Roger B. Taney
Chief Justice who promoted slavery despite his beliefsby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
"Slavery is a blot on our national character, and every real lover of freedom confidently hopes that it will be effectually, though it must be gradually, wiped away…" (http://www.npg.si.edu/exh/brady/gallery/22gal.html) Roger B. Taney declared.
Taney was a man considered of high stature, an eloquent speaker, and above all a strong personality to stand up for what he believed in. The first thing that comes to a person that hears the name Roger B. Taney would be his infamous Dread Scott decision. This case would become something worse and more powerful than he would ever know. Taney declared that “All blacks- slaves or not… (Appleton’s Encyclopedia)” were not and never could not be citizens. This splintered the north from the south, brother turned from brother and our nation would never be the same.
Roger Brooke Taney, born on March 17, 1777 in Calvert County Maryland; his life would become something more than anyone ever thought. He was privately taught at home, and then later attended, and graduated Dickinson College, in 1795. After he finished completing his law studies, he went to work for a lawyer by the name of Jeremiah Chase; and soon afterward passed his bar exam in 1779. Taney’s father had always wanted him to become an ambitious politician; and Taney was very politically minded. In the fall of 1780, he was accepted to the House of Delegates and was the youngest member of that body. He was there for one full term; he would have stayed in office longer but did not win the next election. In January 1806 he was married to Anne Phebe Charlton Key, (she was the sister of Francis Scott Key who was a law student at Dickenson college with Taney) she was prestigious, and well refined. He started his political career but it would be five years before he would get his first big case, where he would defend General James Wilkinson. Mr. Wilkinson was charged with Court Marshal. Taney was so ecstatic to represent for such a public case that he denied payment for his defense. Later on in 1821, Taney would be counsel for a case known as Brown v. Kennedy; this case involved the question of “the original proprietary title to lands that had been reclaimed from the navigable waters of Maryland. (www.famousamericans.net/rogerbrooketaney/)”
Taney would be one of the first federalists to pass over into the Democratic Party; he supported Andrew Jackson for the Presidency of 1824. Taney would become Jackson’s most trusted cabinet member, and later Jackson would appoint Taney to Attorney General of Maryland. Roger Taney 2 years later found himself appointed to the position of Secretary of Treasure, on June 23, 1833. Then on June 24, of the same year, there was an uprising in the senate and Taney was forced to formally resign. In January of 1835, Gabriel Dural associate justice for the Supreme Court retired. Taney was immediately contacted for the position. He was astonished that he would be offered the job but he gratefully accepted only to be voted out again by the senate. Then upon the death of John Marshall in, 1836 Taney was a nominee for the position of Chief Justice and won with 29 votes for, and 15 votes against. The first case Taney would preside over would be known as the case of Briscoe vs. the Bank of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
“In the ease of Briscoe vs. the Bank of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the court reversed the decision of Marshall, who held that the act establishing the bank was a violation of the provision of the constitution that restrains states from emitting bills of credit. In the Charles-river-bridge suit, he delivered a judgment under which state legislatures were free to authorize bridges, railroads, and similar improvements without regard to implied contracts in former grants and monopolies. These decisions almost impelled Justice Joseph Story to resign, and caused Chancellor James Kent to say that he had lost confidence in the constitutional guardianship of the Supreme Court. (Appleton’s Encyclopedia Copyright 2001 Virtually)”
Taney had presided over a few other minor cases before Prigg vs. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This case was significant because it would be the first case that he would declare a law unconstitutional.
In the years to follow, he would preside over many cases, one of which is said to be the start of the civil war. This Court case would live on forever; Dred Scott v. The United States of America. Dred Scott was a slave of an army surgeon named John Emerson; Scott was from Missouri and not really a slave. Emerson allowed him to go where he pleased, and do what he wanted. He was Emerson’s right hand man. The two men were great friends and knew each other very well. Emerson wanted to move to Illinois in the North, so Scott would be a free man. Even though Scott was free he decided to live with Emerson. When Emerson took to his deathbed, he wanted to go home to Missouri. So, Scott returned with him to Missouri. He later learned that because he crossed back over to Missouri he was a slave again and could be re-sold as property. Dred Scott had been educated (paid for by Emerson) and decided to take the case to the court, because of the intenseness of this case it went to Chief Justice Roger B. Taney and five other judges. Taney was known for the ruling that Scott had no rights; a white was bound to respect. Taney also said that African Americans had no legal rights to take a case to the Supreme Court because they were not citizens, they were property. The repurcustions of that decision led to a stronger abolitionist movement in the North and a rationalistic entrenchment of the South who believed God had vindicated their position through the governmental powers "that exist have been instituted by God" (Rom.13:1). The impact of the Dred Scott case had in leading to the US Civil War was profound in turning brother against brother, as each sought to justify their position from the Bible.
As a tree is judged by its fruit, Taney's decision can be judged for its outcome. Although raised in a culture where "white was right", Taney chose to acknowledge that slavery was a “blot” on our Nation. Yet his rulings did nothing to remove the "blot". God fearing Christians know that "whatever is not done in faith is sin" (Rom.14:23). In ruling against his own convictions of what he knew to be right, Taney was in rebellion against God. It is amazing how one man's sin affected the course of the nation.