Harlan, July 1875

Harlan eyes

“Men of Kentucky!” Harlan cried. “The choice before you for Governor of this State is a vital one!”

There were catcalls, hisses, and only a smattering of claps from an assembly that was equal parts curious, indifferent, hostile, and drunk. Harlan mopped his brow. It was July, and extremely hot, and Harlan stood upon an overturned box to project his voice over a crowd gathered in the central square of those small towns that lend Kentucky its distinctive flavor.  Harlan rather wished he had paid closer attention to whatever rhetorical tricks Bristow must have used, as he was in need of flourishes at the moment.

“My opponent for Governor, Mr. McCreary, was a soldier of the Confederacy,” Harlan shouted, unintentionally drawing cheers from a vocal portion of the audience.  “The future of Kentucky does not lie with embracing the ghosts of the past.  These amendments are now the laws of the land.”

“You opposed them!” cried one red-faced man, who carried a whiskey barrel.

“I did,” Harlan replied evenly.

“And now you support them!” he hurled back.

“I do.”

There was a wave of catcalls and jeers.

“Let it be said that I am right rather than consistent,” Harlan shouted angrily, as the crowd erupted in mocking laughter.

“I have a question,” heckled a smooth young man.

“Yes?” Harlan foolishly replied.

“Is it not true that you dined with the Negro Douglass?”

“The question has been asked,” Harlan said, “whether I dined with Frederick Douglass.  I was proud to do so —”

“Did you return him to his master?” asked the smooth young man, to derisive laughter.

“Men of Kentucky! The white and black races can move alone in this free land of ours, each cherishing the prejudices of race without interfering with the just rights of the other.”

This equivocal remark produced a sensation, with some men applauding it with enthusiasm, while others muttered darkly and spat on the ground.

An empty bourbon bottle flew past Harlan, poorly aimed, and burst into shards behind him. This projectile commanded, for a moment, the attention of the unruly crowd, and Harlan thought he might seize the opportunity.

“Now, if you will throw a bottle at me,” Harlan growled, “let it at least be full!”

There was general laughter at this remark, and Harlan would later wonder whether the jest was the only successful moment of the campaign.