After the violence in Charlottesville over the weekend, new calls are being made to remove the Roger Brooke Taney statue from the historical entrance to Maryland’s State House.
Since Sunday afternoon, hundreds of people have signed an online petition from Our Maryland, a progressive political group that spurs movements on social media, asking Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to take action to remove the statue.
“More than 500 signatures in 24 hours demonstrates [that] ordinary Marylanders are united against neo-Nazis and racists who want to drag our country back to the 19th century,” Our Maryland spokesman Patrick Murray said. “We will be deeply disappointed if Governor Hogan doesn’t stand with Marylanders on this issue.”
Murray said it would be “political double-speak” for the governor to say he stands with the people of Charlottesville, Virginia — where removal of Confederate monuments became a national rallying point for far-right political activists — and not consider changes on his own State House lawn.
“Hate and bigotry only lead to violence and death, and there is no place for it in our society. Maryland stands in solidarity with our friends and neighbors in Virginia, today and always,” Hogan said in a statement on Sunday.
During debate over the statue’s fate in 2015, Hogan told The Washington Post that lawmakers shouldn’t rewrite history and called some efforts to change state symbols “political correctness run amok.”
The governor’s office responded to the petition on Monday.
“The Maryland State House is a living, working museum, and is overseen by the State House Trust, and decisions regarding changes to monuments on the grounds are governed by the Trust,” a spokeswoman for Hogan wrote in an email. “The governor is willing to consider and discuss any proposed changes to monuments with the Speaker and the Senate President.”
By the end of Monday, the other two chief members of the Maryland State House Trust — Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D) — had also weighed in on the subject.
“While there is a flawed history surrounding Justice Roger Taney, he was not a Confederate figure. As a student of history, I personally believe there is greater value in educating and providing context to Justice Taney and the inflammatory language of the Dred Scott decision rather than removing his statue from the State House grounds,” Miller said in a written statement.
Taney — who started his legal career in Frederick before ascending to the Supreme Court — is most widely known for issuing the majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sanford on March 6, 1857. The opinion concluded that black people were not U.S. citizens and therefore Scott had no right to sue for his freedom. The opinion also said that Congress could not outlaw slavery in the territories, and inflamed sentiments in the lead-up to the Civil War.
The Senate president noted the history of a more prominent statue to honor Justice Thurgood Marshall — also a Maryland native and the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court — at the State House’s current entrance. The tribute to Marshall was erected on Lawyers’ Mall in the mid-1990s, during another period of debate about the Taney statue.
“It was a very public and purposeful compromise to give balance to the State House grounds recognizing our State has its own history of which we have much to be proud but that is also flawed,” Miller’s statement continued. “At the same time however, the Governor is the leader of our State, and the Chair of the State House Trust. Should he support removal, I will not stand in the way of his decision.”
In a Facebook message, Busch wrote that he was “100 percent” in support of removing the statue from the State House grounds.
“I have always considered Maryland’s State House grounds to reflect the evolutionary arch of history — Roger B. Taney to Thurgood Marshall — the movement of our State over time toward a more perfect union,” the speaker wrote. “But the time has come for Taney to come down.”
“... The shame of the Dred Scott decision has no place on our State House grounds where elected officials come together each year to work toward progress and equality for every person in this State,” his statement continued. “This statue does not represent the best of our history and should not remain on the lawn of the oldest State House in continuous use in the country.”
The statue of Taney by the artist William Henry Rinehart sits atop a granite pedestal directly outside the original front door of the State House and was added to the grounds on Dec. 11, 1872.
Taney was born in 1777 and grew up in Calvert County. He started his law career in Frederick in 1801 and lived in Frederick until 1823. Taney was the brother-in-law of Francis Scott Key. He served in the Maryland House of Delegates and Maryland Senate and was also elected state attorney general.
He was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Andrew Jackson in 1835 and the next year, filled the seat vacated by Chief Justice John Marshall. Taney died in 1864.
The prominent position of the statue has sparked debate around the State House for decades.
Bills in 2012 and 2013 would have kept the Taney statue, but added a Frederick Douglass memorial statue and a Harriet Tubman memorial statue on each side. Those bills failed to pass. A bill to remove the statue was introduced in the General Assembly in 2016, but also failed to pass.
In March, on the 160th anniversary of the Dred Scott decision, descendants of Scott and Taney met on the State House grounds to reconcile their family histories and express a shared vision to put Taney in context, by reorienting the statue to stand in a position of dialogue with new statues of Dred Scott and Frederick Douglass, along with an educational display on the Dred Scott decision and its aftermath.
Also in March, the city of Frederick removed busts of Taney and Gov. Thomas Johnson — the first governor of Maryland and a slave owner — from City Hall.
State fiscal analyses have estimated that the cost to remove the 83,000-pound Taney statue at the State House would be at least $77,500, including the repair to the brick and concrete surrounding the statue.