May 15, 2009
Book written by: James F. Simon. New York : Simon & Schuster. 324 pages. Hardback. November 2006. ISBN 0-7432-5032-X
Most people know the name Abraham Lincoln, but many are not familiar with that of Roger Brooke Taney, the fifth Chief Justice of the United States and the first Roman Catholic to reach this exulted position. This book by James F. Simon, the Martin Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus at New York Law School, focuses on Taney, but also mentions Lincoln.
Roger Brooke Taney was born on March 17, 1777 in Maryland. His family originally had been members of the Church of England, but a later generation converted to Roman Catholicism. Simon says in his introduction that Taney was a devout Catholic, but not so devout that he married outside of the Church to Anne Key, the sister of Francis Scott Key who composed our national anthem. He also raised his six children as members of his wife’s church.
Taney went and studied law in Annapolis, Maryland. He was admitted to the bar in 1799 and served in the Maryland legislature. Taney’s views on slavery which was an institution that he would have to make legal decisions on as Chief Justice were that he personally disapproved of it, but considered it legal. He, like others, hoped that slavery would eventually die out. He supported the idea to send former slaves back to Africa and found a colony there for them. He defended an abolitionist in 1819. His understanding of the Constitution, lead him to believe that the Federal government could not abolish slavery. It was up to the individual states to abolish slavery which some states had done before the Civil War.