Roger B. Taney

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Roger B. Taney, photographed by Mathew Brady
Taney's signature

Roger Brooke Taney (born March 17, 1777 in Calvert County , Maryland , † October 12, 1864 in Washington, DC ) was an American lawyer and politician. He was Minister of Justice , Minister of Finance and Chairman of the Supreme Court of the United States ( Supreme Court ).


Taney came from a wealthy Maryland slave-owning family who owed their wealth to growing tobacco . He studied at Dickinson College and graduated top of his class in 1795. Since his youth he was mainly interested in politics and justice. At the age of 23 he became a member of the Maryland House of Representatives for the Federal Party . Advocating the 1812 war , he temporarily left his party, but rejoined it towards the end of the decade and became a member of the Senate of his home state for five years . He then ran a private law firm for a few years without losing sight of politics. In 1831 he was appointed by President Andrew Jackson as Attorney General in his cabinet . He held this office until 1833. In the meantime he had converted to the Democrats and was a confidante of the President.

On September 23, 1833 Jackson named him the successor to Treasury Secretary William J. Duane after he and his predecessor Louis McLane had not complied with the President's request to dissolve the Second Bank of the United States and subsequently open government accounts at commercial banks . Taney, on the other hand, who as Justice Minister had already written a legal opinion on the admissibility of these steps, implemented the measures in the interests of the President. On June 25, 1834 he was replaced as Treasury Secretary by Levi Woodbury .

After the death of John Marshall he was appointed by Jackson to his successor as the highest federal judge of the USA; Taney became the first Catholic to hold a top state office in the USA. He held this office for 28 years until his death.

Roger B. Taney's activity as a federal judge

Portrait Taneys by Henry Ulke (1881, after a photograph)

In contrast to his predecessor Marshall, who had promoted the central government of the federal government, Taney often pleaded in favor of the individual states of the United States. Some judgments of his predecessor were checked by him and changed in his favor.

In the field of slavery, however, he did not advocate the principle of sovereignty of the individual states. In Taney's view, individual states such as B. Pennsylvania does not have the right to restrict slave owners' rights. Taney passed several judgments along these lines and contributed to deepening the differences between the northern and southern states in the run-up to the American Civil War .

The Dred Scott case

The best known of his decisions in the sense mentioned above was the judgment in the case of the slave Dred Scott , who was temporarily brought to the free north by his owner . Taney's verdict in Scott's case stated that this by no means had become a free man, but that after the death of his owner, he had to return to his heirs in the south. At the same time he denied Congress and the territories not yet organized as states the right, negotiated in arduous compromises, to prohibit slavery in these territories; this right only applies to individual states that have already been formed and, moreover, does not extend to citizens of other states who temporarily lived there. This judgment was described by the opponents of slavery as illegitimate and the judge was accused of abuse of office. Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party charged the Taney Supreme Court of being henchmen of slavery. Together with President James Buchanan , Taney tried to undermine federal laws such as the Kansas-Nebraska Act . In fact, it appears that Buchanan used his influence behind the scenes in this vein.

Taney's legal stance should further anger his opponents. He reiterated his opinion that Afro-Americans, enslaved or free, can never be citizens of a state because the Constitutional Fathers excluded it. At the time of the adoption of the Constitution, they had been viewed as "inferior beings" and completely incapable of associating with the white race on an equal footing; they would not have been given any rights worthy of protection at all. This understanding of the constitutional fathers is still binding.

Amazingly, Taney was more moderate in the private sphere. He emancipated his own slaves and even paid pensions to older slaves who were unable to work. In 1819 (before his time as chief federal judge), he had called slavery a national eyesore in a trial. This was a general trend in the southern states; At the beginning of the century, slavery was still widely regarded as a temporarily necessary evil, but by the middle of the 19th century many southerners saw it as a positive institution that made republican equality (of whites) possible in the first place.

His official stance, especially in the Dred Scott case, fueled the internal American conflict. He described the anti-slavery movement as the "aggression of the north". This phrase was often and fondly quoted by patriotic southerners. Taney had hoped that his decisions would put the opponents of slavery in their place and thus defuse political tensions. This was a fatal misjudgment by the now over 80-year-old judge.

Roger B. Taney during the Civil War

After the outbreak of the Civil War, Taney, unlike most other southerners in the capital, remained in office and declared his loyalty to the Union (probably because his home state Maryland also decided against secession), but quarreled with President Lincoln. In the Ex parte Merryman case, he denied the President's right to partially repeal the Habeas Corpus Act in Maryland. According to the constitution, this was allowed in cases of “invasion or rebellion” “when public safety requires it”. From the fact that this passage is in the constitution in the article on Congress and not in the article about the President, Taney concluded that only Congress had the authority to determine a case of "invasion or rebellion" and then the habeas To suspend corpus. Lincoln was angry with Taney and decided to ignore the judge.

Taney died in October 1864, six months before the end of the Civil War. His successor was Lincoln's previous Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase .

Taney remained a controversial figure even after his death. In 1865, Congress refused to have a bust erected in his honor. To this day, his decisions are controversial in American judicial history. In August 2017, in the 150th year of the Dred Scott decision and immediately after the dramatic events in Charlottesville , the State of Maryland had several memorials to Roger Taney removed from public space in advance without public debate, including the statue erected in front of Maryland State in 1872 House in Annapolis .


  • In Frederick, Maryland , a statue commemorates it.
  • A statue of him in Baltimore was dismantled in August 2017.
  • The "Roger B. Taney Middle School" in Temple Hills, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC, was named after him. When the school's ethnic makeup changed to predominantly African-American, the school changed its name to Thurgood Marshall School.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Leonidas W. Spratt: The Philosophy of Secession; A Southern View, Presented in a Letter Addressed to the Hon. Mr. Perkins of Louisiana, in Criticism on the Provisional Constitution Adopted by the Southern Congress at Montgomery, Alabama. February 13, 1861, accessed on August 15, 2019 (English, digitized in the project "Documenting the American South (DocSouth)" at the University Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).
  2. ^ Statue of first Catholic Supreme Court justice removed because he wrote Dred Scott decision. In: Crux. August 18, 2017, accessed August 18, 2017 .
  3. Eric Foner: Confederate Statues and 'Our' History. In: . August 20, 2017, accessed August 15, 2019 . For the context see also Hubert Wetzel: In America there is a cultural battle over equestrian statues. In: . August 13, 2017, archived from the original on August 15, 2019 ; accessed on August 15, 2019 .
  4. ^ School May Change Name To Thurgood Marshall. In: Orlando Sentinel . March 2, 1993, archived from the original on October 29, 2013 ; accessed on August 15, 2019 .

Web links

Commons : Roger B. Taney  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Roger B. Taney  - Sources and full texts (English)