From Publishers Weekly
This surprisingly taut and gripping book by NYU law professor Simon (What Kind of Nation
) examines the limits of presidential prerogative during the Civil War. Lincoln and Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney saw eye to eye on certain matters; both, for example, disliked slavery. But beginning in 1857, when Lincoln criticized Taney's decision in the Dred Scott case, the pair began to spar. They diverged further once Lincoln became president when Taney insisted that secession was constitutional and preferable to bloodshed, and blamed the Civil War on Lincoln. In 1861, Taney argued that Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus was illegal. This holding was, Simon argues, "a clarion call for the president to respect the civil liberties of American citizens." In an 1862 group of cases, Taney joined a minority opinion that Lincoln lacked the authority to order the seizure of Southern ships. Had Taney had the chance, suggests Simon, he would have declared the Emancipation Proclamation unconstitutional; he and Lincoln agreed that the Constitution left slavery up to individual states, but Lincoln argued that the president's war powers trumped states' rights. Simon's focus on Lincoln and Taney makes for a dramatic, charged narrative—and the focus on presidential war powers makes this historical study extremely timely. (Nov.)
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For the Dred Scott
decision in 1857, which fatefully inflamed sectional tension before the Civil War, Chief Justice Roger Taney (1777-1864) earned a notorious reputation in Supreme Court annals; however, there's more to him and his judicial career. Cast as a dual biography with Abraham Lincoln, this general-interest work covers the constitutional issues that reached Taney's bench and Lincoln's responses to Taney's decisions. Simon also chronicles both men's lives, devoting the most detail to their personal and legal interactions with slavery. Readers learn that Taney freed his slaves and that Lincoln defended a slave owner in a fugitive slave case. After explaining the complexities of the Dred Scott
case, Simon considers Lincoln's presidential actions, such as the suspension of habeas corpus and the trial of civilians in military courts--actions Taney attempted to thwart. Their topicality to current debate is a self-evident recommendation of Simon's book; yet its jargon-free discussion of constitutional matters and the biographical angle on Taney would commend it to libraries' attention even in less acrimonious times. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved