Harrison was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Jesse Burton Harrison (who died three years later) and Frances Anne Brand Harrison. He attended the University of Mississippi from 1854 to 1855. In 1859 he graduated from Yale University, where he was a member of Skull and Bones.:90 Later that year he took a job at the University of Mississippi as an associate professor of mathematics and began to study law.
The Civil War and its aftermath
In February 1862 Harrison became the private secretary to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. At the end of the American Civil War he was captured by the Union Army with Jefferson Davis and Varina Davis, and imprisoned at Fort Delaware, where he resumed his law studies.
In 1866 Harrison was released, settled in New York City, and was admitted to the bar. Feeling himself established, in November 1867 he married his sweetheart from his Richmond, Virginia, days, Constance Cary Harrison.
In 1875, Harrison became the secretary and counsel of New York City's Rapid Transit Commission. The following year he actively campaigned for presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden. In 1880, Harrison attended the Democratic convention in Cincinnati where he opposed William Jennings Bryan. After 1880 Harrison began to lose interest in politics. In 1893 he declined President Grover Cleveland's offers of appointments as Assistant Secretary of State and ambassador to Italy.
Burton Harrison died in 1904 while visiting Washington, D.C.
- "The twelfth general catalogue of the Psi Upsilon Fraternity". 1917. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
- Harrison, Burton N. (November 1883). "The Capture of Jefferson Davis". The Century; a popular quarterly. The Century Company. 27 (1): 130–145. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
- The Burton Norvell Harrison Family Papers at the Library of Congress
- Recollections Grave and Gay. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.