Roger B. Taney
|5th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court|
March 15, 1836 – October 12, 1864
|Nominated by||Andrew Jackson|
|Preceded by||John Marshall|
|Succeeded by||Salmon Chase|
|12th United States Secretary of the Treasury|
September 23, 1833 – June 25, 1834
|Preceded by||William Duane|
|Succeeded by||Levi Woodbury|
|11th United States Attorney General|
July 20, 1831 – November 14, 1833
|Preceded by||John Berrien|
|Succeeded by||Benjamin Butler|
United States Secretary of War
June 18, 1831 – August 1, 1831
|Preceded by||John Eaton|
|Succeeded by||Lewis Cass|
Roger Brooke Taney
March 17, 1777
Calvert County, Maryland, United States
October 12, 1864
Washington, D.C., United States
|Political party||Democratic Party (1828–1864)|
|Federalist Party (Before 1828)|
|Alma mater||Dickinson College|
Roger Brooke Taney (; March 17, 1777 – October 12, 1864) was the fifth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, holding that office from 1836 until his death in 1864. He was the eleventh United States Attorney General. He is most remembered for delivering the majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), that ruled, among other things, that African-Americans, having been considered inferior at the time the Constitution was drafted, were not part of the original community of citizens and, whether free or slave, could not be considered citizens of the United States.Taney was a Jacksonian Democrat when he became Chief Justice.[upper-alpha 1] Taney was a believer in states' rights but also the Union; a slaveholder who manumitted his slaves. From Prince Frederick, Maryland, he had practiced law and politics simultaneously and succeeded in both. After abandoning the Federalist Party as a losing cause, he rose to the top of the state's Jacksonian machine. As U.S. Attorney General (1831–1833) and then Secretary of the Treasury (1833–1834), Taney became one of Andrew Jackson's closest advisers, assisting Jackson in his populist crusade against the powerful Bank of the United States.
". . . He brought to the Chief Justiceship a high intelligence and legal acumen, kindness and humility, patriotism, and a determination to be a great Chief Justice that enabled him to mold the modest raw material of the Court into an effective and prestigious institution."
In Dred Scott v. Sandford, an African-American slave named Dred Scott had appealed to the Supreme Court in hopes of being granted his freedom based on his having been brought by his masters to live in free territories. The Taney Court ruled that persons of African descent could not be, nor were ever intended to be, citizens under the U.S. Constitution, and thus the plaintiff (Scott) was without legal standing to file a suit. The framers of the Constitution, Taney famously wrote, believed that blacks "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it." The court also declared the Missouri Compromise (1820) unconstitutional, thus permitting slavery in all of the country's territories. Taney died during the final months of the American Civil War on the same day that his home state of Maryland abolished slavery.
- 1 Early life and career
- 2 Marriage and family
- 3 Career
- 4 Jackson Administration
- 5 The Taney Court, 1836–1864
- 6 Legacy
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Early life and career
Taney was born March 17, 1777. He was the third child and the second son of seven children (four sons and three daughters) born to a slaveholding family of tobacco planters in Calvert County, Maryland. He received a rudimentary education from a series of private tutors. After instructing him for a year, his last tutor, David English, recommended that Taney was ready for college. At the age of 15 he entered Dickinson College, graduating with honors in 1795. As a younger son with no prospect of inheriting the family plantation, Taney chose the profession of law. He read law and in 1799 was admitted to the bar. He quickly distinguished himself as one of Maryland's most promising young lawyers.
Marriage and family
In 1799, the same year he began practicing as an attorney, Taney was elected to the Maryland state legislature, where he served one term as a Federalist. Returning to private practice, he served as a director of the State Bank Branch in Frederick, Maryland from 1810 to 1815.
He was elected a state Senator in 1816, serving until 1821 - this time as a Democratic Republican, because the Federalist party had dissolved. He was also a director of the Frederick County Bank from 1818 to 1823, when he returned to private practice. When the 1824 presidential election divided the party between supporters and opponents of Andrew Jackson, Taney became a staunch Jacksonian Democrat. He was elected Attorney General of Maryland in 1827, but resigned in 1831, first to serve as acting United States Secretary of War, and then to accept President Jackson's nomination as Attorney General of the United States.
Among Taney's opinions as attorney general, two revealed his stand on slavery: one supported South Carolina's law prohibiting free Blacks from entering the state, and one argued that Blacks could not be citizens. In 1833, as secretary of the Treasury, Taney ordered an end to the deposit of Federal money in the Second Bank of the United States, an act which killed the institution. Jacksonian populists believed the bank was run for the benefit of wealthy coastal elites and acted detrimentally to the interests of poorer western and southern farmers.
Taney was the first nominee to the United States Executive Cabinet to be rejected by the United States Senate when his recess appointment as Secretary of the Treasury failed in a vote of 28-18. Rather than return to the position of Attorney General, however, Taney returned to Maryland and resumed private practice.
Supreme Court nominations
In January 1835 Jackson, in defiance of the Senate's rejection of Taney as Treasury Secretary, nominated Taney as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court to replace the retiring Gabriel Duvall. The Senate was scheduled to vote on Taney's confirmation on the closing day of the session that month, but the anti-Jackson Whigs who dominated the Senate blocked the vote and introduced a motion to abolish the open seat on the Court. The latter was unsuccessful, but the Whigs succeeded in preventing Taney's confirmation to the Court. (The seat was then left open for over a year until Philip Pendleton Barbour was confirmed to it in 1836.)
Two factors intervened to help Taney onto the Court, however: after the 1834 elections, Jacksonian Democrats controlled the Senate and, during the 1835 recess, Chief Justice John Marshall died following a stage coach accident. On December 28, 1835, Jackson sent the nomination of Taney as Chief Justice to the Senate, which had convened that month; after a long and bitter battle with considerable opposition from Whig leaders Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Jackson's former Vice President John C. Calhoun, Taney was confirmed on March 15, 1836 and received his commission the same day.
The Taney Court, 1836–1864
Unlike Marshall, who had supported a broad role for the federal government in the area of economic regulation, Taney and the other justices appointed by Jackson more often favored the power of the states. In a series of Commerce Clause cases exemplified by Mayor of the City of New York v. Miln (1837), wherein the challenged New York statute required masters of incoming ships to report information on all passengers they brought into the country, i.e. age, health, last legal residence, etc. The question before the Taney court was whether or not the state statute undercut Congress's authority to regulate commerce; or was it a police measure, as New York claimed, fully within the authority of the state. Taney and his colleagues sought to devise a more nuanced means of accommodating competing federal and state claims of regulatory power. The Court ruled in favor of New York.
The Taney Court also presided over the case of slaves who had taken over the Spanish schooner Amistad. Fellow Justice Joseph Story wrote the Court's decision and opinion. Taney sided with Story's opinion but left no written record of his own in regard to the Amistad case.
In Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge, the operators of the Charles River Bridge in Boston sued the operators of a new competing bridge, claiming that the state had granted them a monopoly to collect tolls. Taney argued that, although the Massachusetts legislature had granted the Charles River Bridge a charter to build a bridge, the object of the government was to promote general happiness, which took precedence over the rights of monopolies. Taney also held that the Massachusetts legislature never explicitly granted the Charles River Bridge a monopoly and that all monopolies must be explicitly granted to exist, following one of Marshall's precedents. In addition to this Taney declared that one session of a state legislature is not bound by previous decisions of the legislature.
In Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842), the Taney Court agreed to hear a case regarding slavery, slaves, slave owners, and States' Rights. It held that the Constitutional prohibition against state laws that would emancipate any "person held to service or labor in [another] state" barred Pennsylvania from punishing a Maryland man who had seized a former slave and her child, and had taken them back to Maryland without seeking an order from the Pennsylvania courts permitting the abduction. In his opinion for the Court, Justice Joseph Story held not only that states were barred from interfering with enforcement of federal fugitive slave laws, but that they also were barred from assisting in enforcing those laws. In a concurring opinion, Taney argued that the constitutional guarantee of slaveholders' rights to ownership and the prohibition in Article IV against preventing slaves' return to their masters in Southern states imposed a positive duty on states to enforce federal fugitive slave laws.
Taney was instrumental in the case of John Merryman, a citizen of the state of Maryland who, in the early years of the American Civil War, was accused of burning bridges and destroying telegraph poles. He was seized in his home at 2:00 am by military authorities and taken to Fort McHenry. His was the first arrest under President Abraham Lincoln's suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus.
Dred Scott decision
In 1857 the Court heard Dred Scott v. Sandford; its decision is considered to have indirectly been a cause of the Civil War. Despite the willingness of five members of the Court to dismiss the lawsuit by Dred Scott, on grounds situated in Missouri law governing who could sue and be sued, Taney wrote what came to be regarded as the opinion of the Court. His decision presented his version of the origins of the United States and the Constitution as the basis for his holding that Congress had no authority to restrict the spread of slavery into federal territories, and that such previous attempts to restrict slavery's spread as the 1820 Missouri Compromise were unconstitutional.
Of the nine associate justices at the time, James Moore Wayne, John Catron, Peter Vivian Daniel, Samuel Nelson, Levi Woodbury, Robert Cooper Grier and John Archibald Campbell agreed with Taney, while John McLean and Benjamin Robbins Curtis dissented; the latter was so upset by the decision that he resigned from the court.
The Dred Scott v. Sandford decision was widely condemned at the time by opponents of slavery as an illegitimate use of judicial power. Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party accused the Taney Court of carrying out the orders of the "slave power" and of conspiring with President James Buchanan to undo the Missouri Compromise. Current scholarship supports that second charge, as it appears that Buchanan put significant political pressure behind the scenes on Justice Robert Grier to obtain at least one vote from a justice from outside the South to support the Court's sweeping decision.
Taney's intemperate language only added to the fury of those who opposed the decision. As he explained his ruling, he noted that African Americans, free or slave, had not been considered part of the original community of people covered by the Constitution, but people of "an inferior order". Because they were originally excluded, he contended that neither the Court nor Congress could now extend rights of citizens to them. The text of Taney's statement reads:
|“||It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in regard to that unfortunate race which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted; but the public history of every European nation displays it in a manner too plain to be mistaken. They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.||”|
Some authors comment that "it seems unfair to quote the remark out of context which includes the phrase 'that unfortunate race,' etc." Others maintain that Taney's statement here is willfully blind to the 1772 decision of Lord Mansfield in Somerset v Stewart, although three members of the Taney court produce opinions that argue at length about this decision. Dissenting Justice Benjamin Robbins Curtis criticized Taney's version of the origins of the U.S. constitution, pointing out: "In some of the States [...] colored persons were among those qualified by law to act on this subject. These colored persons were not only included in the body of 'the people of the United States,' by whom the Constitution was ordained and established, but in at least five of the States they had the power to act, and doubtless did act, by their suffrages, upon the question of its adoption. It would be strange, if we were to find in that instrument anything which deprived of their citizenship any part of the people of the United States who were among those by whom it was established."
Taney's own attitudes toward slavery were more complex. He emancipated his own slaves and gave pensions to those who were too old to work. In 1819, he defended a Methodist minister who had been indicted for inciting slave insurrections by denouncing slavery in a camp meeting. In his opening argument in that case, Taney condemned slavery as "a blot on our national character."
Taney's attitudes toward slavery appeared to harden in support of the institution. By the time he wrote his Dred Scott opinion in 1857, he labeled the opposition to slavery as "northern aggression," a popular phrase among Southerners. He hoped that a Supreme Court decision declaring federal restrictions on slavery in the territories unconstitutional would put the issue beyond the realm of political debate. His decision galvanized Northern opposition to slavery while splitting the Democratic Party on sectional lines.
Many abolitionists — and some supporters of slavery — believed that Taney was prepared to rule that the states had no power to bar slaveholders from bringing their property into free states, and that laws of free states providing for the emancipation of slaves brought into their territory were unconstitutional. A case, Lemmon v. New York, that presented the issue was slowly making its way to the Supreme Court in the years after the Dred Scott decision, and the New York Court of Appeal had ruled in 1860. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court but never heard.
Taney personally administered the oath of office to Lincoln, his most prominent critic, on March 4, 1861. He remained on the Court and did not go South to the Confederacy. His legal actions, however, sometimes frustrated Lincoln. After Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus in parts of Maryland, Taney ruled as Circuit Judge in Ex parte Merryman (1861) that only Congress had the power to take this action. Lincoln ignored the court's order and continued to have arrests made without the privilege of the writ. Merryman was released to civil authorities and a federal grand jury in Baltimore charged him with treason on July 10, 1861. Taney, whose health had never been good, spent his final years in worsening health, near poverty, and despised by both North and South. Since the Merryman ruling, he was all but ignored by Lincoln and his cabinet. His yearly salary remained at approximately $10,000 and the failing health of his daughter Ellen, who lived with him, prevented him from moving to cheaper quarters. The miserable financial situation was maddening to him. A few months later Taney wrote "about peaceful, bygone days ... walks in the fresh country air. But my walking days are over." 
On October 13, 1864 the clerk of the Supreme Court announced that "the great and good Chief Justice is no more." He had died at the age of eighty-seven the previous evening, having served for more than twenty-eight years as the fifth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
President Lincoln made no public statement. Of his cabinet, Lincoln and three members — Secretary of State William H. Seward, Attorney General Edward Bates, and Postmaster General William Dennison — attended Taney's memorial service in Washington. Only Bates joined the cortège to Frederick, Maryland for Taney's funeral and burial at St. John the Evangelist Cemetery. Taney, whose wife had pre-deceased him by nine years, was survived by two daughters: the sickly Ellen, and a second, widowed daughter with a small child; he left a small life insurance policy and a bundle of worthless Virginia bonds.
Another Taney home is in Frederick, Maryland, where Taney lived and practiced law with partner Francis Scott Key, the author of "The Star Spangled Banner". The Roger Brooke Taney House "including the house, detached kitchen, root cellar, smokehouse and slaves quarters, interprets the life of Taney and his wife Anne Key (sister of Francis Scott Key), as well as various aspects of life in early nineteenth century Frederick County."
Taney remained a controversial figure and he was attacked by abolitionists in the Senate even after his death. In early 1865, the House of Representatives passed a bill to appropriate funds for a bust of Chief Justice Taney to be displayed in the Supreme Court alongside those of his four predecessors. In response, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts said:
- I speak what cannot be denied when I declare that the opinion of the Chief Justice in the case of Dred Scott was more thoroughly abominable than anything of the kind in the history of courts. Judicial baseness reached its lowest point on that occasion. You have not forgotten that terrible decision where a most unrighteous judgment was sustained by a falsification of history. Of course, the Constitution of the United States and every principle of Liberty was falsified, but historical truth was falsified also.
After the 1873 death of Taney's successor, Chief Justice Salmon Chase, Congress approved funds for busts of Taney and Chase to be displayed in the Capitol alongside the other chief justices.
Justice Benjamin Robbins Curtis, author of one of the dissents on Dred Scott, held his former colleague in high esteem despite their differences in that case. Writing in his own memoirs in 1872, Curtis described Taney:
- He was indeed a great magistrate, and a man of singular purity of life and character. That there should have been one mistake in a judicial career so long, so exalted, and so useful is only proof of the imperfection of our nature. The reputation of Chief Justice Taney can afford to have anything known that he ever did and still leave a great fund of honor and praise to illustrate his name. If he had never done anything else that was high, heroic, and important, his noble vindication of the writ of habeas corpus, and of the dignity and authority of his office, against a rash minister of state, who, in the pride of a fancied executive power, came near to the commission of a great crime, will command the admiration and gratitude of every lover of constitutional liberty, so long as our institutions shall endure
Modern legal scholars have tended to concur with Justice Curtis: that despite the Dred Scott decision, Taney was both an outstanding jurist and a competent judicial administrator. His mixed legacy was noted by Justice Antonin Scalia in his dissenting opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey:
There comes vividly to mind a portrait by Emanuel Leutze that hangs in the Harvard Law School: Roger Brooke Taney, painted in 1859, the 82d year of his life, the 24th of his Chief Justiceship, the second after his opinion in Dred Scott. He is all in black, sitting in a shadowed red armchair, left hand resting upon a pad of paper in his lap, right hand hanging limply, almost lifelessly, beside the inner arm of the chair. He sits facing the viewer, and staring straight out. There seems to be on his face, and in his deep set eyes, an expression of profound sadness and disillusionment. Perhaps he always looked that way, even when dwelling upon the happiest of thoughts. But those of us who know how the lustre of his great Chief Justiceship came to be eclipsed by Dred Scott cannot help believing that he had that case—its already apparent consequences for the Court, and its soon to be played out consequences for the Nation—burning on his mind.
Things named for Taney
- Taney County, Missouri, though it is usually pronounced , not .
- A street in Baltimore, Maryland.
- A street in Philadelphia.
- The Treasury-class US Coast Guard Cutter Taney. The ship is now part of the Baltimore Maritime Museum.
- The Liberty ship Roger B. Taney, commissioned on February 9, 1942. The ship undertook a 22-day, 2,600-mile journey in which it survived a hurricane and landed in the Bahamas. The ship was torpedoed in the South Atlantic on July 2, 1943. Three crew members died. 
- Roger B. Taney Middle School in Temple Hills, Maryland. After the population of the county changed to majority black, the school was renamed for Justice Thurgood Marshall.
- Newmyer, R. Kent, The Supreme Court under Marshall and Taney, University of Connecticut (1968), p. 93
- McNeal, J., "Roger Brooke Taney", The Catholic Encyclopedia, New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. Retrieved May 28, 2009 from New Advent.
- Newmyer, p. 95
- PBS: Dred Scott case
- Tyler, Samuel, Memoir of Roger Brooke Taney, LLD, p. 35, 1872
- "Roger Brooke Taney, class of 1795".
- "Roger Brooke Taney". NNDB: Tracking the Whole Entire World. Soylent Communications. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- "Nominations: Chapter 5: Andrew Jackson". United States Senate. Retrieved 2010-04-26. In the final week of the congressional session, Jackson nominated Attorney General Roger B. Taney as secretary of the treasury. Taney had been the architect of Jackson's plan to dismantle the bank. A day later, a pro-bank majority in the Senate, including both senators from Taney's Maryland, voted 18 to 28 to deny Taney the post, making him the first cabinet nominee to be openly rejected.
- Alan Brinkley, The Unfinished Nation, 227
- Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge
- eg. Blumrosen & Blumrosen, "Slave Nation", p.249
- Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857)
- Ariens, Michael. "Roger B. Taney". Michaelariens.com. Archived from the original on May 16, 2008. Retrieved 2012-05-26.
- Schwartz, Bernard (1995). A History of the Supreme Court. Oxford University Press. p. 114. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
- Burnham, Tom: "Dictionary of Misinformation" (1975) p.257
- Fox, John. "The First Hundred Years: Biographies of the Robes, Benjamin Robinson Curtis". .
- White, Jonathan W. (2011). Abraham Lincoln and Treason in the Civil War: The Trials of John Merryman. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press. p. 46.
- James F. Simon Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney: Slavery, Secession, and the President's War Powers (Simon and Schuster, 2006), p. 245-246.
- , YearbookHere Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the JusticesChristensen, George A. (1983) at the Wayback Machine (archived September 3, 2005) Supreme Court Historical Society at Internet Archive.
- Roger B. Taney by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848 - 1907) Marble, 1876 ca. United States Senate Arts and History.
- Konig, David Thomas; Finkelman, Paul; Bracey, Christopher Alan (2014). The Dred Scott Case: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Race and Law. Ohio University Press. p. 228.
- Simon,James,F., Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney,(Simon and Schuster, 2006) p. 268
- Steiner, Bernard Christian (1922). Life of Roger Brooke Taney: Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. p. 495.
- Religious affiliation of Supreme Court justices Justice Sherman Minton converted to Catholicism after his retirement. James F. Byrnes was raised as Catholic, but converted to Episcopalianism before his confirmation as a Supreme Court Justice.
- "Boston Globe article about Sotomayor's religion". Boston.com. Retrieved 2012-05-26.
- "Roger B. Taney", Maryland State Archives
- Taney Rd (1970-01-01). "taney road baltimore - Google Maps". Maps.google.com. Retrieved 2012-05-26.
- "Liberty Ship SS Roger B. Taney". Ahoy.tk-jk.net. Retrieved 2012-05-26.
- "School May Change Name To Thurgood Marshall".
- Abraham, Henry J. (1992). Justices and Presidents: A Political History of Appointments to the Supreme Court (3rd ed.). New York:
- Cushman, Clare (2001). The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789–1995 (2nd ed.). (Supreme Court Historical Society,
- Flanders, Henry (1874). The Lives and Times of the Chief Justices of the United States Supreme Court. Philadelphia: (at Google Books)
- Frank, John P. (1995). Friedman, Leon; Israel, Fred L., eds. The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions.
- Hall, Kermit L., ed. (1992). The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Huebner, Timothy S. (2003). The Taney Court, Justice Rulings and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio.
- ——— (2010). "Roger Taney and the Slavery Issue: Looking Beyond—and Before—Dred Scott".
- Lewis, Walker (1965). Without Fear or Favor: A Biography of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney. Boston: , focus on personal life
- Swisher, Carl B. Roger B. Taney (1935), full-length scholarly biography review of Swisher
- Simon, James F. (2006). Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney: Slavery, Secession, and the President's War Powers (Paperback ed.). New York:
- Urofsky, Melvin I. (1994). The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary. New York:
- VanBurkleo, Sandra F. and Bonnie Speck. "Taney, Roger Brooke"; Feb. 2000. Access Date: Oct 29 2014American National Biography Online
- White, G. Edward. in The American Judicial Tradition (2nd ed. 1988), chapter on Taney
- Roger B. Taney at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
- Biography from FindLaw.
- Capitalism and Conflict, Biographies of the Robes, Roger Taney.Fox, John, Public Broadcasting Service.
- Roger Brooke Taney memorial at Find a Grave.
- Oyez.org Supreme Court media on Roger B. Taney.
- Roger Brooke Taney Home/Museum in Frederick, MD.
Attorney General of Maryland
U.S. Attorney General
Served under: Andrew Jackson
1831 – 1833
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury
Served under: Andrew Jackson