July 16, 1859

Frank Bellew


Civil War, Finances; Presidential Administration, Abraham Lincoln; Wars, American Civil War;

Chase, Salmon P.; Lincoln, Abraham; Tod, David;


Mr. Lincoln. "Mike, remove the Salmon and bring me a Tod."

Mike. "The Tod's out; but can't I fitch something else, Sir."

After enduring three years of his talented but trying secretary of the treasury, Salmon P. Chase, President Abraham Lincoln finally accepted one of the secretary's periodic proffers of resignation.  As the president explained to his personal secretary, John Hay, "I thought I could not stand it any longer."  As Chase's replacement, Lincoln first turned to David Tod, former governor of Ohio, who declined the position.  The president then appointed Senator William Fessenden of Maine as treasury secretary.  In this cartoon, Lincoln, after having devoured Chase the salmon, requests that his Irish waiter bring him a "Tod."  He is informed, however, that Tod is unavailable.

Born in 1805, David Tod was the son of a prominent Ohio judge, and became a practicing attorney in 1827.  In 1838, he was elected as a Democrat to the Ohio State Senate, where he supported banking regulation and a bill requiring runaway slaves to be returned to their masters in the South.  (In the same period, Chase, an active abolitionist, was becoming known as the "Attorney General for Fugitive Slaves" in Ohio.)  Tod did not seek a second term in 1840, but campaigned tirelessly for other Democratic candidates.  He did attempt to return to the state senate in 1844 and 1846, but was narrowly defeated both times.

In March 1847, President James K. Polk named Tod as U.S. minister to Brazil, where he served until 1851.  Back in Ohio, Tod became wealthy by investing in railroads, coal mines, and iron foundries.  In 1858, he was soundly defeated for congress in a race in which he exhibited little interest.  In 1860, he served as chairman of the Northern Democratic National Convention in Baltimore, and then campaigned actively for its presidential nominee, Senator Stephan A. Douglas of Illinois.

When the Civil War began in April 1861, Tod became a War Democrat who joined with the Republicans in united support for the Union war effort.  That summer, the Union Party, a coalition of Republicans and War Democrats, nominated Tod for governor of Ohio, and he easily defeated his Democratic opponent in the fall.  Tod worked hard as a war governor to supply troops for the Union military and to provide for their needs, including adequate equipment, rations, transportation, pay, and health care.  In 1862, however, the Peace Democrats, who favored a ceasefire and negotiated settlement, won control of Ohio's other state offices and most of its congressional seats.

In 1863, Tod maneuvered to secure his gubernatorial renomination by the Union Party.  Salmon Chase, however, was not pleased by the idea.  Like other Ohio Republicans, the treasury secretary did not like how Tod had appointed so many of his old Democratic allies to state posts, and was concerned about the governor's lack of commitment to the Emancipation Proclamation (which had just gone into effect).  At the party's convention that summer, Chase's surrogates prevented Tod's renomination.  It is uncertain whether they were acting directly on instructions from Chase, which he denied, but Tod and his supporters blamed the treasury secretary.

At the time, Chase was angling to grab the Republican presidential nomination away from Lincoln, and he was supported in that effort by a group of radical Republicans dismayed with Lincoln's mild Reconstruction plan (announced in December 1863).  In February 1864, the Chase campaign circulated two pamphlets, both calling for a new president and the second one explicitly designating Chase as the man for the job.  Rather than generate support, its publication created an anti-Chase backlash, prompting even the Republicans of his home state to endorse the presidentís reelection.  With the collapse of his trial balloon, Chase announced on March 5 that he was not a candidate for the presidential nomination. 

In late June 1864, Chase offered to resign his cabinet post, an empty gesture the secretary had made several times before.  This time, however, the president accepted it.  Without consulting with advisors, Lincoln nominated former governor Tod to replace Chase as treasury secretary.  Besides rewarding an important electoral state by naming another Ohioan, the president considered Tod a friend who had served the Union cause well.  Lincoln may also have intended it as an implicit insult to Chase.  

The announcement of the nomination, however, brought criticism from influential politicians and the press.  Senator Fessenden, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, urged the president to withdraw the nomination, but Lincoln remained firm.  The New York Herald joked that Tod knew "no more of finances than a post."  The president was quickly saved from further embarrassment when Tod telegraphed that he had to decline the offer because of poor health.  (He had previously suffered several bouts of apoplexy, which finally killed him in 1868.)

The next day, Lincoln sent Fessenden's name to the Senate, which took two minutes to approve the appointment.  Fessenden had not discussed the matter with the president, so was shocked to learn that he was the new treasury secretary.  Content in the Senate and ailing in health, Fessenden declined the offer.  Lincoln, though, insisted that the senator take the cabinet post out of a sense of national duty, and a flood of positive telegrams from bankers and other finance officers bolstered the president's position.  Fessenden reluctantly acquiesced, but served less than a year, returning to the Senate in early 1865.

In December 1864, President Lincoln appointed Chase chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, where he served until his death in 1873.  Tod continued to pursue his business interests and never served in public office again.

Robert C. Kennedy

April 19, 2024

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