1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Taney, Roger Brooke

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TANEY, ROGER BROOKE (1777-1864), American jurist, was born in Calvert county, Maryland, on the 17th of March 1777, of Roman Catholic parentage. He graduated from Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1795, began the study of law at Annapolis in 1796, and was admitted to the bar in 1799. In 1806 he married Anne Phebe Key, sister of Francis Scott Key. He entered politics as a Federalist, and was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates in 1799-80. His faith in Federalism was weakened by the party's opposition to the War of 1812, and he gradually became associated with the Jacksonian wing of the Republican party. He served in the state Senate in 1816-21, was attorney-general of Maryland in 1827-31; and in July 1831 entered President Jackson's cabinet as attorney-general of the United States. He was the President's chief adviser in the attack on the United States Bank, and was transferred to the treasury department in September 1833 for the special purpose of removing the government deposits. This conduct brought him into conflict with the Senate, which passed a vote of censure, and (in June 1834) refused to confirm his appointment as secretary of the treasury. He returned to his law practice in Baltimore, but on the 28th of December 1835 was nominated Chief-Justice of the United States Supreme Court to succeed John Marshall. After strong opposition the nomination was confirmed, on the 15th of March 1836, by the Senate. Under the guidance of Judges John Jay, Marshall, and Joseph Story, the judiciary from 1790 to 1835 had followed the Federalist loose construction methods of interpreting the constitution. The personnel of the supreme bench was almost entirely changed during President Jackson's administration (1820-37). Five of the seven judges in 1837 were his appointees, and the majority of them were Southerners who had been educated under Democratic influences at a time when the slavery controversy was forcing the party to return to its original strict construction views. In consequence, although the high judicial character of the men appointed and the lawyers' regard for precedent served to keep the court in the path marked out by Marshall and Story, the state sovereignty influence was occasionally manifest, as, for example, in the opinion (written by Taney) in the Dred Scott case (1857, 19 Howard, 393) that Congress had no power to abolish slavery in territory acquired after the formation of the national government. During the Civil War, Judge Taney struggled unsuccessfully to protect individual liberty from the encroachments of the military authorities. In the case of ex parte John Merryman (1861, Campbell's Reports, 646), he protested against the assumption of power by the President to suspend the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus or to confer that power upon a military officer without the authorization of Congress. The delivering of this opinion, on circuit, in Baltimore, in May 1861, was one of the judge's last public acts. He died on the 12th of October 1864.

An authoritative biography is Samuel Tyler's Memoir of Roger Brooke Taney (Baltimore, 1872).