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Allen, Henry Watkins (29 April 1820–22 April 1866), Confederate soldier and governor of Louisiana, was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia, the son of Thomas Allen, a physician, and Ann Watkins. Allen and his family moved from Virginia to Ray County, Missouri, when he was thirteen. His father secured him a position working in a store, but Allen found business distasteful and enrolled in Marion College at age fifteen. At seventeen he ran away from college and traveled to Grand Gulf, Mississippi, where he became a tutor on a plantation a few miles outside of town. After tutoring for two years, Allen moved to Grand Gulf to open his own school and to study law. On 25 May 1841 he received his license to practice law in Mississippi. In 1842, when Allen was becoming an established lawyer in Mississippi, President ...

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Thomas Hart Benton Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-71877).

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Benton, Thomas Hart (14 March 1782–10 April 1858), U.S. senator and congressman, was born near Hillsboro (now Hillsborough), North Carolina, the son of Jesse Benton, a lawyer and farmer, and Ann “Nancy” Gooch. Jesse Benton died in 1791, leaving eight children, considerable land, extensive debts, and an aristocratic lifestyle. The family suffered a further blow when Thomas Hart Benton, at age sixteen, was expelled from the University of North Carolina for misusing money entrusted to him by roommates. The future senator was known ever after for scrupulous honesty and belligerent defense of his honor; concern that the story of his expulsion might surface probably influenced his consistent refusals to be considered for the presidency....

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Broderick, David Colbert (04 February 1820–16 September 1859), U.S. senator, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Thomas Broderick, a stonemason, and Honora Colbert. In 1817 Thomas Broderick moved his family from County Cork, Ireland, to Washington, D.C., where he worked on the Capitol. In 1825 the Brodericks moved to Greenwich Village, New York, where Thomas Broderick died in 1834. At age fourteen, David Broderick began a five-year apprenticeship as a stonemason, while his mother opened a china shop. China importer Townsend R. Harris, later the first envoy to Japan and founder of the City University of New York, revealed the world of books to young Broderick, and journalist George Wilkes broadened his reading....

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Brooks, Preston Smith (06 August 1819–27 January 1857), U.S. congressman, was born in Edgefield, South Carolina, the son of Whitfield Brooks, Sr., a planter, and Mary Parsons Carroll. Brooks was an eldest son born into one of the most influential planter families in antebellum South Carolina. Connected by marriage to the leading families in Edgefield District and upcountry South Carolina, the Brooks line stood proudly among the state’s ruling elite. The sons of planters, as befitting their status and wealth, were socialized to live by a code of honor that placed a premium on absolute loyalty to family, kin, and section. Manliness of spirit in defense of honor, the direct antithesis of the presumed submissiveness of the docile slave, was the highest and most esteemed male virtue. This was one of the most important lessons Brooks learned in his private education, first at the Moses Waddel school in Willington and then at the College of South Carolina, the training ground for the state’s future leaders....

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B. Gratz Brown. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90757).

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Brown, Benjamin Gratz (28 May 1826–13 December 1885), U.S. senator and governor of Missouri, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the son of Mason Brown, a lawyer, and Judith Bledsoe. He was educated at Transylvania and Yale Universities, graduating from the latter in 1847. He then earned a degree from Louisville Law School. Upon being admitted to the bar in the fall of 1849, he moved to St. Louis to join his cousins ...

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Aaron Burr. Engraving on paper, c. 1793 - 1814, by Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon.

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Burr, Aaron (06 February 1756–14 September 1836), revolutionary soldier, U.S. senator, and vice president of the United States, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Aaron Burr, a theologian and the second president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), and ...

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Campbell, George Washington (08 February 1769–17 February 1848), lawyer and statesman, was born in Tongue Parish, Sutherlandshire, Scotland, the son of Archibald Campbell, a physician, and Elizabeth Mackay. He immigrated with his family to America in 1772 and settled with them near the present city of Charlotte, North Carolina, where his father farmed and practiced medicine. After several years of teaching in a small school near his home, he was admitted at the age of twenty-three to the junior class of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) and graduated in 1794 with high honors. He taught in New Jersey for a year or two but soon returned to North Carolina, where he studied law. By 1798 he had moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, a bustling commercial center of about fifty homes, where he achieved immediate success at the bar. Knoxville was the capital of the state for more than another decade, and this fact, in addition to the city’s significant growth during that time, was a factor in his success....

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Carroll, William (03 March 1788–22 March 1844), soldier, businessman and governor of Tennessee, was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Carroll, a farmer and businessman, and Mary Montgomery. Although his formal education was meager, his letters, papers, and public documents exhibit an unusual clarity of thought and facility of expression. His father formed a partnership with ...

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Claiborne, William Charles Coles (1775–23 November 1817), frontier politician, was born in Sussex County, Virginia, the son of William Claiborne, a small landowner, and Mary Leigh. He attended Richmond Academy and studied briefly at the College of William and Mary until financial difficulties ended his formal instruction at age fifteen. ...

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Clark, Daniel (1766–13 August 1813), merchant, diplomat, and territorial delegate, was born in Sligo, Ireland. Although his parents’ names are unknown, his family’s wealth and connections were sufficient to provide him with an education at Eton and other English schools. Declining fortunes in Ireland prompted the Clarks in 1785 or 1786 to emigrate to America, where they settled in Germantown, outside of Philadelphia....

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Clark, John (28 February 1766–12 October 1832), governor of Georgia, was born in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, the son of Elijah Clarke and Hanna Arrington, farmers. He enjoyed only brief formal education. He was not yet in his teens when his family settled in the Georgia back country above Augusta. The American Revolution broke out soon after they arrived, and Clark’s father became one of the Whig leaders. Though still a boy, John Clark, who at some point dropped the “e” from his name, joined his father’s unit and fought with it at the battle of Kettle Creek and other engagements during the last years of the war. By the end of the conflict he had risen to the rank of captain. Clark continued in the military service of the state and was involved in the fighting between Georgians and the Creek Indians that followed American independence. By 1796 Clark had reached the rank of major general in the Georgia militia. He also farmed, speculated in land, and held political office....

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Cassius Marcellus Clay. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109862).

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Clay, Cassius Marcellus (19 October 1810–22 July 1903), antislavery politician and diplomat, was born in White Hall, Kentucky, the son of Green Clay, a land speculator, and Sally Lewis. Green Clay was one of the wealthiest landowners and slaveholders in Kentucky, and young Cassius was raised in comfort and affluence. He attended Transylvania University (1829–1831) and Yale College (1831–1832), where he received his bachelor’s degree. After returning to Transylvania to study law in 1832–1833, Clay married Mary Jane Warfield in 1833. The marriage produced ten children....

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Henry Clay. Engraving from an original drawing by D. Dickinson, c. 1844. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-954531844).

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Clay, Henry (12 April 1777–29 June 1852), statesman, was born in Hanover County, Virginia, the son of John Clay, a Baptist minister, and Elizabeth Hudson. John Clay died during the American Revolution when Henry was four years old. The following year Henry’s mother married Captain Henry Watkins, a planter and militia officer, and later they moved to Kentucky. Henry received his early schooling at the Old Field School and the St. Paul’s School in Virginia. Although he had a gifted mind, his formal education was extremely limited. Nor did he apply himself to his studies. As he later put it, he “relied too much upon the resources of my genius.” But growing up in Hanover County, he heard ...

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Thomas L. Clingman. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111949).

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Clingman, Thomas Lanier (27 July 1812–03 November 1897), politician and businessman, was born in Huntsville, North Carolina, the son of Jacob Clingman, a merchant, and Jane Poindexter. After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1832, he studied law at the office of ...