Baltimore, United States
Roger B. Taney statue removed from Mount Vernon Place, Baltimore in August 2017.
Portrait of Roger B. Taney.
Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.
Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, photograph by Mathew Brady.
BEP portrait of Taney as Secretary of the Treasury.
28 N College St, Carlisle, Pennsylvania 17013, United States
Roger Taney attended Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, graduating in 1795 as valedictorian of his class. Thereafter, he studied law in Annapolis, Maryland, with Judge Jeremiah Chase, who served on Maryland’s General Court. Following this study he was admitted to the bar in 1799.
In 1799 he served a term in the Maryland legislature as a member of the Federalist Party. After suffering defeat in his reelection attempt, he moved to Frederick and established a law practice there.
In Frederick, Roger Taney’s law practice steadily expanded, even as he continued to attend to political affairs, though, this attention yielded no tangible political position until 1816, when he was elected to the state senate for a five-year term. Two years after this term ended, he made another strategic career move by leaving Frederick to establish a new home in Baltimore. Here the one-time Federalist Roger Taney became a supporter of Andrew Jackson. Mr. Taney’s new political affiliation as a Jacksonian Democrat soon secured him the post of state attorney general in 1826. After five years in this position, his continued loyalty to Mr. Jackson sent him to Washington as attorney general of the United States. In this cabinet position, he demonstrated the commitment to Jacksonian principles that would later characterize his decisions as the chief justice of the Supreme Court: a robust appreciation for states’ rights and the divided sovereignty of federal and state governments, as well as a firm persuasion that the states were the primary repository of power to regulate slavery. He even delivered an official opinion as attorney general that foreshadowed his infamous declaration 30 years later in the Dred Scott case that blacks were by nature a "degraded" class disqualified from being U.S. citizens.
Mr. Taney’s legal talent was matched by his loyalty to President Jackson when the controversy over the Bank of the United States placed a premium on loyalty. Vehemently opposed to the Bank, Mr. Jackson vetoed Congress’s attempt to recharter it in the early 1830s, asserting the Bank to be unconstitutional, in direct repudiation of John Marshall’s conclusion to the contrary some 10 years earlier in McColloch v. Maryland (1819). After the veto, Roger Jackson immediately ordered his secretary of the treasury, Louis McLane, to remove federal deposits from the "moneyed Monster," only to be opposed by McLane. President Jackson appointed another secretary, William J. Duane, but met with a similar response when he ordered the new secretary to strip the Bank of federal deposits.
Finally, Andrew Jackson moved Mr. Taney to the post of treasury secretary in a temporary appointment. In so doing he found at last a receptive ear for his presidential command. Roger Taney removed the federal deposits and placed them in a series of designated state banks to hold the federal deposits. He increased the criticism already directed at President Jackson’s administration by designating the Union Bank of Maryland, with which Mr. Taney had prior professional and continuing financial ties (he owned stock in the bank), as one of the "pet banks." In the summer of 1834, nine months after Mr. Taney had received his interim appointment as secretary of the treasury, Andrew Jackson finally asked the Senate to confirm Roger Taney’s appointment. But the confirmation was denied, and Mr. Taney returned home to Baltimore and the practice of law. He would not remain there long, however.
Upon the death of Associate Justice Gabriel Duvall in January 1835, President Jackson turned again to Mr. Taney and forwarded to the Senate his nomination to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Having said no to a Roger Taney appointment before, the Senate was prepared to turn down the president again. It ultimately postponed any action on Mr. Taney’s nomination, effectively blocking his appointment to the Court. Then, Chief Justice John Marshall died during the summer of 1835. Mr. Jackson promptly nominated Taney to fill Marshall’s vacant seat and Philip P. Barbour to occupy Duvall’s still vacant seat. On March 15, 1836, the Senate met in executive session and confirmed both men to the Supreme Court. Roger Taney thus became not only the fifth chief justice of the Supreme Court but the man who would lead tire Court during the period of the country’s greatest crisis. With the appointment of Chief Justice Taney and Associate Justice Philip Barbour to the Court, President Jackson had managed to fill five seats on the Court - a majority with his appointments.
Chief Justice Roger Taney lived for seven years after the Dred Scott decision. In his remaining years he endured the sorrow of losing his wife and youngest daughter and suffered the stream of criticism that his opinion in the Dred Scott case called down on himself and his Court.
Mr. Taney was a Roman Catholic.
Roger Taney was a part of such political parties as Federalist (before 1828) and later Democratic (1828-1864). His faith in Federalism was weakened by the party's opposition to the War of 1812, and he gradually became associated with the the Democratic party. Mr. Taney preferred to narrowly construe any rights granted by the states in favor of a broad reservation of power for the state to regulate property in ways suited to serve the public’s interest. He believed that "while the rights of private property are sacredly guarded, we must not forget, that the community also have rights, and that the happiness and well-being of every citizen depends on their faithful preservation."
Mr. Taney’s court is primarily remembered more for having made minor pragmatic adjustments to John Marshall’s federalism than for having repudiated it in any fundamental sense. It tamed John Marshall’s rigid axioms in favor of vested property rights to suit the burgeoning economic development of the mid-19th century. Moreover, by supporting a view of the Constitution that gave both Congress and the states power to regulate commercial affairs concurrently, in the absence of an outright conflict between the two, Roger Taney and his colleagues encouraged state participation in economic development.
Mr. Taney's patience, tact, and ability were instrumental in overcoming personal and doctrinal divisions among the justices
Physical Characteristics: Roger Taney was a thin, stooped, and sallow man.
In 1806 Roger Taney married Ann Key, the sister of Francis Scott Key, an attorney friend of Mr. Taney’s remembered by American history as the author of the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner." Roger Taney, who was Roman Catholic, and his wife, Ann, who was Episcopalian, settled on a compromise for the religious education of their children. Sons were to be raised according to the Catholic faith of their father, daughters according to the mother’s Episcopalianism. As it turned out, the couple had only one son, who died in infancy, but their six daughters were dutifully raised as Episcopalians by their mother.