The Baltimore Mayor plans to remove the statue of Roger Taney that stands at Mt Vernon Place. Taney was Andrew Jackson’s Attorney General before becoming Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Taney would hold that position from 1837 until his death in 1864. He stayed on the court after Southern Secession and actually ruled against Lincoln’s suspension of Habeas Corpus in 1861. This particularly amusing to me as Lincoln’s precedent for the suspension had been a suspension of Habeas Corpus in the War of 1812 by the man who put Taney on the Supreme Court, Andrew Jackson.
The reason we need to and are getting rid of Taney’s statue is that he ruled and wrote the majority opinion in the 1857 Dred Scott v Stanford case, which I encourage you read here at some time when anger suppressing substances are in abundance near you. The ruling is more famous than the man and I suspect all the Americans already know it found that black people aren’t people BUT the reasoning why is often overlooked as it reveals an uncomfortable truth about the north.
[TRIGGER WARNING: I’m gonna be using direct quotations from the Dred-Scott Decision]
Taney did not believe that he had the power to determine whether black people /should/ be people or not, explaining
“It is not the province of the court to decide upon the justice or injustice, the policy or impolicy, of these laws. The decision of that question belonged to the political or lawmaking power, to those who formed the sovereignty and framed the Constitution.”
He admits the Declaration of Independence says that all men were created equal (a strange thing to do, since the Declaration isn’t part of American law) but insists that Thomas Jefferson, a man who owned 600 people, couldn’t have intended that all men were created equal, elaborating
“Yet the men who framed this declaration were great men – high in literary acquirements, high in their sense of honor, and incapable of asserting principles inconsistent with those on which they were acting. They perfectly understood the meaning of the language they used, and how it would be understood by others, and they knew that it would not in any part of the civilized world be supposed to embrace the negro race, which, by common consent, had been excluded from civilized Governments and the family of nations, and doomed to slavery.”
I’ve used that and other quotes to contradict Scalia-ites who insist that the Founding Fathers were the be all and end all of humanity, but unlike Scalia, Taney understands that the Framers were not supreme, so he looks at the various State laws.
Notably, he focuses on Free States. He points out laws against interracial marriage in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maryland, renewed as recently as 1836. He uses State Supreme Court rulings that agreed with his consensus from the slave state of Kentucky but also from the Free State of Connecticut (the case regarded segregation of schools). What I found most interesting was the introduction to the law banning slave imports to Connecticut that states
“And whereas the increase of slaves in this State is injurious to the poor, and inconvenient…”
“This recital would appear to have been carefully introduced in order to prevent any misunderstanding of the motive which induced the Legislature to pass the law, and places it distinctly upon the interest and convenience of the white population – excluding the inference that it might have been intended in any degree for the benefit of the other.”
After that he gives up naming precedent, saying “It would be impossible to enumerate and compress in the space usually allotted to an opinion of a court the various laws, marking the condition of this race which were passed from time to time after the Revolution and before and since the adoption of the Constitution of the United States” in the only reasonable statement in the ruling.
Taney’s ruling was to the benefit of the slave states but it’s important not to forget that his justification was in the discriminatory actions of the “free” states.