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May 1, 2017

The Insolence of Man vs. History Part One

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

It starts with a perceived wrong. It ends with the pretense that by altering a physical representation, we can remove a blight from our nation’s history.


It never, ever works.


We saw it play out in the Courthouse Square of 101 North Court Street, home of Frederick City Hall and former home of the county’s courthouse. A bust of Roger Brooke Taney, Fredericktonian and the fifth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, was the source of considerable debate and consternation in our community. Initially, the argument centered on his most controversial decision.


Justice Taney delivered the majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), that ruled, among other things, that Negroes, having been considered inferior at the time the United States Constitution was drafted, were not part of the original community of citizens, whether free or slave, and, therefore, could not be considered full citizens of the United States.


The debate is an important one, and it seemed as though the presence of Mr. Taney’s hawkish visage was having that exact impact. Over the years, social justice activists and historians argued over both the appropriateness of the display and the historical context under which Justice Taney drafted that infamous opinion.


Eventually, a compromise was reached. A large plaque was added, one that described more fully the time, the basis and the long-term effect. As with most compromises, no one seemed happy. Probably a sign that the compromise worked.


The social justice crowd gave it about a decade. They were aware of other similar efforts to revise our history by removing monuments, flags and memorials, all in the name of restoring comfort by historical revision.


What about our national story suggests that comfort should ever even be a goal? The answer is absolutely nothing. We’ve been a brawling and bawdy bunch of nonconformists and rabble rousers since our founding. In fact, it might be the one common, consistent trait of a country spawned by a thirst for freedom


But the founders, in all of their unquestioned wisdom, may have created a monster: the politician. This particular species can be deeply detrimental to the common good, mostly because of their desire to be liked. Not respected, that’s not really their aim. The goal of many politicians is to both do and say the sorts of things that never offend.


Give them an angry crowd, or a protest march, and their little ears perk up like the Easter Bunny making his candy delivery rounds. Otherwise rational and thoughtful elected officials, faced with any organized form of opposition, are inclined to fold like a cheap suit in an airline garment bag.


So, old Chief Justice Taney was unceremoniously yanked up out of the ground and carted off like yesterday’s refuse, dropped out of sight in some fenced off storage lot while the aforementioned politicians figure out what to do with him for posterity.


His future isn’t very bright, since it is solely dependent on politicians to resolve it.


My recommendation? Construct a permanent dunk-tank mobile display. Drive the Taney head around the region, charge a quarter to chuck a ball at a target that, when struck, pops Taney’s head off his shoulders. Have it land in a vat of cow manure. Donate the money to a fund to remove any form of historical remembrance that anyone finds objectionable. The social justice crowd will love it!


Tomorrow’s column looks at these efforts in other places, led by the same toxic mix of weak-willed politicians and ideologically blind advocacy.


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