James Harlan, Jr., was born on June 22, 1800, at Harlan Station in Mercer County, Kentucky. His parents were James and Sarah (Caldwell) Harlan. His father came to Kentucky with James Harrod in 1774. Harlan Station was founded by James Harlan, Sr., and his brother Silas Harlan in 1778.
James Harlan studied Law and was admitted to the Bar in 1823, establishing a practice in Harrodsburg. He was Commonwealth Attorney from 1829 to 1835. He became a Whig and a supporter of Henry Clay. He served two terms in Congress (1835-1839). He returned to Kentucky in 1840 and was appointed Secretary of State; he served from 1840 to 1844 in the administration of Governor Robert P. Letcher.
In 1845, he was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives. In 1851, he became Kentucky's first Attorney General elected by the state-at-large. He served two terms as Attorney General: 1851-1855 (Governor Lazarus Powell) & 1855-1859 (Governor Charles S. Morehead.)
During the Civil War, Harlan was a strong Unionist. In 1861 he was appointed U.S. District Attorney by President Lincoln. He served in that office until his death in 1863.
James Harlan married Eliza Shannon Davenport (1805-70) on December 23, 1822. The couple had six sons and three daughters. One of their sons, John M. Harlan, became a justice on the United States Supreme Court.
He died February 18, 1863, and is buried in the Frankfort Cemetery, Frankfort, Kentucky.
William B. Allen, "History of Kentucky" (1872), pgs 266-67;
"Biographical Encyclopedia" (1878), pg 26;
"Kentucky Encyclopedia" (1992), pg 406;
"Lawyers and Lawmakers of Kentucky" (1896), pg 120;
Obituary, "Frankfort Commonwealth", February 19, 1863.