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Francis Burton Harrison

Born: 18-Dec-1873
Birthplace: New York City
Died: 21-Nov-1957
Location of death: Flemington, NJ
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, North Cemetery, Manila, Philippines

Gender: Male
Religion: Christian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Politician
Party Affiliation: Democratic

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Drug prohibition

Military service: US Army (Spanish-American War)

Until 1914, there were no illegal drugs in America. Anyone could walk into a drug store and purchase cocaine, heroin, morphine or numerous other medicines. Heroin was a common ingredient in children's cough medicines, and cocaine was the namesake and key ingredient of Coca-Cola. So what changed in 1914? The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act was passed into law.

More commonly known as the Harrison Act, the legislation was introduced by Congressman Francis Burton Harrison. Though it did not pass into law until after Harrison himself had left Congress, it was Harrison's most profound and lasting contribution to American culture -- it is widely seen as the beginning of American drug prohibition. In writing the legislation, Harrison had been extensively lobbied by Dr Hamilton Wright, a well-known prohibition enthusiast often covered favorably in the press, who claimed that cocaine gave Negroes superhuman strength, criminal drive, and hatred of white authority. In advocating the bill, the arguments used by Harrison, Wright, and the bill's other proponents reflected Wright's race-fueled rants much more than any serious medical findings. Cocaine, for example, is not even a narcotic, but it was among the drugs effectively banned by the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act.

Curiously, Harrison's legislation did not specifically prohibit drugs, but it mandated that a physician, dentist, or veterinarian could only prescribe drugs "in the course of his professional practice". Prosecutors read that brief line to mean that prescriptions for non-medicinal drug use were no longer legal, and the arrests of both addicts and doctors began almost immediately. Doctors across the nation simply stopped writing prescriptions for opiates and cocaine, and pharmacists stopped selling such drugs. Addicts and recreational drugs users, of course, turned to other suppliers, and American Medicine, a medical journal of the time, concluded in 1916 that the Harrison Act had actually made the problems of drug abuse worse:

"Honest medical men have found such handicaps and dangers to themselves and their reputations in these laws ... that they have simply decided to have as little to do as possible with drug addicts or their needs. ... The druggists are in the same position and for similar reasons many of them have discontinued entirely the sale of narcotic drugs. [The addict] is denied the medical care he urgently needs, open, above-board sources from which he formerly obtained his drug supply are closed to him, and he is driven to the underworld where he can get his drug, but of course, surreptitiously and in violation of the law."

Over subsequent decades, Congressman Harrison's law was revised to be more and more restrictive, and state laws were patterned after the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act. In 1922 the Federal Narcotics Control Board was established, and in 1924 the Heroin Act illegalized manufacture of that drug. The Bureau of Narcotics was established in 1930, and in 1937 the Marijuana Tax Act made pot virtually illegal, under claims reminiscent of the Harrison act debate -- that marijuana was leading the "less civilized races" to "murder, insanity and death". In 1951 an amendment to the original Harrison Act mandated prison sentences for narcotics violation, and in 1957 former Congressman Harrison passed away.

After leaving Congress, Harrison had been appointed the Governor-General of the Philippines during American occupation. By all accounts he was a relatively popular figure in the Philippines, allowing Filipinos much more autonomy than had the previous Governor-General. Harrison withdrew from public life in 1921, but later returned to the Philippines as "special advisor" to that commonwealth's President.

Harrison's father had been an attorney, and served as personal secretary to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. His mother was a popular novelist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, probably best-known for Recollections Grave and Gay. His brother was a railroad executive, and Harrison's family was wealthy even before he married his first wife, Mary Crocker, the millionaire heiress to the fortune railroad magnate Charles Crocker. She was killed in an auto wreck five years later, and Harrison re-married five more times. He married his third wife the day his divorce from his second wife was finalized, and when his third wife divorced him for infidelity, he married her sister. His fifth wife was Filipino. Harrison retired to Scotland and, later, Spain.

Father: Burton Norvell Harrison (attorney, b. 14-Jul-1838, d. 29-Mar-1904)
Mother: Constance Cary Harrison (author, b. 25-Apr-1843, m. 26-Nov-1867, d. 21-Nov-1920)
Brother: Fairfax Harrison (President of Southern Railway, b. 13-Mar-1869, d. 2-Feb-1938)
Brother: Cary Harrison (1875, d. 1876)
Brother: Archibald Cary Harrison (author, b. 21-Oct-1876)
Wife: Mary Crocker (heiress, m. 7-Jun-1900, d. 25-Nov-1905 auto accident)
Daughter: Virginia Randolph Harrison (b. 27-Oct-1901)
Wife: Mabel Judson Cox (m. 16-Jan-1907, div. 1919)
Son: Randolph Burton Harrison (b. 22-Sep-1911, d. 22-Mar-1912)
Wife: Elizabeth Wrentmore (m. 1919, div. 1927)
Wife: Margaret Wrentmore (m. 1927, div. 1933)
Wife: Doria Lee (one daughter)
Daughter: Ursula Fairfax Harrison Biddle (b. 1937, d. 1996)
Wife: Maria Teresa (m. 1949)

    High School: Cutler School, New York City (1891)
    University: BA, Yale University (1895)
    Law School: LLB, New York Law School (1897)
    Teacher: Law, New York Law School (1897-99)

    US Congressman, New York 13th (4-Mar-1903 to 3-Mar-1905)
    US Congressman, New York 20th (4-Mar-1907 to 1-Sep-1913)
    Governor-General of the Philippines 1913-21
    Freemasonry
    New York State Bar Association
    Skull and Bones Society
    English Ancestry (maternal)

Author of books:
The Corner-Stone of Philippine Independence (1922)
Indo-China, A Sportsman's Opportunity (1933, with Archibald Cary Harrison)
Origins of the Philippine Republic: Extracts from the Diaries and Records of Francis Burton Harrison (1974, posthumous)


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