John Marshall Harlan

Historical Marker #1606, located at the Boyle County Courthouse in Danville, commemorates John Marshall Harlan, a Boyle County native, Civil War veteran, and U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Born a few miles west of Danville in 1833, Harlan's family lived there and in Harrodsburg before moving to Frankfort. Harlan graduated from Centre College in 1850, studied law at Transylvania University, and then opened a legal practice in Frankfort. There, he also became the Franklin County judge executive.

When the Civil War erupted, Harlan was a staunch Unionist. He worked to keep Kentucky in the Union and raised the 10th Kentucky (Union) Infantry Regiment, which fought in several battles and skirmishes. In addition, in late 1862, Harlan commanded a brigade while fighting near Hartsville and Rome, Tennessee. In several instances, Harlan chased Confederate raider and Kentucky native John Hunt Morgan. Harlan's military career, however, was cut short when his father died in 1863. Although he was reputedly being considered for promotion to brigadier general, Harlan resigned his commission and returned to Frankfort in order to handle his father's business affairs.

Elected Kentucky attorney general, after the war he twice unsuccessfully ran for governor on the Republican ticket. In 1877, after supporting Rutherford B. Hayes for president, Hayes appointed Harlan to the U.S. Supreme Court. Harlan held that seat until 1911. There, he became known as the "Great Dissenter." His most famous lone dissent was Plessy v. Ferguson in which he argued against the decision to allow "separate but equal" public facilities (including schools) for African Americans. As the historical marker explains, "he authored 1161 opinions, spoke for the Court 745 times and wrote 316 dissents. Harlan was a highly respected jurist because of his individualism, dedication, and courage. He dissented with vigor, often alone, on issues of civil rights, interstate commerce, and income tax. Many of his dissents became the law of the land."

Harlan died in Washington, D.C. in 1911. Today, he is remembered as being one of the great justices of the United States Supreme Court.

Images

Justice John Marshall Harlan

Justice John Marshall Harlan

Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, a Danville native and Civil War veteran, was known as "the great dissenter." Courtesy the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

Union Colonel John Marshall Harlan

Union Colonel John Marshall Harlan

Danville native John Marshall Harlan was colonel of the 10th Kentucky (Union) Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. This image was taken in the autumn of 1861, when Harlan was approximately 28 years old. Courtesy the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

Judge James Harlan

Judge James Harlan

Judge James Harlan was the father of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan. When James Harlan died in 1863, John Marshall Harlan resigned from the Union army in order to handle his father's business affairs. Portrait courtesy the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

John Marshall Harlan

John Marshall Harlan

John Marshall Harlan was a Danville native, Centre College graduate, Union army colonel, Franklin County judge executive, and a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Courtesy the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

John Marshall Harlan golfing

John Marshall Harlan golfing

John Marshall Harlan golfing, c. 1901. The Danville native was a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Courtesy the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Sanders, “John Marshall Harlan,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed March 29, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/107.
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