The Maryland Corner: “Redeeming Roger Taney”


(from the forthcoming issue of The Terrapin Times, the first installment of our new feature, dedicated to important political figures, past and present, on the Right from Maryland, tentatively called The Maryland Corner)


Americans have a way of spinning history to bolster our national mythology. JFK’s foreign policy was nightmarish — to speak nothing of his personal life —, yet we extol him. FDR attempted to pack the Supreme Court, interned Japanese-Americans in numbers that dwarf the count of unfortunate souls at Guantánamo, and eagerly collaborated with the murderous Stalin, but idolizing him as the conqueror of the Depression and scourge of the Axis powers is much more palatable than embracing the truth. 


Then there is Abraham Lincoln. Ignoring that he needlessly sanctioned the bloodiest war in American history and put the kibosh on the important question of whether states, sovereign when they entered into the great experiment in liberty, could secede and reassert their autonomy, we revere the sixteenth president as a great liberator, the savior of the Union. We relegate Maryland native and Lincoln antagonist Chief Justice Roger B. Taney to the deepest pits of Hell for his opinion in Dred Scott v. Sanford.


Yet, ironically, as we begin at least four years under our first Black president, a man esteemed as the new Lincoln, we ought to look for inspiration to no less a man than the estimable author of that loathsome Dred Scott decision.


Roger Brooke Taney, of Calvert County, was hardly perfect; he was, however, more complex than many would care to admit. His opining that Blacks were “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race,” and thus ineligible for citizenship, is detestable. Nevertheless, he had personal qualms with the “peculiar institution,” and manumitted his own slaves. A dual-federalist, he stood firmly between ardent states’ rights champions and the advocates of centralization, proud of his Southern heritage and a lover of Maryland, but a loyal American who sought the preservation of the Union. 


Most important today, as our government continues to expropriate powers at the cost of our God-given liberties, Taney stood up to Lincoln’s antipathetic attitude toward the Constitution. After the mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland, to the president’s consternation, proclaimed that they would permit no more Union troops to transfer through their respective jurisdictions, Lincoln instructed General Scott to suspend the writ of habeas corpus within the area of the military line. 


Obeying the governor’s orders, Lt. John Merryman, of the Baltimore County Horse Guards, burned bridges to prevent additional Pennsylvania soldiers from entering Maryland; not long thereafter, he was arrested on charges of treason. Numerous Maryland legislators soon found themselves incarcerated for no obvious reason. 


Enter Roger Taney. Presiding over the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Maryland, Taney, in Ex parte Merryman, reaffirmed that the president lacks authority to suspend the writ of habeas corpus — a power expressly delegated to Congress in Article I of the Constitution. A defiant Lincoln persisted, widening the scope of the territory wherein the writ was held in abeyance. Employing arguments frightfully comparable to — but exceedingly more eloquent than — those to which we have grown accustomed in this tumultuous decade, Lincoln asked rhetorically of Congress, “Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?” Orwellian reverence for the rule of law at its finest.


Taney’s comprehension of liberty was incomplete, perhaps unforgivably so. That President Obama intends to try to suspend the writ of habeas corpus is dubious. However, given Obama’s vision for expanding government’s role in the economy, embrace of the Pax Americana ideology, and, more relevant, support for the USA PATRIOT Act and the FISA “compromise,” one is right to fear for his liberty. If we look beyond his imperfections, in Roger Taney we see a Marylander of whom we should be proud and whose spirited defense of the Constitution we should aspire to mimic. 

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Terrapin Times web-logging

Maryland likes easy slots.

Transgenders win equal protection in Montgomery County.

Wal-Mart math

I’ll have much more (I hope!) to offer on this later. For now, though, I want to list a couple of statistics and then to return to my hard cider, which I enjoy before I must, somewhat unwillingly (I drove a John Deere tonight! I never have that opportunity in Maryland.), leave Indiana for the East Coast. These are really loose figures — and this is a really rambling post –, but they should give the reader some idea of the massive amount of ground coverage detailed.

At any given time, approximately three hundred and fifty Wal-Mart stores sit empty, the victims of relocation and/or expansion.

In Nineteen ninety-nine, the average empty Wal-Mart covered sixty-two thousand and fifty-seven square feet.

That’s about five hundred acres. Area dedicated to parking at a Wal-Mart sometimes as much as triples the acreage of the store. Estimating conservatively, we’ll go with two-and-one-half times. That takes us to about twelve hundred and fifty acres.

Think, now, about how many more Wal-Marts have, probably, closed their doors, about the increased size of stores — and the size of Supercenters and concomitant parking lots –, and the number of abandoned Home Depots, Lowe’s, and so forth. And don’t forget about shopping malls and strip malls. Stacy Mitchell, in 2000, wrote that, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, about five hundred million square feet of retail space sat empty (almost eleven thousand, five hundred acres!); acres of unused asphalt surround most of those vacant spaces.

Anyone not see something wrong with this?

More on this — with a point! — and, I hope, much more web-logging, once my respite in the Hoosier State ends and I return to the Free (except for all of those taxes) State

Terrapin Times web-logging

I’ve begun what I hope will be a long-lasting, fruitful discussion of University of Maryland, Maryland, and American politics and interests with a commentary on Maryland gerrymandering and the campaign to represent the Fourth US Congressional District of Maryland, wherein I presently reside, here.

“I am Shawn Earl Gardner, live man, flesh and blood,” he proclaimed.

As Andrew Sullivan notes, “Even David Simon couldn’t make this up.”

Judge Davis and his law clerk pored over the case files, which led them to a series of strange Web sites. The fleshand- blood defense, they discovered, came from a place far from Baltimore, from people as different from Willie Mitchell as people could possibly be. Its antecedents stretched back decades, involving religious zealots, gun nuts, tax protestors, and violent separatists driven by theories that had fueled delusions of Aryan supremacy and race war in gun-loaded compounds in the wilds of Montana and Idaho. Although Mitchell and his peers didn’t know it, they were inheriting the intellectual legacy of white supremacists who believe that America was irrevocably broken when the 14th Amendment provided equal rights to former slaves. It was the ideology that inspired the Oklahoma City bombing, the biggest act of domestic terrorism in the nation’s history, and now, a decade later, it had somehow sprouted in the crime-ridden ghettos of Baltimore.

I love Maryland, where drug dealers rely on white-supremacist legal defenses; Prince George’s County police kill dogs; the flag-ship University is a joke, catering to every possible “educational” interest group possible, whilst neglecting the important studies; and State delegates crawl into bed with a local manifestation of corporate America.