Roger Taney (Swisher, 1935)

Carl Brent Swisher, Roger B. Taney (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1935).
If the purpose of an appraisal is to condemn the man [Roger Taney], or the cause, or the culture which he was attempting to protect, the methods used in many of the analyses [of the Dred Scott case] perhaps leave little to be desired. Even those comments which do not misquote Taney, and which are obviously drafted in an attempt to preserve other portions of his judicial career from adverse criticism, are inadequate as to this case. They tend to leave the impression that in the Dred Scott case Taney permitted narrow prejudices to dictate an opinion largely without support in facts and logic, unethical in the breadth of its discussion, and in these respects unprecedented in the annals of the Supreme Court.

If on the other hand the purpose of the appraisal is to make possible a sympathetic understanding of what Taney was attempting to do, the materials must be handled in a somewhat different manner. First and foremost it is necessary to remember his devotion to the South, of which he was a product, and his belief that, if the trend of events continued, the South was doomed. At the time of the adoption of the federal Constitution neither the North nor the South had a population sufficiently large to permit it to control the federal government. In the years which had passed, however, the North had outstripped the South in numbers, and it seemed more and more inevitable that the federal government should become the tool of the North, to which the South, in an increasing degree would be compelled to submit.

Such a condition had not been contemplated by the framers of the Constitution, and such domination of the South, in Taney’s estimation, was “unconstitutional.” He preferred secession by force of arms to submission to it. His deepest fear seems to have been that when a northern political party directly assumed the reins of government the South would not act with sufficient unanimity to make rebellion effective. Since one of the major causes of sectional strife was the subject of slavery in the newly settled territories of the United States, territory which would be carved up into new states, the destruction of the Union or the subjugation of the South could at least be postponed if that issue could be removed.
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