History of Taney - History

History of Taney - History

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(RC: t. 112; Ibp. 73'4"; b. 20'6"; dph. 9'4"; a. 6

Taney-sometimes referred to as Roger B. Taney— was a wooden-hulled, schooner-rigged revenue cutter completed in late 1833 or early 1834 at New York City by Webb and Allen. In January 1834, she embarked on a special cruise off the east and gulf coasts, from Maine to Texas. Relieving revenue cutter Jefferson on station at Norfolk, Va., in November of 1834, Taney later extended her cruising grounds to Baltimore, Md., in October 1837. She sailed to New York for repairs in the summer of 1843.

Taney maintained this schedule of regular cruises with the Revenue Cutter Service until the onset of hostilities with Mexico when she was placed under Navy orders. Although the latter country possessed meager resources for outfitting privateers, commercial interests in the United States feared that she might issue a few letters-of-marque permitting privately-owned armed ships to prey upon American shipping.

Although the Spanish government cooperated in suppressing the few attempts that had been made to outfit privateers in Spanish ports, the United States dispatched Taney—with sloop-of-war Marion and steamer Princeton-to the Mediterranean station to prevent the appearance of Mexican privateers there. Taney arrived at Gibraltar on 29 August 1847 and remained there until she returned to the United States on 22 August 1849.

The revenue cutter departed New York at the end of October 1849 and conducted soundings in the Atlantic before being transferred to the United States Coast Survey in August of 1850. The following year, turmoil raged on the island of Cuba. The United States sought to steer a neutral course by prohibiting "filibustering" from her shores. Taney sailed southward for

Florida waters to seek out a suspected lair of filibusters up the St. Illa River. She found nothing suspicious however, and her commanding officer, Capt. T. C. Rudolph, subsequently reported that apparently the expedition had been cancelled.

Taney returned to New York harbor in the summer of 1852, where she capsized on 3 August. Eventually righted and repaired at the New York Navy Yard Taney operated out of Eastport, Maine, from January 1853 until October 1855, when she shifted south to cruise out of Savannah, Ga. After being repaired at Norfolk in August 1857, she returned to her station at Savannah. While operating from that base, she was struck by lightning off Tybee Island, Gal, and severely damaged on 30 August 1857.

Taney was subsequently sold on 5 January 1858.

Taney County, Missouri is included in our title: Goodspeed's 1894 A Reminiscent History of The Ozark Region. This title includes the history and genealogy for a total of twelve different Arkansas Counties and sixteen different Missouri counties in the Ozark region. This important and detailed title includes more than 800 pages of history and genealogy for 668 families in the Ozark region. Thousands of additional individuals and surnames are mentioned within these biographies - well over 5,000 individuals are made mention of in these twenty eight counties.

Some of the cities within Taney County, Missouri include:

Branson * Forsyth * Hollister * Rockaway Beach * Kirbyville * Taneyville * Walnut Shade * Bradleyville * Brownbranch * Rueter * Protem

For a full description of this title (including a list of Taney County, Missouri family biographies) click here:

To view a complete list of Missouri County History and Genealogy CDs available, click here: Missouri Counties

A 1904 map of Taney County can be viewed here: Taney County, Missouri 1904 Map

This site features a growing collection of more than 375 Arkansas Illinois Indiana Iowa Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Massachusetts Missouri North Carolina Ohio Tennessee Texas County History and Genealogy titles. Click on the links above or the navigation buttons on the upper left sidebar to view other titles available. Click on the SEARCH tab to search our entire inventory.

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— John Tilden, Reeds Spring, Missouri

plate 3. These stories were first written and published by Chick Allen in 1975.

Pictured below, Allen is remembered as an Ozark historian and “root digger” a founding member of the Baldknobber Music Show, and, perhaps most importantly, as a deeply respected and loved father and grandfather.

It is with great appreciation to John Fullerton — Chick Allen's great grandson and Branson historian — that this excerpt is published.

plate 4. Trail alongside Dewey Bald Mountain. 6/30/08 Photo credit, J. Heston. Location: Paul & Ruth Henning Conservation Area.

“Bald Mountain was another meeting place of the Baldknobbers in Stone County. Wash Gibbs was the out-law leader in Stone County. He lived in a log cabin in the valley of Roark Creek at the front of Dewey Bald. Another meeting place was atop Scissors Bald Montain in Taney County. There was a hiding place in a circle of rocks on top where the Civil War soldiers made bullets of lead and this was a look-out for anyone who might interfere.” — Chick Allen

End of the Baldknobbers (Continued):

After the confession, the Knobber was hauled off to Springfield jail and soon 25 men were arrested and confined under heavy guard in an old hall in Ozark (as the jail was too small).

One of the men escaped. The others began squealing on each other.

The grand jury in Ozark started a serious investigation and the charges ranged from unlawful assembly to first-degree murder. The man who escaped was tricked into going to West Plains by a so-called friend to see his sister and the sheriff was there to meet him. He was arrested and sent to jail with the others to await trial. In March — a year after the murders — the trials began.

The young escapee was the first to be tried. Three of the Knobbers turned state's evidence to save their own skins. It was proven that the shotgun belonged to the young escapee and the older farmer's daughter identified him as the man she had unmasked. He still carried a scar on his leg where the bullet had ripped into it.

The defense attorney tried to impress the jury that the boy was only 17 years old but it did not impress them — he was found guilty and sentenced to death. Four men, including the deacon, were sentenced to hang by the neck until they were dead. The balance of the men pled guilty and received sentences from a few months to 25 years in the penitentiary. The supreme judges upheld the decisions of the Ozark court as they were all guilty of comitting barbarous murders.

The morning after the prisoners were told of this decision, the sheriff found a hole in the wall of the jail. The deacon and a member of his family were missing. A posse was formed and a reward offered for the capture of the two men. The next day, a farmer captured the deacon and returned him to Ozark but the other man was never seen again. On May 10, 1889, the three men were handcuffed and led up to the scaffold platform, and black hoods were placed on their heads and the ropes were fitted about their necks.

This was the sheriff’s first hanging and he built the scaffold with three nooses and one large trap door so all men would be hanged with one drop. He wanted to get it over with as soon as possible.

He pulled the lever and the men fell through. There was a terrible groan from the spectators and the sheriff looked down through the trap door and saw that the ropes were too long. The men's feet were on the ground and their necks were not broken. They were beating and thrashing around, choking to death. The sheriff grabbed the deacon's rope and managed to get him off of his feet and he choked to death.

Then he grabbed another rope and swung the man high enough that his feet did not touch the ground. The crowd moaned and many fainted. Then the sheriff grabbed the rope of the escapee and tried to swing him but the rope slipped off his head with the black hood. The youth fell to ground, thrashing around, his eyes wild with pain. Blood ran from his mouth and he cried, “Get it over with!”

The sheriff got some help and put the young man back up through the trap door where the rope was again fitted around his neck. The lever was jerked again and the youth went through the second time. The sheriff heard a terrific scream from the crowd and looked again through the trap door and saw the rope had again stretched too long for a second time. He grabbed the rope but by this time he did not have enough strength to lift him.

So the remaining Baldknobber was left there and after 16 minutes, he choked to death. So ended the Baldknobber reign of terror in the Ozarks. Their deaths were as agonizing as the crimes they had brought on the helpless people of the Ozark hills.


Taney Stairs & Rails &mdash handcrafted quality, expert craftsmanship, and made in the USA.

The Taney Corporation is a family-owned and operated company specializing in stairs for over 60 years. From custom and pre-built straight stairs to stunning circular stairs and spiral stairs, Taney has built a reputation on our commitment to craftsmanship and quality.

The founder of our company Eric E. Glass with his sons Jeff Glass and Brian Glass

We’ve prided ourselves on delivering the same quality to new construction and renovation projects for homeowners across the east coast as we did to the over five thousand units in The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas. Our work has been featured on Extreme Home Makeover and This Old House as well as the film The Firm. Cal Ripken, Vince McMahon, Wayne Newton, and Mario Andretti all chose Taney for the stairs in their homes in addition to thousands of discerning eyes and customers who expect the best.

When you work with Taney the only limit to your stair project is your own imagination. Our attention to every detail and the expertise of our craftsmen truly know no limits.


During the Civil War, Missouri as a border state was hard hit by neighbor against neighbor bushwhacker fighting. After the war the neighbor versus neighbor fighting continued throughout the state with perhaps the most famous being the actions of the James-Younger Gang. Authorities had a difficult time bringing the criminal fighting under control because both sides still held strong partisan supporters. Between 1865 and 1885, Taney County reported there were 40 murders and not a single suspect was ever convicted. [2] The Bald Knobbers initially set out to put an end to the marauding gangs. But the Bald Knobbers were to end up having their own excesses and criminal activities.

In 1883, thirteen men led by Nat N. Kinney formed the group, in retaliation against the hordes of invading marauders that had plagued the area since the start of the Reconstruction Era. The original thirteen were Nat Kinney, James A. DeLong, Alonzo S. Prather, Yell Everett, James B. Rice, T.W. Phillips, James R VanZandt, Pat F. Fickle, Galba E. Branson, J. J. Brown, Charles H. Groom, James K. Polk McHaffie, and possibly Ben Price. During the period of 1865-1882, over thirty murders were committed, none leading to a conviction. The group was called both the "Citizen's Committee" and "The Law and Order League" by its members. [3] However, because their secret meetings were held atop a "bald" mountaintop (in order to keep a lookout for spies), the public began to refer to them as the Bald Knobbers. As their numbers grew into the hundreds, out of a county of only 7,000 people, the original intent began to lose focus. Though initially praised for driving out the notorious outlaws, public sentiment soon turned against them.

Although the men initially wore nothing more than a simple kerchief over their lower faces, if any disguise at all, many soon adopted a simple white muslin hood with corners tied off like ears, and cut out eye and mouth holes. This fearsome appearance only inflamed the anti-sentiment, peaking with the formation of the anti-Bald Knobbers. While the Bald Knobbers were made up of both Democrats and Republicans, though Nat Kinney himself was a Democrat and had ran for office as such, though he had fought for the Union Army, newer reports say that Kenney was a Republican, however this is false. The anti-Bald Knobbers were also from both sides of the political aisle. When the county courthouse burned down, both rival sides pointed fingers at each other, intensifying the bitterness between the groups.

This loosely knit anti-Bald Knobber faction was best represented by the 19-year-old orphan Andy Coggburn. Coggburn hated Kinney, a very persuasive individual with a mysterious past, who had moved into the area with his family two years before the Bald Knobbers came into being. Coggburn took great pleasure in deriding Kinney, pulling pranks and speaking out against the vigilante gang. Kinney and his fellow Bald Knobbers held considerable pull in the county, and in no time Coggburn was shot and killed by Kinney in "self defense" outside the local church of Forsyth, where Kinney had gone to preach that night.

In 1886, after gaining national notoriety from their exploits, and embarrassing state leaders, Missouri Governor John S. Marmaduke sent Adjutant General J.C. Jamison to Forsyth to investigate the situation. [4] Upon arrival, although the representative was pleased to see the atmosphere of order that prevailed, he recommended to Kinney that an official dissolution of the Bald Knobbers would be in the best interest of the county. That next day a formal dissolution ceremony was held in the town square where the Bald Knobbers were publicly disbanded, having served their original purpose.

Neighboring counties such as Christian, Douglas, Greene, and Stone had already adopted the idea of masked night riders, and disregarded the strict rules that had governed the original Taney county chapter. The Christian County group became the most notorious by far. At the time Chadwick was the most bustling town of Christian County due to the nearby railroad, and a prime market for timber made into railroad ties. However, Chadwick's design as a "railroad town" meant that saloons and brothels dominated the area, and led many men to gamble, drink, and whore away their week's earnings.

In a move towards moral straightening, the Christian County chapter was led by Dave Walker. [5] However, his seventeen-year-old son Billy Walker was a wild force within their group. Though it is rumored the Walkers had invited Nat Kinney from neighboring Taney County to help institute the Christian County chapter, it is doubtful this occurred since Kinney had recently disbanded the original group himself. There were also several differences between the groups. The Christian County group held meetings at a large cave on the edge of the Walker's land, and the members wore black hoods with cork or wooden horns protruding out of the top, decoratively designed with white or red stripes around the eyes, mouth, and horns, and sometimes with tassels dangling off the horn points. The members also routinely burned down saloons, and were generally more threatening than the Taney County group had been.

William Edens was a young opponent of the group, and would publicly criticize them. After he received several warnings (including a late-night beating), tragedy struck. The night of March 11, 1887, the Christian County group met at the cave to discuss disbanding. However, that night new members were inducted, and several members were incensed by new remarks William Edens had made about the band. As the meeting finished, many of the younger men headed home the long way, towards the Edens' cabin. Captain David Walker pleaded with them not to go, but his son Billy and several others, including Wiley Mathews, were headstrong.

When the men discovered that Edens was not home, they continued up the road to the cabin of James and Elizabeth Edens, William's parents. William Edens and his sick wife, Emma, were staying the night. So were James and Elizabeth's daughter Melvina who was sick with the measles, Melvina's husband, Charles Green and the Green children ages three years and three months. The Bald-Knobbers busted in the windows and splintered in the doors of the tiny cabin, spraying shotgun blasts as they intruded. In the gunshot exchange, William Edens and Charles Green were killed, James Edens seriously wounded from an axe blow to the head and Bald Knobbers William Walker and John Mathews shot. The wails of the women and children led neighbors to the scene of the massacre. First to arrive was Charles Green's father, George Green, who lived near enough to hear the shots.

Though Dave Walker had attempted to prevent the men in his group from letting their actions escalate, his very presence in the nearby road at the time of the attack ultimately doomed him. After 80 men were indicted and tried in a series of worldwide-media covered trials [ citation needed ] over the course of the next 18 months, it was ultimately decided that four would hang for the crimes: Dave Walker, his young son Billy, Deacon John Mathews and his nephew Wiley Mathews. Wiley would later escape the county's new jail, leaving the three others to be punished for the reign of the vigilantes.

As the Christian County men awaited their fate in jail, old rivalries ran rampant. A group of Anti-Bald Knobbers, still unsatisfied with the outsider Kinney's intrusion into their community, met together and selected an assassin for their cause. In August 1888, farmer Billy Miles entered a store where Kinney was inventorying for the courts, and killed the ex-Bald Knobber leader with three shots from his pistol. He then stepped outside and surrendered to the law, claiming self-defense. The event made worldwide news, and Billy Miles was given full exoneration in very little time.

Back in Christian County, the execution date came to bear on May 10, 1889. After a late night of prayer services and repentance, the next morning the three men were led out into an enclosed area and onto a scaffolding the sheriff built himself, despite not having any prior hanging experience in executing prisoners. After last-minute prayers and final goodbyes between a father and son, the trap was sprung. Onlookers watched the three men twist and writhe on ropes that were too long. The condemned men's feet dragged along the ground, and at one point young Billy's rope broke, leaving him writhing on the ground and calling out for help. He was re-hanged, and after thirty-four minutes, the last of them finally died. Public criticism of the botched executions ran rampant.

Taney County's loose Bald Knobber threads were being tied together at long last as well, as the law officially sought vengeance for Nat Kinney's untimely assassination. Sheriff Galba Branson enlisted the aide of an out-of-state bounty hunter named Ed Funk. Together they sought Billy Miles on the Fourth of July, 1889. After visiting several Independence Day celebrations, they finally found him at a spring with a group of men on the edge of the Kirbyville Picnic. They approached him with warning shots, and a gunfight broke out between the ex-Bald Knobber supporters, the Anti-Bald Knobber supporters, and the lawmen. Both Funk and Branson were killed, and Billy Miles and his brothers fled the area.

Though the Kirbyville Shootout is seen as the general end to the story of the Bald Knobbers, there was at least one more quiet incident in 1890 involving an adulterer being lynched by a band of masked men, and here and there lie undocumented stories about unofficial retributions involving masked hoodlums in neighboring counties all the way up into the 1920s. [ clarification needed ] Bald knobber stories made headlines across the country at the time, and again as the original Bald Knobbers passed away.

As early as 1887 the Bald Knobber story was already being translated into popular culture as a play titled The Bald Knob Tragedy of Taney and Christian Counties. [6] The start of Branson-area and Taney County tourism began with the 1907 publication of Harold Bell Wright's The Shepherd of the Hills, which features generic Bald Knobbers as the story's villains. Later, the Mabe family began a local country and western comedy revue called Baldknobbers (one word, and named solely for the humorous quality of the name rather than for any historical purpose) the Mabe family attraction started the music-show presence for which Branson has become famous.

More recent Bald Knobber-related fare includes the indoor roller-coaster ride, Fire in the Hole, at the Silver Dollar City theme park it is a ride through a Bald Knobber theme, but not specifically grounded in any historical events. Starting in 2000, the White River Valley Historical Society in Forsyth began producing a "Law Day" festival, featuring a Bald Knobber pageant focusing on the Taney County Bald Knobber history. And finally, a documentary produced about the vigilantes, featuring several reenactments, original locations, and descendants of either side, entitled Fire in the Mountain, premiered at several film festivals beginning in the spring of 2007 (winning the Gold Remi Award at Worldfest in Houston, TX), and had its television premiere on Jan. 13th, 2011, on the OPT Missouri PBS station as part of their Ozarks Reflections series. A feature film version is also in the works. There are few books and merchandise relating to Bald Knobber history, but documentary producer/director Damon Blalack has heavily researched and collected many items relating to the group in his creation of Fire in the Mountain, and plans to help establish a stronger museum representation of the history in conjunction with the White River Valley Historical Society.

History of Taney Street

March 6, 1857: U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney authors the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, summarized by the New York Times at the time as ruling that “Negroes, whether slaves or free, that is, men of the African race, are not citizens of the United States by the Constitution.” (NYT 3/6/1857)

More recently, the New York Times has summarized the ruling thusly:

“The court, in addition to declaring that black people were not citizens, made several other rulings on slavery. It held that Congress did not have the power to abolish it in territories as it had done in the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which banned slavery in northern territories. It also declared that Mr. Scott, or any slave, could not become free by spending time in free territory because he was still his owner’s property. Rather than settling the slavery debate, the decision increased the animosity between pro- and anti-slavery factions, further divided North and South, and contributed to the start of the Civil War four years later.”

Dred Scott brought the lawsuit because his owner died and the owner’s heirs were planning to sell Dred Scott’s wife and two daughters. This case was fundamentally about the right to have a family.

Radiolab Presents: More Perfect

1858: Minor Street in Fairmount is renamed North Taney Street. White supremacist Mayor Richard Vaux names a North Taney Street in Justice Roger Taney’s honor.

See documentation from historical maps and street guides below.

Sometime between 1895 – 1903: Barnwell Street is renamed South Taney Street. This portion was renamed when the city systematized street names.

Historical Context

1854: The Pennsylvania General Assembly consolidated Philadelphia city and county and dissolved all other municipal authorities in the county. This action favored the Democratic party, who were predominately white and largely in favor of expanding slavery, anchored in the then-suburbs of Northern Liberties, Germantown, Manayunk, etc. Philadelphia was rife with race riots and white supremacist violence against the anti-slavery movement, including the burning of the abolitionist meeting house in 1838.

1858: The newly expanded city of Philadelphia votes Democrat Richard Vaux as mayor, who campaigned on support of expanding slavery in the territories (the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which overturned the Missouri Compromise). Vaux remained an outspoken white supremacist during his 2-year term and was a Confederate sympathizer during the Civil War. He later aggressively opposed the 15th amendment as a U.S. Congressperson.

Documentation of Maps and Street Guides

1858 street guide: No mention of Taney Street, only Minor Street (to the North and Bank Street (to the South):

1859 street guide: see page 22 for “Nomenclature of Streets Changed by Ordinance”, which renames Minor Street to North Taney Street between Coates and Fairmount Streets:

Map of 1860: First archived map on philageohistory.org to include Taney Street. Map detail:

For maps from subsequent years, see the map overlays here:

South Taney Street was renamed when the city systematized the street names more consistently sometime between 1895 and 1903. Before that it was Bank Street, then Barnwell Street. Here is the 1903 map (the first appearance of South Taney Street):

Legends of America

After the Civil War, Southwest Missouri was a devastated area characterized by a failing economy, high taxes, lawlessness, disorder, and a general breakdown of society, especially in the small towns and rural regions of the area.

When Nathaniel N. Kinney settled in Taney County, Missouri in 1883, he found a deplorable state of affairs. Outlaws and renegades ruled, most of them holdovers from the bushwhackers and guerillas that rampaged through Missouri during the Civil War. After the war, the lack of even minimal law enforcement afforded outlaws free reign. Clans elected and controlled the local sheriff, whose authority it was to subpoena jury panels. If outlaws or their relatives didn’t sit on the juries, they bribed those who did. As a result, although as many as forty murders occurred in Taney County between 1865 and 1885, not a single suspect was convicted. Taney County includes the towns of Branson, Forsyth, Hollister, Merriam Woods, Rockaway Beach, Table Rock, and Taneyville.

Nat Kinney feared no man, standing six feet six and weighing in at more than 300 pounds. After yet another murder on September 22, 1883, Kinney began to consider forming a law and order league patterned after other vigilante groups that were popular during the time. When a biased jury acquitted the murderer, Kinney called together 12 of the county leaders who met in secret, forming a committee to fight the lawlessness, and elect officials who would enforce the law. The group became known as the Bald Knobbers. Though the Bald Knobbers began with “good intentions,” the violence displayed by the vigilante group eventually gained national attention.

The organization grew rapidly and by the time they met on April 5, 1885, two hundred people showed up at a meeting on Snapp’s Bald, a hilltop south of Forsyth, Missouri. Kinney, an excellent speaker, was unanimously elected as their leader. Extracting a vow of secrecy from his followers, Kinney instructs them to recruit new members to carry out the goals of the group.

Within days, the Bald Knobbers made a public display of their force when over 100 hundred of them broke open the door of the Taney County jail and kidnapped brothers, Frank and Tubal Taylor. The Taylor brothers were well known in the area for their viciousness and were being jailed for wounding a storekeeper during an argument over credit for a pair of boots. The local store owner, John Dickenson, happened to be a Bald Knobber. After breaking the two out of jail, the mob hauled the brothers south of Forsyth and hanged them.

The degree of violence appalled several of the founding members who quickly dropped out, but the Bald Knobbers continued to grow and before long the group had between 500 and 1,000 members.

Kinney’s group began to further “correct” the lawlessness by making night rides to scare such “lowlifes” as drunks, gamblers or “loose” women into changing their ways. They frightened wife beaters, couples “living in sin,” and men who failed to support their families. Sometimes they even called on those they simply considered “ornery.”

The community began into split into two factions – those who followed or supported Kinney and those who thought him a tyrant and wished him dead.

The violence increased as the group would flog or brand suspected thieves, arsonists and robbers. They would hang or beat a man to death for assault, disturbing the peace or destroying property. Some Bald Knobbers began to use their menacing power for greedy and selfish purposes as they went after men who owed them money or who owned land that they coveted. They “settled” feuds over fence lines and property deeds, whipped men for disrupting services in their churches, or for supporting the wrong candidate in the election.

Old Taney County Courthouse in Forsyth, Missouri.

However, the harshest punishment was saved for those who talked against them. Some victims who resisted the Bald Knobbers disappeared. Several turned up in the woods beaten to death. Those who lived to tell claimed that Kinney’s followers killed more than thirty men and at least four women, but estimates that are more realistic place the number between fifteen and eighteen.

As the Bald Knobbers grew in numbers and their violent acts escalated, a vehement resentment festered among a small group of men who called themselves the Anti-Bald Knobbers. However, the vigilantes thwarted every effort to mitigate the situation. When a judge called for a state audit to ferret out corruption among the county’s officeholders, the courthouse was burned down.

The nation’s newspapers published stories about the bloody war in Missouri and the Bald Knobbers were described as the nation’s largest and fiercest vigilante movement. In 1887, the Bald Knobbers killed William Edens and Charley Green, both of whom had been critical of the group, and seriously injured several members of their families. This brought a further outcry from the nation’s newspapers.

Twenty Bald Knobbers were arrested and most received light sentences ranging from fines to short prison terms. However, four were sentenced to death. On August 20, 1888, Nat Kinney was shot and killed by Billy Miles, a member of the Anti-Bald Knobbers, in a planned assassination. Though Miles was tried for Kinney’s murder, he was found not guilty based on self-defense.

Though the violence continued for a short time, by 1899, the era of the Bald Knobbers had run its course.

The Bald Knobbers were, in actuality, no different from hundreds of other law and order groups, which proliferated after the Civil War.

History of the Courts – The Taney Court, 1836-1864

About Marshall’s successor, a New York journal sputtered: “The pure ermine of the Supreme Court is sullied by the appointment of that political hack, Roger B. Taney.” Daniel Webster confided, “Judge Story . . . thinks the Supreme Court is gone and I think so too.” The Senate debated the nomination for almost three months.

Born in Maryland in 1777, Taney attended Dickinson College, read law, and plunged into Federalist politics. While other lawyers took pride in oratory, he spoke simply in low tones that convinced juries.

Invoking freedom of speech, Taney won acquittal in 1819 for a Methodist preacher whose sermon on national sins provoked the charge of trying to stir up slave rebellion.

Suspicious of the Bank of the United States, Taney campaigned for Andrew Jackson. In 1831 President Jackson wrote, “I have appointed Mr. Tauney atto. Genl.” (His spelling gives the right pronunciation.) Taney supplied legal weapons in Jackson’s war with the Bank, when passion ran so high that Vice President Martin Van Buren wore pistols to preside in the Senate.

Presiding over the Supreme Court for the first time, in January 1837, Taney wore plain democratic trousers, not knee breeches, under his robe. The Court was entering a new era. A law passed in March added two new judicial circuits in the southwest and two Associates Justices. The Court became unmistakably Jacksonian conservatives dreaded what it might do to property.

The Charles Bridge linking Boston with Cambridge, Massachusetts became subject of a landmark case establishing modern contract law. Library of Congress

But property survived. Its rights were “sacredly guarded,” Taney wrote in the Charles River Bridge case, but “we must not forget that the community also have rights, and that the happiness and well being of every citizen depends on their faithful preservation.” He interpreted corporation charters more strictly, state powers more generously, than Marshall had.

Meanwhile, a new agitation over human rights was growing. If it went on, wrote a Georgia planter, “we will be compelled to arm our Militia and shoot down our property in the field . . . tell the agitators we had rather fight them than our own negroes, and that we will do it too. . . .”

In 1846 the United States and Mexico went to war. A suit filed in a Missouri court by a Negro named Dred Scott went unnoticed. Twelve years earlier, John Emerson, an Army surgeon, had taken his slave Scott from Missouri to Illinois, where the Northwest Ordinance and state law forbade slavery. Then he had taken Scott to Fort Snelling, a frontier Army post in territory where the Missouri Compromise banned slavery forever. In 1838 he had taken Scott back to Missouri. Emerson died, and Scott sued the widow, claiming that this sojourn on free soil had made him a free man. In 1850 the Missouri court declared him free.

Mrs. Emerson appealed. The state’s highest court ruled in 1852 that, free or not on free soil, Scott became a slave under state law when he went back to St. Louis.

Scott’s was becoming a test case. To get it into a federal court—because federal courts have jurisdiction in suits between citizens of different states—title to Scott passed to Mrs. Emerson’s brother, John F. A. Sanford of New York (misspelled “Sandford” in the records).

Claiming Missouri citizenship, Scott sued Sanford for his freedom in the federal court in St. Louis. Sanford’s lawyers argued that Scott could not be a citizen because he was a slave and a Negro. The court ruled against Scott on May 15, 1854.

Dred Scott. Library of Congress

Broadside advertising a reward for runaway slaves. Library of Congress.

Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act two weeks later, opening areas of the West to slavery where it had been banned by the Missouri Compromise. Furious northerners burned its author, Stephen A. Douglas, in effigy. On July 4, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison publicly burned a copy of the Constitution, crying, “So perish all compromises with tyranny.”

Fighting broke out in Kansas and made the expansion of slavery the issue in the 1856 Presidential campaign, won by James Buchanan. The Supreme Court heard argument in Dred Scott. v. Sandford in February 1856, reached the end of its term, then heard argument again in December.

By then the whole country had heard of Dred Scott. “The Court, in trying this case, is itself on trial,” said the New York Courier.

In February 1857, a majority of the Justices agreed to follow precedent and say that the ruling of the highest state court was final—that Scott was a slave under state law. Such a narrow finding would leave unresolved two dangerously controversial issues: Whether or not a free Negro might be a citizen of the United States, and whether or not the 1820 Missouri Compromise was constitutional.

When it was learned that two dissenting Justices planned to argue that Congress in fact had the power to regulate slavery in the territories, that under the Missouri Compromise Scott was a free man and a citizen, the majority decided to enlarge the scope of the decision and deny the power of Congress. Some members hoped the Court’s opinion would resolve the question, win acceptance, and possibly save the Union.

Newly elected President James Buchanan may have shared that hope in his Inaugural Address on March 4, he promised that “in common with all good citizens” he would “cheerfully submit” to the Court’s decision.

Chief Justice Taney swears in President Buchanan, 1857.
Library of Congress

The Taney Court. Supreme Court of the United States.

Two days later the Justices began to deliver eight separate opinions. The majority ruled that Scott was still a slave. Three, including Taney, said no Negro, even if free, could hold citizenship in the United States.

And for the first time since 1803, the Court held an Act of Congress null and void. Under the Constitution, it announced, Congress had no power to limit the expansion of slavery by law, as the Missouri Compromise of 1820 had done.

Hopes that the decision would temper the confrontation were shattered by attacks on the Court from the abolitionist press and antislavery leaders—attacks that have never been surpassed in bitterness. Almost unnoticed, Scott’s owner set him free. Before the case was decided, Sandford had gone insane before the slavery question was settled, more than 600,000 Americans would lose their lives in civil war.

“Have we ever had any peace on this slavery question?” asked Abraham Lincoln. The Illinois crowd yelled “No!” It was 1858 Lincoln was challenging Stephen A. Douglas for a Senate seat — challenging the Supreme Court’s ruling on slavery.

Douglas defended the decision in Dred Scott’s case as the pronouncement of “the highest tribunal on earth,” in spite of his own objections to it. “From that decision there is no appeal this side of Heaven,” he cried.

One decision settles one case, retorted Lincoln it does not even settle the law, still less the future of the country.

Douglas won the Senate seat in 1860 he lost the race for the Presidency, and the Republicans came to power with Lincoln.

Chief Justice Taney administered the oath of office to Lincoln on March 4, 1861, and heard him disclaim “any assault upon the Court.” But Lincoln warned solemnly: “if the policy of the Government, upon vital questions affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made, in ordinary litigation . . . the people will have ceased to be their own rulers. . . .”

That day the first banner of the Confederate States of America flew over the statehouse at Montgomery, Alabama.

Secession divided the Supreme Court. Justice John A. Campbell, who thought disunion wrong, resigned and went sadly home to Alabama. Justice James Moore Wayne of Georgia, last survivor of Marshall’s Court, remained until his death in 1867, he voted to sustain all the war measures the Court passed judgment on.

In Maryland, part of Taney’s circuit, many favored the Union, some the South. Washington’s only railroad to the north ran through Baltimore, where an angry crowd mobbed troops hurrying to defend the capital. Lincoln told the Army to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and establish martial rule, if necessary, to keep Maryland safe.

Loyal Unionists guard the provost marshal’s office against Southern
sympathizers during the Baltimore Riots, 1861. Library of Congress

The military jailed citizens on mere suspicion troops arrested John Merryman for taking part in the Baltimore riot and blowing up railroad bridges. Locked up in Fort McHenry, he applied for a writ of habeas corpus—a court order for proof that a prisoner is lawfully confined.

Only in “Rebellion or Invasion” when “the public safety may require it” may the privilege of habeas corpus be suspended, says the Constitution.

Hurrying to Baltimore, Chief Justice Taney issued a writ to Gen. George Cadwalader: Bring Merryman to court and explain his arrest. The general sent a letter—he had to consult the President. Taney ordered a marshal to seize the general, but a sentry barred the marshal from Fort McHenry. The Chief Justice challenged the President’s right to take legislative and judicial power, calling on him to uphold the law and the courts.

Lincoln did not reply Congress upheld him. But when the emergency had passed, the government quietly brought Merryman’s case to a federal court later still, it quietly let him go free.

Resignation and death left three seats vacant at the Supreme Court. Lincoln appointed Noah H. Swayne of Ohio, Samuel F. Miller of Iowa, and his old friend from Illinois, David Davis. But no one knew what the Court would do when it heard the Prize Cases in 1863.

Before calling Congress into special session, Lincoln had authorized martial rule in Maryland, called for volunteers, pledged government credit for huge sums, and proclaimed a blockade of southern ports. To meet the crisis of war, the President swept into the realm of legislative power like an invading general. A legal battle over four merchant ships seized under Lincoln’s blockade orders tested his actions before the Supreme Court.

The owners brought suit for the vessels and cargo, arguing that war alone warrants a blockade and only Congress may declare war they denied that Lincoln’s emergency powers had any reality in constitutional law.

If the Court upheld the blockade as a legal war measure, England and France might recognize the Confederacy if it did not, the government would have to pay huge damages for captured ships, and other war measures would be in question. Either decision would endanger the Union.

Justice Robert C. Grier spoke for himself, Wayne, and Lincoln’s three appointees: The President had to meet the war as “it presented itself, without waiting for Congress to baptize it with a name” and rebellion did not make the South a sovereign nation. Four dissenters said the conflict was the President’s “personal war” until Congress recognized the insurrection on July 13, 1861. But the prairie lawyer had won his case.

Chief Justice Taney died, aged 87, in October 1864. Lincoln’s Attorney General Edward Bates wrote that his “great error” in the Dred Scott case should not forever “tarnish his otherwise well earned fame.” And not long after Taney’s death, victory for the Union brought vindication of his defiant stand for the rule of law.

Historical Foundations of Race

The world got along without race for the overwhelming majority of its history. The U.S. has never been without it.


Race is a human-invented, shorthand term used to describe and categorize people into various social groups based on characteristics like skin color, physical features, and genetic heredity. Race, while not a valid biological concept, is a real social construction that gives or denies benefits and privileges. American society developed the notion of race early in its formation to justify its new economic system of capitalism, which depended on the institution of forced labor, especially the enslavement of African peoples. To more accurately understand how race and its counterpart, racism, are woven into the very fabric of American society, we must explore the history of how race, white privilege, and anti-blackness came to be.

The concept of “race,” as we understand it today, evolved alongside the formation of the United States and was deeply connected with the evolution of two other terms, “white” and “slave.” The words “race,” “white,” and “slave” were all used by Europeans in the 1500s, and they brought these words with them to North America. However, the words did not have the meanings that they have today. Instead, the needs of the developing American society would transform those words’ meanings into new ideas.

A social construct is an idea or collection of ideas that have been created and accepted by the people in a society. These constructs serve as an attempt to organize or explain the world around us.

For example: For example, “childhood” is a social construct. All human beings begin their lives being young. Still, the idea that the very young, defined by a specific period of time should be given to access to toys, playgrounds, and juice boxes, is a creation of our American society. Nature determined that all human beings would be young before maturing. However, nature did not specify how older people should treat young people during this stage of life. Our ideas about how to raise children are beliefs decided and shared by the social community.

The European Enlightenment: an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries in which ideas concerning god, reason, nature, and humanity were synthesized into a worldview that gained wide assent in the West and that instigated revolutionary developments in art, philosophy, and politics. [Encyclopedia Britannica]

The term “race,” used infrequently before the 1500s, was used to identify groups of people with a kinship or group connection. The modern-day use of the term “race” (identifying groups of people by physical traits, appearance, or characteristics) is a human invention. During the 17th century, European Enlightenment philosophers’ based their ideas on the importance of secular reasoning, rationality, and scientific study, as opposed to faith-based religious understandings of the world. Philosophers and naturalists were categorizing the world anew and extending such thinking to the people of the world. These new beliefs, which evolved starting in the late 17th century and flourished through the late 18th century, argued that there were natural laws that governed the world and human beings. Over centuries, the false notion that “white” people were inherently smarter, more capable, and more human than nonwhite people became accepted worldwide. This categorization of people became a justification for European colonization and subsequent enslavement of people from Africa.

Slavery, as a concept has existed for centuries. Enslaved people, “slaves,” were forced to labor for another. We can point to the use of the term slave in the Hebrew Bible, ancient societies such as Greece, Rome, and Egypt, as well as during other eras of time. Within the Mediterranean and European regions, before the 16th century, enslavement was acceptable for persons considered heathens or outside of the Christian-based faiths. In this world, being a slave was not for life or hereditary - meaning the status of a slave did not automatically transfer from parent to child. In many cultures, slaves were still able to earn small wages, gather with others, marry, and potentially buy their freedom. Similarly, peoples of darker skin, such as people from the African continent, were not automatically enslaved or considered slaves.

The word “white” held a different meaning, too, and transformed over time. Before the mid-1600s, there is no evidence that the English referred to themselves as being “white people” This concept did not occur until 1613 when the English society first encountered and contrasted themselves against the East Indians through their colonial pursuits. Even then, there was not a large body of people who considered themselves “white” as we know the term today. From about the 1550s to 1600, “white” was exclusively used to describe elite English women, because the whiteness of skin signaled that they were persons of a high social class who did not go outside to labor. However, the term white did not refer to elite English men because the idea that men did not leave their homes to work could signal that they were lazy, sick, or unproductive. Initially, the racial identity of “white” referred only to Anglo-Saxon people and has changed due to time and geography. As the concept of being white evolved, the number of people considered white would grow as people wanted to push back against the increasing numbers of people of color, due to emancipation and immigration. Activist Paul Kivel says, “Whiteness is a constantly shifting boundary separating those who are entitled to have certain privileges from those whose exploitation and vulnerability to violence is justified by their not being white.”

European colonists’ use of the word “white” to refer to people who looked like themselves, grew to become entangled with the word “race” and “slave” in the American colonies in the mid-1660s. These elites created “races” of “savage” Indians, “subhuman” Africans, and “white” men. The social inventions succeeded in uniting the white colonists, dispossessing and marginalizing native people, and permanently enslaving most African-descended people for generations. Tragically, American culture, from the very beginning, developed around the ideas of race and racism.

The racial identity of “white” has evolved throughout history. Initially, it referred only to Anglo-Saxon people. Historically, who belonged to the category of “white” would expand as people wanted to push back against the increasing numbers of people of color due to emancipation and immigration.

The racial identity of “white” has evolved throughout history. Initially, it referred only to Anglo-Saxon people. Historically, who belonged to the category of “white” would expand as people wanted to push back against the increasing numbers of people of color due to emancipation and immigration.

You've only scratched the surface of Taney family history.

Between 1953 and 2004, in the United States, Taney life expectancy was at its lowest point in 1994, and highest in 1975. The average life expectancy for Taney in 1953 was 56, and 73 in 2004.

An unusually short lifespan might indicate that your Taney ancestors lived in harsh conditions. A short lifespan might also indicate health problems that were once prevalent in your family. The SSDI is a searchable database of more than 70 million names. You can find birthdates, death dates, addresses and more.

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