Talk of Replacement for Chief Justice Roger B. Taney

January 3 ,1864

“John T. Hall of Albany, NY visits Lincoln..They talk about appointment to Supreme Court in case Taney dies.”   Over nine months later, when Taney finally succombed, Hall wrote President Lincoln about their meeting:

You will be the most forgiving of men, if this does not cause you to remember against me my intrusion upon you, on the first Sunday evening of this year. The death of the late Chief Justice,1 however, and some speculations upon it, which I have just read, bring to mind so vividly our conversation that evening regarding such a contingency during your administration, that I cannot resist an impulse to refer to it, now that the emergency is upon you.

You may remember that from Judge [Samuel] Nelsons account of Mr. Taneys condition, I thought this death at hand then; and expressed as well as I was able, some apprehensions and more hopes suggested by it. I do not propose to weary you with them again but am inclined rather to compose my anxieties by contemplating the assurances you were kind enough to make on that occasion.

“If that time comes and I am not crazy”, were the words, “I will give the country a Chief Justice upon whom it may rely.” I derive much comfort from another statement you were pleased to make, I think you said in the words of your “new Judge”, that “the function of …courts is to decide cases — not principles.”

On your adhesion to these sentiments I place my hope that the next incumbent of the seat, which the Judge of all the Earth has just purged, will be one with whom the rights and liberties of both government and people will be safe.

From Moline, Illinois, H. Van Order writes to complain about Lincoln’s brother-in-law, Ninian Edwards: “During the political campaign that resulted in your election to the Presidency, I happened to be sitting under the balcony of the Geneseo House, in Geneseo, Ill. when an elderly gentleman remarked to three or four of us present, that he was in doubt who he ought to vote for  President. The tavern keeper replied, that he thought, he ought to vote for Mr. Lincoln, to which he replied that he understood that Mr. Lincoln’s own brother-in-law asserted that he (Mr. L.) was not capable of the office. I then remarked, or rather inquired, is he an impartial judge? At that, a tall lank man dressed in black broad cloth with a cane in his hand who stood within hearing replied, “I never said Mr. Lincoln was not capable, he is a capable man, but I am opposed to him prin on principle. I then asked “wherein on principle”? To which he answered, I never talk politics on the streets. This was my first introduction to “Ninian”. I had heard of him before, however, for he had made speeches at “democratic” meetings, the substance of which some of my boys who were present rehearsed to me, which I thought at the time to be very tame as well as bitter, and it was generally understood that he had asserted that you were not cappable of filling the office of president. The day after the fact was happily ascertained that you were elected, I met him on the street, and he was in a very talkative mood. Said he has always been almost a Republican, always opposed to the extension of slavery,” &c. I did not then understand the animus of his newly born zeal, but a f few weeks perfectly unfolded the riddle, when the papers announced that Ninian Edwards, Mr. Lincoln’s brother-in-law, had obtained a lucrative office under the new administration. In this Ninian was quite sharp. Suppose Mr. D. had been elected, Ninian could have plead with great plausibility, “I opposed my own brother-in-law, and did all I could for your election, and of course am entitled to,” &c. But in the event of your election, why he had married a Todd, and, — of course you know the rest. Now, as the yankees say, “was not this cute”. But, I would not bother you with the matter, but that I am suspicious there is something a little “rotten in Denmark”. I was over on the Island at the Barracks on the National thanksgiving day, and went into the commissary’s office, and seeing a Chicago daily, the Times, being on the table near where I sat down to warm, I took it up and my eye soon fell upon a passage charging you with having perjured yourself, with trampling on the Constitution, and other wicked misdemeanors. I then asked the commissary if that was his paper, he said, “Yes”. If he coincided with its sentiments? He said, “Yes”. I then asked him if he agreed with the passage alluded to, when he answered gruffily, that he “was not under inquisition. I was afterwards informed by a friend, an officer there (appointed by Mr. Edwards) and well acquainted with him) that Mr E. himself is a reader of the Chicago Times. Now I say it with all the authority of a man of no consequence, that any man, who does not repudiate and loathe the Times, is a villianous traitor at heart. I presume you have little idea of the venom of that paper, and of the baleful influence exerted by it, whereever it is read. All loyal men through these parts rejoiced when it it was suppressed, and mourned when the hand was drawn back that would have crushed the reptile.2

Of course I have no means of knowing the political complexion of Mr. E’s appointments, but I fear from the 3 only I do know, they are “shaky”, two only of the three being as I think the genuine metal. The “democrats,” I suppose you know, Mr. Lincoln, charge any possible amount of “corruption” upon your administration. The Saviour said, “it is impossible but that offences come”, and while your knowledge is not infinite, and you cannot be ominpresent, it is unavoidable that some men be trusted that prove themselves to be mean dishonest whelps. How many of these are your political enemies, and secret friends of Jeff’s Kingdom in office cannot now be known, but some think their name is “legion”. All the Union men I know about here, are hoping you will be the next “nominee,” and say, if you are you will be elected by an “overwhelming” majority: for while they admit you may have committed errors, been a “little too slow” in some cases, yet that our imperiled Republic is safer in your hands, than any other man in the nation.

Please excuse my intrusion upon your time and attention, Mr. Lincoln; All (3) of our boys we dearly love are and have been upon the altar of their country. Though they have been in severe battles, and greatly exposed, they have thus far been wonderfully preserved. If our institutions are preserved, slavery destroyed, and freedom become universal over the land, and our boys live to return to their humble home, I shall be rich, though having and desiring but little of this world.

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Published in: on January 3, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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