A friend of George Washington, Harrison was nominated as one of the original six justices of the Supreme Court but was forced to decline because of ill health.
Harrison, a lawyer and judge in colonial America, practiced law in Alexandria, Virginia. George Washington was his client and soon the two became close and trusted friends. Harrison served as Washington’s secretary during much of the Revolutionary War, resigning in 1781 to become chief justice of the General Court of Maryland. In this capacity, Harrison adjudicated cases concerned largely with mundane issues, many of them involving real estate. His decisions give little hint of how he might have dealt with the more encompassing constitutional issues the Supreme Court typically considers.
Harrison had consummate integrity, precisely the quality Washington sought in those he appointed to the Court. Therefore, on September 24, 1789, President Washington included Harrison’s name among the six potential justices he nominated.
Harrison, seriously ill, declined Washington’s nomination. Washington, however, urged him to reconsider. On January 14, 1790, Harrison left for New York, then the nation’s capital, bent on accepting Washington’s nomination. When his health failed en route, he was forced to return to Maryland, where he died in April, 1790. Washington nominated James Iredell of North Carolina in his place.