When the melee was stopped by the Union Army on July 16, the state of New York was looked at suspiciously for years, and a strong military presence continued in the city to watch over its citizens and help supervise elections.
After this major defeat, the aging Chief Justice grew feeble and was able to attend court only a few days during the 1863-64 terms. He died in October, 1864.
Founding Chairman of the Lincoln Forum
headline: Emancipation and the Taney Court
Slavery and the Civil War pitted two great legal minds against each other. Although Chief Justice Roger B. Taney had issued what many consider the worst decision in Supreme Court history — the Dred Scott decision of 1857 — legal scholars still rank him overall as one of the greatest justices in American history.
Taney’s timing was horribly off in the Dred Scott case, in which his radical judicial activism contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War. It failed to improve before his death in late 1864, while Abraham Lincoln’s was right on the mark.
Lincoln took his time in marshaling his forces against Taney. He had three vacancies to fill and was careful to appoint people who would support his policies.
A couple of Lincoln’s generals were overactive as battlefield abolitionists. The president had to countermand the emancipation decisions of John Frémont and David Hunter. After listening to his fellow lawyer-statesman William Seward, Lincoln delayed the issuance of the Preliminary Emancipation until after a Union success on the battlefield. And then on January 1, 1863, all slaves within the areas in rebellion against the federal government were declared free insofar as federal forces could make them free as they advanced and occupied Confederate territory.
Even then, one of the dissenters in the Dred Scott case, Associate Justice Benjamin Curtis, considered the Emancipation Proclamation unconstitutional since it undermined property rights guaranteed by the Constitution, as did the “Great Emancipator” himself. Steven Spielberg’s great movie, Lincoln, makes this clear.
Taney’s response at this time has been overlooked. At the age of 86, the once creative Jacksonian defender was out of sync with the times and the Republican Party. He considered Lincoln a despot and did all he could to thwart the commander-in-chief. Taney had already drafted unofficial opinions declaring the federal government’s new paper money and military conscription unconstitutional. Many believed the old Chief Justice had also drafted a preliminary opinion finding the Emancipation Proclamation unconstitutional and even leaked it to the press.
As it turned out, these issues never reached the Taney Court, but it was a close call. Lincoln’s three appointees to the Court — Noah Swayne, Samuel Miller and David Davis — checkmated Taney’s efforts. After hearing oral arguments in December 1862, the Court issued its opinion in the so-called Prize Cases on March 10, 1863 in a five to four decision with the Chief Justice in dissent. Not only did it uphold the blockade of southern ports and administration war policy, it emancipated Lincoln from Taney.