Harris was born on October 29, 1816 in Norwich, Connecticut one of two sons of George and Henrietta Blake Harris Despite the death of his father when he was only two, Harris graduated from Trinity College in Hartford in 1841. He immediately moved to Amherst County, Virginia where he qualified for the bar. He studied law with Gov Toucey and settled in Illinois. 
By 1842, however, he had opened a practice at Petersburg in Menard County, Illinois. When the Mexican War broke out he raised a company and served with distinction in the 4th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. He was noted for his gallantry at the taking of Vern Cruz and the battle of Cerro Gordo. On his return he was elected to Congress as a Democrat, following Abraham Lincoln in the Sixth District in 1849. He supported the Compromise of 1850, however, and this cost him his seat when he lost the election to the Whig Richard Yates. He returned to Congress in 1855 in his reapportioned Illinois district and served two full terms.
He was a good friend and vigorous supporter of Stephen Douglas, especially during the Kansas-Nebraska controversy. Even though he was by then seriously ill, Harris also worked closely with Douglas on his planning for the senatorial debates with Abraham Lincoln in 1858, advising him to make Lincoln the central issue. Three weeks after his further re-election in November 1858 Harris died of tuberculosis at his home in Petersburg. He left a wife and four children and was buried in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Petersburg.
Harris was elected as a Democrat to the Thirty-first Congress (March 4, 1849 – March 3, 1851). He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1850 to the Thirty-second Congress. He was not a candidate in 1852. Harris was elected to the Thirty-fourth Congress and Thirty-fifth Congresses and served from March 4, 1855, until his death. He served as chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in the Department of the Navy (Thirty-fourth Congress), Committee on Elections (Thirty-fifth Congress) and was re-elected to the Thirty-sixth Congress. Harristown Township, Macon County, Illinois and the Village of Harristown [formerly Summit] were named in his honor.
He married Mary Ironshire Dirrickson who was born on 27 Jan 1825 in Worcester County, Maryland. She died on 23 Dec 1900 in Petersburg, Illinois.
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