Many visitors to Maryland's historic Old State House are eager to see the Senate Chamber where Gen. George Washington resigned his commission to the Congress, meeting there in December, 1783. There are, as well, many other significant events associated with this beautiful and classically proportioned Capitol, America's oldest continuously used legislative building.
Yet, for many of us, the sight of a statue to Maryland-born Roger Brooke Taney outside the Old State House is jarring. As Chief Justice of the United States, Taney wrote the infamous Dred Scott opinion.
This unjust 1857 ruling decreed that slaves might be taken into free territories and must still remain slaves. Abraham Lincoln eloquently denounced this Supreme Court edict as unhistorical, illogical, and dishonest. Worst of all, old Taney wrote: "The black man has no rights which the white man is bound to respect."
Because of this, many Marylanders have sought to remove Taney from the place of honor in front of the magnificent Old State House. We agree with those protesters. But we think this removal should not be an occasion for dishonoring Chief Justice Taney. Instead, we suggest that Taney's statue be moved in front of the State Archives Building on Rowe Boulevard.
In place of Taney, we would recommend a statue of Maryland's favorite son, Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass was a key player in the great drama of Civil War and Emancipation. As abolitionist author, editor and orator, Frederick Douglass was indispensable to Abraham Lincoln's plans for freeing millions of black Americans from the shackles of slavery.
"He who would be free must strike the first blow himself," said Douglass as he recruited black soldiers for the Union army. By the end of the Civil War, there were more black soldiers and sailors in the U.S. military than there were whites in the Confederate army.
Like Lincoln, Douglass believed that freeing the slaves would also liberate white Americans from the stigma of human bondage.
So great was Lincoln's admiration for Frederick Douglass that Mary Todd Lincoln gave Douglass Lincoln's fine walking stick after the President was assassinated.
Instead of spending tax dollars on the Douglass Memorial, however, we suggest letting the children of Maryland contribute pennies. It would be a unifying way to bring all our young people together. Lincoln's likeness on those pennies would be a symbolic way of linking these two champions of freedom.
When the Statue of Liberty was almost halted in the 1880s, editor Joseph Pulitzer challenged America's children to chip in their pennies to pay for the pedestal on which this great gift of France would stand. Decades later, many of those immigrant children who had taken part proudly showed off the Lady in the Harbor to their own children and grandchildren.
We hope Governor Hogan, Maryland's newly inaugurated Chief Executive, will endorse this project. He has set a good tone. At Chick n' Ruth's nationally renowned "Delly," on Annapolis' Main Street, the sandwich the new governor has chosen is called "Hogan's Hero." And his new soup is a combination of tomato and cream of crab soup; they call it "Bi-partisan Maryland Crab Soup."
Why should we move Taney and not just toss him into the river? Because Roger B. Taney had a major record of accomplishment in the Cabinet of Andrew Jackson. And because Lincoln and Douglass would not have wanted to dishonor Old Roger B., no matter how strenuously they disagreed with his opinions.
In dealing with Taney's legacy, we can be inspired by Lincoln's words--with malice toward none but with charity for all. We can send Roger B. Taney's statue to a place of honor yet still remove him from the place of prominence outside the Old State House.
A Frederick Douglass Memorial might be sculpted with the great abolitionist holding Lincoln's walking stick. That walking stick is a symbol of dignity and freedom.
No two men in our history better exemplify the right to rise through honest effort than Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Most importantly, Lincoln's memento was a walking stick and not a crutch.