A look at John Marshall Harlan’s Library


Among the Harlan papers collected by the Library of Congress is a listing of his father’s personal effects at the time of his death. Harlan’s father, James Harlan, was a former Kentucky Attorney General and Congressman as well as an avid book collector.  The inventory takes up 15 pages, 9 of which are filled with titles of books.  Most of the titles are law books, which made it one of the largest legal libraries in the region of its time.

Kurt Metzmeier, a bibliophile, local historian and co-worker of mine, and I took on the task of trying to identify all of the titles listed in the inventory. The result sheds an interesting light on both the legal book trade of the mid-19th century and on the personal lives of two generations of the Harlan family.  We published our findings as “Nursey of a Supreme Court Justice: The Library of James Harlan of Kentucky, Father of John Marshall Harlan,” 100 Law Library Journal 639 (2008). The article can also be found on SSRN.

This also seems like a good time to make a plug for Kurt’s blog, which deals with Kentucky politics and law, both past and present, with a great deal more humor than can be found here.

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