William Alexander Harris, American Senator. Member Congress, 1893-1895, United States senator from Kansas, 1897-1903. Populist.
A son of U.S. Congressman William Alexander Harris (1805–1864), William Alexander Harris, Jr. was born either in Loudoun County, Virginia or Luray, Virginia, while his father was serving in Congress.
In 1865, Harris and his Page County-native bride, Mary Lionberger, moved to Kansas.
He attended and graduated from Columbian College (later George Washington University), Washington, D.C., in 1859. A year later, he matriculated as part of the third or sophomore class at the Virginia Military Institute on 16 January 1860.In a class composed of future notables such as future commanding officer of the Stuart Horse Artillery, Roger Preston Chew, Harris fared well in class standing, graduating early in December, 1861 as 7 of 35.
After a brief stint as drillmaster with an artillery company formed in Page County, Harris was assigned to duty with Col. William N. Pendleton and, in the same month (Nov. 1861) transferred as assistant adjutant general on the staff of General Cadmus Wilcox. Promoted to captain in January 1862, Harris resigned from Wilcox’s staff in July 1862 and was assigned as a lieutenant and acting ordnance officer in Gen. Daniel Harvey Hill’s division. Promoted to the temporary rank of captain in the spring of 1863, Harris was yet reassigned and named Chief of Ordnance of Gen. Robert E. Rodes’ division. Following the loss at Gettysburg, Harris deserted from the army feeling that further effort was futile. However, some records reveal that he may have had other reasons for leaving the army in that he was denied a transfer to Major Harry W. Gilmor’s cavalry battalion.
In 1865, Harris and his Page County-native bride, Mary Lionberger, moved to Kansas. Shortly thereafter, Harris was employed as a civil engineer in the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad until 1868; that year, he moved to Lawrence, Kansas. He was appointed agent for the railroad companies in the sale of the Delaware Reservation and other lands, and in 1884 moved to Linwood, Leavenworth County and engaged in agricultural pursuits and stock raising.
Following in his father's footsteps, Harris eventually sought a life in politics. He was elected as a Populist member to the Fifty-third Congress (March 4, 1893-March 3, 1895) and was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1894. He was a member of the Kansas Senate in 1895 and 1896, and was elected as a U.S. senator from Kansas (March 4, 1897, to March 3, 1903). He was an unsuccessful candidate for the governorship of Kansas in 1906. Harris is believed to have been the only Confederate veteran ever elected to any office of importance in Kansas.
Resuming his agricultural interests, Harris was extremely popular in the agriculture circles for his raising shorthorn cattle. Retiring from political life, Harris later became the vice president of the Denver, Laramie & Northwestern Railroad. Harris died in Chicago, where he had gone to work with the National Livestock Association, in 1909; interment was in Oak Hill Cemetery, Lawrence, Kansas.
Member Congress, 1893-1895, United States senator from Kansas, 1897-1903.