A House Divided: How Ohio Politics Shaped the Civil War

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Medill, William

William Medill was the twenty-second governor of Ohio. Though he was born in Deleware, he spent much of his adult life in Ohio where he became a prominent politician. Medill served as a representative in the Ohio House of Representatives for four consecutive terms and was even elected Speaker of the House in 1836 and 1837.

In 1838 Medill, a Democrat, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was relected in 1840, but in 1842 he was not reelected for a third term. Despite this defeat, Medill's political career continued to flourish. In 1845 President James K. Polk appointed him as second assistant postmaster general and was reappointed as commissioner of Indian affairs a short time later. Medill held the position of commisioner until the end of Polk's presidency and then returned to Ohio.

Back in Ohio Medill quickly involved himself in state politics again, becoming a delegate to the Ohio Constitutional Convention in 1850. The convention was responsible for preparing the Ohio Constitution of 1851. For the first time in Ohio history the new constitution established a position of lieutenant governor, in which Medill was the first elected to hold this position. And, in 1853 when Governor Reuben Wood resigned to accept his appointment to the United States Consul to Chile, Medill replaced him as governor. Medill won a second term as governor in 1853.

In 1855 Medill faced a fierce opponent in the next governor's race: Salmon P. Chase, a member of the newly formed Republican Party.

Salmon P. Chase

Salmon P. Chase was a lawyer and well known Abolitionist. After James Birney was arrested for helping a runaway slave escape, Chase defended him in court. Chase also defended runaway slaves, an activity that prompted Southerners to refer to him as the "Attorney General of Fugitive Slaves." Though Chase was unsuccessful in these cases, he won the veneration of the African American community for his efforts.

Originally a member of the Whig Party, Chase helped develop numerous new political parties focusing on the end of slavery. In the 1840s Chase helped in the creation of the Liberty Party and in 1848 he helped organize the Free Soil Party in Ohio. Ironically, the Free Soil Party and Democrats worked together to elect Chase to the U.S. Senate in 1850. While in the senate, Chase worked tirelessly to fight the expansion of slavery. He opposed the Fugitive Slave Act and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Because of Chase's stance on slavery, he quickly became involved in the forming of yet another political party in Ohio; the Fusion Party. The party soon became known as the Republican Party.

In 1855 Chase entered the governor's race in Ohio. He ran against William Medill and former governor Allen Trimble.* Slavery was the predominant issue during the election and Chase won by a significant margin. Chase served as governor until 1860, when he returned to the U.S. Senate. Chase was only a senator for a couple of days. President Abraham Lincoln appointed him as secretary of the treasury. Chase accepted and resigned from his seat in the Senate. It was during Chase's years as Secretary of the Treasury when the United States began to print "In God We Trust" on all currency.

Lincoln and Chase did not always see eye to eye, but they shared a mutual respect for each other. Even though Chase resigned as secretary in 1864, Lincoln quickly reappointed him to another position; the Supreme Court as Chief Justice. Chase held this position for only a short time before Lincoln was assassinated. In 1865 Chase was responsible for swearing in Andrew Johnson as president.

*Allen Trimble was Ohio's eighth governor. When he was elected governor in 1822 he was a member of the Federalist Party. During the 1855 election he identified himself with the Know-Nothing Party (also known as the American Party).

To find out more about William Medill visit http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=270&nm=William-Medill

To find out more about Salmon P. Chase visit http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=92