Judicial Biography

Judicial Biography - Paula Koren U.S Constitutional History...

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Paula Koren U.S. Constitutional History October 19, 2007 The “Great Dissenter”, John Marshal Harlan is perhaps best known for his dissents concerning Civil Rights. Both in the Civil Rights Cases of 1883, and Plessy v. Ferguson in 1895, Justice Harlan stood up for the rights of all citizens, regardless of their race, social status, or background. His renown, however, would not have been expected by those who observed his beginnings in politics. He did not build up his fame in lower courts, or have a stunningly successful political career. Instead, he took the bench with little experience and left behind a wealth of opinions that were ahead of his time. John Marshall Harlan was born on June 1, 1833 in Boyle County, Kentucky. He became a lawyer at the age of 20, after studying at Transylvania University. Like his ancestors, he owned slaves and supported slavery as an institution. He entered politics early, running for the office of a congressman for the Whig party in the House of Representatives at the age of 26. The next year, he was a presidential elector for the Bell- Everett Constitutional Union party. Up to this point, Harlan continued to champion the cause of slavery, but his partiality to the Union over the issue of secession caused him to forfeit his staunch stand on slavery. After joining the Republican party somewhat reluctantly in 1868, he ran for governor of Kentucky in 1871, now renouncing slavery, saying that “ there is no man on this continent…who rejoices more than I do at the extinction of slavery” (White, 132). This huge turn from denouncing President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, rejecting the Civil War Amendments, and fighting to
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withhold rights from freed blacks whom he held as lower persons, to speaking out against the now abolished practice of slavery which he and his family had participated in, would mark him as one of the greatest supporters of Civil Rights for all citizens in American history. According to Edward G. White, those who did not agree with Harlan’s 1871 stance on the issue of slavery and Civil Rights for blacks reminded him that he too had once favored segregation and limited rights for freed slaves. But to these comments Harlan responded, saying that he would “rather be right than consistent” (White, 133). Between the 1871 gubernatorial election, which he lost, and the next one in 1875, in which he ran and lost again, Harlan was mentioned as a vice presidential candidate for Ulysses S. Grant’s 1872 campaign. Although it might seem like receiving a mention for the vice-presidential candidacy would be the pinnacle of a rather futile political career, perhaps his best political achievement was his role in the Republican Convention. Harlan headed the Kentucky delegation to the convention, and gave the Kentucky Republican nomination to Rutherford B. Hayes. When the presidential election of 1876 took place, Harlan indebted Hayes even further when he helped resolve an electoral dispute in Louisiana by voting in Hayes favor from the investigating committee which he was a part
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Judicial Biography - Paula Koren U.S Constitutional History...

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