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J. Morrison Harris papers

Identifier: MS 2739


This collection contains the papers of James Morrison Harris, a Baltimore lawyer and member of the United States House of Representatives from Maryland. The dates of the collection span 1778-1928.


  • 1778-1928


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

The reproduction of materials in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine and satisfy copyright clearances or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections. For more information visit the MCHC’s Rights and Permissions page.

Biographical Sketch

James Morrison Harris was born 20 November 1817 in Baltimore City to Colonel David Harris, a merchant, and Sarah (Montgomery) Harris. Educated at various private institutions in Baltimore, he entered Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, in 1833 but left in 1835 because of an eye infection that threatened blindness. A student of the Classics, he first took clerical positions in Baltimore and Norfolk after leaving school. It was through his employment as a bank clerk that he made the acquaintance of David Stewart, a Baltimore lawyer, who persuaded him to study law in the attorney's office. Mr. Harris was admitted to the Baltimore Bar on 4 May 1843 and the High Court of Chancery in Annapolis, Maryland, on 8 July of the same year. Then, in 1844, he toured Europe in order to arrest his ailing health.

His first case was the McCurry trial of March, 1845, in which he appeared as counsel for Henry McCurry [M'Curry] who was accused and convicted of the murder of Paul Roux. Later, he served as counsel along with Joseph H. Bradley for Surgeon-General William A. Hammond in the U.S. government's case against the physician in 1864.

Mr. Harris entered the political arena in 1854 when he accepted the American Party's nomination to the third congressional district of Maryland. It was from there that he was elected into the United States House of Representatives for the Thirty-fourth, Thirty-fifth, and Thirty-sixth Congresses (4 March 1855 - 3 March 1861). Harris's election to the second was contested by William P. Preston and to the third by William Pinkney Whyte, however, in both instances he retained his seat. In 1860, he rejected the suggestion of renomination. After the war Mr. Harris voted for some years with the Democratic Party and in 1867 was nominated as a delegate to the proposed Constitutional Convention, an honor which he declined because of pending business engagements. In 1875, he ran for governor of Maryland, but lost the election through fraudulent acts of others that reversed the votes in Baltimore City. Mr. Harris vied for a congressional seat the last time in 1876.

During his time in Congress, he served on the Naval and District of Columbia Committees. Harris was directly responsible for obtaining a pay raise for naval personnel over the president's veto, monies for the improvement of the Patapsco River for navigation, and funds for the purchase of ground on which to erect the United States courthouse in Baltimore. Furthermore, he tried to prevent the secession of the South during the Civil War and after the war sought to heal the breach as soon as possible.

Mr. Harris's excellent oratory abilities made him a popular speaker and he was oft invited to give speeches at gatherings of societies, commencements and dedications. In addition, he wrote many fine articles on his experiences and subjects of interest. Harris's most notable articles and speeches are those concerning his trip to Europe.

He was a member of various organizations and societies and founded with Charles Bradenbaugh the Mercantile Library Association of Baltimore and their yearly lecture series in 1839. In addition, Harris was a founding member of the Maryland Historical Society in 1844 and the Young Mens' Christian Association. Other affiliations included the Masonic Temple, the Odd Fellows and the First Presbyterian Church of which he was a senior trustee.

On 20 October 1851 he married Sidney Calhoun Hall, the daughter of Colonel Benedict William Hall of “Eutaw.” His only child and son, William Hall Harris, was born in 1852. Mr. Harris died at his country estate, “Ivy Hill,” on 16 July 1898 and was interred in the Westminster Burial Ground in Baltimore, Maryland.


2.71 Linear Feet (7 boxes)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard A. Jamison, August 12, 1980.

Scope and Contents

James Morrison Harris' papers span 1778-1928. The first series contains the commonplace books of Mr. Harris. These volumes include two books of verse and quotations, two European travel diaries, a volume of flowers that he collected and pressed from various sites in Europe (to which his granddaughter Mary Patterson Harris added in 1886 and 1898), and a copy of a published volume by Lord Byron carried by Harris (and others before him) on his European trip in 1844.

The second series contains poems, speeches in manuscript form, essays in manuscript form, published speeches and essays, and drafts. These speeches were delivered by Harris at a number of occasions and events and sometimes reflected Harris' opinion on the topic of the speech. For example, in “Educated Labor,” Harris expounds that the three essentials of national greatness are: religion, education and labor. In addition, an essay of note entitled, “Portrait Gallery of Baltimore Beauty,” extols the beauty of Baltimore women. A majority of the other essays deal with his European travel. The published items have Harris' handwritten notes in the margins.

Located in the third series are documents relating to Harris' career. In 1879, he sought a judgeship on the United States District Court which he lost. Then, in 1881-82 and later in 1889-90, he tried unsuccessfully to become the collector of customs for Baltimore City. Recommendations for his bids, however, were many and included several Garfield and Arthur Clubs, businessmen, servicemen, Baltimore notables, and everyday voters. Other materials in this section concern the improvement of the Patapsco River, the naval legislative bills to raise the salaries of naval personnel, and notes and minutes of the meeting of the United States senators and representatives of the border-states in 1860 and 1861. The border-states meeting was held in Washington, D.C. at Willard's Concert Hall on “F” Street on 28 December 1860. Harris not only took minutes at this meeting but at subsequent meetings held on 3 and 4 January 1861. His notebook on the Democratic Party covers accusations made against that group from 1847-88. Further, the questionnaire for the U.S. Congress' Joint Committee on Printing and the questionnaire for the History of the Bench and Bar of Maryland contain background information on Harris.

The fourth series contains Harris' miscellaneous papers. In 1845, Brantz Mayer and he drew up a prospectus, complete with cost analysis and a list of subscribers to shares, for establishing an evening newspaper in Baltimore. Their newspaper, however, never materialized. Later, in 1849, John Neal of Portland, Maine, and Harris corresponded about a clairvoyant experiment. A man in Baltimore was given a lock of hair and from that hair he described the lady from which it had been cut, her surroundings, people with her, and what she and her companions were doing at that moment in Portland, Maine. This section concludes with a poem dedicated to Harris.

Wills of Esther Morrison Harris and Sarah Harris are in the fifth series. In addition, there is an 1842 request for J. Morrison Harris to become Sarah's trustee. Colonel David Harris' creditors sought to attach his wife's, Sally's [Sarah], legacy of $3000.00 from her sister, Esther Morrison, in order to pay debts owed by him. Sarah wanted to avert this situation by having her son appointed as her trustee.

Two items pertaining to William Hall Harris Sr., appear in the collection. The first is his 1891 application for membership in the Maryland Society, Sons of the American Revolution and the second is his questionnaire for the History of the Bench and Bar of Maryland.

Genealogical information on the Harris and Montgomery families occurs in the seventh series. The obituary of Col. Harris (written by Judge Upton S. Heath, a former major in the colonel's company), obituary notices of J. Morrison Harris, a list of ancestors, and genealogical charts and notes all appear in this section.

The remaining miscellaneous papers and notes contain a return for the wounded and killed of the Maryland Line in 1780 and a list of the Old Defenders, former members of Colonel Harris' company. In addition, there are miscellaneous newspaper clippings concerning the McCurry murder case, events attended by Harris, commentaries on his lectures, and his involvement in political events; a manuscript death notice for Severn Teakle Wallis submitted to the Baltimore American, [1894]; a small volume entitled, Daily Texts with Versus of Hymns: Adapted for General Use; and a report on Spesutia Hundred and St. George's Parish located in Baltimore County [now Harford County] in the seventeenth century. The remaining items are miscellaneous notes.

Correspondence spans the years 1778-1928. The early letters concern Harris' European trip and the subsequent articles he wrote about that experience. Rev. John M. Harris wrote often to J. Morrison Harris in the 1840s and 1850s about John's purchase of a farm and the buying out of his sister Esther's portion of the property. Improvement of the Patapsco River correspondence is dated 1853-56 with a copy of a letter dated 1854 from then secretary of war, Jefferson Davis. In 1859, there are letters concerning the sale of the First Presbyterian Church of Baltimore. A majority of the 1860 correspondence concerns the Naval Appropriations Bill and the Naval Pay Bill because of Harris' seat on the House of Representatives' naval committee and his work to obtain pay raises for naval personnel which he did over presidential veto. Other letters written in 1860 are requests of Harris for recommendations to various offices. In 1860-61, Harris received correspondence from several congressmen.

Apparently, he had queried a large number of his colleagues about the level of Union sentiment in their respective states and the question of secession. Letters of the late 1860s are mainly thank you notes to Harris for speaking engagements. Harris' two major correspondents for 1879 were Alexander Burton Hagner, an associate justice of the Supreme Court for the District of Columbia, and John Sherman of the United States Treasury Department. President James Garfield wrote Harris three letters in 1880 and Chester A. Arthur wrote him one. Another Arthur letter was written in 1881. In addition, the 1881 correspondence contains a note from Ulysses S. Grant to Lucy M. Porter. There is also a John Greenleaf Whittier autograph dated 1891. Finally, all correspondence beginning with the year 1898 was written to William Hall Harris, Sr.

Guide to the J. Morrison Harris papers
Under Revision
Melinda Kay Friend
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Revision Statements

  • 2020-03-17: Manually entered into ArchivesSpace by Mallory Herberger.

Repository Details

Part of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library Repository

H. Furlong Baldwin Library
Maryland Center for History and Culture
610 Park Avenue
Baltimore MD 21201 United States