Once again apologists for keeping Roger Brooke Taney’s memorial outside City Hall are quoted (Frederick News-Post 2015-09-27) as saying he deserves to be celebrated for virtues outside of the Dred Scott judgment that he wrote in 1857 as chief justice of the Supreme Court.
This is rather like saying we should judge Adolf Hitler outside of his role in precipitating World War Two and all its horrors, and also think of the magnificent highway (autobahn) system he built, his record as an environmentalist in restoring the nation’s forests and rivers, his example of healthy exercise and eating (he was a vegan, a non-drinker, and non-smoker), his honorable service as a private and his Iron Cross for bravery in World War One, the monumental classical architecture he sponsored via Albert Speer etc.
Would we approve a memorial bust of Hitler at the front steps of the German Embassy in Washington DC?
Of course Roger Brooke Taney was not all bad, but the evil he did with the Dred Scott decision is what he is remembered for, and rightly so, because it far outweighed all the good he ever did. Dred Scott’s denial of any civil rights for anyone of ‘negro’ descent (just ‘property’ he said and only suited to slavery) stripped even free blacks of their civil rights. It was a destructive assault on the fragile set of compromises embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the country’s various laws on slavery. It was an outrageous judicial effort to override the country’s elected officials and impose from the high court bench the most extreme racist supremacy nationwide. This and Taney’s later support for Southern secession played a major role in precipitating the Civil War, the most deadly and destructive in the nation’s history.
Taney’s memorial bust and plaque, deserve to be positioned in a museum style setting, by his old home on Bentz St or his law offices on Court St or at his tomb. Located at the steps of City Hall under the national and state flags the Taney memorial says that we as a city celebrate this wretched man. The location misrepresents this city and its history which supported the Union. At City Hall any memorials should celebrate people of positive accomplishment, including certainly the patriot Thomas Johnson and also the City’s founders.
Submitted 09/28 as Letter to the Editor, Frederick News-Post, unpublished as of 10/01
BACKGROUND: In publicizing their October 2 day-long symposium on Taney staff of the Historical Society of Frederick County (HSFC) sounded themes antagonistic to moving the Taney bust. Jennifer Winter operations manager told the local paper (2015-09-27) there was “much more” to Taney than Dred Scott – provoking the Letter above.
The executive director of the Historical Society Mary Rose Boswell wrote separately of Taney having provoked a “debate about the government’s official display of icons that commemorate the Confederacy” (Letters to Editor FNP 2015-09-17.)
That is a bit misleading. Some of the Keepers (Keep Taney’s bust where it is) like to represent the debate that way, but the Movers (Move Taney) simply want the Taney bust some place else than its present location.
None of the Movers has suggested there is anything wrong with public display of confederate icons, except one located right next to the national and state flags at the front entry to City Hall where it identifies the City of Frederick with the confederate cause – an historical falsehood.
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