Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Mark Sanger makes an excellent argument for allowing the Roger B. Taney statue in Baltimore to remain standing. For those of you who don't remember, Taney was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court during the 1850s and was wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott case.

Sanger writes:

"Tearing down all monuments to Roger Taney encourages the historically false belief that slavery existed in the United States largely because Taney and a few other leaders made evil decisions. The monuments to Taney and other champions of slavery that exist in Frederick, in Maryland, and throughout the United States better serve as important reminders that human bondage existed in this state and country because Americans in the early 19th century believed in memorializing those political leaders who preferred slavery to liberty."

Absolutely right. It is vitally important for the people of this country to understand how central slavery was to pre-Civil War America. Roger Taney, John C. Calhoun, and Robert Rhett did not by themselves create and maintain slavery. It was southern planters, northern merchants, ship owners, the US government, and virtually every other major institution in the antebellum United States.

Tearing down statues of Taney and Calhoun undermines the responsibility average Americans had for the slave system. Moreover, it also downplays the role of race in American society today. Americans after the Civil War, both northerners and southerners, consciously lionized men like Taney while placing African-Americans into second-class citizenship. Whites still benefit from this today.

Rather than tear down the Taney statue, let's understand why it is there in the first place.