Muse jumped to con­clu­sions over Miller’s state­ments

The Calvert Recorder - - Community Forum -

In ref­er­ence to the ar­ti­cle “Se­nate Pres­i­dent Miller’s statue re­marks cause ire” in the Aug. 30 edi­tion of The Calvert Recorder, I am se­ri­ously dis­ap­pointed in Sen. An­thony Muse’s (D-Prince Ge­orge’s) ef­forts to cen­sure Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince Ge­orge’s) for his com­ments about re­moval of the statue of for­mer Supreme Court jus­tice Roger B. Taney from the State House grounds.

Miller rightly pointed out that Taney’s life and ca­reer con­sist of far more than what later be­came ac­knowl­edged as a wrong­headed de­ci­sion in the Dred Scott case. He was also sim­ply ask­ing for hear­ings and a process to dis­cuss the re­moval rather than a knee-jerk re­ac­tion to to­day’s po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. Sen. Miller, like all of us, has the right to free­dom of speech, and to at­tempt to cen­sure him for ex­press­ing a nu­anced and his­tor­i­cally-based opin­ion is un-Amer­i­can.

Sen. Muse dis­played his ig­no­rance of the his­tory of the Scott de­ci­sion and his a-his­tor­i­cal ap­proach to the is­sues in­volved by stat­ing that Taney said “black lives do not mat­ter.” Taney, who was only one of seven jus­tices who voted for the ma­jor­ity in this case, never said such a thing; this lan­guage is a con­tem­po­rary slo­gan, not a part of the his­tor­i­cal record.

The ma­jor­ity of the court held that the Con­sti­tu­tion made no pro­vi­sion for African-Amer­i­cans to be ci­ti­zens: “In the opin­ion of the court, the leg­is­la­tion and his­to­ries of the times, and the lan­guage used in the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence, show, that nei­ther the class of per­sons who had been im­ported as slaves, nor their de­scen­dants, whether they had be­come free or not, were then ac­knowl­edged as a part of the peo­ple, nor in­tended to be in­cluded in the gen­eral words used in that mem­o­rable in­stru­ment.” The court de­ci­sion stated that “the pub­lic his­tory of ev­ery Euro­pean na­tion dis­plays [that] They [blacks] had for more than a cen­tury be­fore been re­garded as be­ings of an in­fe­rior or­der, and al­to­gether un­fit to as­so­ciate with the white race, ei­ther in so­cial or po­lit­i­cal re­la­tions; and so far in­fe­rior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to re­spect; and that the ne­gro might justly and law­fully be re­duced to slav­ery for his ben­e­fit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an or­di­nary ar­ti­cle of mer­chan­dise and traf­fic, when­ever a profit could be made by it. This opin­ion was at that time fixed and uni­ver­sal in the civ­i­lized por­tion of the white race.”

As a re­sult, noth­ing in the na­tion’s his­tory or law sug­gested that Scott’s sit­u­a­tion would make him a cit­i­zen of the United States, el­i­gi­ble to sue in fed­eral court. In other words, the fa­mous com­ment about blacks “hav­ing no rights a white man was bound to re­spect” was a his­tor­i­cal and le­gal judg­ment, not a per­sonal opin­ion.

Al­though Taney, a na­tive of Prince Fred­er­ick (Mary­land was a slave state), was a sup­porter of slav­ery, he freed 11 slaves he in­her­ited as a young man and made anti-slav­ery state­ments when serv­ing as a de­fense at­tor­ney for an abo­li­tion­ist preacher. Re­mem­bered now only for hav­ing writ­ten the ma­jor­ity opin­ion in the un­for­tu­nate Dred Scott case, he had a long and distin­guished ca­reer as a lo­cal and state politi­cian, lawyer, act­ing sec­re­tary of war and at­tor­ney gen­eral of the United States. De­spite his views on slav­ery, he re­mained loyal to the Union un­til his death in 1864.

While it may be ap­pro­pri­ate to have re­moved his statue from the state grounds, Sen. Miller was ex­actly right both to draw at­ten­tion to Taney’s com­plete his­tor­i­cal record and to sug­gest that due process be fol­lowed be­fore such an ac­tion should be taken. As a life­long Demo­crat and lib­eral, I de­cry the racism and po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion so sadly preva­lent in the U.S. to­day. But be­fore jump­ing to con­clu­sions on con­tro­ver­sial is­sues, we should thor­oughly un­der­stand the facts.

Christo­pher M. Clarke, Hunt­ing­town

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