John T. Harris

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
John Thomas Harris
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 7th district
In office
March 4, 1873 – March 3, 1881
Preceded by Elliott M. Braxton
Succeeded by John Paul
Chairman of the Committee on Revision of Laws
In office
March 4, 1879 – March 3, 1881
Preceded by William Walsh
Succeeded by William C. Oates
Chairman of the Committee on Elections
In office
March 4, 1875 – March 3, 1879
Preceded by Horace B. Smith
Succeeded by William M. Springer
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 6th district
In office
March 4, 1871 – March 3, 1873
Preceded by William Milnes, Jr.
Succeeded by Thomas Whitehead
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Rockingham County
In office
Alongside James Kenney
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 9th district
In office
March 4, 1859 – March 3, 1861
Preceded by John Letcher
Succeeded by Rees Bowen
Personal details
Born (1823-05-08)May 8, 1823
Browns Gap, Virginia
Died October 14, 1899(1899-10-14) (aged 76)
Harrisonburg, Virginia
Political party Independent Democrat, Democrat
Profession Politician, Lawyer, Judge

John Thomas Harris (May 8, 1823 – October 14, 1899) was a nineteenth-century politician, lawyer and judge from Virginia.[1] He often referred to after the American Civil War as "Judge Harris", even after his election to Congress. He was the first cousin of John Hill.

Early and family life[edit]

John T. Harris

Born in Browns Gap, Virginia, Harris completed academic studies and studied law.


Admitted to the bar in 1845, Harris began his legal practice in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He was elected the commonwealth attorney for Rockingham County, Virginia and served from 1852 to 1859.

He won election as an Independent Democrat to the United States House of Representatives in 1858, serving from 1859 to 1861. He ran for reelection, but the seat was terminated from Congress due to Virginia's secession from the Union on April 17, 1861. Harris initially vehemently opposed secession, including in a large political rally in Rockbridge, but George Deneale took the opposite position, and Harris later lobbied voters to elect delegates who would allow a referendum on secession, which passed nearly unanimously in the county.[2]

American Civil War[edit]

Rockbridge voters elected Harris to the Virginia House of Delegates, and served from 1863 to 1865.

Return to Congress[edit]

After the war's end, Harris became judge of the twelfth judicial circuit of Virginia from 1866 to 1869. He became known for his "frank and manly" acceptance of the war's results, including his charge to the grand jury on May 11, 1867, exhorting members to do their duty "without fear or favor."[3]

Upon Virginia's adopting a new Constitution which forbad slavery and thus allowed its readmission to the Union in 1869, and restoration of civil rights to Confederate officials, Harris ran for the House of Representatives at a special election held in July 1869, but lost.

The following year, 1870, voters sent him back to the U.S. Congress as a Democrat, and he won re-election several times, serving from 1871 to 1881. However, the numbering of the district Harris represented changed from Virginia's 6th District to Virginia's 7th District in 1872 due to reapportionment after the 1870 census. In Congress, Harris was chairman of the Committee on Elections from 1875 to 1879 and chairman of the Committee on Revision of Laws from 1879 to 1881. Harris declined a unanimous renomination in 1880. After a contested election, his successor as Commonwealth Attorney (and former state Senator) John Paul succeeded him for one term, and was succeeded by the Charles Triplett O'Ferrall, whom Harris had defeated in 1872 and 1874.

Harris served as chairman of the Virginia Democratic Convention in 1884, and was a commissioner to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois.

Death and legacy[edit]

He died in Harrisonburg, Virginia on October 14, 1899 and was interred there in Woodbine Cemetery.[4] His papers are held in the special collections division of the James Madison University library.[5]

Electoral history[edit]

  • 1870; Harris was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives unopposed.
  • 1872; Harris was re-elected with 61.79% of the vote, defeating Independent Charles T. O'Ferrall.
  • 1874; Harris was re-elected with 73.6% of the vote, defeating Republican John F. Lewis and Independents John F. Early and O'Ferrall.
  • 1876; Harris was re-elected with 73.28% of the vote, defeating Republican Everett W. Early.
  • 1878; Harris was re-elected with 56.46% of the vote, defeating Conservative John Paul.


  1. ^ CongBio|H000247
  2. ^ C.E. May, Life under Four Flags: in North River Basin of Virginia (Bridgewater: McClure Press 1976); pp. 381-384
  3. ^ John W. Wayland, A History of Rockingham County, Virginia (Ruebush-Elkins Company, 1912) pp. 161-163
  4. ^
  5. ^ The John T. Harris collection (SC#2025) at James Madison University's Special Collections.
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
John Letcher
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 9th congressional district

Succeeded by
Rees Bowen(1)
Preceded by
William Milnes Jr.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 6th congressional district

Succeeded by
Thomas Whitehead
Preceded by
Elliott M. Braxton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 7th congressional district

Succeeded by
John Paul
Notes and references
1. Because of Virginia's secession, the House seat was vacant for twelve years before Bowen succeeded Harris.