A More Perfect Union: The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the Constitution

By Harold M. Hyman | Go to book overview

Chapter VI
Taney and Treason

T his confrontation did not occur by chance. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney seized the first opportunity to broadcast, as an exercise of his judicial office, his private views about the conduct of the Civil War.1 Taney looked backward to days when white men knew few restraints, when soldiers were an irrelevance to existence, and when national authority was rarely visible. He was one of many men in 1861 and later who saw no alternatives between helpless acquiescence in the secession of the South and the inevitable rise of a military dictatorship in the North, if the government tried to restore the cleft Union of states by force.2

Only six weeks after Sumter, Taney worked out a vivid staging for delivering this sermon on the Constitution to the President and the nation. He employed as backdrop Baltimore, Maryland, his home city and state, which encapsulated many issues involved in the secession and War. The Chief Justice knew that only in Missouri were arbitrary arrests by soldiers of civilians more numerous and spectacular than in Maryland. However, the

____________________
1
C. B. Swisher, Roger B. Taney ( New York, 1935), 550- 54); C. G. Haines and F. Sherwood, The Role of the Supreme Court in American Government and Politics, 1835-1864 ( Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1957), 465; M. R. Cain, Lincoln's Attorney General, Edward Bates of Missouri ( Columbia, Mo., 1965), 142-61,esp. 145.
2
See Taney to Franklin Pierce, June 12, 1861, in Swisher, Taney, 554. R. M. Spector, "Lincoln and Taney: A Study in Constitutional Polarization," AJLH, XV ( 1971), 199-214.

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