Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Roger Taney May Get the Boot - Civil Rights Group Wants Bust Removed

From The Catholic Review [Archdiocese of Baltimore]:
A bust of the first Catholic Chief Justice of the United States may get booted from its prominent perch in front of Frederick’s City Hall if a group of civil rights activists gets its way.

Pointing to Chief Justice Roger Taney’s role in writing the controversial Dred Scott v. Sanford decision that declared blacks to be non-citizens and that made slavery legal in all territories, members of the Frederick chapter of the NAACP are calling on city leaders to take down the bust.

The movement has drawn a mixed response from the Catholic community, with some leaders arguing that it is wrong to remove a piece of art honoring a historic figure while others said the move could promote a sense of healing.

Guy Djoken, head of the NAACP in Frederick, did not return numerous calls and e-mails from The Catholic Review requesting comment about the controversy.

“We can look back and say the decision was a mistake and contrary to the teachings of the church, but he still was an important historic figure of the time,” said Monsignor Martin Feild, pastor of St. Joseph in Taneytown. St. Joseph’s marriage records include a Jan. 7, 1806 entry noting the wedding of Chief Justice Taney to Anne Key – sister of Star Spangled Banner author Francis Scott Key.

“He was interpreting the constitution as he saw it at the time,” said Monsignor Feild. “Eventually everyone began to realize he was wrong – just as everyone hopefully will understand the abortion decision was wrong.” Monsignor Feild noted that once people begin taking down historic figures of controversial Americans, it becomes difficult to make distinctions. He pointed out that former presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both slaveholders.

“If we do it with Taney, should we do it for them?” he asked.

Father Michael Roach, pastor of St. Bartholomew in Manchester and a local church historian, said Chief Justice Taney was a very important leader and a “pillar of the church.”

Chief Justice Taney was one of the longest-serving chief justices, leading the court from 1836-1864. Chief Justice Taney lived many years in Frederick County where he was a parishioner of St. John in Frederick. The chief justice, also a former Maryland Attorney General, U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, was a close friend of Father John DuBois, founder of what today is Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg and a former pastor of St. John. Chief Justice Taney was instrumental in supporting a public lottery that raised money to build a church at St. John. He is buried in the parish’s cemetery.

“Taney was regarded as a very good Catholic,” said Father Roach.

The historian noted that by the end of the 1850s, the political strength of the anti-Catholic Know-Nothing party was lessening, but many Americans continued to “despise” Catholics.

“It’s pretty impressive that he made it to the Supreme Court,” Father Roach said.

The pastor said he finds it “embarrassing that we’re trying to rewrite history” by removing the bust of Chief Justice Taney.

(emphasis added)

My Comments:
Here's to hoping that one day history will view Harry Blackmun and his contribution to American jurisprudence in the same light as Roger Taney and the Dred Scott decision.

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At 8/14/2007 9:35 AM, Blogger Brian said...

Taney’s decision was not wrong, so much in that it was a decision made according to the US Constitution. The real fault, as it usually does, lies with Congress for not facing the issue. Americans need to understand that Taney had no choice; he had to up hold the US Constitution, even as repugnant as slavery was.

The left continues too re-write history to suit its agenda. But until we teach the truth we will have the same mixed responses from Catholics as well as all Americans.

At 8/14/2007 9:56 AM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

Taney's decision was most definitely wrong. He read 2 things into the Constitution that were not there:

(1) That black Americans (regardless of whether they were slaves or not) could not be citizens of the United States, and
(2) That Congress had no power to regulate "property" in the federal territories.

Dred Scott was every bit as activist a decision as Roe.

At 8/14/2007 10:41 AM, Anonymous paul zummo said...

Let me echo Jay's observation that Dred Scott was a wrongly decided constitutional decision. An argument can be made that Taney made the right decision on the question of Scott's freedom, but Taney decided to take the opportunity to load the decision with dicta unrelated to the case. It's one thing to rule that Scott could not be freed, quite another to reach the absurd conclusion that Congress had absolutely no right to regulate as it did. It was an atrociously activist decision that marred what was otherwise excellent career.

At 8/14/2007 11:51 AM, Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

What's more, Dred Scott certainly contributed to the onset of the Civil War.

In finding that the federal government had no authority to regulate slavery in the federal territories, the decision implied that the individual had a right to own slaves.

There was a very real fear that the next ruling from the Taney court was going to find explicitly that the slaveowning was a right, and that the states had no authority to regulate slavery. With the stroke of a pen, it would have made every state a slave state.

In much the same way that Roe made every state an abortion state.

As to the topic of the original post, I'm no fan of Roger Taney, Catholic or not, but I do oppose trying to make unpersons of historical figures based on later assessments.

At 8/14/2007 12:59 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Paul and Jay;

Thanks for the correction and I stand corrected. I may have confused another case, or just generally confused.

At 8/14/2007 1:06 PM, Blogger Brian said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8/14/2007 1:10 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Jay or Paul;

Was there a case that the supreme ruled on prior to the Civil War that I may have confused the significance of? I am not a Civil War buff, but I am very embarrassed about my comment. I thought I had a good understanding of the legal issues prior to the war. Any light you can shed would be helpful.

At 8/14/2007 1:15 PM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

I think you've got the right case, and your argument is correct insofar as Scott's freedom is concerned (as Paul points out). The problem is that Taney didn't stop there, but opined that (1) Scott didn't even have standing to bring the case because, as one of African descent, he could not be a U.S. citizen; and (2) Congress had no power to regulate slavery in the federal territories.

Taney was himself a Southerner, and his reasons for the second overreach are quite obvious: if Congress had power to regulate slavery in the territories, then, arguably, it had the power to regulate (or even abolish) slavery in the states.

At 8/14/2007 1:16 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Thanks again!

At 8/14/2007 1:53 PM, Anonymous paul zummo said...


It also possible that you are thinking of a Taney decision that occurred during the Civil War related to Lincoln's denial of habeas corpus (can't recall the name). Taney ruled against Lincoln, probably correctly, but the decision was basically ignored.

At 8/14/2007 2:28 PM, Anonymous paul zummo said...

Ex Parte Merryman was the habeas corpus case. (I had to look it up.)


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