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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lincoln and Taney
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,...
Published on January 11, 2007 by Robin Friedman

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brief book, tends to gloss over details
This is quite a thin book, but with an engaging writing style. It seems to glass over why Taney made such a seemingly radical decision and why he was able to get 6 others to affirm it. Little treatment of his relationshiop with the Catholic church or even what he thought of blacks as individuals.
Rather jarring discussion of George W. Bush and Rumsfeld, where he...
Published on March 27, 2008 by Mitchell


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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lincoln and Taney, January 11, 2007
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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. He describes how Lincoln criticized the decision and Taney at length during his 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas and how this criticism helped Lincoln achieve the Presidency. There is little in the book on Taney and secession, but Simon makes clear that Taney was sympathetic to the Southern position and favored a peaceful dissolution of the Union rather than a long and bloody civil war, regardless of its outcome.

The larger portion of Simon's book deals with conflicts between Lincoln and Taney following Lincoln's election. Taney objected to Lincoln's assumption of broad war powers which he viewed as in excess of the executive's power under the Constitution. Simon discusses a famous decision of Taney in the Merryman case which involved Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus in the border state, and Taney's home state, of Maryland. The Merryman decision is still studied today for its discussion of civil rights during war time. Simon also explores Taney's views on matters that did not reach the Supreme Court during the Civil War but that involved expansion of presidential powers -- including the Emancipation Proclamation, the use of paper money called "Greenbacks" to finance the Civil War, and the imposition of an income tax. There is an excellent discussion of a series of cases known as the Prize cases which challenged Lincoln's imposition of a blockade and seizure of ships during the early days of the Civil War. The Court sustained the blockade, based upon military necessity by the narrow vote of 5-4 with Taney voting in the minority. I was unfamiliar with the Prize cases, and Simon describes them well.

The book is jargon free and can be read easily by non-lawyers. In addition to the discussion of the lives of Lincoln and Taney and the discussion of legal issues, Simon gives a broad running history of the battles in the Civil War, similar to the narrative accounts available in many other books. This discussion is not at the level of Simon's legal discussion. Simon's history is full of many small but irritating factual and typographical errors. For many battles in the war, Simon confuses total casualty figures with figures for fatalities. This is a common mistake, and it vastly inflates the number of fatalities -- which were horrendous in any event -- for battles such as Shiloh, Antietam, and Gettysburg. Simon also refers to General U.S. Grant as a "colonel" at the time of the taking of Fort Donelson and Fort Henry. A more careful check of the historical details of the Civil War would have been appropriate and welcome.

This book is valuable for its good, nuanced portrayal of Chief Justice Taney and for its discussion of the legal issues surrounding the Civil War, Lincoln's presidency, and the protection of civil liberties during times of crisis.

Robin Friedman
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Solid Treatment of Some Well-Trod Ground, January 5, 2007
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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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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A CLASH OF TITANS IN A RIVETING HISTORICAL BOOK, November 18, 2006
By 
RSProds "rbsprods" (Deep in the heart of Texas) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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. And then there were the intricacies of the major political parties: Democrats, Whigs, Know-Nothing, American, and Republicans.

He covers the background of Taney and Lincoln in detail. In Lincoln's life we find a man who was always against the institution of slavery. At one point, Taney thought slavery was "evil" and freed his own slaves. But both wound up curiously at odds in later life for different reasons. Lincoln's economic beginnings from postman to early political candidate, Whig party member, and then member of the nascent Republican Party and eventually President were all based on one year of formal education and an unyielding lifelong zest for reading, learning, and memorization. Taney's life is likewise given a detail examination in fascinating prose.

Simon carefully builds both the social/political climates and the laws at issue. He gives an overview of the relevant legal issues of the day: from the "Amistad" case to the Missouri Compromise (1820) to the annexation of Texas and the war with Mexico with it's consequent 'spoils' of half a billion acres of land to the Compromise of 1850 to the Fugitive Slave Act to the tense and bloody period of Dred Scott v. Sandford (where members of congress were armed and a member of the Senate was brutally 'caned' in a crowded Senate chamber) to the Prize Cases, the Conscription Law, and many more. The reader will be 200 pages into the book by the time we get to the point of the book, with the almost unbelievable confrontation in Baltimore between a sitting Supreme Court Chief Justice and the Commander of Fort McHenry.

The book details the fact that Lincoln's problems during the Civil War were harsh and the issues were tricky: the suspension of habeas corpus, censorship, suppression of dissidents, the southern blockade, numerous slavery issues and ultimately the emancipation proclamation, among others. With the trials and tribulations of seceding states, border states with shifting allegiances, British intervention, and military defeats, Lincoln did not need a Supreme Court Chief Justice who publicly challenged the legal validity of Lincoln's decisions at every turn, officially and unofficially, comparing Confederate soldiers to the soldiers of the Revolutionary War and ruling that blacks were permanently excluded from the phrase "all men are created equal" and were nothing more than property. Meanwhile, Lincoln expanded the roles of Commander-in-Chief, Head of State, and Chief Executive by using implied powers of the presidency, walking very close to (if not over) the edge of unconstitutionality (see my second note).

By the time the reader reaches p.306 the fate of the Union, in terms of international law and relations, seems to hang in the balance based on the Court's decision on one matter, the Prize Cases, and the fiery oratory of the author of "Two Years Before The Mast". We know the final outcome but the final chapters of this superb historical book detail how we got here and they are spellbinding.

Lincoln's words at the founding of the Illinois Republican Party are the watchwords of this fabulous historical read: "Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable". This is a masterful, mesmerizing historical investigation by James F. Simon and it gets my Highest Recommendation. Five AWESOME Stars!!

(*This review is based on an unabridged eBook digital download in eReader format. Save a tree, download your books.)
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brief book, tends to gloss over details, March 27, 2008
By 
Mitchell "Mitch" (DEERFIELD BEACH, FL, United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This is quite a thin book, but with an engaging writing style. It seems to glass over why Taney made such a seemingly radical decision and why he was able to get 6 others to affirm it. Little treatment of his relationshiop with the Catholic church or even what he thought of blacks as individuals.
Rather jarring discussion of George W. Bush and Rumsfeld, where he takes the predictable liberal positions, while excusing Lincolns' abuse of arresting a sitting Ohio congressman. Not one word about controversy of whether Taney had been targeted for arrest by Abraham Lincoln.

This book whets your appetite for more and is good for someone who doesn't have the time to read a more detailed study.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two lawyers and a Nation in crisis, October 5, 2007
By 
Forrest Wildwood "Phil" (The house with the narrow gate) - See all my reviews
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It should be widely known that during the greatest crisis that has faced the US, the Civil War, Lincoln suspended the rights of habeas corpus and essentially bent the Constitution in order to save the Union. In James Simon's book "Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney: Slavery, Secession, and the President's War Powers" he gives us a fairly balanced approach in examining both sides of the issues facing the President and the Supreme Court as it relates to the Constitution and civil liberties. As a law professor Simon examines Justice Taney's rulings and Lincoln's position on civil matters that were affecting the Nation. His book shows how much of an uphill battle Justice Taney had to face when trying to fight the challenges to individual liberties. As the inevitable war approached, Lincoln didn't wait for Congress to return to session. He did all in his power to block any additional states from turning to help the Confederacy. This was especially true in Maryland Justice Taney's home state. Lincoln took the broad approach to Constitutional matters believing that he knew what the Founding Fathers had constitutionally desired for the Nation. Justice Taney maintained a more narrow Jeffersonian state's view. Simon relates Taney's early views expressed in a banking opinion while serving as Andrew Jackson's Attorney General. Reflecting Taney's words Andrew Jackson's states, "The opinion of the Supreme Court Judges has no more authority over Congress than the opinion of congress has over the Judges, and on that point the President is independent of both" Jackson wrote. "The authority of the Supreme Court must not, therefore, be permitted to control Congress or the Executive when acting in their legislative capacities, but to have only such influence as the force of their reasoning may deserve." As Chief Justice during the Lincoln administration, Taney found himself greatly challenged to maintain this opinion. Simon covers the infamous "Dred Scott vs Sanford" opinion that haunted Taney and how it became a catalyst to move Lincoln forward and into the Presidency. Both Taney and Lincoln had respect for the rule of law. They both desired peace. Taney was willing to allow the states to peaceable leave the Union in order to prevent civil war. Simon reveals that Lincoln's goal was to repair the rupture to the constitutional government established by the framers even if that meant civil war.

This is an important read in helping to understand the extraordinary powers assumed by the executive, with the consent of Congress, in times of emergencies and how when the emergency passes should be yielded up. In the epilogue Simon goes over several later Presidents and their use of war powers. He explains how Congress is the best check on the growing assumptions of Presidential war powers. The Supreme Court has been very reluctant to curb the president's powers especially when the Nation's security is at risk.

Simon revealed how much Lincoln "appreciated that the strength of the Union lay not in the force of arms but in the liberties that were guaranteed by the open, and sometimes heated, exchange of ideas"..."He didn't use this authority to trample on the civil liberties that the writ of habeas corpus was meant to protect". Had Lincoln imprisoned and kept imprisoned anyone just because they were unpopular would have meant the failure of the constitution as well as the failure of civilization and hello totalitarianism. Today as we face issue with regards to our own personal liberties, it is important to stay vigilant so that our rights aren't abused beyond the constitutional law. Simon lays open two legal minds in a time of tremendous pressure. Well worth the read to better understand this critical crossroad in US history.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating Work of Legal History!, July 27, 2007
By 
TriciaCK (Illinois, USA) - See all my reviews
James Simon has been making a career out of writing great books that profile legal/political controversies. He has also written one about the Jefferson/Marshall, and then the Black/Frankfurter, fights. But not to worry. They are entertaining, all; this one is no exception.

The primary concern of this book is to explore the differing visions - on practically all issues - between then president elect Lincoln and then Supreme Court Chief Justice Taney. Lincoln, from Illinois, was a moderate republican who believed in gradual emancipation of slavery and - most importantly here - sweeping presidential war powers combined with the illegality of Southern seccession. Taney, by contrast, was a quiet Baltimorean and democrat who believed in states rights, fidelity to (a more narrow view of the) Constitution, even during times of war, and the states rights to choose whether to condone slavery. Needless to say for those who know even the most cursory history - Lincoln won.

While Simon does treat Taney with a tiny bit of hkostility, he is very careful to give him credit when credit is due. One of the main focuses of the book - the rightfully infamous decision in Dred Scott v Sandford, which saw Taney proclaim that Scott, a black man, could not bring a suit as he was not legally a person - is hard to justify by even the most generous legal mind. And Simon rightfully and flatly treats it to a stinging critique. This, as with several other Tany zingers.

But SImon is also quick to point out that Taney wss first and foremost concerned with civil liberties during war time, against the president's sometimes Orwellian actions, such as his acts to shut down newspapers that did not sympathize with the Union, or his actions - yes, it is true - to arrest a priest who did not pray for the Union. When these are looked at by Simon, Taney comes out with at least some dignity.

This book covers, first, both men's early years before going into the pre-civil war acts like Dred Scott and follows the trajectory of the entire civil war, highlighting the president's actions therein and Taney's (often ignored) responses to them. Legalese - have no fear - is kept to a minimum, and, in fact, the entire book reads like a historical thriller with a bit of courtroom drama.

On a final note, I find this book prescient for today's times, becasue many of the debates that Taney and Lincoln had are debates we ourselves are having in the US today. Whether or not military tributnals can or should supplant judicial courts, whether habeas corpus can be suspended in war time, what it even means to bve at war (the debate then was whether or not you can be at war with your own country men, today it is whether you can be at war with a group not a state). Finally, there is whether the president's war powers give the president virtually unlimited authority to ignore other constitutional provisions. Prescient indeed!

Anyhow, this is a good read for anyone interested in an in-depth study of the Civil WAr period or the legal issues rife therein.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too Little Taney, February 18, 2007
By 
unclesmrgol (Culver City, CA, USA) - See all my reviews
This book does offer quite a bit of information about the divergent evolution of Lincoln and Taney from their somewhat common beginnings, but unfortunately stops short of giving us a full insight into why Taney, who freed the majority of his slaves and personally abhored slavery, would defend it so vehemently and unrigorously in his Dred Scott decision. All the stuff on Lincoln is good, but I've seen it done more eloquently elsewhere (including his suspension of the writ of habeas corpus); I really expected more on Taney.

As a Catholic, I would have loved to see more on Taney's Catholicism than a mere mention of it and the name of his parish church -- perhaps how his views either for or against slavery and states rights were formed there. But the author makes mention of and dismisses this religious side in a few short sentences, while hinting that Taney was an intensely religious, if conflicted, individual. How can one arrive at a true understanding of Taney without knowing this dimension of his character?

Sadly, Taney himself occupies somewhat less than half of the book, and quotations from (and any extensive analysis of) his decisions other than Dred Scott are lacking. The author spends about as much time on Douglas as he does on Taney (Douglas' name could be added to book's title without falsity).

Finally, Simon, in his epilogue, moves to the present and makes this comment on the current political situation compared with Lincoln's: "And he did not attempt to escape judicial scrutiny in the name of national security, as the Bush administration has repeatedly done in prosecuting the War on Terrorism, which, unlike the Civil War, has no discernible end." In the book itself, Simon has Lincoln completely ignoring Taney's pronouncements on the writ of habeas corpus and packing the Court with three new pro-Lincoln justices to assure a good decision on the Prize Cases. He furthermore points out that, until quite late, the Civil War had no discernible end either, with defeat after defeat dogging the Union forces during the early and middle portions of the war. Simon's final intrusion of his own modern politics (conflicted with his admiration of Lincoln's strong prosecution of the war against slavery) provides a dissonant counterpoint to the rest of the book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars CLASH OF THE TITANS II, November 28, 2010
This review is from: Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney: Slavery, Secession, and the President's War Powers (Paperback)
In my pervious review, I described Simon's other work, What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and the Epic Struggle to Create a United States, as the struggle between two American icons: Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall. This book is slightly different, although it also features the struggles of a famous president with the chief justice of the Supreme Court; this book features an American Icon vs. an American villain. It is unusual for me to name any historical figure a villain, even when they hold views I find deplorable, because to me that would be strong presentism. However, when I find the presence of such a historical figure to be so negative that it makes almost erases any good points they might have had, I feel obligated to call them out for what they are and that is a villain. I realize that mine is not a perfect system and one could go on and on over the details of various figures, but with this acknowledged I still say: that Roger Taney was an outright villain in American history whose presence we could have done without. Yes, I realize that he was useful to President Jackson during the Bank War, but I think President Jackson would found someone else to fill the role that he needed played, and his evil role in issuing the Dred Scot decision far overrides any good that he performed in his career. While Lincoln is the icon, who saved the Union and ended legalized slavery in the United States.

Simon gives Taney a fairer treatment than I would give him, detailing a good deal of his career showing that he was at one point a half-way decent chief justice. Someone who entered the national stage and had participated in big events, back when Lincoln was still a young man trying to find his place in the world. This makes his sudden turn during the Dred Scot case even more shocking. A man who at one point had earned praise of even those who had been Andrew Jackson's opponents suddenly turns away from law and reason. Simon describes how Taney's decision completely upends almost three quarters of a century of precedent, in order just to satisfy his personnel feelings.

"Taney did not offer a single source of proof for his sweeping generalization. He lumped all of those who signed the Declaration and the Constitution together, the slaveholders of the South with the opponents of slavery in the North. He dismissed the idea that the Declaration of Independence's proclamation that `all men are created equal' should be taken literally. Blacks were permanently excluded, according to Taney, because they were a degraded class." p.122

Taney attempt to protect slavery though the court backfired on him. Instead, it only intensified things, and cost the Supreme Court under his leadership the respect of a great deal of the nation. The case was brought up in the Lincoln/Douglas debates where Lincoln accuses Presidents Buchanan and Pierce, Senator Douglas, and Taney himself of being in a conspiracy to force slavery over the whole nation. Lincoln was of course exaggerating, but his star was rising. Lincoln would win the election of 1860 in a close four-way race in which he would receive less the forty percent of the vote. Before Lincoln ever took the oath of office states were already abandoning the Union to avoid living under a president who was going to be openly hostile to the cause of slavery.

Lincoln began to take steps to save the Union, having avoided a mob in Baltimore, things started to take an even more dangerous turn with riots and state officials even trying to persuade Lincoln not to have troops at all in Maryland, to which Lincoln chastises them for.

"Maryland remained dangerously volatile. Secessionists in northern Maryland destroyed railroad bridges between Washington and the North and cut telegraph lines. The state legislature, dominated by southern sympathizers, was scheduled to meet in Frederick on April 26. Anticipating a secessionist vote, General Scott recommended to the president that he be given the authority to arrest secessionist politicians in advance. If Maryland voted to secede, he told Scott, he would act decisively to put down the rebellion with `the bombardment of their cities--and of course the suspension of habeas corpus.' Those drastic measures were not immediately necessary. The legislature did not vote to secede. Meanwhile, northern troops managed to filter into the capital in increasing numbers by a circuitous route, first ferrying down Chesapeake Bay to Annapolis, then boarding trains to Washington." p.186

Even with the arrival of the Union army, Simon describes and environment in which the threat of sabotage was still ever present. With that, President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and had military commanders arrest suspected secessionists and hold them without trial. This would give Taney, traveling circuit, an ability to undermine the Union cause from within. He ordered the military to hand John Merryman, the army commander, General Cadwalader, refused to hand him over citing orders from the president himself. In his famous decision, Ex. Parte Merryman, Taney strips to the president down to the bare minimum of constitutional authority. Taney's new position is one that clashed with his own history and views on presidential power and government authority.

"To achieve his goal of proving that Congress alone could suspend the writ, Taney systematically reduced the president's constitutional powers to Lilliputian proportions. Here Taney displayed the artistry of a partisan trial lawyer rather than the detachment of a judge. His interpretation was starkly at odds with Taney's own reading of presidential power when he had been President Jackson's Attorney General. In defending Jackson's broad constitutional powers in the Bank War, Attorney General Taney discovered deep wells of presidential authority, totally independent of both Congress and the Supreme Court. And Chief Justice Taney, in an earlier judicial opinion that raised an issue much closer to Lincoln's plight in 1861, declared that the governor of Rhode Island could use martial law to put down an armed insurrection. The power to do so, Taney wrote in works equally applicable to the president of the United States, `is essential to the existence of every government, essential to the preservation of order and free institutions, and is necessary to the State of the Union as to any other government.'" p.192-3

So low was the public opinion in the Roger Taney, that Lincoln just ignored the order and proceeded as he intended to do. Lincoln would win the war and would receive monuments built in his name for generations. Taney would die in 1864, and be replaced by Salmon P. Chase, formally Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury. I strongly recommended James Simon's book to anyone who is interested in some of the legal aspects of America's Civil War.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting head-to-head biography about two gentlemen who went head-to-head quite often during the Civil War., May 15, 2011
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This review is from: Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney: Slavery, Secession, and the President's War Powers (Paperback)
James F. Simon's Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney shines an interesting light on two overlooked aspects of 19th century American history.

The first overlooked aspect is the Supreme Court, specifically the person of Roger Taney (pronounced Tawney), the Chief Justice most famous for what may be known for all time as his single worst legal opinion, and one of the most controversial and ill-considered opinions of all time - Dred Scott.

Simon tells the story of Taney's life, including his surprisingly liberal views on slavery and his legal defense of blacks who were seized illegally to be sold into slavery, the fact that he freed most of his family's slaves and even provided a modest pension for the elderly ones. Taney even defended an the rights of an abolitionist preacher to preach his message in Maryland. However, it seems that those opinions all changed once slavery became THE issue of the 1840s and 1850s. His views seem to have hardened in response to outside pressure on the institution of slavery.

I must admit that I was not well-informed about Taney - for me he was the man who is most famous for the line about African-Americans in which he says that they were "so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." Of course, it turns out that Taney's political life was much more than just that one line that appears in all of the history books and I did learn a lot about Taney's life and the intricate politics of the era - more than a reader normally gets: Jackson, Calhoun, Webster, Clay and finally Lincoln. Taney bridges all of these figures, was seen as a moderating presence for most of that time and really gets the short-shrift historically due to the abusive excesses of the Dred Scott decision.

Lincoln, on the other hand, is, seemingly, the subject of a new biography every week. What has not been written about Lincoln? In this case, there is nothing new, but the focus on his administration's interactions with the Taney Court is interesting and thought-provoking.

This is a good, small dual biography of two of the towering political figures of their time.Not so much detail that the general history reader is bored, not so little that the serious reader of history is turned off.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The well-known and the overlooked, December 26, 2009
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An excellent book well researched and incorporates primary source material. Excellent for High School research. I teach AP US History and it was a God-send to me in providing material about the Supreme Court, Lincoln and his reasoning, and conflicts in Civil War era society. Excellent perspective on the Dred Scott decision.
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