Roger B. Taney Biography

Government Official, Supreme Court Justice, Lawyer (1777–1864)
Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney made the pro-slavery ruling in the 1857 Dred Scott Case that deemed blacks weren't citizens of the United States.


Roger Brooke Taney was born on March 17, 1777, in Calvert County, Maryland. He served as attorney general and secretary of the treasury before being appointed the Supreme Court's fifth chief justice in 1836. Taney made history in the 1857 Dred Scott Case by ruling that black slaves were not citizens of the United States. This controversial historic figure died on October 12, 1864, in Washington, D.C.

Early Years

Roger Brooke Taney (pronounced taw'-NY) was born on March 17, 1777, in Calvert County, Maryland, to successful tobacco farmer Michael Taney V and his wife, Monica Taney. One of six children, as the second son, he wasn't going to inherit the Taney property, so he pursued law at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania over the family farming business    

Entering Politics

Roger B. Taney passed the bar in 1799. That same year, he turned to politics. A member of the Federalist Party, Taney was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates. In 1816, he earned a seat in the Maryland Senate as a Democratic Republican, serving a five-year term. Taney then supported Democratic candidate Andrew Jackson's successful 1828 run for the U.S. presidency. In turn, President Jackson made Taney Attorney General in 1831. In this role, Taney assisted the president in dismantling the Second Bank of the United States. This led to a recess appointment as Secretary of the Treasury in 1833. However, Taney’s nomination was rejected by a Senate vote of 28-18,—marking the first time Congress had nixed a presidential nominee's confirmation for a Cabinet post.

Chief Justice Appointment

President Andrew Jackson attempted to reward his colleague once again for his devotion with a Supreme Court appointment in 1835, but the Senate rejected the appointment due to Taney's controversial undoing of the bank. When Chief Justice John Marshall died in 1836, Jackson renominated his ally and Taney was confirmed, becoming the fifth Supreme Court Chief Justice as well as the first Roman Catholic to lead the United States' highest court.

'Dred Scott v. Sanford'

On March 15, 1857, Taney delivered a pro-slavery decision in the Dred Scott v. Sanford case—marking how he would be remembered historically. Scott, a slave in the free state of Illinois and free territory of Wisconsin, wanted his freedom when he moved to Missouri, a slave state. The 7-2 decision, written by Taney, ruled against Scott, declaring that African Americans were not United States citizens and, thusly, had no right to sue. The Chief Justice also stated that Congress could not forbid slavery in U.S. territories. Taney's inflammatory wording included a statement that blacks "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." Opponents of slavery denounced the decision.

Despite receiving public backlash from abolitionists and Republicans, including Abraham Lincoln, Taney held firm. On June 16, 1858, at the Illinois Republican convention, Lincoln, then an aspiring senator, gave the famous "House Divided" speech, stating, "What Dred Scott's master might lawfully do with Dred Scott, in the free state of Illinois, every other master may lawfully do with any other one, or 1,000 slaves, in Illinois, or in any other free state." Ironically, Lincoln was sworn in by Taney, who remained on the bench for 28 years, until his death on October 12, 1864, at the age of 87, in Washington, D.C.


Roger B. Taney was survived by five daughters. His wife, Anne Key (whose brother, Francis Scott Key, wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner"), and daughter Alice had died in 1855 of Yellow Fever. A son, Augustus, died at infancy in 1815. 

His actions to endorse slavery didn't stop various tributes. A statue of him remains in front of the Maryland State House in Annapolis. However, other Taney dedications have been removed due to public disapproval, including the renaming of Roger B. Taney Middle School in Temple Hill, Maryland, to Thurgood Marshall Middle School.

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