Uncle Solon Chase of Turner, Maine, holds a unique place among this nation’s colorful politicians.

His fame comes mostly from Greenback Party speeches he made in the late 1870s on national tours with “Them Steers.”

Chase became widely known from photos of him with a flowing white beard standing next to his prized pair of farm animals that he used as examples as he preached the gospel of greenbackism.

The Greenback Movement opposed a return to the use of gold for currency and supported paper money.

Chase took the steers he had raised and trained, and his rustic ox cart all around the country, appearing before crowds in places such as Madison Square Garden in New York City.

In a famous speech repeated countless times, he said, “Them steers, while they grew well, shrank in value as fast as they grew.” He told audiences, “Inflate the currency, and you raise the price of my steers and at the same time pay the public debt.”

A vivid representation of Uncle Solon appeared in a feature story by Sam E. Connor, a prolific Lewiston Evening Journal writer, in a Feb. 7, 1942, edition of the paper’s magazine section. Connor highlighted Uncle Solon’s life as a simple farmer and orchardist, with one particularly unusual period of political fame.
Chase’s steers were sleek, well-trained and attractive animals.

City crowds admired them and when Uncle Solon, wearing his long-legged cowhide pants, teamed them with his long oak goad stick into a public square, the combination drew a crowd, Connor wrote. His appearances were the sensation of the day.

Newspapers around the country, regardless of party affiliation, gave him good stories.

Chase parlayed his “Them Steers” speech into a yearlong tour. It’s not told how the trips were financed or how the logistics of transporting “Them Steers” and the ox cart was accomplished.

In the elections of 1878, the high-water mark of the movement, about a million votes were cast for Greenback candidates.

Much of Chase’s financial philosophy was set forth in his newspaper called “Chase’s Chronicles” which he published in Turner and Auburn. It was subtitled “The Poor Man’s Paper — Good Easy Reading.”

Connor said Chase was unshakably confident that the use of paper money, then called greenbacks, would bring the greatest prosperity and security to the nation.
“Uncle Solon believed in this as thoroughly as he did in his Bible, which he studiously read,” Connor said.

“Being a positive man, he pulled no punches. He said what he thought, both as to the principles of the other two great parties and of their members. Some of his comments were tart and aroused the tempers of men. As a result plans were made here and in Lewiston and Auburn to obliterate the Chronicle.”

Connor wrote that a group of men journeyed to Chase’s Mills in Turner to destroy the printing plant Uncle Solon had established there.

“Word of what was brewing reached Uncle Solon and, with the aid of his associates, the plant was loaded onto a sled and ‘Them Steers’ were hitched to it, so that when the men arrived the place was as bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard,” Connor wrote.

“Chase’s Chronicles” endured as a genealogical publication into the 1900s. In 1910, the periodical recalled Solon Chase as “one of the most engaging, humorous, logical and convincing public speakers ever reared in America. He had a quaint mannerism of the pioneer Yankee; a rough and ready repartee; a winsome and engaging manner; keen logical mind; mastery of facts and figures; personal magnetism of such powerful force as to hold audiences spellbound for hours; masterful and magnetic kindness and humanism; sincere belief in his dogma; and was able to debate his subject with the masters of the times and not come away second best.”

As a young man, Chase received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, but he was unable to serve because of health problems.

He was a member of the Whig Party prior to the Civil War. During the Civil War, he joined the Republican Party and served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives.

Uncle Solon Chase died in 1909.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]

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