"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Roger B. Taney

This 1887 recast of William H. Rinehart's 1872 statue of Roger Brooke Taney stands in Mount Vernon Place in Baltimore, Maryland.

Roger B. Taney
of Maryland
Chief Justice

A commission appointed by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake has recommend that the statue be removed. Law professor Larry Gibson a member of the commission said that "Taney's statute should be dismantled because his authorship of the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision was 'pure racism.' The decision held that African-Americans could not be American citizens... In my view, he (Taney) deserves a place in infamy." See: Baltimore City Commission recommends removal of two Confederate monuments. by Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun, Jan 14, 2016..

More constructively the commission has placed a plaque explaining this monument and expressing official disapproval of it.

Photo by Don Morfe, HMdb

Baltimore's Confederate Monuments

Roger B. Taney Monument

In 1836, Roger Brooke Taney became Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and served in this position until his death in 1864. In 1857, he wrote the Dred Scott decision, which stated that African American —enslaved and free— were property and could never be citizens of the United States.

In 1887, this monument sculpted by William Henry Rinehart was given to the City of Baltimore by businessman, art patron, and Confederate sympathizer William Walters. This monument is an exact replica of the 1872 Taney monument also commissioned by Walters which sits on the grounds of the State House in Annapolis. At the dedication in Annapolis, Severn Teakle Wallis stated that the figure was a 'protest in living bronze' against the U.S. Congress, which in 1865 had withheld funds to create a bust of Taney. Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts had justified the Congressional withholding of funds for the monument stating that the Dred Scott decision was a 'terrible decision where a most unrighteous judgment was sustained by a falsification of history.' This monument helped to promote white supremacy in Baltimore. In 2015, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake appointed a Special Commission to Review Baltimore’s Public Confederate Monuments to provide recommendations based on informed decisions and citizen input on how to address Baltimore’s Confederate-related monuments. While the Taney Monument is not explicitly a Confederate monument, the Dred Scott decision advanced slavery in America and was closely tied to the Confederate cause.

This plaque serves to inform the public on the history of Baltimore’s Confederate monuments. For more information, please review the Special Commission to Review Baltimore’s Public Confederate Monuments Report to Mayor Rawlings-Blake located at www.chap.baltimorecity.gov.

Sign content developed by the Baltimore City Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation Graphic design services provided by the Baltimore National Heritage Area."
See: Roger Brooke Taney Monument, Special Commission to Review Baltimore's Public Confederate Monuments. The commission lists these resources:
Roger B. Taney was not only not a Confederate as the commission noted but was Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court throughout the Civil War, surely enough to show his loyalty to the United States. It was Justice Taney who administered the oath of office to President Lincoln; Taney swore in six U.S. presidents.

This painting of Justice Taney swearing in President Lincoln by Henry Roben appeared in Valley's of History, Vol. 2 No. 1; Winter  1966. (Shown in the picture from left are William H. Seward, Secretary of State; John C. Breckinridge, retiring Vice President; Taney; Edward D. Baker, who introduced Lincoln to the inaugural crowd; William T. Carroll, clerk of the U. S. Supreme Court (holding the bible); James Buchanan, retiring President; Lincoln; Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury Stephen A. Douglas, one of Lincoln's opponents for the Presidency; and Horace Greeley.)

 The opprobrium heaped on Taney for his Dred Scott decision ought to be shared with the book on which he is shown leaning, the Constitution.

Taney argued, cogently I think,  that the U.S. Constitution as it was in 1857 could not be interpreted to contemplate treating enslaved African Americans as citizens of the United States. He points out that it would be radically inconsistent of the framers to approve of slavery in several places in the document and simultaneously regard enslaved African Americans as citizens. Taney's famous obiter dictum in which he wrote that African Americans "have no rights that white men are bound to respect" appeared in a section in which he was trying to explain what the Founding Fathers attitude toward African Americans was. He attributes the following beliefs to those Founding Fathers, many of whom were slave holders themselves:
[African Americans] had for more than a century before 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; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it.
So if the Dred Scott decision is "pure racism" the racism resides, at least in part, with Constitution and its framers.

This photo of Rinehart's sculpture appeared in Life of Roger Brooke Taney : Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, by Bernard Christian Steiner, 1922.

The statue was quietly removed in the dark of night on August 15, 2017. This photo of the empty pedestal  appeared in the Washington Post.

Taney's grave is in St. John's Cemetery in Frederick.

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