Open main menu

History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century/4/James Harlan

JAMES HARLAN was born in Clarke County, Illinois, August 26, 1820. His father removed to Park County, Indiana, three years later where the son was reared on a farm. He graduated at Asbury University in 1845. In 1846 Mr. Harlan located at Iowa City where he studied law and was admitted to the bar. In 1847 he was nominated by the Whig party for Superintendent of Public Instruction and was elected over Charles Mason, the Democratic candidate. In 1849, at the Whig State Convention, Mr. Harlan was nominated for Governor but not being eligible on account of youth, he declined, and another candidate was named by the State Central Committee. In 1853 he was chosen president of the Wesleyan University at Mount Pleasant. At the session of the Fifth General Assembly in 1855, after a long and exciting contest for election of United States Senator, the Whigs and Free Soil members united upon Mr. Harlan and, casting their votes for him, he was declared elected for six years to succeed General Dodge. His election was contested in the Senate and the seat was declared vacant, in 1857. The Legislature being in session, Mr. Harlan was promptly reflected. In 1861 he was elected for a second term of six years. In March, 1865, he was invited to a seat in the Cabinet of President Lincoln as Secretary of the Interior but did not enter upon the duties of the position until May 15, when he resigned his seat in the Senate. In the meantime the President had been assassinated and was succeeded by Andrew Johnson. In September, Mr. Harlan resigned his seat in the Cabinet and in January, 1866, was again elected to the Senate for six years. During his long service in the Senate Mr. Harlan became one of the foremost leaders of the Republican party. Serving during all of the years in which the momentous issues of slavery, secession, rebellion and reconstruction were absorbing the profound attention of the ablest statesmen of America, he was called upon to assist in solving the most difficult problems that have arisen since the formation of our Government and was equal to the occasion. How wisely and ably he and his colleagues guided the Nation through its imminent dangers is recorded in history. Among the foremost statesmen of that period the name of James Harlan will always stand conspicuous. During the administration of President Grant, Senators Sumner and Schurz, who were among the great leaders of the Republican party for many years, became alienated from the President and organized an opposition in the Senate which assailed the Administration and its chief measures, with great bitterness. President Grant had negotiated a treaty with the government of San Domingo, by which that island desired to be annexed to the United States on favorable terms to our Nation. Sumner, Schurz and a few other Senators dominated by their influence, formed a combination which was strong enough to defeat the ratification of the treaty. In a studied speech Sumner assailed President Grant personally in one of the most abusive speeches ever delivered in the Senate, in connection with this treaty. Senator Harlan in a calm, able and statesmanlike address, made a masterly reply in vindication of President Grant and his patriotic services to the country in civil and military affairs, and the wisdom of the policy that would have given to the Nation one of the most important and productive islands of the West Indies. This speech of the senior Iowa Senator made a profound impression upon the country and Europe and placed him in the front rank of patriotic American statesmen. As his third term drew to a close, a powerful movement was organized by the northern half of the State (which had long been unrepresented in the Senate) to secure the election of a member living in that section. William B. Allison was the candidate united upon and in the Republican caucus he was nominated over Mr. Harlan and elected. Senator Harlan had for nearly eighteen years served as the colleague of such eminent statesmen as Seward, Douglas, Sumner, Fessenden, Edmunds, Bayard, Jefferson Davis, Mason, Grimes and Henry Wilson. He was a trusted adviser of Presidents Lincoln and Grant. His knowledge of the affairs of government was unsurpassed. As a public speaker he was calm, deliberate, logical and impressive. After his retirement to private life, Mr. Harlan was, from 1882 to 1885, the Presiding Judge of the Alabama Claims Commission. He was one of the commissioners who erected the Iowa Soldiers' Monument. His last act in a public capacity was presiding at the laying of the corner-stone of the Iowa Hall of History, May 17, 1899. He died at Mount Pleasant on the 6th of October of the same year.