Harrison, Robert Hanson

Harrison, Robert Hanson

Robert H. Harrison. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Robert H. Harrison.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Robert Hanson Harrison was a lawyer and judge who was one of George Washington's original six appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Harrison was born in 1745, in Charles County, Maryland. Though little has been written about his upbringing and education, it is known that he established a successful law practice in Alexandria, Virginia, where Washington became a client and close friend. Harrison later served as Washington's personal secretary throughout much of the Revolutionary War. He resigned from this post in March 1781 to become chief justice of the General Court of Maryland.

On September 24, 1789, President Washington signed the Judiciary Act of 1789 into law. This act established the Supreme Court, consisting of a chief justice and five associate justices. The act also established lower federal circuit and district courts and gave the Supreme Court the power to review, as well as affirm or reverse, the rulings of those courts. On the day the law was enacted, Washington nominated his longtime friend Harrison to the Court.

The Senate confirmed Harrison's nomination two days later with little debate. Harrison initially declined the appointment because of poor health, but Washington persuaded him to accept the seat. A week after Harrison departed for New York City to begin work on the Court, he was stricken with a sudden illness and was forced to again decline the appointment. Washington eventually appointed James Iredell to the seat intended for Harrison.

Despite illness, Harrison remained chief justice of the General Court of Maryland until his death on April 2, 1790. During his tenure on the Maryland court, Harrison dealt mainly with real estate law and other legal matters; he had little opportunity to write about more sweeping issues of Constitutional Law. As a result, his legal record indicates little about the effect he would have had if he had been able to serve his appointed term on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Further readings

Degregorio, William A. 1984. The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents. New York: Dembner Books.

Elliott, Stephen P., ed. 1986. A Reference Guide to the United States Supreme Court. New York: Facts on File.

Witt, Elder, ed. 1990. Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court. 2d ed. Washington D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.