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Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney: Slavery, Secession, and the President's War Powers Hardcover – November 7, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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 Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (November 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074325032X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743250320
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #835,270 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Professor James Simon of New York Law School has made a specialty of exploring historical conflicts between the executive and judicial branches of the government of the United States. He has written books on the conflict between President Thomas Jefferson and Chief Justice Marshall, on the Supreme Court during the Nixon Presidency, and on the conflict among liberal, conservative and centrist elements on the Rhenquist court. Simon's most recent book, "Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney" is a study of the various conflicts between President Abraham Lincoln and the fifth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Roger Taney, prior to and during the Civil War. Simon offers a thoughtful and timely account, particularly as the Lincoln-Taney conflict involved questions of civil liberties.

The book is cast in the form of a dual biography. Taney's life is much less well-known than Lincoln's and Simon provides valuable biographical insight. Simon points out Taney freed his own slaves and disliked slavery, but that, as Attorney General for President Jackson, Taney wrote a legal memorandum foreshadowing the conclusions he would later reach in the notorious Dred Scott decision. In fact, prior to Dred Scott, Taney was a highly regarded jurist, respected for his legal acumen, thoroughness, and balance.

The book focuses on Lincoln and Taney's respective views on slavery, secession, and the conduct of the Civil War. Simon offers a valuable discussion of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence on slavery before the Dred Scott case and he describes well the process the Court used in reaching its fateful decision in Dred Scott -- generally regarded as the worst moment in the history of the Court.
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I had some concern when starting this fine book by Professor Simon of New York Law School that it would be highly repetitive of other books and articles focusing on this topic. In actuality, I found his discussion to be fresh and quite intriguing. The "war" between Taney and Lincoln is, of course, well known and has become somewhat pertinent given the current use of the Patriot Act. What Simon does is to put the struggle into a useful context. First, he provides somewhat thorough -- but concise -- discussions of Taney and Lincoln. In this way, the reader develops an understanding of what motivated each of these powerful figures. Next, he discusses key judicial and congressional developments in the period immediately before the outbreak of the Civil War. I thought his chapter on the much discussed Dred Scott decision was particularly effective, since it was obvious given the author's discussion of Taney and the formative influences shaping his outlook why he led the Court to decide this "self-inflicted wound." In addition, the author's discussion of the actual legal warfare between the two is written with clarity and insight, and does not require any legal training to understand the conflicting viewpoints. Finally, even after Taney dies in 1864, Simon still carries on with Lincoln, his views toward Reconstruction, and his successful efforts to bring the war to a conclusion. Along the way, I learned a good deal about Lincoln, including that he was a more complex and interesting figure than I had realized. At around 336 pages, the narrative moves along nicely -- I never felt bogged down -- and helpful bibliographic references are included. A particularly apposite book given the current disputes over the extent of president power during the Iraq episode.
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Format: Hardcover
Five MONUMENTAL Stars!! Master historian James F. Simon has written a wonderfully-researched and incisively-written book describing a clash of two historical titans at one of the most critical historical crossroads of the United States of America: "the greatest civil war known in the history of the human race." And he hits every salient historical signpost along the way as he patiently develops and delineates the story.

Primarily it's the story of two men rising to the top of their professions amid the ever-present and explosive issue of slavery that ripped apart a still-expanding young nation. But there is much more going on and he lays it out magnificently. Simon details how slavery was always the major issue between slave states and free states, among many other important issues. The description of the institution of slavery, the treatment of blacks, and the central role of the courts in this time period is a very sad, abhorrent chapter in our nation's history. Mr Simon has done the uninitiated reader a favor with his detailed background work on all of the issues and personalities involved.

President Abraham Lincoln and United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, both tall, imposing, God-fearing figures, bitterly opposed each other on three important points: slavery, secession, and President "Lincoln's constitutional authority during the Civil War". And the broad tapestry of this book includes all of the major players of that era: John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Nicholas Biddle, John Marshall, James Knox Polk, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce, Buchanan, Salmon Chase, and the ubiquitous "triumvirate" of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun, among many more.
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