Taney, Roger Brooke

Roger Brooke Taney, detail

Trained at Dickinson College, Roger Taney was the most important jurist of the era, Chief Justice of the United States from 1836 to 1864. By the Civil War, he was also one of the country’s most controversial figures, author of the Dred Scott decision and the principal northern wartime opponent of Abraham Lincoln.

Life span
03/17/1777—10/12/1864
Dickinson Connection:
Class of 1795

Life Summary

Full name
  Roger Brooke Taney
Place of Birth
Birth Date Certainty
  Exact
Death Date Certainty
  Exact
Gender
  Male
Race
  White
Sectional choice
  North
Origins
  Slave State
No. of Siblings
  6
No. of Spouses
  1
No. of Children
  7
Family
 
Monica Brooke Taney (mother), Michael Taney V (father), Michael Taney VI (older brother), Anne Key Taney (wife), Francis Scott Key (brother-in-law), Alice Taney (daughter, died Sept 30, 1855), Anne Taney Campbell (daughter), James Mason Campbell (son-in-law), Elizabeth Taney Stevenson (daughter), William Stevenson (son-in-law), Maria Taney Allison (daughter), Richard T. Allison (son-in-law), Ellen Taney (daughter), Dorothy Taney (sister), Sophia Taney (sister), Octavius C. Taney (Younger Brother), Augustus Taney (Brother), Son (died in infancy),
Education
  Dickinson (Carlisle College)
Occupation
  Politician
  Attorney or Judge
  Businessman
Relation to Slavery
  Slaveholder who freed slaves
Church or Religious Denomination
  Catholic (Roman or Irish)
Political Parties
  Federalist
  Democratic
Other Affiliations
  Colonizationists
Government
  Jackson Administration (1829-37)
  Supreme Court
  State legislature

Census Snapshot

Slaveholding in 1860
  0
Household Size in 1860
  14
Children in 1860
  4
Occupation in 1860
  Chief Justice Supreme Court
Political Party in 1860
  Democratic
Religion in 1860
  Roman Catholic
Wealth in 1860
  14000

Note Cards

Roger Brooke Taney was born March 17, 1777 on the Taney Plantation along the Patuxent River, in Maryland's Calvert County. The Taney family had come to the colony as indentured servants in the mid-seventeenth century but, after serving out their term of servitude, they later established themselves as prosperous tobacco farmers in the rich agrarian economy of southern Maryland. Taney grew up as a Maryland Roman Catholic with rural gentry privilege, was educated privately and then entered Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1792.

While at Dickinson, Taney came under the tutelage of Dr. Charles Nisbet, arguably one of the greatest educators of his day. If the correspondence between Nisbet and Taney’s father throughout 1792-1795 are any indication, the Principal became almost a surrogate father to the young and talented student. Taney was a leading member of the Belles Lettres Society and graduated as valedictorian of the twenty-four students in the class of 1795. This honor he always valued since the students themselves at the time were responsible for such selection.

Taney studied law under Judge Jeremiah Townley Chase in Annapolis before being admitted to the Maryland bar on June 19, 1799. After a brief time as a Federalist state representative, he began his legal career in earnest in Frederick, Maryland. There he also met and married Anne Phoebe Charlton Key, the sister of Francis Scott Key, in January, 1806. The couple would have six daughters.

Taney was elected to the Maryland State Senate in 1816 and came to dominate the state's Federalists. By 1820 he had also established himself as one of the leading attorneys in Maryland and in September, 1827 accepted the position of State Attorney General. As the Federalist Party faded away, Taney looked for other political outlets. He had always been an avid supporter and admirer of General Andrew Jackson, acting as chairman of the Jackson Central Committee of Maryland in the 1828 election. His longtime support was recognized in 1831 when President Jackson appointed him to the first of what were to be several posts in his cabinet. He initially served as both Attorney-General and acting Secretary of War. In a cabinet shuffle in 1833, Jackson appointed Taney as Secretary of the Treasury. The national controversy over the role of the Bank of the United States dictated that this was a highly sensitive post, but one for which Taney’s long experience in banking law qualified him well. Taney would serve from September 23, 1833 until his Senate confirmation was rejected and he resigned on June 24, 1834. Jackson then sought to have him appointed to the Supreme Court as an associate justice but this nomination was also blocked in the Senate. Jackson persisted, however, and on December 28, 1835, he nominated Taney to fill the vacancy on the Court left by the death of the legendary Chief Justice John Marshall. This time, despite the usual Whig opposition, he was confirmed and he took the oath of office on March 28, 1836.

Taney’s actions in his first decades largely calmed initial Whig fears that his appointment would politicize the Court and he settled into a careful career marked by strict construction of, not only the Constitution where it supported state sovereignty, but also of contract, as in Charles River Bridge vs. Warren Bridge. However, one case in particular has been the hallmark of Taney's tenure as Chief Justice. In 1856, a seemingly unnecessary supporting case for the 1820 Missouri Compromise, Dred Scott vs Sandford, was allowed before the Court. Taney wrote the majority opinion in the Scott case, confirming slaves as property by ruling against Negro citizenship and then declaring that the Compromise itself was unconstitutional because Congress had no right, under the constitutional protection of private property, to bar slavery from new territories.

As a child of Southern gentry, Taney immediately came under extreme Republican attack for this decision. He was personally opposed to slavery, having freed his own slaves, but his southern sensibilities and his own intimate knowledge of the institution led to his belief in the common southern anti-slavery solution of repatriation, as opposed to abolition. The case dogged the rest of his nine years as Chief Justice, even though he displayed a certain judicial brilliance in his later decisions with long and thoughtful opinions on the role of the states and national government in fugitive slave cases, in Ableman v. Booth just before the Civil War, and on the rights of civilians in wartime in Ex Parte Merryman during the conflict itself.

Plagued all of his life with ill health and never a rich man, Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney died on October 12, 1864, unmourned by most Northern supporters of a war against rebellion he believed privately the Union had no legal right to wage. He was 87 years old.

Events

Documents

Subject
 
Date Title
01/05/1857 New York Times, "The Dred Scott Case," January 5, 1857
02/23/1857 D. Grier to James Buchanan, February 23, 1857
03/07/1857 Boston (MA) Herald, “The Dred Scott Decision,” March 7, 1857
03/09/1857 Boston (MA) Herald, “The Dred Scott Case,” March 9, 1857
03/09/1857 New York Herald, "The Decision in the Dred Scott," March 9, 1857
03/09/1857 New York Times, "From Washington," March 9, 1857
03/11/1857 New York Herald, “Practical Effect of the Dred Scott Judgment,” March 11, 1857
03/17/1857 Charleston (SC) Mercury, "The Agitation of the Slavery Question," March 17, 1857
03/17/1857 Chief Justice Taney's Decision - The South Secured in Her Rights
04/11/1857 New York National Anti-Slavery Standard, "The Chief Justice Insane!," April 11, 1857
06/12/1857 A Condensed Report of the Unprecedented Case of Dred Scott vs. J—Sanford
07/16/1857 New York Times, "What the Dred Scott Case Decided," July 16, 1857
08/06/1857 The Constitution, Citizenship, Design of the Taney Decision
09/04/1857 The Dred Scott Decision: Judge Taney and Charles Francis Adams on History
07/16/1858 Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, "The Supreme Court," July 16, 1858
08/19/1858 New York Times, "Hot Work in Illinois," August 19, 1858
06/08/1859 Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, “Another Dred Scott Decision,” June 8, 1859
05/08/1860 Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, “Cause of the Smash,” May 8, 1860
10/09/1860 Milwaukee (WI) Sentinel, "Judge Taney vs. Douglas," October 9, 1860
12/03/1860 Chicago (IL) Tribune, “A Good Precedent,” December 3, 1860
05/30/1861 New York Times, “Civil and Martial Law at Baltimore,” May 30, 1861
06/04/1861 New York Times, “The Habeas Corpus Case,” June 4, 1861
06/15/1861 (Concord) New Hampshire Statesman, “The Patriot and the Merryman Case,” June 15, 1861
06/29/1861 Worthington G. Snethen to Winfield Scott, June 29, 1861

Bibliography