Chief Justice Roger Taney: Facts & Decisions

Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

Chief Justice Roger Taney established himself as one of the most controversial figures of the 19th century. Learn more about Taney's early career through his contentious ruling in Dred Scott v. Sanford, 1857.

Early Career

Roger Taney was born in Maryland on March 17, 1777. He excelled in his studies as a child and adolescent, and was eventually admitted to Dickinson College to study law. After graduating in 1795, Taney decided to enter the political arena. He joined the Maryland House of Delegates in 1799, representing the then-powerful Federalist Party. Taney sharpened his political acumen over his brief stint in the Maryland House of Delegates. Eventually, he chose to run for a seat in the Maryland Senate. He won the seat handily in 1816. Unfortunately for Taney, the Federalist Party began to capitulate on the eve of the 1820s. His political power sharply declined within Maryland, so he began looking for another opportunity.

Chief Justice Roger Taney
Portrait of Roger Taney

The Jackson Administration

After realizing the Federalist Party no longer had enough political power in the United States, Roger Taney joined the Democratic-Republican Party (this eventually became the Democratic Party by 1828). As a newly minted Democrat, Taney quickly befriended Andrew Jackson. Taney vehemently supported Jacksonian Democracy and campaigned widely for Jackson in both the Presidential Elections of 1824 and 1828. When Jackson became President of the United States in 1828, he appointed Taney as Secretary of War.

Taney's stint as Secretary of War only lasted a few months. He was quickly appointed to United States Attorney General, where he served for two years. He ascended the ranks once again following the successful reelection of Andrew Jackson in 1832. Taney overwhelmingly supported Jackson's fight against the Second Bank of the United States. In an effort to officially kill the bank, Jackson appointed Taney as Secretary of the Treasury. In this position, Taney assisted Jackson in writing the Bank Veto Message and ended federal deposits into the bank. As a show of gratitude toward Taney in defeating the Second Bank of the United States, Jackson nominated him for Chief Justice on the United States Supreme Court following the death of Chief Justice John Marshall. He was officially confirmed on March 15, 1836.

Taney as the Fifth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

Roger Taney's legislative record in the Supreme Court was one of mixed results. Taney maintained the ideology of a balanced legislative system that favored both the federal government and states' rights. Although, it is fair to say that he slanted more toward states' rights. In fact, a majority of his cases and decisions revolved around the rights that states held within the Constitution.

For instance, in The Mayor of New York v. Miln, 1837, Taney ruled that Congress had no right to establish itself as an authority on regulating commerce within the state of New York. Conversely, in Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 1842, a decision involving the Fugitive Slave Act, Taney ruled that states did not have the constitutional right to supersede federal authority in returning slaves to their rightful owners.

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