Roger Taney Monument (1872-2017)
Located at the courtyard of the Maryland State House from 1872 until 2017 the Roger Taney Monument commemorated Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney. A controversial figure in American history, Taney is best known for authoring the majority opinion on Dred Scott vs. Sandford (1857), known as the Dred Scott decision--asserting that black people, whether slave or free, could not be United States citizens. Taney also claimed that the Missouri Compromise, which restricted the expansion of slavery, was unconstitutional because in his opinion, it violated the property rights of slave owners to take the human beings they owned under the system of chattel slavery into northern states the same as they might any other piece of property. The statue of Taney was removed in August 2017. According to Maryland governor Larry Hogan's statement, "the time has come to make clear the difference between properly acknowledging our past and glorifying the darkest chapters of our history."
Backstory and Context
Born on a Maryland plantation in 1777, Roger Taney attended Dickinson College and then returned to Maryland to study law. In 1816, he was elected to the Maryland State Senate, and in 1827, he became the State Attorney General. He cultivated a relationship with General (then President) Andrew Jackson, who appointed him Secretary of the Treasury in 1833, and two years later nominated him to the US Supreme Court. Taney was confirmed in 1836. Today, he remains most remembered for his role in the Dred Scott vs. Sandford case in the 1850s.
Dred and Harriet Scott
Born into slavery in the 1790s, Dred Scott first lived in Virginia with Peter Blow, who then sold him in Missouri to an army surgeon, John Emerson. While with Emerson, Scott traveled to the Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery had been forbidden by the 1820 Missouri Compromise. In 1842, Dred moved back to St. Louis, Missouri. Following John Emerson's death, his widow hired out Dred, his wife Harriet, and their children to work for other families.
In 1846, Dred and Harriet sued for their freedom, arguing that their years of residency in free soil meant that they were free. A Missouri court agreed with the Scotts and granted them freedom in 1850, but Mrs. Emerson appealed, and the Missouri Supreme Court overruled this decision. Eventually, the case made its way up to the US Supreme Court. In 1857, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 against Scott, affirming that he was a slave and therefore had no right even to sue in federal court. Furthermore, the Court ruled the Missouri Compromise (outlawing slavery in northern territories) unconstitutional, on the grounds that it failed to comply with the Fifth Amendment: property (including slaves) should not be unlawfully seized. Chief Justice Roger Taney composed the majority opinion of the court.
Excerpts from Roger Taney's Opinion
The question is simply this: Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guarantied by that instrument to the citizen? One of which rights is the privilege of suing in a court of the United States in the cases specified in the Constitution. [...]
In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument.
It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in relation 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 inferior, that they 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 a profit could be made by it. This opinion was at that time fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race. It was regarded as an axiom in morals as well as in politics, which no one thought of disputing, or supposed to be open to dispute; and men in every grade and position in society daily and habitually acted upon it in their private pursuits, as well as in matters of public concern, without doubting for a moment the correctness of this opinion. [...]
And upon a full and careful consideration of the subject, the court is of opinion, that, upon the facts stated in the plea in abatement, Dred Scott was not a citizen of Missouri within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States, and not entitled as such to sue in its courts; and, consequently, that the Circuit Court had no jurisdiction of the case, and that the judgment on the plea in abatement is erroneous.
Upon these considerations, it is the opinion of the court that the act of Congress which prohibited a citizen from holding and owning property of this kind in the territory of the United States north of the line therein mentioned, is not warranted by the Constitution, and is therefore void; and that neither Dred Scott himself, nor any of his family, were made free by being carried into this territory; even if they had been carried there by the owner, with the intention of becoming a permanent resident. ["Chief Justice Taney," American History].
Consequences of Dred Scott v. Sandford
This case had far-reaching effects, as numerous politicians and American citizens reacted with alarm to the Supreme Court ruling. The Republican Party in particular, established in 1854 to curb slavery's expansion, fought back. In 1860, Republican politician Abraham Lincoln was elected to the US presidency, prompting the secession of multiple southern states and the Civil War. Roger Taney and his fellow Supreme Court justices may have been hoping to provide permanent answers to the controversies surrounding slavery, but instead, they provoked a fierce backlash.
Fate of the Taney Monument
This statue of Taney was unveiled in 1872 and remained in place at the Maryland State House in Annapolis until 2017. In the decades prior to its removal, state officials debated how best to handle the presence of the controversial statue. Some earlier solutions included adding explanatory plaques to contextualize Taney's career and constructing a monument to Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice to serve on the Supreme Court. While Maryland Governor Larry Hogan initially believed the Taney monument should stay, he changed his position in August 2017, following the violent white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia. Soon afterward, members of the State House Trust Board voted to remove Taney's statue.
Cox, Erin. "House Speaker Busch: Time to remove Taney statue from Maryland State House grounds." Baltimore Sun, August 14, 2017. http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/politics/bs-md-taney-statue-maryland-state-house-20170814-...
"The Dred Scott Decision." Digital History. Accessed August 24, 2017. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3282.
"History of Dred Scott." Washington University in St. Louis. Accessed August 24, 2017. http://digital.wustl.edu/dredscott/history.html.
Katz, Brigit. "Statue of Roger B. Taney Removed from Maryland State House." Smithsonian. August 18, 2017. Accessed August 24, 2017. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/statue-roger-b-taney-removed-maryland-state-house-180964561....
"Roger Brooke Taney (1777-1864)." Dickinson College. 2005. Accessed August 24, 2017. http://archives.dickinson.edu/people/roger-brooke-taney-1777-1864.