Roger Brooke Taney

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Taney, Roger Brooke

(tô`nē), 1777–1864, American jurist, 5th chief justice of the United States (1836–64), b. Calvert co., Md., grad. Dickinson College, 1795.

Early Life

Taney was born of a wealthy slave-owning family of tobacco farmers. He was admitted to the bar in 1799 and as a Federalist served (1799–1800) one term in the Maryland house of delegates. He temporarily broke with the Federalist leadership over the party's opposition to the War of 1812War of 1812,
armed conflict between the United States and Great Britain, 1812–15. It followed a period of great stress between the two nations as a result of the treatment of neutral countries by both France and England during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars,
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, but he gained control of the Federalists in Maryland and in 1816 was elected to a five-year term in the state senate. Having built up a large practice, he moved (1823) from Frederick to Baltimore.

In 1824 he permanently abandoned the Federalists to support Andrew Jackson. President JacksonJackson, Andrew,
1767–1845, 7th President of the United States (1829–37), b. Waxhaw settlement on the border of South Carolina and North Carolina (both states claim him). Early Career

A child of the backwoods, he was left an orphan at 14.
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 appointed (1831) Taney to the post of Attorney General to assist in the struggle with the Bank of the United StatesBank of the United States,
name for two national banks established by the U.S. Congress to serve as government fiscal agents and as depositories for federal funds; the first bank was in existence from 1791 to 1811 and the second from 1816 to 1836.
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. Taney wrote much of Jackson's message vetoing (1832) the act that rechartered the bank, and, when Louis McLane and William J. DuaneDuane, William John,
1780–1865, U.S. Secretary of Treasury (June–Sept., 1833), b. Clonmel, Ireland. He emigrated (1796) to Philadelphia with his father, William Duane (1760–1835), and assisted him in publishing the Aurora until 1806.
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 refused to withdraw federal funds from the bank, Taney was appointed (1833) Secretary of the Treasury and effected the withdrawal.

Chief Justice

The Senate, incensed by Taney's actions as Secretary of the Treasury, refused in 1835 to ratify his nomination as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, but the following year, somewhat changed in membership, the Senate ratified his appointment as chief justice. In the Charles River Bridge CaseCharles River Bridge Case,
decided in 1837 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Charles River Bridge Company had been granted (1785) a charter by the state of Massachusetts to operate a toll bridge.
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 (1837) Taney declared that a state charter of a private business conferred only privileges expressly granted and that any ambiguity must be decided in favor of the state. His opinion outraged conservatives, who were opposed to any modification of the view that charters issued by states are inviolable, a view established by Taney's predecessor, John MarshallMarshall, John,
1755–1835, American jurist, 4th chief justice of the United States (1801–35), b. Virginia. Early Life

The eldest of 15 children, John Marshall was born in a log cabin on the Virginia frontier (today in Fauquier co., Va.
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, in the Dartmouth College CaseDartmouth College Case,
decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1819. The legislature of New Hampshire, in 1816, without the consent of the college trustees, amended the charter of 1769 to make Dartmouth College public. The trustees brought suit.
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Taney felt that the police powerpolice power,
in law, right of a government to make laws necessary for the health, morals, and welfare of the populace. The term has greatest currency in the United States, where it has been defined by the Supreme Court as the power of the states to enact laws of that type even
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 of a state entitled it to make reasonable regulatory laws even if they appeared to override provisions of the U.S. Constitution; thus, he held that, although Congress alone had the power to regulate interstate commerce, a state might exclude a corporation organized elsewhere. In sustaining fugitive slave lawsfugitive slave laws,
in U.S. history, the federal acts of 1793 and 1850 providing for the return between states of escaped black slaves. Similar laws existing in both North and South in colonial days applied also to white indentured servants and to Native American slaves.
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, however, Taney denied to free states the power of refusing obedience to federal statutes requiring the surrender of escaped slaves.

Taney's support of the slavery laws was most clearly expressed in the Dred Scott CaseDred Scott Case,
argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1856–57. It involved the then bitterly contested issue of the status of slavery in the federal territories. In 1834, Dred Scott, a black slave, personal servant to Dr. John Emerson, a U.S.
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 (1857). Here he held that slaves (and even the free descendants of slaves) were not citizens and might not sue in the federal courts, and that Congress could not forbid slavery in the territories of the United States. Opposition to the second holding was furiously expressed by the Republicans, and when Lincoln became President he considered Taney an arch foe. In the Civil War, Taney in vain ruled against Lincoln's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus (see Merryman, ex parteMerryman, ex parte,
case decided in 1861 by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney sitting as a federal circuit judge in Baltimore. John Merryman, a citizen of Maryland, was imprisoned by the U.S. army on suspicion of favoring the Confederacy. He obtained a writ of habeas corpus.
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). There was much antipathy to Taney at his death, but there has been a gradual increase in appreciation of his contributions to constitutional law.


See biographies by B. C. Steiner (1922, repr. 1970), C. B. Swisher (1935, repr. 1961), and W. Lewis (1965); R. K. Newmyer, The Supreme Court under Marshall and Taney (1969).

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Consistent with this Catholic tradition, Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, an otherwise outstanding jurist, authored the infamous Dred Scott decision affirming Jefferson's property concept of American slaves.
Roger Brooke Taney, serving as secretary of the treasury on a recess appointment from Pres.