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James Harlan (Iowa politician)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

James Harlan
United States Senator
from Iowa
In office
March 4, 1867 – March 3, 1873
Preceded bySamuel J. Kirkwood
Succeeded byWilliam B. Allison
In office
January 29, 1857 – May 15, 1865
Preceded byHimself
Succeeded bySamuel J. Kirkwood
In office
March 4, 1855 – January 5, 1857
Preceded byAugustus C. Dodge
Succeeded byHimself
8th United States Secretary of the Interior
In office
May 16, 1865 – August 31, 1866
PresidentAndrew Johnson
Preceded byJohn Usher
Succeeded byOrville Browning
Personal details
Born(1820-08-26)August 26, 1820
Clark County, Illinois, U.S.
DiedOctober 5, 1899(1899-10-05) (aged 79)
Mount Pleasant, Iowa, U.S.
Political partyWhig (Before 1855)
Free Soil (1855–1857)
Republican (1857–1899)
Ann Eliza Peck
(m. 1845; died 1884)
Children4, including Mary
EducationDePauw University (BA)

James Harlan (August 26, 1820 – October 5, 1899) was an attorney and politician, a member of the United States Senate, a U.S. Cabinet Secretary at the United States Department of Interior under President Andrew Johnson, and a Federal Judge.

Early life

Harlan was born on August 26, 1820 in Clark County, Illinois and raised in Indiana. He was the son of Silas Harlan (1792–1868) and Mary (née Connolly) Harlan (1796–1896).[1]

As a boy, Harlan attended local schools before graduating from Indiana Asbury University (now DePauw University) in 1845.[2]


In 1845, he moved to Iowa City, Iowa, where he served as Superintendent of Schools. He also studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1850.[2] He joined the Whig Party and became active in politics. In 1850, Harlan declined the Whig nomination for Governor of Iowa. From 1853 to 1855, Harlan was president of Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.[2]

First Senate tenure

Hon. James Harlan
Hon. James Harlan

In 1855, Harlan was elected by the Iowa legislature to the United States Senate as a Free Soil Party candidate. In 1857, the U.S. Senate declared the seat vacant because of irregularities in that legislative election. He was re-elected by the legislature and seated as a Republican, serving until 1865. In 1861, Harlan was a Delegate to the Peace Conference that tried to arrange a compromise to prevent the American Civil War.[2]

Secretary of the Interior

Harlan was a close friend of President Abraham Lincoln and his family. In 1865, after Lincoln's assassination, he resigned from the Senate when he was appointed as Secretary of the Interior under President Andrew Johnson, an appointment he held until 1866. As secretary he announced that he intended to "clean house" and fired "a considerable number of incumbents who were seldom at their respective desks".[3] He had done so after requesting, in late May 1865, a report listing all employees who (1.) uttered disloyal statements since the bombardment of Fort Sumter, (2.) all those not known to entertain loyal sentiments or who had associated with those known to be disloyal, (3.) those who were inefficient or not necessary to transact public business, (4.) all such persons "as disregard in their conduct, habits, and associations, the rules of decorum, [and] propriety proscribed by a christian civilization."[4]

Among this group was the poet Walt Whitman, then working as a clerk in the department, who received his dismissal note on June 30, 1865.[5] Harlan had found a copy of Leaves of Grass on Whitman's desk as the poet was making revisions and found it to be morally offensive. "I will not have the author of that book in this Department", he said. "If the President of the United States should order his reinstatement, I would resign sooner than I would put him back."[6] Twenty-nine years later, Harlan defended his firing of Whitman, saying that the clerk was dismissed solely "on the grounds that his services were not needed".[3][7]

Harlan was a member of the Southern Treaty Commission that renegotiated treaties with Indian Tribes that had sided with the Confederacy, such as the Cherokee and Choctaw. As part of the new treaties, they had to emancipate their slaves, as was being done by amendment within the United States, and offer them full citizenship in the tribes if they chose to stay in Indian Territory. If they left, the freedmen would become United States citizens. (Membership issues related to the Cherokee Freedmen and Choctaw Freedmen have become significant since the late 20th century.) Harlan resigned from the post in 1866 when he no longer supported the policies of President Johnson.[1]

Second Senate tenure

In 1867, he was elected again by the Iowa legislature to the United States Senate and served until the end of his term in January 1873. During his senate service, Harlan was chairman of the committees of Public Lands; District of Columbia; Education; and Indian Affairs.[2]

Later career

Harlan was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1872, and was also an unsuccessful candidate for governor in 1895.[2] After his Senate career ended, Harlan turned a previous house of his into the Harlan House Hotel.[1]

From 1882 to 1886, Harlan was appointed by President Chester A. Arthur as presiding judge for the Court of Commissioners, which heard cases related to the Alabama claims.[2]

Personal life

James Harlan's statue was one of two representing Iowa in the U.S. Capitol until its replacement
James Harlan's statue was one of two representing Iowa in the U.S. Capitol until its replacement

On November 5, 1845, Harlan was married to Ann Eliza Peck (1824–1884) by President Matthew Simpson, who later became a bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Ann was the daughter of James Peck and Eunice (née Knight) Peck, both of whom died during Cholera epidemic of 1832. Together, Ann and James were the parents of:[8]

Harlan died on October 5, 1899 at his hotel in Mount Pleasant, which become his residence in the early 1890s.[12]


Harlan's residence, today known as the Harlan-Lincoln House, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Operated as a house museum, it exhibits memorabilia from both the Harlan and Lincoln families.[13] The Harlan House Hotel is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[12]

A commemorative sculpture was done of him; Iowa installed it in the United States Capitol along with one of pioneer Governor Samuel Kirkwood (each state may install two statues for display in the Capitol). The Harlan statue was located in the Hall of Columns until it was replaced in 2014 by a statue of Norman Borlaug. It is now on display at Iowa Wesleyan College.[14]

The city of Harlan, Iowa in Shelby County was named for him.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Brigham, Johnson (1918). Iowa: Its History and Its Foremost Citizens. S.J. Clarke. p. 285. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "HARLAN, James - Biographical Information". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  3. ^ a b Loving, Jerome. Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself. University of California Press, 1999. ISBN 0-520-22687-9. p. 291.
  4. ^ National Archives, RG48, Entry 14, James Harlan to Bureau Chief, May 29, 1865
  5. ^ Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. ISBN 0-679-76709-6. p. 455
  6. ^ Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979. ISBN 0-671-22542-1. p. 304.
  7. ^ Peck, Garrett (2015). Walt Whitman in Washington, D.C.: The Civil War and America's Great Poet. Charleston, SC: The History Press. pp. 137–40. ISBN 978-1626199736.
  8. ^ a b c McMurtry, R. Gerald (Robert Gerald) (1959). The Harlan-Lincoln tradition at Iowa Wesleyan College. Mount Pleasant, Ia.: The Harlan-Lincoln Restoration Commission. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  9. ^ "MRS. LINCOLN, WIDOW OF PRESIDENT'S SON; Married Robert Todd Lincoln in Washington in 1868--Dies in the Capital at 90" (PDF). The New York Times. 1 April 1937. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  10. ^ Ulm, A. H. (1 August 1926). "MALE LINE OF LINCOLNS IS ENDED; Robert Todd Was the Only One of the Martyr President's Children Who Attained Mature Years MALE LINE OF LINCOLNS ENDS WITH DEATH OF ROBERT TODD" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  11. ^ "A Case of Mistaken Identity". The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  12. ^ a b Christopher A. Wilde. "Harlan House Hotel". National Park Service. Retrieved 2017-04-27.
  13. ^ "Harlan-Lincoln House". Abraham Lincoln Online. Retrieved 2012-05-31.
  14. ^ Petroski, William (August 18, 2014). "Harlan statue moved from D.C. to Mount Pleasant". Des Moines Register.[permanent dead link]

External links

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Augustus C. Dodge
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Iowa
Served alongside: George W. Jones
Succeeded by
Preceded by
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Iowa
Served alongside: George W. Jones, James W. Grimes
Succeeded by
Samuel J. Kirkwood
Preceded by
Robert Johnson
Chair of the Senate Public Lands Committee
Succeeded by
Samuel Pomeroy
Preceded by
Samuel J. Kirkwood
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Iowa
Served alongside: James W. Grimes, James B. Howell, George G. Wright
Succeeded by
William B. Allison
New office Chair of the Senate Education Committee
Succeeded by
Charles D. Drake
Preceded by
John B. Henderson
Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
William Alfred Buckingham
Political offices
Preceded by
John Usher
United States Secretary of the Interior
Succeeded by
Orville Browning
This page was last edited on 5 April 2021, at 21:00
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