Roger Brooke Taney Court (1836-1864)

Roger Brooke Taney was the 5th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, succeeding John Marshall. The first Catholic to serve on the Supreme Court, Taney was nominated on December 28, 1835 by President Andrew Jackson. Taney had been nominated earlier that year to fill a different vacancy, but the Senate had not voted on his nomination before its session ended. The Senate confirmed him for the Chief Justice seat on March 15, 1836, and he was sworn into office on March 28, 1836. Taney served as Chief Justice until he died on October 12, 1864 and was succeeded by Salmon Portland Chase. His 28-year tenure was the second-longest of any Chief Justice, after his predecessor Marshall. It extended through 10 Presidencies.

The membership of the Taney Court took numerous twists and turns. Congress increased the size of the Court during this era, which also saw the three longest vacancies in the history of the Court. Only one Associate Justice, James Moore Wayne, sat on the Court before Taney arrived and after he died. The Associate Justice position for which Taney was originally nominated was filled by Justice Philip Barbour soon after Taney was sworn into office. At that time, the Court consisted of only seven Justices. When Congress increased the size of the Court to nine Justices, the new seats were filled by Justices John Catron and John McKinley.

Between 1841 and 1845, four Associate Justices died: Barbour, Smith Thompson, Henry Baldwin, and Joseph Story. Their seats were filled by Justices Peter Vivian Daniel, Samuel Nelson, Levi Woodbury, and Robert Cooper Grier, who were appointed by three different Presidents. When Woodbury died in 1851, he was replaced by Justice Benjamin Curtis, who was the last Supreme Court Justice to be appointed by a President who was neither Democrat nor Republican. (President Millard Fillmore, who appointed Curtis, was a Whig.) After just six years on the Court, Curtis would resign in the wake of the controversy over the Dred Scott case. He was replaced by Justice Nathan Clifford.

Appointed in 1853 to replace McKinley, Justice John Archibald Campbell resigned when the Civil War started and joined the Confederate government. He spent several months in military prison after the war. However, Campbell was eventually released and returned to practicing law during Reconstruction.

McLean and Daniel died early in the Civil War, while a new seat was added to the Court. Combined with Campbellā€™s resignation, this allowed President Abraham Lincoln to appoint four new Associate Justices during the war: Noah Haynes Swayne, Samuel Freeman Miller, David Davis, and Stephen Johnson Field. They were the first Justices appointed by a Republican President.

The Taney Court is forever tarnished by what is considered the worst decision in Supreme Court history: Dred Scott v. Sandford. Taney wrote the main opinion in this 1857 case, although each Justice wrote a separate opinion. In addition to finding that slaves were property under the Fifth Amendment, Taney ruled that African-Americans (whether enslaved or freed) were not U.S. citizens. Issued just a few years before the Civil War, the Dred Scott decision fueled the fire of the abolition movement. The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments essentially wiped it off the books after the war ended.

Associate Justices on the Taney Court:

  • Joseph Story (1812-1845)
  • Smith Thompson (1823-1843)
  • John McLean (1829-1861)
  • Henry Baldwin (1830-1844)
  • James Moore Wayne (1835-1867)
  • Philip Barbour (1836-1841)
  • John Catron (1837-1865)
  • John McKinley (1838-1852)
  • Peter Vivian Daniel (1842-1860)
  • Samuel Nelson (1845-1872)
  • Levi Woodbury (1845-1851)
  • Robert Cooper Grier (1846-1870)
  • Benjamin Curtis (1851-1857)
  • John Archibald Campbell (1853-1861)
  • Nathan Clifford (1858-1881)
  • Noah Haynes Swayne (1862-1881)
  • Samuel Freeman Miller (1862-1890)
  • David Davis (1862-1877)
  • Stephen Johnson Field (1863-1897)

Selected Landmark Cases of the Taney Court:

New York v. Miln (1837)

Author: Philip Barbour

Topic: Powers of Congress

While a state is acting within the scope of its legitimate power as to the end to be attained, it may use whatever means, being appropriate to the end, that it may think fit, although they may be the same or nearly the same as scarcely to be distinguished from those adopted by Congress acting under a different power. This is subject only to the limitation that the law of the state must yield to the law of Congress if they collide.


Proprietors of Charles River Bridge v. Proprietors of Warren Bridge (1837)

Author: Roger Brooke Taney

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use

While the rights of private property are sacredly guarded, the community also has rights, and the happiness and wellbeing of every citizen depend on their faithful preservation.


Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842)

Author: Joseph Story

Topic: Powers of Congress

If Congress has a constitutional power to regulate a particular subject and does actually regulate it in a given manner and a certain form, it cannot be that the state legislatures have a right to interfere. In other words, when Congress has exclusive power over a subject, it is not competent for state legislation to add to the provisions of Congress on that subject.


Luther v. Borden (1849)

Author: Roger Brooke Taney

Topic: Role of Courts

The question of whether or not a majority of those persons entitled to suffrage voted to adopt a constitution cannot be settled in a judicial proceeding.


Gayler v. Wilder (1850)

Author: Roger Brooke Taney

Topic: Patents

Prior invention and use did not preclude a subsequent inventor from taking out a patent when a person had made and used an article similar to the patented invention but did not make their discovery public and did not test it to discover its usefulness, after which it was forgotten or abandoned.


Cooley v. Board of Wardens (1852)

Author: Benjamin Curtis

Topic: Powers of Congress

The mere grant of the commercial power to Congress does not forbid the states from passing laws to regulate pilotage. The power to regulate commerce includes various subjects, upon some of which there should be a uniform rule and upon others different rules in different localities. The power is exclusive in Congress in the former but not the latter class.


Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)

Author: Roger Brooke Taney

Topic: Due Process

An act of Congress that deprives a citizen of the United States of his liberty or property merely because he came or brought his property into a particular territory of the United States could hardly be dignified with the name of due process of law.


Ableman v. Booth (1859)

Author: Roger Brooke Taney

Topic: Role of Courts

The Supreme Court has appellate power in all cases arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States, with such exceptions and regulations as Congress may make, whether the cases arise in a state court or an inferior court of the United States. When the decision of the state court is against the right claimed under the Constitution or laws of the United States, a writ of error will lie to bring the judgment of the state court before the Supreme Court for reexamination and revision.