshall. Samuel Chase served on the U.S. Supreme Court till his death, June 19, 1811.
As was the practice at the time, U.S. Supreme Court Justices also served on lower courts. In the Massachusetts Supreme Court case of M’Creey’s Lessee v. Allender, 4 H. & Mett. 259, 1799, Justice Samuel Chase was decisive in determining if Irish emigrant Thomas M’Creery had indeed become a naturalized United States citizen and therefore able to leave an estate to a relative in Ireland.
“Thomas M’Creery, in order to become … naturalized according to the Act of Assembly … on the 30th of September, 1795, took the oath … before the Honorable Samuel Chase, Esquire, then being the Chief Judge of the State of Maryland … and did then and there receive from the said Chief Judge, a certificate thereof. … ‘Maryland; I, Samuel Chase, Chief Judge of the State of Maryland, do hereby certify all whom it may concern, that … personally appeared before me Thomas M’Creery, and did repeat and subscribe a declaration of his belief in the Christian Religion, and take the oath required by the Act of Assembly of this State, entitled, An Act for Naturalization.'”
Justice Samuel Chase rendered the court’s decision in the Maryland Supreme Court case of Runkel v. Winemiller, 1799: “Religion is of general and public concern, and on its support depend, in great measure, the peace and good order of government, the safety and happiness of the people. By our form of government, the Christian religion is the established religion; and all sects and denominations of Christians are placed upon the same equal footing, and are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty.”
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