Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican leading one of the country’s most liberal states, won rare applause from the left but riled some of his conservative base with his decision to back the recent removal of a Civil War-era statue from the State House grounds.
The statue of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney — author of the Dred Scott ruling in 1857 that reaffirmed slavery and denied citizenship to blacks — was caught up in the rush to topple Confederate monuments after deadly violence at an Aug. 12 white nationalist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The politics surrounding the removal of the 145-year-old statue of Taney, who never joined the Confederacy and early in his life freed slaves he inherited, proved as complicated as Maryland’s Civil War history.
Mr. Hogan, who had been opposed to the removal of Civil War statues, called it “the right thing to do.”
For Sue Payne, a conservative activist in Maryland, it was the last straw.
“I’m so disgusted with Larry Hogan on so many issues, but this shows how much political pandering he will do,” she said. “I will never vote for Larry Hogan again. I have no respect for him. He goes whatever way the wind blows.”
“Left-wing anti-Americanism — that’s what this is,” Ms. Payne called the wave of iconoclasm sweeping the country.
A half-dozen Confederate monuments came down across Maryland, the northernmost Southern state that was deeply divided over the Civil War. Some Maryland towns sent regiments to fight with the Confederacy while their neighbors remained home to defend Union strongholds.
The state is littered with Confederate monuments, although Taney doesn’t technically qualify as one.
Baltimore hauled away from city parks statues of Taney, Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, a Confederate Women’s Monument and the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument.
In Ellicott City, a community west of Baltimore, a monument to the town’s Confederate soldiers was removed from the front of the county courthouse.
For years, black state lawmakers demanded the removal of the State House statue because, to them, it symbolized institutional racism. But it took the furor over Charlottesville to spur action by the four-member board of the Maryland State House Trust that oversees the grounds and its monuments.
The board is chaired by the governor.
Mr. Hogan, who is popular in the deep-blue state and up for re-election next year, as recently as last year called the push to remove the Taney statue “political correctness run amok.”
He shifted with the mood of the country.
“As I said at my inauguration, Maryland has always been a state of middle temperament, which is a guiding principle of our administration,” said Mr. Hogan. “While we cannot hide from our history — nor should we — the time has come to make clear the difference between properly acknowledging our past and glorifying the darkest chapters of our history.”
He did find support in the state’s Republican establishment.
Delegate Kathy Szeliga, a member of the Republican minority’s leadership team in the House, said she was proud of Mr. Hogan.
“I am not interested in rewriting history, but I am interesting in admitting when what people did was wrong,” she said.
Mrs. Szeliga said she was moved to oppose the statue because of the raw offensiveness of Taney’s ruling in Dred Scott, which held that black slaves were property and could not become citizens or have standing in court.
The governor also joined the chorus rebuking President Trump’s response to the Charlottesville violence in which the president said there was blame on both sides.
Mr. Hogan has distanced himself from Mr. Trump since the presidential race last year. He refused to endorse Mr. Trump when the billionaire businessman won the Republican Party nomination for president.
The only dissenting voice on the State House Trust came from the state government’s highest-ranking Democrat: Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. He refused to vote.
“Unlike George Washington, who freed his slaves upon his death, Taney freed his slaves early in his life,” he wrote. “Roger Brooke Taney was not a Confederate officer, and he remained loyal to the Union until his death in 1864. Many historians have debated the conflicting anti-slavery words and works of Roger Brooke Taney.”
Fellow Senate Democrats called for him to be censured over his remarks.
In response, Mr. Miller released a statement saying he regretted that sharing his historical perspective had distracted from “the larger issue we must face together as a nation” and his role to “bring unity and fight for a better Maryland.”
Jill Carter, a former state delegate from Baltimore who unsuccessfully pushed legislation to remove the Taney statue, applauded Mr. Hogan’s leadership on the issue.
“Maryland is supposed to be a progressive state. I have to give credit to the governor because, honestly, he could have been a governor that resisted and that stood his ground, kind of the way Mike Miller is, but he didn’t. I think that I took leadership to do that,” said Ms. Carter, who now is director of the Baltimore Office of Civil Rights & Wage Enforcement.
“The reason I say it was true leadership on his part is because he is a Republican and much of his base is divided on this issue,” she said.
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