tv QA Peter Canellos The Great Dissenter CSPAN October 3, 2021 10:59pm-12:04am EDT
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it is this: it has been 100 to pay-150 years from his tenure on the court which ran from 1877-1911. that is enough time for us to understand that time of what was and what was not significant. that was when segregation started which can now know was a disaster for the country and we are continue to grapple with its effects. we also know that was the time of historically high income inequality. some people were building mansions likely were the 14th while others were living 5-10 in a room, working people who were looking for any place to live. when we think about the excesses of that era, it is not the and or the congress or other things that have shaped -- shaped the times and the american history. it is these part. how did segregation come into being? it is partly because they
invited the civil rights act rights act of 1875. it is because the super court forgot to enforce voting rights in the constitution after the civil war. it is because they endorse the legal architecture of segregation in plessy v ferguson. and then you ask how such terrible inequality exists? it is because the supreme court declared the sherman antitrust act unconstitutional. in the case of lochner v. new york, any law to try and help labor state, was unconstitutional. when you go back to that time, what is the common thread in these cases? john marshall harland dissented and all those cases and in some cases, he was the sole dissenter. with everything we know now about what turned out well and
what did not turn out well from that era and what seems right and wrong, this one was right and all of his colleagues were wrong. what are the roots of his difference? what is it that gave him the confidence to stake out a very dramatically different view from his colleagues? and then become vindicated over time? you get into this deep story about the roots of wisdom in the law. what contributes to good judgment on the bench? you can also see how dissenting opinions which have been neglected in legal history they can shape the next generation of the law. there after much more study and significance. susan: will focus on those dissents. as i was getting ready for this conversation, i found an article about a majority opinion that he wrote that seemed particularly timely.
this is a story from business insider on a case on vaccine mandates in 1905. this is what he wrote. one case happened in 1904. a massachusetts town gave them a choice. take the vaccine or pay fine. he refused to pay the fine, leading to a 7-2 supreme court decision in 1905 in favor of the state and validity of state issued vaccine mandates john marshall harlan wrote the majority of the link that his individual freedom such as not taking the vaccine or refined did not give him a free press to restrict the liberty of others by allowing the virus to spread. " on any other basis, organize society cannot exist with the safety to its member, society based on the road that each one is a lot to himself would be confronted with disorder and anarchy." what can we learn about his view
on the powers of the state and the individual from this? peter: you can learn a lot. that reflected some of the sentiments in his dissents. one is that he believed in deference to the democratic systems. he strongly believed in american exceptionalism. he believed this experiment in self-government is sort of the greatest hope of mankind. he was an ardent believer in democracy. in his mind, that meant that the congress and state legislatures needed to have enough power to really grapple with serious issues. keep in mind, he grew up in the shadow of the civil war. it was looming. it was a crisis that seemingly was inexorable. it was consuming his life and that of everybody around him. he came to believe that the
country had to be willing to grapple with problems and that legislatures needed enough power to really deal with what these issues including the federal government. when he says cambridge, massachusetts through his board of health, made a reasonable decision to -- that the vaccine was necessary for its citizens, it was doing so to protect the liberty of the entire community. that notion that he introduced which was that there is a sense of competing liberties. yes, it is my right to say no to this but i am protecting my own independence, his right to -- in his liberty should not trump everybody else's liberty. that is a powerful notion for today's debates but it is also a key to understanding his thinking. susan: one of the fascinating things about him is that he is
lauded on the left and the right in contemporary society. we have two clips to demonstrate that. here is just as neil gorsuch talking about him in a 2019 event. >> you look at the 14th amendment. it says equal protection of the law. right? i have over my fireplace in my office, john marshall harland, the first justice harland. there were two. he was the sole dissenter in plessy versus ferguson where he recognized that segregation is not consistent with the original meaning of the constitution. he looks be tired and haggard. i don't doubt he was on pop -- unpopular in kentucky where he was from. he knew that segregation is not equal protection of the law. the meaning of those words on the page, equal protection of the law might be one of the most
radical and guarantees in our law and all of human history. susan: i will move along to ruth gator bins -- ruth bader ginsburg. >> there has been a tradition in the u.s. of dissents becoming the law of the land. you can go back to the worst decision the supreme court ever made in the dred scott case. there was a fine dissent by justice curtis in that case. or the first justice john marshall harlan. he dissented in the so-called civil rights cases in 1886 and in plessy versus ferguson. you are writing for a future age.
your help is what time the court will see it the way you do? susan: what is it about this justice in this parsonage we live that he seems to be transcending partisan positions? peter: it is two things. today's conservatives have repudiated the conservatives of harlan's area. -- era. they want to examine very closely the original intent of the constitution. also to look at the plain text of the constitution. john marshall harlan most famously dissented and all the cases that took away the rights of african-americans because he knew that the post civil war amendments which were added to the constitution and ratified as a price of reentry into the union for the south and for the rest of the country, ratifying
it under the normal process. that was intended to preserve the rights of african-americans. when his colleagues, for reasons that are very suspicious, basically trying to keep peace with the south, when they began to retreat from that as if it was the right of the supreme court to say it was not really in the constitution. it was not really intended paired he stood up strongly against that. today's conservatives will say that was an admirable dissent of the plain language of the constitution and the original intent of those amendments. people on the left will look at it differently. they will say that in harlan's dissent and opinions, was a strong sense of justice for the individual. strong sense of justice for african-americans in a sense that the trials that they had been put through. willingness to stand up for the
beleaguered minority in this case. and to stand up against public opinion. liberals will say we need more justices who look at the higher principles of true justice and look at the effects of cases for the average person on the ground rather than some theoretical idea. conservatives will look at this and say we don't like justices who kind of make it up as they go. harlan was rooted in the true original intent of the constitution and in the text of the constitution. i think liberals and conservatives can learn from each other on this. liberals can learn there is value in a strict interpretation of the constitution and the original intent of the constitution and i think conservatives can learned that a deeper sense of justice, the sense of the underlying principles of justice need
accompany any supreme court. susan: let us take a look at the court he was appointed to in 1877. what kinds of men were appointed to the court at that time? peter: at that time, the entire legal profession had been transformed. when john marshall harlan was born in 1833, lawyers were local figures who would hang a shingle. they would resolve disputes for neighbors, go to court, or contracts and provide documents. in the meantime, the next 20 years, railroads took hold of the u.s. and completely transform the economy. it went from purely local economy to a national one. railroads would take products from the place of production to stores where they would be sold on the commercial market. immediately, states began
regulating them for good reason. safety reasons, my law -- monopolistic practices, attempts to sent prices and things like ash set prices and things like that. this new class of lawyer is called upon by wealthy americans to defend the rights of the railroads and the economic trusts that built themselves around the railroad finally, there was this class of corporate attorney who was as rich as the richest moguls in business. they were sought-after to fight what businessman saw as the vital fight in congress and in state legislatures. against attempts to regulate these new business people. they became nationally famous lawyers. after lincoln, there was pretty much an unbroken string of pro-business presence for the years. all republicans and grover cleveland, a permanent democrat
was sympathetic to wall street, appointed men of great distinction but men whose backgrounds included amassing wealth in corporate law. harlan was a great exception. it was a great exception because he came about because of the disputed presidential election. as we know, rutherford b hayes and samuel tilden were the candidates in that race. three southern states had such verlander disputes that they sent to teams of electors to washington and it was left to the national government to figure out how to sort these things out. they're are good arguments on both sides. what happened as we know is hayes got the nod for the presidency but there were a series of deals to try and appease the south where children had had greater support. -- tillman had a greater soup court. one of these deals was to add a southerner to the spring court.
he committed to filling the opening with a seven justice but he has a judiciary committee that is run by northern radical republicans who are very supportive of the civil-rights. he had to find somebody credible as a southerner but would also support civil rights. harlan had a massive political debt to hayes but he was also a widely admired person for his thinking, knowledge of history and the law. and became a logical candidate. he also did not get confirmed because he can't going up in a family that owned slaves. he had been slow to embrace abolition. that did not mean he was proslavery. he was a moderate who would forge compromises because he was from kentucky and believe that kentucky would bear the brunt of the battle if a war came. following his great mentor, he
saw to bring about political compromise that would put slavery on a path to eventual extinction but would satisfy the economic needs of the south in the interim. he later refuted those positions after the civil war. compromise would not -- was not always effective. that is how we gain his strength to take these principled stances that came directly out of history that was painful to him. and then seeing the effects of it by fighting in the civil war which he did for three years. susan: if he was the youngest member of the court and came from a different background, what was their acceptance level among the fellow justices? peter: acceptance was initially hired because he was very committed early in his tenure to making a good impression and winning the respect of his older colleagues. the court at that time is run by chief justice morrison wade who
was known for trying to build consensus among the justices. he was skeptic of dissent. he really believed the court should try to work as much as possible as a unit and harlan embrace that. because he was younger and respected his senior colleagues, he was quite willing to lay a subordinate role for the first six years on the court. a series of things happen that led to a germane change in 1883? -- 1883. peter: let us -- susan: what was at stake that the civil rights cases? his first major dissent. peter: it was essentially a national recreant -- requiem of the civil war? they had pressed a civil rights act that african-americans would have access to inns, public transportation's and places of
entertainment. around the country, there were individuals in all of those. train quarters, conductors, ticket takers at the theater who would openly -- for openly racist reasons but not serve african-americans. these cases came up. people claiming that they had been discriminate against. a bundle them together into one appeal to the supreme court. all of the country was watching. in the south especially, this was considered a vital requiem because segregation was starting to take hold, individual staying they would not accept them on equal basis and they look to the spring court to vindicate their position. likewise, african-americans knew they would be in -- excluded from economic freedom if they could not stay at restaurants,
hotels, ride a train, go to the theater with their families. it was intensely important case. i far, the most important case since he was on the courts. they were intensely watched. the stands were packed every newspaper was running mid by minute coverage, seemingly. not minute by minute but they had additions every hour, reporting. the court wants to be unanimous on this. conservatives on the court came up with a theory that this was only meant to restrain the action of state government if a state government excluded state -- african-americans, or had a law that did that, that was unconstitutional. as individuals, the local bakers, innkeepers, people running the trains, people taking tickets at the theater,
if they discriminated, the federal government cannot do anything about it. it was a state matter. saying it is a state matter when you have this situation that is rapidly heading towards segregation is like saying we will not be doing anything. harlan knew that these amendments were supposed to change the constitution. he also knew from his own experiences that these attempts to pacify both sides and do whatever is possible to avoid tension in the country did not work. they came out of the civil war believing that after all this pain and painful experiences we had gone through that inequality was the original scent of the american system. he was an arch believer in self government, democracy and the greatest hope of mankind. we almost messed it up i allowing an up -- inequality under the law to take hold he sees in the action of the court that he is sitting on, and attempt to reassert inequality
into the law or at least prevent the federal government from having the power to enforce the constitution which is what it has done with the civil rights act of 1875. there are other things going on in his life. his eldest daughter died in child birth that year. he wrote to his son that he would sit -- spend the rest of his life preserving her spirit. it happened that she volunteered in a school to teach the children and was very committed to eliminating. he grew up alongside a person, robert harlan, presumed to be his half-brother who had risen to great heights of wealth as an african-american leader and became the leading black politician in ohio and maintained eight personal relationship an alliance with him -- don marshall harlan. when you see what he did it born in slaves but achieved so much
when there rights were protected after the civil war, you cannot fall back on the idea that well, frayed people are not ready to take a full position in society which was the underlying theory of the states, i think that some of the conservative justices did. harlan with his colleagues in a powerful way and wrote a monumental dissent that not only had some of that soaring stuff like posse versus ferguson which is it an important document in american history, but it also outlined different interpretations of the post-civil war supreme court. different interpretations of the 13th, 14th amendments and his belief that because the economy shifted into a much more national economy that congress could enact civil rights under the hours that are granted to us
to regulate interstate commerce which was a radical idea at the time but in 1965, became the basis for the supreme court approving a new civil-rights act. his dissent was powerful on many levels. it inspired great hope in the african-american community. it was the greatest opinion ever written in the spring court that every american should read it. like autumn leaves, it should be spread around the country and fall upon every corner, village, town. it also provided a roadmap to overturning these civil rights cases. it became a huge defining moment for him but for the country. peter: your -- susan: you are right that he struggled in writing a descendant -- dissent this is a clip from the 18 work justice harlan's great granddaughter
tells the story of what inspired him in the actual words he wrote in his dissent. let us watch. >> he received a gift from an unspecified woman. maybe in her envy or jealousy of the attention thought this was rather inappropriate gift list it in a closet. he never knew about it. when he became embroiled in his process about the civil rights cases, he was going back and forth and back and forth. he spent three days in his study not coming up with something he was satisfied with. in her brilliance, she went and retrieved this" that belong to justice tony.
-- this gift that belong to justice tommy -- tawnie. she sent him back to work. upon seeing this, he realized what it was and it gave him some motivation and inspiration to come up with what he did. susan: you write in the book that this dissent changed him from a compliant fellow justice to a troubadour for civil rights. why did it have that effect? peter: it was such a high-profile case and it was john marshall harlan speaking to the country about the importance of civil rights in the importance of equality under the law. once you do something like that, it marks you. it is laying down a strong marker. we must in this country enforce equality under the law. my colleagues respectfully, he
liked his colleagues and had good relationships with them personally but thought they were veering in a dangerous way from the core principle of the law. to explain a little about that clip, that justice was the author of the dred scott up in. for john marshall harlan, a pitcher out of young politician and believer in the american system. when the dred scott decision came down in which they wrote that not only enslaved people had no rights under the constitution, but even free blacks did not have any rights under the constitution. knowing against the constitutional history of the paired at the time, -- history of the time. they issued this incredibly draconian opinion that inflamed
public sentiment in the north. for harlan who working with his father, a prominent attorney, henry clay in the past, had supported compromise as an alternative to war. it was clear in his mind that they were pushing the country towards war. what that in bedded in his mind is the enormous stakes in these supreme court decisions and the tremendous cost to the country when they get it wrong. here he is in 1883. 25 years later after the dred scott up in any sees them doing the same thing. it must have been a horrific moment for him to see history repeating itself. the very inkwell that he use that -- use to that obnoxious opinion, to use the same ink from the same well to write an opinion that said equal rights for all races should exist under the constitution. it felt to him a sense of poetic
justice. susan: what is the shorthand understanding of the plessy v ferguson case? susan: what -- peter: the state of louisiana passed a law that blacks and whites must reside in separate carriages on trains that traveled within the state. it set off a very furious reaction in the african-american community among wealthy creoles of mixed-race who had long been a part of an upper-class in louisiana. they put in a challenge at the law. home request he was 1/8 lack went into a white car and told the conductor he was 1/8 black and he was kicked out. that set up the case that went to the spring court. the answer but was far more
significant than anything. the principal was that lawyers could come up with this idea that you can satisfy the provision of the constitution saying there could be equal protection under the law if you provided equal services in separate settings. harlan received it differently. he essentially called out the supreme court. all of his colleagues, the country at large generally by saying nobody would want to be so wanting in timbre that the purpose was to separate flaxen whites for equal reasons but specifically separate out black people. he went through all the ways that that separation that is both unfair, discriminatory and so economically alienating for african-americans. even though this did not have the same kind of national attention that civil rights cases had.
the country, refusing to enforce black rights was no question in their mind that the supreme court would go along with a challenge to this law. only harlan would dissent. his dissent had an unusual power. he had by then been dissenting for 13 years in cases involving equal rights for african-americans. he spoke with an unusually eloquent and powerful voice about the first principles that underline the law. his dissent included a number of memorable phrases including the constitutional -- constitution is colorblind. there is no caste here. the humblest appear the most powerful. it is unusual in a opinion that are very technical and referencing his cases to have someone speak so powerfully in the underlying purpose in the law. those are words that should be
etched in the side of a building. that is a supreme court justice sort of taking deep into american history to say this is what this country is about. this is what it is founded for. this is what we fought a civil war four. -- for. and other support with the complicity with the white community a crown -- around the country is destroying its core meeting. -- meaning. harlan understood that people do not understand at that time that by going from the supreme court to eight separate of dutch system of separate but equal services meant that lot people, for as long as that was allowed to stand, they would be forced to live a separate life. their entire existence was written out of america and segregated into a smaller community. it meant that black-owned
businesses would not have access to what customers and up black people will not have access to adequate transportation. it also meant in his mind that race would once again become the dominant source of tension in this country. he wrote very eloquently in his dissent about his fears for the future. what can more purely stimulate racial animus than a love that proceeds along the assumption that one race, black people are so degraded they have to be put in a separate railroad cart? he predicted all of the pain that came afterwards. the years of segregation. the millions of lives circumscribed by that and the fact that all of america and the white community suffered from the horrible legacy of segregation and plessy v ferguson. he saw that at that moment and nobody else did. 1% saw it. yet the go back and say why did
he see it and the others didn't? it is all the things we talked about. they were corporate attorneys intent on keeping everything smooth in the country and not really in touch with the court principles of the nation. it is because he saw war. he fought in the civil war. he saw the limits of pump or mice leading up to civil war and it is because he knew roger harlan. -- robert harlan. he grew up alongside him but knew it frederick does list and all these african-americans who succeeded spectacularly and counted as his friends. other justices did not have those experiences and that vision. all of those experiences combined with the core belief in america and american institutions led him to be the ultimate patriotic civil rights leader. this also law rights defender in the white community in his era. -- the soul civil rights
defender. -- sole. when frederick douglass died, only to what officials attended his funeral. before the civil war, he was the prime cap in-home and -- in new york and boston. people love to hear from him and hear about the evils from the south. by the time he died in the 1890's, he was neglected and abandoned. his funeral was held in washington just steps away from the senate. the only two white officials that came was john sherman, brother of william t sherman and john marshall harlan that is an amazing turn of events. an amazing thing. towards the end of his life, he was a man alone in taking these stances. i can go on and on. that in many ways was the
darkest periods and supreme court history. the fact that one stood up and said this is disastrous deserved fate in the law for many african-americans. -- faith. when he died in 1911, there were spontaneous memorial services in black churches throughout the country who had no expectation that any white person would attend these services. he had never visited these towns. it came together because black people understood that that was one white person standing up for their rights. they despaired over him. they played for his soul. -- played -- played -- prayed. there was one service in washington where people of many denominations came together. all black. his dissents were read out loud at that service. if you yourself in the mind of a
child and hearing about this great person, those words that the constitution is a blind, the humblest appear the most powerful, there is no caste here. it was a source of inspiration. thurgood marshall referred to the dissent in lessie that that was his bible. -- in plessy v ferguson. they spoke movingly about the role he played and that harlan in their opinion was neglected in american history. i think that his dissent in plessy v ferguson, building upon his dissent on the civil rights cases and other race related cases was a great statement. a statement of possible in the law, one that not everybody would abandon african-americans and that the nation could one day live come to bully under a system which equal protection under the law was real and enforced.
susan: one, getting factor in this legacy is that this is the era of the chinese exclusion laws. it seems and your telling of the tail that he did not extend the same sense of equality to chinese immigrants in this country. can you explain that aspect? how does it square with his view of equality? peter: i think that the way it squares with his view of equality is that he believes in equality under the chinese constitution. these cases came about with a treatment with the u.s. because chinese workers who come to the u.s. and worked but remain subject to the chinese emperor. they were subject to the laws of the u.s. under this treaty but not citizens. if you believe that the constitution is equal protection under the law, that applies to the citizens of the u.s. and
applies to the administration of laws in the u.s.. in his mind, chinese remained loyal to the chinese emperor and were here under a treaty had a different status. nonetheless, none of the cases that came before the supreme court involving chinese workers ever raised an equal protection claim. don't know his views on how it would apply to chinese. we do know there was a terrible case where a white gang chased a group of chinese people into a river in california and people died. there was an intent to prosecute the white gang under a civil rights law. the majority of the supreme court declared that was not appropriate. harlan wrote a strong dissent, defending the use of the civil rights statute to protect the chinese community.
he also joined a 9-0 opinion that was written by a different justice that serve to validate the chinese exclusion act. this was not a good opinion. justice fields, who was from california, included a lot of frankly racist stuff about how the chinese could not assimilate properly with europeans etc. etc. legal issue was pretty simple. does the u.s. congress, having up with a treaty that would allow these chinese workers into the country, could they then change their mind and say we are aggregating the treaty and the chinese cannot enter the country? i think between then and now, everybody agrees under the law that congress needs to have that power. the holding of the case is still valid today.
he enjoyed a 9-0 opinion that happened to be written by just -- justice fields and he put objectionable stuff in that opinion. it is another case where the children of those workers years later tried to assert birthright citizenship from having been born on american soil and he joined a dissenting opinion that said that since none of the chinese workers intended to become citizens or on a path to citizenship, the mere fact it was born in the u.s. should not make the child a u.s. citizen. that was not a generous reading either. my conclusion out of all of this evidence. he also have to figure in that he was the strongest defender of constitutional rights for those in hawaii and the philippines went u.s. was controlling them.
there is a whole one of cases called the insular cases in the first decade of the 20th century were the supreme court allowed these people living under the power of the u.s. constitution to nonetheless, have their rights taken away by various acts of congress. harlan stood up and said no, the constitution follows the flood. wherever we are in power, constitutional standards need to be applied. that goes for hawaiians and filipinos. he was the strongest offenders of asians rights during that time. what you put the stuff together, was he an anti-chinese racist? that he have an animus towards a chinese that he did not have towards chinese? -- african-americans? i don't think that was the case. that was a part of american exceptionalism. he had a skepticism of people who lived under totalitarian regimes, lived under monarchies and whether they were truly committed to self-government. i think this was a flaw in his
thinking. it was part of his celebration of americans who practice this wonderful form of self government and skepticism could give it to themselves. it went too far. people who criticize his position in the chinese cases are onto something that was less friendly to immigrants and people who came from totalitarian governments that it is to indigenous minorities like african-americans on under the u.s. constitution like native americans. it was a case where it native american renounced his citizenship to the tribe and asserted that his citizenship as a u.s. citizen, living in american city and the supreme court said no. he was part of an indian nation and could not become a citizen. harlan gave a very passionate, strong dissent the funding the rights of native americans. given that he was a number one defender of native american
rights and extraordinary defender of american rights and the defenders of hawaiian said filipinos, why was he not doing the same thing for the chinese? they came in under a different flag. they were the result of this one treaty that allowed workers to come to the u.s.. i think also because he had some degree of innate cap schism about people who came from living under monarchies and he had at various times, expressed skepticism about british subjects coming in, loyal to the king where he wants posited a lecture if they come to hot springs for a vacation and have a child here but have no intention of becoming citizens, should that child be granted citizenship? he was skeptical of that. he had expressed some skepticism about whether catholics with their dock trend of people --
people -- papal was compatible with democracy. these are things he wrestled with. by the end of his life, he repudiated those views. there was a change in his thinking skeptical of foreigners under a monarchy. susan: we have 15 minutes left. i will perhaps pass on the discussion of the lochner case because you made reference to the era of the gilded age and the support that the supreme court gave to the economic inequality in the country. when you reference several times the influence he had on john marshall harlan, treated as he was a half rather and he was half black. afterwards of the book, you said there was a dna test done that was not able to scientifically
prove and a genetic connection between the two. the book reads like a dual biography of the two men. her lies were so intertwined in the end, what you come away thinking about the relationship and fostering strong ties in that era? peter: i think the relationship is fascinating and shows several things. one is that sometimes, human relationships and interactions can transcend what would be expected based on people's situations. robert harlan was older than john marshall harlan, born in virginia when james harlan, was 16 years old but born in a place where the harlan family, his mother's relatives lived. the speculation at the time was that james harlan at 16 and that -- had -- had some kind of
sexual initiation that involved a slave woman and robert was the product of that liaison, that relationship. we know that robert -- when robert was eight years old, they journeyed 450 miles through the wilderness to get to harlan station. in these newspaper profiles that he had come with his mother to find his father. if you're going to harlan station which is a family town, everyone there was a harlan family member. they believed he was a member of the harlan family. we also know that james harlan who was only 24, newly married and had children with his wife, he immediately purchased young robert harlan and took a strong special interest in him. trying to get him educated and it was not the typical relationship between a master and an enslaved man. it was more of a familial
relationship. this was written into newspapers and robert harlan's lifetime and that he contributed to. his mother ended up sold down south and there is no clear way of determining how that transaction happened and who was the person that was the actual owner and how that happened. he always described himself as being raised by james harlan great one thing interesting about that is that he was a forbidding father figure to his sons with his wife including john harlan. he was an authority figure that was almost unknowable. when the boys were young, they were committed to a study designed to lead to the law because james harlan was the leading lawyer in kentucky at the time and envision his son and his lawyers. he tried to get robert educated but schools would not taken
because he was african-american. paradoxically, that liberated him in one way. he did not have to follow the prescribed path of his father. he was able to find opportunities, places where african-americans could succeed in this incredibly restrictive legal landscape in which most african-americans were enslaved. the first example was horseracing. when robert was a teenager, he began to become very active in breast racing where you would go town to town and stage races. he gradually became famous for his ability to determine the success or failure of a horse by looking at it by looking at the physical makeup of a horse. african-americans could participate in horseracing because the original owners were slave owners. they had their enslaved men serve as trainers and jockeys.
it was described like a checkerboard at the racing scenes were half people were black or white. robert, because he was a quasi-freemen, he was able to go, make money, staging races. you're the young john marshall harlan as a little boy, watching him come home, by all accounts, a dashing figure. whether under his arm. revolver in his belt. full of money from these horse races. you are committed to this clustered study, you look at him as a charismatic uncle kind of figured. it also seem to be clear that robert had a different relationship with the father that was more personal than some of the other children had.
could it be that the person that was enslaved in the house actually had more contact with the family patriarch the other children of the house? it doesn't make a lot of sense. you would think there would be discrimination in the setting and maybe there was. evidence suggests otherwise. robert harlan, continuing that pattern and funding opportunities for african americans, heard about the gold rush and immediately perceived that this is a place where racial divisions would not have taken hold in san francisco. people are coming from all around the world to try and find gold in california. he made this perilous journey through panama, to the west coast and up through some dangerous boating straits to get to san francisco. he came back with the equivalent of 4-5,000,000 dollars. at that time, it was worth even more. having cash meant more.
he then moved to cincinnati across the river which was the terminus of the underground railroad with african-americans coming out of slavery into cincinnati. they began investing in black owned businesses. he perceived that photography, new technology was an area where free blacks could make an impact. there were no racist structures in place. he didn't have to have a white man hire you to become a photographer. he became roger and her -- he became an entre nous are mostly as an investor. -- entrepreneur. in the back, when the fugitive slave act was enforced, they held runaways there any help the mortgage there. he became the leading black citizen of cincinnati and then he moves to europe. buying american horses and stage races in europe that would show
they were as competitive as british horses that he became something of an international celebrity written about in europe. he came back to the united states after the civil war when black rights were protected and became the leading black politician in ohio which was a key state in the country because it was the swing state in presidential politics. that was robert harlan. position of power and an actual personal relationship with people like ulysses-esque grant, rutherford b hayes been governor of ohio, garfield, mckinley, all of them knew robert harlan. it was from that perch where she helped john marshall harlan, validate the fact that his views on civil rights were supportive of african-americans in a time where people doubted it. people said he supported these comprise before the civil war,
slow to support people war amendments, frequently as attorney general of kentucky had disputes with the federal government. yet, he was somebody who grew up in the same household as him, african-american, and supported civil rights they work together politically in the 1870's. he maintained a relationship with the family he had grown up with. there were many instances in which he protected and sucked to protect john marshall harlan from political reversals and the embarrassment. you come out of this saying well, there was a lot of respect on both sides. he clearly understood that he was an extraordinary figure. robert harlan understood and saw something he believed in in john marshall harlan. when you look in future years and see how did he become the sole dissenter in all those cases that took away black
rights? he had to have some image of robert harlan there in his mind. robert harlan was playing a significant role in backing john marshall harlan and then in sort of a sad quota, when you talk about the book being a dual biography, robert harlan's own dreams for the u.s. which were powerful, he was quoted everywhere. he laid a role in setting the national agenda for african americans, gave a speech that was widely applauded that in one generation, african-americans can achieve equality by education. standing fully alongside the sons and daughters. robert harlan did that with his own son. he had a half days education. his son went to college and law school and became a great man. segregation hit. robert harlan's family continued to be elite within the black community and yet, economically,
they became strangled through 4-5 generations. it is a sad quota that in all the cases he fought against on the supreme court led to a condition of segregation that destroyed all the hopes of robert harlan. the two stories are deeply intertwined. really kind of important lessons in the role that experience plays in the law. susan: we have three minutes left. one last item. every summer, our book tv group goes to politicians and asked what they are reading. here is senator mitch mcconnell's answer to that question. >> the sole dissent in plessy versus ferguson was segregation on railcars was constitutionally permissible under the newly passed amendments. the 13th-15th amendments.
the sole dissent. it reads like the majority, unanimous decision in brown versus board of education 58 years later. that was john marshall harlan photograph is on my wall i was thrilled a few months ago to see this new book had come out about his life and times and it is a marvelous read extremely well written and i recommend it to your viewers. susan: before we were taping, you went to capitol hill yesterday and spoke to mitch mcconnell about the book never last couple minutes, what was that like? peter: it was a wonderful conversation. he has a deep sense of history and loyalty to kentucky. i think he is truly inspired by a harlan's story and the story of robert harlan as well. we spoke about him as well. this underscores what we talked about a little bit earlier that
john marshall harlan has tremendous support and respect across the aisle. senator mcconnell has been a big supporter of this book. george f will wrote a column celebrating harlan and the buck. many people, conservatives have embraced it. the same time, this past weekend i was in chattanooga for the dedication of a memorial of a lynching victims that harlan attempted to save and really stuck his neck out to call out racist procedures in the south. judge curtis collier, a judge on the federal court of tennessee is also a harlan admirer. he and many african-american leaders of chattanooga a tribute to him and spoke about his unique role in promoting equal justice under the law. there is a scholar in texas, josh blackman who wanted to create a study center that was
nonpartisan. name it after a famous figure of the law, a supreme court justice. everybody went back and forth and nobody right and left could really agree on anybody until they came up with only two names for this center: one was robert jackson who had been rescued at nuremberg and famous for his role in the nuremberg trials. the other was john marshall harlan. of the many extraordinary things about his legacy today, we talk about the vaccine, we talk about his african-american cases, the gilded age economic cases. the fact that he is a desk equally admired left and right is a credit to his -- equally admired left and right is accredited to his meaning in society. susan: thank you very much for telling us more about this justice and his legacy. peter: thank you.