The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Taney, Roger Brooke
TANEY, Roger Brooke, an American jurist, born in Calvert co., Md., March 17, 1777, died in Washington, D. C., Oct. 12, 1864. He belonged to a Roman Catholic family, graduated at Dickinson college, Pa., in 1795, was admitted to the bar in 1799, commenced practice in his native county, and was elected a delegate to the general assembly as a federalist. In 1801 he removed to Frederick, and in 1816 was elected to the state senate. In 1822 he removed to Baltimore, where he continued to reside until his death. In 1824 he identified himself with the supporters of Gen. Jackson, but was nevertheless made attorney general of the state by the federal governor in 1827. In 1831 he was appointed by President Jackson attorney general of the United States. He supported the president in his controversy with the United States bank, and in September, 1833, was appointed secretary of the treasury on the dismissal of Mr. Duane from that office; and he immediately issued orders for the removal of the government deposits from the United States bank to the local banks selected by him as agents of the government. When his nomination was communicated to the senate, that body rejected it by a vote of 28 to 18. In 1835 he was nominated to fill a vacancy on the bench of the supreme court, but was not confirmed by the senate. When Chief Justice Marshall died, and the president nominated Mr. Taney as his successor, the senate, now having an administration majority, confirmed the nomination, and he took his seat upon the bench in January, 1837. In the decision of the questions which came before him as a judge he displayed great ability; and though his views of constitutional law were less in the direction of centralization than those of his predecessor, he did not fail to sustain to the fullest extent the powers which he believed were justly claimed for the federal government. A striking illustration of this is the case of Ableman v. Booth, 21 Howard, 506 (1859), in which he denied the right of the state courts to inquire into the validity of imprisonment by or under a claim of federal authority, and asserted exclusive jurisdiction for that purpose in the federal courts; a decision opposed to the general practice that had before prevailed, but which has recently been reaffirmed by the court. The most noted of his decisions was that in Dred Scott v. Sandford, 19 Howard, 393. In that case Scott, who was held as a slave in Missouri, brought suit to recover his freedom, suing in the federal court on the ground of being a citizen of a different state from the defendant, and claiming his freedom because of having been taken by his master into territory made free by the act of congress commonly called the Missouri compromise. The case, having been decided in the circuit court, was removed to the supreme court. The decision (1857) declared that Scott was not entitled to bring suit in the federal court, because he was not a citizen; the chief justice in an elaborate opinion declaring that for more than a century previous to the adoption of the declaration of independence negroes, whether slave or free, had 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.” Having reached this conclusion, which of itself put an end to the case, the court went further, and considered the main question involved, namely, whether it was competent for congress to exclude slavery from the territories of the Union; and the majority, Justices McLean and Curtis dissenting, denied the power. The party dissatisfied with this conclusion made it the occasion for a severe arraignment of the court, not only because of the views held as to the right to legislate against slavery, but because those views were expressed in a case not calling for them, inasmuch as the court had already decided that it had no jurisdiction. The decision, in its denial of the right of citizenship to negroes, was disregarded by the executive department after Mr. Lincoln became president, and by the judicial also when Mr. Chase became chief justice and admitted colored persons as practitioners in the federal courts. In May, 1861, Chief Justice Taney was applied to for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of John Merryman of Baltimore, who had been arrested under the orders of a federal general, and promptly issued the writ. The officer to whom it was addressed declined to obey, on the ground that Merryman had been arrested on a charge of treason, and that the officer had been duly empowered by the president to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. Upon this the chief justice ordered an attachment to issue, but as it was impossible to serve this, he wrote out his opinion denying to the president the power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, and insisting that it could only be done by legislative authority. To this opinion no attention was paid at the time, but congress soon passed the necessary law to meet the objection. A memoir of his life, prepared at his request by his friend Prof. Samuel Tyler (Baltimore, 1872), includes his autobiography, which only comes down to 1801. A bronze statue of him by Rinehart, ordered by the state of Maryland, was unveiled in Annapolis, Dec. 10, 1872.