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James Harlan
James Harlan (senator)

8th United States Secretary of the Interior
In office
May 16, 1865 – August 31, 1866
Preceded by John Palmer Usher
Succeeded by Orville Hickman Browning

Born August 26, 1820(1820-08-26)
Clark County, Illinois, U.S.
Died October 5, 1899 (aged 79)
Mount Pleasant, Iowa, U.S.
Political party Whig, Free Soil, Republican
Alma mater Indiana Asbury University
Profession Politician
Religion Methodist

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".[1] 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.[2] 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."[3] 29 years later, however, he defended his actions, saying that Whitman was dismissed solely "on the grounds that his services were not needed".[1]

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 under the rotunda in Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.

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


  1. 1.0 1.1 Loving, Jerome. Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself. University of California Press, 1999. ISBN 0520226879. p. 291.
  2. Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. ISBN 0679767096. p. 455
  3. Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979. ISBN 0671225421. p. 304.

External links[]

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