August 21, 2017 9:01AM

Statuary and Stasis: The Case of Roger Taney

The Frederick News-Post has run my opinion piece on Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to support relocation of the statue of Chief Justice Roger Taney from its previous conspicuous spot in front of the State House in Annapolis. Excerpt:

...Taney did many things in an illustrious legal career but is remembered for only one: the disastrous Dred Scott decision, which served to entrench slavery….

divChange in the display of public memorials is natural and inevitable. Cemeteries may aspire to present an unaltered face over centuries. Both cemeteries and battlefield sites appropriately look backward rather than forward. But much-used public places are meant for the living and are ordinarily under tougher scarcity constraints.….

No one has erased him from the history books—the Dred Scott case itself makes sure of that....

Some conservatives now cry that we are on a slippery slope. What next—take Jefferson off the nickel, rename the city and state of Washington?

divBut each and every modern society chooses to live partway down the slippery slope of “not remembering history.” (Unless you believe that Warsaw, Prague and Budapest should have left their statues of Lenin in place.) Like Europe, America can take advantage of big, comfortable stopping points short of tearing down and renaming everyone and everything. For example, few if any memorials to Jefferson honor him for being a slaveholder. On the other hand, most statues of Confederate leaders do honor their service to that specific cause. Writes libertarian law professor Ilya Somin: “government should not honor people whose principal claim to fame was fighting a war in defense of the evil institution of slavery.”

On one big point, conservatives are very right: Mob actions and vandalism seldom end well....

Whole thing here, plus some thoughts from Andrew Stuttaford. From Atlas Obscura, displaced statues as a subject of historic preservation. Related, from @david_tanenhaus on Twitter: “My favorite Civil War era monuments are the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.” [cross-posted and adapted from Overlawyered]