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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Miller chastises Hogan over vote to remove statue, calls Taney legacy ‘complex’

The leader of Maryland’s Senate criticized Gov. Larry Hogan for holding an email vote to remove the statue of Roger Brooke Taney and in the same letter defended the legacy of the Supreme Court chief justice who authored the Dred Scott decision.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., in a two-page letter to Hogan, condemned an email vote saying the issue was important enough to be done in a public meeting where members of the State House Trust could explain their votes.

“But regardless of one’s position on this issue, it is insulting to our citizens for the State House Trust to vote on such a matter outside the public eye,” Miller, a Democrat, wrote. “At a minimum, debate should have been allowed and each member of the State House Trust should have been allowed to explain our vote as it takes place in both the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates. We should have and continue to have public conversations about difficult issues facing our country. A full discussion for each of our reasons for supporting either removal or retention of the statue as well as the complex history of this man and our state would have only added to the public conversation and understanding. Voting on this matter by email is just plain wrong.”

The State House Trust, which oversees the oldest capitol building in continuous use and its grounds, voted Wednesday to remove the statue of Taney following a weekend of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia involving white supremacist groups angry at the removal of a statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee.

Miller, Hogan, a Republican who chairs the panel, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Maryland Historic Trust representative Charles L. Edson are the only voting members of the panel. All but Miller voted by email to remove the statue — which happened early Friday morning. Miller, through a spokesman, said he believed there was an agreement in place to hold a public meeting to discuss and vote on the issue.

Miller previously said he opposed removing the statue but would not block its removal.

Email votes by the panel are more the norm than the exception.

A spokesman for the governor said there have only been two in-person meetings of the trust perhaps in the last decade. Most issues, and votes, are minor, such as landscaping, and are conducted via email or phone.

The statue of Taney was placed on the front lawn of the State House on Dec. 11, 1872.

This statue of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney sits on the front lawn of the Maryland State House. Some delegates have called for its removal citing Taney's role in the Dred Scott decision. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

This statue of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney sits on the front lawn of the Maryland State House. Some delegates have called for its removal citing Taney’s role in the Dred Scott decision. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

Taney, the only Supreme Court chief justice from Maryland, wrote the Dred Scott decision that declared slaves were property and and therefore had no rights.

“We all know that the inflammatory and derogatory language and holding of the Dred Scott decision created great and lasting wounds in our country and incited, rather than avoided, a Civil War,” Miller wrote. ” As the New York Times wrote in his 1864 obituary, ‘Had it not been for his unfortunate Dred Scott decision, all would admit that he had through all those years, nobly sustained his high office.'”

Douglass Mayer, Hogan’s spokesman, said Miller “is completely within his right to continue defending Rodger Taney. (We’ll) Have to agree to disagree.”

Over the years, there have been a number of unsuccessful attempts to remove the statue.

Two years ago, as debate raged over reviewing and possibly removing Confederate Civil War statues in Baltimore City, Hogan said he would not support the removal of the Taney statue, calling it “political correctness run amok.”

But recent events in Charlottesville as well as the overnight removal earlier this week of four statues honoring the Confederacy in Baltimore caused Hogan to reconsider.

On Monday, Busch called for the removal of the Taney statue. Hogan quickly followed.

But Miller, an amateur historian who like Taney hails from Calvert County, defended the chief justice noting that the view today of Taney is simplified.

Taney, as a younger man, inherited slaves owned by his father. He freed them and provided pensions to older slaves.

Roger Brooke Taney was not a Confederate officer and he remained loyal to the Union until his death in 1864,” Miller wrote. “Many historians have debated the conflicting anti-slavery words and works of Roger Brooke Taney, the Frederick County attorney and the man who authored the Dred Scott decision. As a student of history, I personally believe as the New York Times opined in 1864 that ‘The decision itself, wrong as it was, did not spring from a corrupt or malignant heart. It came, we have the charity to believe, from a sincere desire to compose, rather than exacerbate, sectional discord. But  yet it was nonetheless an act of supreme folly and its shadow will ever rest on his memory.'”

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