James Harlan, U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Interior

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James Harlan, U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Interior's Geni Profile

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James Harlan

Birthdate: (79)
Birthplace: United States
Death: October 5, 1899 (79)
Immediate Family:

Son of Silas Harlan and Mary Harlan (Conley)
Husband of Eliza Harlan
Father of Mary Eunice Lincoln and (5865) William Harlan
Brother of (2296) Margery Harlan; (2298) Lydia Harlan; (2299) Jane Harlan; (2300) Margaret Harlan; (2301) Moses Harlan and 3 others

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About James Harlan, U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Interior


Senator from Iowa (Whig, Republican 1856-65, 1867-73) who replaced John Usher as Secretary of the Interior in April 1865 and served until 1866 when difference with President Andrew Johnson prompted his resignation. Despite allegations of corruption in the Interior Department, Harlan was speedily returned to his old job in the Senate.

An Attorney, sometime co-counsel to Abraham Lincoln, judge and university (Iowa Wesleyan) president, he was generally loyal to President Lincoln and headed the President's campaign fund raising and the Republican congressional committee in 1864. The President's Illinois friends had pushed the nomination of State Auditor Jesse K Dubois and Orville H. Browning for the post, but President Lincoln was always sensitive to giving Illinois a second post in the cabinet.

Harlan was a prominent Methodist and Mr. Lincoln told Congressman-elect Shelby M. Cullom, who came to the White House to lobby, that he had promised Methodist Bishop Matthew Simpson to appoint Harlan; "The Methodist Church has been standing by me very generally. I agreed with Bishop Simpson to give Senator Harlan this place, and I must keep my agreement. I would like to take care of Uncle Jesse, but I do not see that I can as member of my cabinet".

General Grenville Dodge recalled how Senator Harlan intervened in one visit he made to the White House in the fall of 1864; "When I arrived at Washington and went to the White House to call on President Lincoln, I met Senator Harlan of my state in the ante-room and he took me in to see the President. It happened to be at the hour when the President was receiving the crowd in the ante-room next to his room.

Senator Harlan took me up to him immediately and presented me to him. President Lincoln received me cordially and said he was very glad to see me. He asked me to sit down while he disposed of the crowd. I sat down and waited; I saw him take each person by the hand and in his kindly way disposed of them. To an outsider it would seem that they all got what they wanted, for they seemed to go away happy. I sat there for some time, and felt that I was over-staying my time with him, so stepped up and said that I had merely called to pay my respects and that I had no business, so would say goodbye.

President Lincoln turned to me and said, "If you have the time, I wish you would wait; I want to talk to you."

Mary Todd Lincoln abetted and encouraged a relationship between Senator Harlan's daughter Mary and her son Robert. The two were married in 1868. President Lincoln had one told Secretary of War Edwin Stanton: Mary is tremendously in love with Senator Harlan's little daughter. I think she has picked her out for a daughter in law. As usual, I think Mary has shown fine taste".


James Harlan (August 26, 1820 – October 5, 1899) was a member of the United States Senate and a U.S. Cabinet Secretary.


Harlan represented the state of Iowa in the United States Senate as a member of the Free Soil Party in 1855. In 1857 the Senate declared the seat vacant because of irregularities in the legislative proceedings that first elected Harlan to the Senate. He was then re-elected to the Senate by the Iowa legislature as a Republican and continued to hold his Senate seat until 1865.

In 1865 he resigned elected office to become 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". Amongst this group was the poet Walt Whitman, then working as a clerk in the department, who received his dismissal note on June 30, 1865. 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." 29 years later, however, he defended his actions, saying that Whitman was dismissed solely "on the grounds that his services were not needed".

Harlan resigned from the post in 1866 when he no longer supported the policies of President Johnson. He was elected again to the United States Senate in 1867 and served until 1873.

From 1853 to 1855, Harlan was president of Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, where, following his career of public service, he resided until his death in 1899. Along with pioneer Iowa governor Samuel Kirkwood, Harlan's sculptured likeness is maintained among the two coveted statues apportioned to each state on display in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C, his is located in the Hall of Columns.

Harlan was a close friend of President Abraham Lincoln and his family. In 1868 his daughter, Mary Eunice Harlan, married Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln.

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James Harlan, U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Interior's Timeline

August 25, 1820
United States
September 25, 1846
Age 26
Iowa City, Iowa, United States
October 5, 1899
Age 79