Roughly Speaking Dan Rodricks: Commentary and conversation on life in Baltimore, Maryland and the USA

Do his fans really want Larry Hogan defending Roger Taney's legacy?

Let me see if I have this correct: Instead of bowing to political correctness, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan should have insisted that the state permanently honor the chief justice who wrote the worst Supreme Court decision of all time.

Indeed, Larry Hogan should have drawn a line on the State House grounds, by the statue of Roger B. Taney, author of the racist Dred Scott decision.

By ordering the statue removed, the Republican governor did the unthinkable: He sided with the “liberal snowflakes” and betrayed his party, once the party of Abraham Lincoln, now the party of Donald J. Trump.

Apparently, this is how a good number of Hogan’s fans feel, based on the comments swirling in social media. His new critics seem to think the governor has joined an antifa gang by having the Taney statue removed.

There are three main criticisms. I’ll address each.

One: The Taney monument should continue to be prominently displayed.

Who knew our fellow Marylanders harbored such undying respect for Taney, the man who led the Supreme Court in 1857 when it held that black people, free or slave, could not be considered American citizens?

Legal scholars consider the Dred Scott decision the worst in the court’s history, by far.

The court found that Congress could not deprive citizens of their property (slaves) without due process. It found that Scott, who had sought freedom for himself and his family, had no rights as a citizen and, therefore, no standing to bring suit. (So much for “all men are created equal.”)

The ruling imagined the horrible prospects of blacks being free to roam from state to state, to engage in free speech, to hold public meetings and to even own firearms.

Historians say the Dred Scott decision ended any hope of a political solution to slavery. It empowered the slave states to dig in their heels and, within four years, secede from the Union and take up arms.

Maybe Larry Hogan’s critics take pride in saying Taney was from Maryland. I don’t. Heroes go above and beyond the call of duty; they rise above their times and the prejudices of ordinary men. Taney did not.

“There is little in all his judgments to raise him above the ranks of respectable jurists,” wrote Charles M. Ellis in The Atlantic (then The Atlantic Monthly) upon Taney’s death in 1864. His tenure on the court was “a long judicial Sahara” regarding slavery, Ellis wrote: “This age will be remembered and judged a dreary, barren waste of shifting, blinding, stifling sand.”

Two: Removing the Taney monument is an attempt to erase American history.

We are not erasing history. We are ending the veneration of a Chief Justice whose legacy is associated with racism and the preservation of slavery. Until his statue was removed, Taney held the same stature as that of Thurgood Marshall, another Marylander and member of the Supreme Court with a monument on the State House grounds, but a man whose service was far more honorable, progressive and heroic.

No one is burning history books. Taney will always be the Chief Justice of the United States, from 1836 to 1864.

Same with the Confederate generals who led the rebellion against the Union in an effort to preserve slavery. The losing generals deserve to be in the history books. They do not deserve grand statues in public places.

Here’s what Hogan said upon removal of the Taney statue: “While we cannot hide from our history — nor should we — the time has come to make clear the difference between properly acknowledging our past and glorifying the darkest chapters of our history.”

Three: A Republican governor should never agree with Democrats, and certainly not liberals.

That’s crazy talk, and it’s why it takes so long to get anything done in this country, why we have snark and rancor where we should have civilized dialogue and compromise.

There are plenty of people who like Hogan’s approach to government, others who don’t.

He’s been smart to keep his distance from Trump, who is deeply unpopular in Maryland and in the throes of a crisis over his remarks about Charlottesville and the removal of “beautiful statues” that honor the Confederacy.

While I think Hogan could and should do more for Baltimore, for the Taney statue removal, I defend him. Obviously, ending the state’s official tribute was not something Hogan had planned to do. Like many politicians, events forced him to think about an issue that had been on the back burner, and to take action.

So, like Mayor Catherine Pugh in Baltimore, Hogan looked at Charlottesville and saw how the Confederacy-venerating monuments could become a flashpoint for neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, with the potential for violence.

Give Pugh and Hogan credit for showing wise discernment — the difference between acknowledging history and glorifying old evils — acting quickly, and removing shiny objects before their worst defenders could organize.

drodricks@baltsun.com

twitter.com/DanRodricks

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