Lincoln and Taney

I had hopes for Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney. It took a certain amount of brass to elevate Taney to the level of a weighty anti-Lincoln and I liked that. But the warning signs were there too.

The title told all that this was aimed at audiences who don't know Taney was chief justice. Uh oh.

The index then told that there would be no discussion of Seward's many illegal arrests and incarcerations, nor Stanton's: in other words, that the broad criminality of the Lincoln Administration (if that is what these arrests suggest) would be veiled in favor of spotlighting a few manageable showcase issues involving Lincoln himself, such as the use of martial law and Burnside's arrest of Vallandigham. Trouble!

Worst of all, my litmus test for a book of this sort would be to see how it managed the evidence (or absence of evidence) concerning Ward Lamon's claim that he carried an arrest warrant for Chief Justice Taney signed by Lincoln himself. No mention of this famous claim here. This would be the very book for it.

In fact the Taney vs. Lincoln approach almost guarantees a narrative format in which legal and constitutional issues are personalized ... and here they are. The narrative bent is so strong that although the author gives himself a summing up sort of analytic epilogue, even there the analysis is little and feeble.
Are the few legal nuggets scattered here bona fide? It would take a lawyer to vett them.

Furthermore, the book alternates chapters between Taney and Lincoln as a storytelling strategy. As a Taney ignoramus, I enjoyed the Taney material while wincing at the stale stuff in the Lincoln chapters.

We have the germ of a very interesting idea here. A full bore treatment would have been thrilling. Sooner or later we will need a serious study of the claims Lincoln made for his war powers; of Taney's counterpoints; and of the general atmosphere of conspiracy, transgressions, and lawlessness that shaped Taney's Civil War milieu.