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Henry Justin Allen. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-96805).

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Allen, Henry Justin (11 September 1869–17 January 1950), politician and newspaper editor, was born in Pittsfield, Pennsylvania, the son of John Allen, a farmer, and Rebecca Goodwin. In 1870 the Allens settled on a farm in Clay County, Kansas, which they lost in 1879. The family relocated in Osage County, Kansas, where Allen graduated from Burlingame High School. Working as a barber to attend Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas, he excelled at forensics, which led to his first newspaper job and forecast his later stature as one of America’s most popular public speakers. While at Baker, he met Elsie Jane Nuzman, and they were married in 1892. Only one of their four children survived to adulthood....

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Bishop, Abraham (05 February 1763–28 April 1844), politician and writer, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Samuel Bishop, a political notable of New Haven, and Mehetabel Bassett. Bishop graduated from Yale College in 1778, when he was fifteen, and was admitted to the bar on 6 April 1785. He did not practice law but followed eventually in the political footsteps of his father, who was a long-term officeholder, having served as town clerk, mayor, deputy in the state assembly, and judge of the county and probate courts. The younger Bishop visited Europe in 1787 and 1788, spending a lengthy period in France, an experience that one commentator suggested led to “the unsettlement of his religious views and the development of his passion for democracy” (Dexter, p. 17)....

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Bolling, Robert (17 August 1738–21 July 1775), Virginia burgess and poet, was born in Varina, Henrico (new Chesterfield) County, Virginia, the son of John Bolling II, burgess and planter, and Elizabeth Blair. He was the third of their eight children who lived to adulthood. Through his father’s side, he was a great, great, great-grandson of ...

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Brooke, Henry (01 October 1678–06 February 1736), poet and politician, was born at Norton Priory in England, the youngest son of Sir Henry Brook, baronet of Norton. His mother’s name is not known. He was probably the Henry Brooke who graduated from Bracenose College, Oxford, in 1693. He went to Pennsylvania in 1702 seeking his fortune. An Episcopalian, Brooke had difficulty securing a place in Quaker-controlled Philadelphia, so he accepted the office of queen’s customs collector for Lewes Town, a trading settlement at the mouth of the Delaware River. While serving as collector he saved Newcastle from plunder by a French privateer in 1709, leading local inhabitants in a sortie against the raider....

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Erastus Brooks. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109972).

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Brooks, Erastus (31 January 1815–25 November 1886), journalist and politician, was born in Portland, Maine, the son of the late James Brooks (c. 1788–1814), a commander of a privateer in the War of 1812 who had gone down with his ship, and Betsey Folsom. The financial problems caused by his father’s early death meant that Erastus had to begin work at age eight as a grocery store clerk in Boston. Ever enterprising, he used his pocket money to buy books and attend night school. He soon was placed in a printing office, where he learned to set type. Knowledge of this trade enabled him to earn enough money to attend classes at Brown University, although he did not complete the course of study. Eager to work for himself, he started his own newspaper, the ...

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Bryant, John Emory (13 October 1836–27 February 1900), editor and politician, was born in Wayne, Maine, the son of Benjamin Franklin Bryant, a Methodist minister and (later) physician, and Lucy Ford French. Bryant was born into a family with firm religious convictions but limited financial resources. During his childhood, the family lived in several different Maine communities where his father was minister. His first profession was teaching. By offering “subscription” or “rate schools,” in which the teacher advertised for scholars and “subscribed” students for a short term, Bryant earned money to pay for his own education. In 1859 he received a college certificate from Maine Wesleyan Seminary....

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Bush, John Edward (15 November 1856–11 December 1916), businessman and politician, was born a slave in Moscow, Tennessee. In 1862 his master moved him and his mother to Arkansas to keep them from being freed when the Union army moved into western Tennessee. His mother died when Bush was only seven years old. He was educated in the freedmen’s and public schools of Little Rock and was considered a good student by his teachers. He paid his school tuition by molding bricks. In 1876 he graduated from high school with honors and was immediately appointed principal of Capital Hill School, a public institution for African Americans in Little Rock. In 1878 he moved to Hot Springs, where he was named to head that city’s African-American high school....

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Chateaubriand, François-René de (04 September 1768–04 July 1848), writer and statesman, was born in Saint-Malo, Brittany, the son of René-Auguste Chateaubriand and Apolline de Bedée. Chateaubriand’s well-educated mother came from a noble family in nearby Plancoët. His father, a descendant of illustrious ancestors, not only had restored the family fortune by serving as a gentleman corsair but in 1761 had also bought both the castle of Combourg and the title of vicomte de Combourg. The cold, turreted castle and its beautiful natural surroundings would leave a lasting impression on the boy, the youngest of six surviving children....

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Churchill, Winston (10 November 1871–12 March 1947), novelist and politician, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Emma Bell Blaine and Edward S. Churchill. His mother died shortly after his birth. Left in the care of his maternal grandmother until her death two years later, he was a short time thereafter taken in and raised by his mother’s half sister, Louisa Blaine Gazzam, and her husband, James Braiding Gazzam, who lived in genteel poverty. Two manuscripts written later in his life (Jonathan and Gideon mss., Baker Library) demonstrate the influence of Churchill’s upbringing on both his personal life and his novels. The absolute standards that the Gazzams instilled in him left him with lifelong feelings of guilt and inadequacy....

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Jeremiah Clemens. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109966).

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Clemens, Jeremiah (28 December 1814–21 May 1865), politician and novelist, was born in Huntsville, Alabama, the son of James Clemens, a merchant. His mother’s maiden name was Mills, but her first name is unknown. Clemens spent the formative years of his life in the northern Alabama upcountry town of Huntsville with his affluent family. He entered La Grange College in 1830, but in 1831 he moved to the newly opened University of Alabama, graduating in 1833. He also spent a year studying law at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. In 1834 he married Mary Read; they had one child....

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James M. Cox [left to right] Franklin D. Roosevelt and James M. Cox, c. 1920. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-96173).

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Cox, James Middleton (31 March 1870–15 July 1957), newspaper publisher and politician, was born in Jacksonburg, Ohio, the son of Eliza Andrews and Gilbert Cox, farmers. He attended a one-room school until he was sixteen. His parents divorced, and in 1886 Cox moved to nearby Middletown to live with his mother. Cox’s brother-in-law John Q. Baker, who published the ...

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Dabney, Wendell Phillips (04 November 1865–05 June 1952), journalist, political leader, and publisher, was born in Richmond, Virginia, the son of John Dabney, a caterer, and Elizabeth Foster. Dabney attended elementary and secondary school in Richmond. His childhood was characterized by rigorous inculcation of John Dabney’s religious and political views. His father, who had taught himself to read and write, instilled in his children the importance of religion as a vehicle for lessening racial oppression. John Dabney also passed on to his children his perception that Republicans helped African Americans and Democrats did not....

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Davis, Benjamin Jefferson (27 May 1870–28 October 1945), publisher and political figure, was born in Dawson, Georgia, the son of Mike Davis (who changed his name from Mike Haynes in 1868 or 1869) and Katherine Davis, farmers and ex-slaves. His formal education ended after the sixth grade, and Davis worked as a bricklayer and teacher before becoming a printer. He learned the trade while working for Tom W. Loyless, a white Dawson publisher and printer, and then opened his own printing business. He soon became a moderately wealthy man, living in a two-story, fifteen-room house while his siblings eked out their livings as sharecroppers. In 1898 he married Jimmie Willard Porter, a Dawson native who had been educated at Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes; they had a son and daughter....

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John Dickinson. Engraving by B. L. Prevost, 1781. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-26777).

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Dickinson, John (08 November 1732–14 February 1808), statesman and political pamphleteer, was born in Talbot County, Maryland, the son of Samuel Dickinson, a plantation owner and merchant, and his second wife, Mary Cadwalader. Owners of extensive properties in Delaware as well as Maryland, the family moved in John’s youth to Kent, near Dover, Delaware. He was tutored at home until the age of eighteen when he began the study of law in the office of John Moland. Three years later he left for London for further legal training at the Middle Temple, the Inns of Court, and Westminster. After completing his studies in 1757, he returned to Philadelphia to open a law office. His extensive knowledge of legal history and precedent as well as his skills in writing and presentation soon earned him an outstanding reputation....

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Duane, William (17 May 1760–24 November 1835), newspaper publisher and politician, was born near Lake Champlain in modern-day Vermont, the son of John Duane and Anastasia Sarsfield, Irish-immigrant farmers. The elder Duane died in 1765, and the family returned to the village of Clonmel in Ireland when William was about eleven. He received schooling with Franciscan friars, and his mother apparently wanted him to become a priest. However, believing that the Church helped make people passive and therefore abusable by the rich, political elite, he embraced secularism. That action strained relations with his mother. The two broke completely in 1779 when Duane married Catharine Corcoran, a nineteen-year-old Protestant. They had three children. After apprenticing in the printing trade for two years, Duane moved his family to London where he probably worked as a parliamentary reporter for the ...