Ira Harris was born in Charleston, Montgomery County, on 31st May, 1802. He graduated from Union College in 1824 and after studying law in Albany was admitted to the bar in 1827. Harris served in the State Assemby (1845-46) and State Senate (1847-1850).
A member of the Republican Party, Harris was elected to the United States Senate in 1860. Harris was a family friend of Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary Lincoln. Harris's daughter and stepson, Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone, were with Lincoln when he was assassinated at the Ford's Theatre on 14th April, 1865.
Harris was defeated in 1866 and after his retirement from politics became a professor at the Albany Law School (1867-75). Ira Harris died in Albany on 2nd December, 1875.