John Marshall Harlan: Father of the Kentucky Republican Party


The latest issue of the Journal of Supreme Court History (vol. 33 no. 3) has another memoir by Harlan in it. This one covers his political career both before and after the Civil War. It’s a pretty fun read, filled with debates, election day shenanigans, duels and the political ramifications of eating dinner with Frederick Douglass. It also provides a unique glimpse at a pivotal time in US political history, when America morphed from a multi-party to a two party system, and what that meant to men like Harlan who didn’t fit in neatly into either party. Of course, Harlan landed on his feet OK. Once he aligned himself with the Republican Party his future was sealed. The party barely existed in Kentucky at the time, but due to Harlan’s energy and organizational skills, the party quickly flourished. So much so, that Harlan was only narrowly defeated when he twice ran for governor. The party probably would have grown in stature eventually, but it wouldn’t have happened so quickly without Harlan. He was arguably the founder of the party in Kentucky.

Unfortunately the article is not available online, but fans of legal history and political science will probably find it worth their while to track down a copy at the nearest law library near them.

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