Muse jumped to conclusions over Miller’s statements
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