The Real Roger B. TaneyIn her Feb. 25 article (Opinion...


March 11, 1994

The Real Roger B. Taney

In her Feb. 25 article (Opinion * Commentary) on Roger B. Taney, Linda R. Monk argues for the removal of the statue of Taney, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1835-1864, from the main entrance to the Maryland State House. She contends that this should be done because of Taney's authorship of the Dred Scott Decision in 1857.

Your readers may recall that this decision is regarded today as one of the main catalysts of the Civil War. In that decision, Taney argued that slaves were property no matter where they resided in the U.S., and that the black man had no rights that the white race was bound to respect.

Ms. Monk rightly presents several arguments why Taney was wrong.

First, blacks had in earlier times been recognized in some parts of the U.S. as citizens, however briefly.

Second, Taney's doctrine denied liberty and justice to blacks, a contradiction of the founding principle of the nation, that all men are created equal.

No reasonable person would today suggest that Justice Taney was correct in regard to the Dred Scott case.

However, one could argue that in the cultural and intellectual world in which he lived in 1857 his views on slaves and race were by no means unusual.

I would remind Ms. Monk that Taney was more than the author of the Dred Scott Decision. He was also a respected member of the Maryland Bar for 50 years.

In his early career as a Federalist, he stood with President James Madison, against the counsel of his own party, and supported the war effort against Great Britain from 1812-1814.

In the 1830s he served as attorney general and secretary of the treasury under Andrew Jackson, and in those capacities argued against the anti-Union beliefs of the nullifiers and the anti-democratic tendencies of the second Bank of the United States. In these ways he served well the growing young nation.

Even the Dred Scott Decision, viewed from a different perspective, can be seen as an attempt, however wrong-headed, to serve the nation.

It should be remembered that the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850 and the Dred Scott Decision were all attempts to lay to rest the national controversy over slavery.

None of these remedies was successful, because they did not address the key issues, but it does not follow that the "physicians" who prescribed that had any evil intent in their hearts. Certainly, Taney was no "bad" man.

Just as obviously, he must have retained within his heart the dilemma that many whites of his generation retained in regard to the ethical issues involved in slavery.

Still, all of the accounts of Taney that I have read suggest a soft-spoken gentleman who was genuinely kind and thoughtful to white and black, slave and free alike.

Granted, these accounts may be prejudiced in themselves, but in the absence of other evidence, what more can be said?

As for Taney's statue at the State House, he retains a prominent place near the State House because he was probably the most influential and notable Marylander in the history of this country.

Rather than remove his image in favor of Thurgood Marshall, as Ms. Monk would do, perhaps it would be better to juxtapose a statue of Marshall across from Taney's.

In this way opposing concepts would be visually represented, creating a memorial to both and providing an instructive lesson in our nation's evolving struggle with the concepts of equality and justice.

Alan Gephardt


More Scrutiny

As a high school student in Baltimore County, I am highly upset with the way the county is handling the inclement weather.

I feel that if all this snow, sleet and ice is such a problem, then why isn't the school board more discriminating about closing schools for the day? I realize that safety of the students is a factor, and I am glad the system is considering this factor.

Although it is a waste of time on the part of all involved to close schools on days like Feb. 23, I also feel that taking away spring break is a poor way to compensate for lost days.

I have heard that another state with the same problem as us is extending the school days from now to the end of their school year by one half hour. Maybe this should be a consideration for us.

My school is on the four-period day schedule and as a result of this weather is at least two weeks behind schedule.

I attend school to get the education I want and deserve, and interrupting my education with unnecessary closings is not fair to me. I hope that in the future the Baltimore County School Board will give a more scrutinized decision on bad weather.

Christina Schappell


Miserable Service

Nothing provokes me more than to hear the United States Postal Service is going to increase the price of stamps.

This supposedly august organization has more brass than the law allows to make such an increase, when it cannot deliver a letter across town without losing it.

My experiences with the postal service would raise the hair on one's head.

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