Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary

Ben Tarnoff has written a short piece for the New York Times blog on Salmon P. Chase and his contributions to the Union war effort. Here’s a sample:

A solemn man with tremendous self-discipline and unfaltering faith in himself, Treasury Secretary Chase faced the greatest challenge of his career — and the most urgent of the many problems plaguing the Union in those tense months after Fort Sumter. President Lincoln had given him the unenviable task of figuring out how to fund the war. Chase landed the job not because of any financial experience — he had none — but as a reward for supporting Lincoln at the Republican convention.

Neither of them could have anticipated how important a position it would become. Upon taking office on March 7, 1861, Chase inherited an epic mess. At the opening of the Civil War, the Treasury was a bureaucratic tangle of independent fiefdoms, marred by decades of mismanagement. The government had run a deficit every year since 1857, and revenue from taxes and tariffs, its principal source of income, had fallen dramatically. Lincoln commanded a poorly provisioned army of fewer than 20,000 men. He needed guns, ships, tents, uniforms. The war would be expensive, and Lincoln didn’t have time to find the money to fight it. For that, he needed Chase.

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