Back 1 Page

Excerpt from Historic Frederick. Colonel John R. Holt. Frederick, Maryland: Marken & Bielfeld, Inc. 1949. Pages 30-33.

One of the most famous personalities of Frederick was Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, the Fifth Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, who lived in this city for over 22 years. He married a local girl, the sister of Francis Scott Key, and made a national reputation as a practicing lawyer at the County Court House and finally completed his career as ChiefJustice of the Supreme Court. Justice Taney was born in Calvert County on St. Patrick's Day (March 17, 1777) and died on Columbus Day (Oct. 12, 1864). He was a descendant of an English Catholic Family who emigrated to Maryland about 1650m and settled in Calvert County. Graduating from Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa., in 1795, at the age of 18, he was known for his studious habits, as a hard worker and it was predicted he would go far in his chosen profession. He studied law in the offfice of Judge J. T. Chase at Annapolis, Md., and was admitted to the Bar in 1799, being elected the same year a Delegate to the Maryland Legislature.

In 1801, at the urgent request of Francis Scott Key he moved to Frederick, where he took up the active practice of law and was early recognized as one of the leading members of the legal profession in western Maryland. He had met Anne Key at Annapolis through an introduction from her brother F. S. Key, and it is recorded that Taney was "immediately captivated by her womanly grace". On Tuesday evening, January 7, 1806, at Terra Rubra the country home of his fiance, Roger Brooke Taney and Miss Anne P. C. Key were married by Reverend Nicholas Zoochey, from Taneytown, Md. Reports say "the reception was gay; with many of Taney's friends from southern Maryland present to do justice to the entertainment." The marriage was a most happy one and to this union were born seven children—six girls and one boy. While Taney was a very devout Catholic and his wife Anne a staunch Episcopalian it is generally believed that some understanding existed between them to the effect that any girls born to the union would be raised as Episcopalians and if boys they would be brought up as Catholics. The only son died when he was three years old; all the other children were raised in the Episopal faith. In 1816 we find Taney elected to the Maryland Legislature from Frederick County as a Senator, where he served for five years. He was chief defense counsel for Rev. Jacob Gruber, a Methodist Episcopal Minister who was tried in the County Court House of Frederick in 1818 for inciting negro salves to rebel against their masters in a sermon preached to a mixed congregation in Washington County near Hagerstown, Md., in the previous year. Taney was able to secure a change of venue to Frederick County and his excellent presentation of all facts pertinent to the case, with a remarkable address to the jury secured a prompt acquittal. Another leading case was the famous Wilkinson trial, where again Taney as the chief defense attorney was able to present such an able defense for the defendant, (General Wilkinson of the U. S. Army), being tried for treason, he was successful in securing an acquittal. These, and many other cases of a civil and criminal nature helped him to gain a statewide reputation as an extraordinary member of the legal profession. He moved to Baltimore in 1823, where he continued his practice with excellent results. Elected Attorney General of Maryland in 1827, he served his state for the next four years in this position with great credit.

In 1831 he was appointed by President Andrew Jackson as Attorney General of the United States where his views on matters of national importance and his legal knowledge were early recognized as sound. He temporarily filled the position of Acting Secretary of War while still occupying the position of Attorney General in 1831. In 1833 President Jackson appointed Taney as Secretary of the Treasury and it was by his order, backed up by President Jackson, that all Government deposits were removed from the Bank of the United States, a privately owned bank directed by one Nicholas Biddle of Philadelphia. By this action the finances of the United States for the first time in our history came under control of the Federal Government and were not subject to order of private individuals. As his appointment was made while Congress was not in session, his name failed of confirmation in 1834 and he resigned. President Jackson was loathe to part with an aide of the calibre of Taney, but it was not until two years later, in 1836, that the opportunity came, due to the death of Chief Justice Marshal for President Jackson to appoint Taney as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. For the next twenty-eight years Taney was to rule the destines of this court—a record only exceeded by Marshal who had filled the position 35 years. Justice Taney was a past master in letter writing and one of the finest letters he ever penned was to his beloved wife Anne, written on Jan. 7. 1852, the 46th anniversary of their marriage. Here it is.

Washington, Jan. 7, 1852.

I cannot my dearest wife, suffer the 7th of January to pass without renewing to you the pledges of love which I made to you on the 7th of January, forty-six years ago. And although I am sensible that in that long period I have done many things that I ought not to have done, and left undone many things that I ought to have done, yet in constant effection to you, I have never wavered—never being insensible how much I owe to you—and now pledge to you again a love as true as that I offered on the 7th of January, 1806, and shall ever be
Your effectionate husband,

Mrs. Anne Taney

In 1857 the celebrated Dred Scott case came before the Court. Taney could easily have designated one of the Associate Justices to write the decision, but he elected to do this personally. No one who has carefully read this decision can reach any other conclusion but that Taney was actuated by the highest motives in reaching his conclusions, which were concurred in by six of the other associate judges. There can be no doubt but that this decision precipitated the Civil War that was to drain the resources in men and material of our country four long years, but was eventually to abolish forever a system of slavery that had become obnoxious even to the South. While Maryland did not secede from the Union, many of her sons served in the Confederate Army, and as a border state the Federal Government was never quite sure of its loyalty. There was not at any time any question of the loyalty of Chief Justice Taney. He performed his duty fearlessly and directed the destines of the Court throughout the Civil War period, without criticism in any manner. In writing a brief sketch of the life of Taney it is realized that many outstanding events of the Jurist's life must be omitted. Many of his public acts can be traced to his private life; a life of great purity and piety. He had a frail body and he worked so hard at times that he was compelled to take to his bed periodically to give his body and mind some small measure of rest, yet he lived to the ripe old age of 87 years. He administered the oaths of offfice to seven Presidents, as follows:Martin Van Buren, Wm. Henry Harrison , James K. Polk , Zackary Taylor , Franklin Pierce , James Buchanan , Abraham Lincoln

If he had lived six months longer, he no doubt would have administered the oath for a second time to Lincoln. At his own request he was buried in St. John's Cemetery in Frederick beside his mother, who had preceded him in death by nearly fifty years. Monuments have been erected to his memory at Baltimore, Annapolis and Frederick and Taney County, Missouri, has been named in his honor. On the slab marking his last resting place we can still discern these words:

Fifth Chief Justice of the United States of America, born in Calvert County, Maryland, March 17, 1777, died in the city of Washington, October 12, 1864, aged 87 years 6 mos. 25 days. He was a profound and able lawyer, an upright and fearless judge, a pious and exemplary christian. At his own request he was buried in this secluded spot near the grave of his mother.
"May he Rest in Peace"

A visit to Frederick is incomplete without spending a few moments in this old cemetery where sleep soldiers, jurists, statesmen, historians and churchmen. Here lies George Littlejohn who was a British soldier; close by lies Hugh McSweeney, a soldier of the Army organized to suppress the Insurrection of 1794 in Western Pennsylvania; the last Governor of Maryland from Frederick County, Enoch L. Lowe; James McSherry, Maryland historian and his eminent son, the late Chief Justice of Maryland, and many, many others.

A Textbook History of Frederick County. Gordon, Paul B. and Rita S. Gordon. Frederck, Maryland Board of Education. 1975. Pages 195-7.

Born in Calvert County on March 17, 1777, Roger Brooke Taney was the son of Michael and Monica Brooke Taney. As a young boy, Taney attended school in a log cabin close to his home, and then was enrolled in a gramar school about ten miles distant. When the teacher died, his father hired a succession of tutors to instruct the children of the Taney family in their home. When Roger Brooke Taney reached his teens, he was enrolled in Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, and graduated as valedictorian in 1795 at the age of 15.

Following his study of law under Judge J. T. Chase in Annapolis, Mr. Taney was admitted to the bar in 1799. That same year he was elected by the Federalist Party as a delegate to the General Assembly, and in 1816 he was elected to serve as the senator from Frederick County in the Maryland Legislature. This office he filled for the next five years.
Taney had moved to Frederick in March, 1801, and had opened his own office for the practice of law. On January 7, 1806 Mr. Taney married Anne Key, sister of Francis Scott Key, a man Mr. Taney had become friends with in Annapolis during his days as a law student.

Mr. Taney remained a resident of Frederick for the next twenty-two years. In 1823 at the age of forty-six, the Taney family moved to Baltimore, and Mr. Taney opened a law office in that city. In 1827 Taney was elected Attorney General of Maryland, and held that office until 1831. At tilat time President Andrew Jackson appointed Roger Brooke Taney Attorney General of the United States, and at the same time he held this office, he also filled the position of Acting Secretary of War.

President Jackson appointed Taney Secretary of the Treasury in 1833, and it was under Taney that all government deposits were removed from the Bank of the United States, a privately owned bank. For the first time in our history, the banking of this country came under control of the Federal Government, and was not subject to the order of private individuals.

In 1835 President Jackson nominated Roger Brooke Taney as the fifth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Taney remained in this position for twenty-eight years, during which time he administered the oath of office to seven Presidents: Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln, an honor held only by Taney, since this number has never been repeated by any other Chief Justice. Perhaps Taney's most important decision was delivered in what is known as the Dred Scott Case. Certainly it was one of the reasons for Taney's fame, although he heard many cases of importance. Taney's opinion was endorsed by himself and five of the associate judges, while two judges dissented. The decision was that it was not "competent" for the Congress of the United States directly or indirectly to exclude slavery for the territories of the union. As a result of the decision, which was a most unpopular one, Taney added a supplement to his decision, and this document was one of the most comprehensive and best reasoned politico-judicial opinions ever pronounced by any tribunal.

Roger Brooke Taney is buried near his mother in St. Johns Cemetery, in Frederick. He died in October, 1864.

Back to Top
Back 1 Page