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  • Description is exactly "An examination of 16th US President Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves in 1863, and US Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who wrote the Dred Scott Decision in 1857 denying the slaves Dred and Harriet Scott their freedom.

    Simon's books examines both men's history and personalities and their professional rivalries before and during the Civil War. He shows how Lincoln and Taney were both "homely physical specimens--tall, gaunt, slightly cadaverous figures, usually attired in drab, ill-fitting clothes, " both believed he was guided by Divine Providence, though Taney was a devout Roman Catholic and Lincoln shirked organized religion, both were known for their personal integrity, fairness and compassion for those less fortunate than themselves, both strong-willed yet self-effacing in public. In their prime both men were among the best litigators in their respective states of Maryland (Taney) and Illinois (Lincoln) and, significantly, both men disapproved of slavery but were moderates when it came to the politics of slavery.

    Surprisingly, the book uncovers a Chief Justice who early on freed his slaves and was opposed to slavery as a moral evil and "a blot on our national character," yet an evil he believed could only be eradicated by the individual states or an amendment to the US Constitution, which greatly influenced his opinion on the Dred Scott case. Simon also shows us an old (by 1857), somewhat bitter Chief Justice, from Maryland, who believed the South was being unfairly persecuted by the North, esp. Radical Republicans. The book puts the Dred Scott Decision into the context of the turbulent late 1850s, when the national agitation over slavery was nearing the crescendo that would spark the Civil War. Had the Supreme Court and a younger Taney heard the Dred Scott case ten years earlier the Court's decision might have gone the other way according to Simon.

    For his part, the pre-Civil War Lincoln, though always opposed to it, was viewed by many Republicans as too soft on slavery, too willing to compromise on slavery in order to save the Union. However Lincoln's thinking evolved until he viewed the war as God's punishment on the nation for the sin of slavery which he then took steps to abolish via the Emancipation Proclamation.

    Finally, the book sets out the tug of war between Lincoln and Taney, a story of rivals who differed in their interpretations of the Constiution (Taney belied it granted states the right of secesison, while Lincoln didn't) and the law--Taney opposed many of Lincoln's wartime presidential actions such as Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus and the trial of civilians in military courts."
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