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John Adams. After a painting by Gilbert Stuart. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-13002 DLC).

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Adams, John (19 October 1735–04 July 1826), second president of the United States, diplomat, and political theorist, was born in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, the son of John Adams (1691–1760), a shoemaker, selectman, and deacon, and Susanna Boylston. He claimed as a young man to have indulged in “a constant dissipation among amusements,” such as swimming, fishing, and especially shooting, and wished to be a farmer. However, his father insisted that he follow in the footsteps of his uncle Joseph Adams, attend Harvard College, and become a clergyman. John consented, applied himself to his studies, and developed a passion for learning but refused to become a minister. He felt little love for “frigid John Calvin” and the rigid moral standards expected of New England Congregationalist ministers....

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Agnew, Spiro T. (09 November 1918–17 September 1996), vice president, was born Spiro Theodore Agnew in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Margaret Pollard Akers Agnew and Theodore Spiro Agnew, who, after immigrating from Greece in 1897, changed his name from Anagnostopoulos. Agnew's father was a successful restaurateur and a leader in the Greek community until the Great Depression, when he lost his business and turned to selling fruit and vegetables on the street. Agnew supplemented the family income by doing odd jobs while he attended public schools in Baltimore. After graduating from Forest Park High School, he entered Johns Hopkins in 1937, majoring in chemistry, but in 1940 he left and began taking night classes at the University of Baltimore School of Law. During the day he worked alternately as an assistant personnel manager of a grocery-store chain and as an insurance investigator and claims adjuster. In 1942 he married Elinor Isabel Judefind, a coworker at his insurance company; they had four children....

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George Clinton. Portrait by Ezra Ames. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-110647).

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Clinton, George (26 July 1739–20 April 1812), soldier, governor of New York, and vice president of the United States, was born in Little Britain, New York, the son of Charles Clinton, a farmer and surveyor, and Elizabeth Denniston. After schooling with a private tutor, George left home in 1757 to serve as a steward’s mate on the ...

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Calvin Coolidge. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-13030 DLC).

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Coolidge, Calvin (04 July 1872–05 January 1933), thirtieth president of the United States, was born John Calvin Coolidge in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, the son of John Calvin Coolidge, a storekeeper and farmer, and Victoria Moor. After graduating from Amherst College in 1895, Coolidge read law in Northampton, Massachusetts. He was admitted to the bar in 1897. In 1905 he married Grace Anna Goodhue ( ...

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Elbridge Gerry. Engraving by James Barton Longacre, c. 1830, based on a drawing by John Vanderlyn. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-1889).

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George Athan Billias

Gerry, Elbridge (17 July 1744–23 November 1814), statesman, was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Gerry, a merchant, and Elizabeth Greenleaf. His father was a British immigrant who arrived in 1730, settled in Marblehead, and became one of the most successful merchants in Essex County. The brightest of eleven children, Elbridge entered Harvard in 1758, graduated in 1762, and returned in 1765—the year of the Stamp Act—to submit his master’s thesis. Already a firebrand at twenty-one, he argued in it the question: “Can the new Prohibitary Duties which make it useless for the people to engage in Commerce, be evaded by them as faithful subjects?” His answer was “Yes.”...

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Hannibal Hamlin. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109919).

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Hannibal Hamlin. Photograph from the Brady National Photographic Art Gallery. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-B8172-1429).

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Hamlin, Hannibal (27 August 1809–04 July 1891), fifteenth vice president of the United States, was born in Paris, Maine, the son of Cyrus Hamlin (1769–1829), a physician, sheriff of Oxford County, and farmer, and Anna Livermore. Hannibal was schooled locally and attended Hebron Academy for a year (1826–1827), worked as a clerk, learned surveying, and taught school briefly before returning home to run the family farm after his father died unexpectedly in 1829. Drawn into politics, he became co-owner of the local Democratic newspaper but soon left the concern....

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Thomas A. Hendricks. From a campaign poster for the Cleveland-Hendricks ticket, 1884. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-5081 ).

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Hendricks, Thomas Andrews (07 September 1819–25 November 1885), twenty-first vice president of the United States, was born in Muskingum County, Ohio, the son of John Hendricks and Jane Thomson, farmers. Hendricks’s grandfather, Abraham Hendricks, served in the Pennsylvania legislature, and an uncle, William Hendricks...

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Andrew Johnson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-13017 DLC).

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Johnson, Andrew (29 December 1808–31 July 1875), seventeenth president of the United States, was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, the son of the bank porter Jacob Johnson and the seamstress Mary McDonough. He lost his father at an early age and was apprenticed to the tailor James J. Selby. Like many poor whites, he never went to school but apparently learned to read and write at the tailor shop. At the age of fifteen he engaged in some youthful prank and ran away, causing Selby to post a reward of $10 for his apprehension. He returned in 1826 to settle his affairs with his employer but was unable to do so. He left on foot for Tennessee, then worked at his trade in Columbia, only to come back after six months to help his family. Together with his mother and stepfather, he set out once more for Tennessee, this time reaching the village of Greeneville, where he made his permanent home....

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Thomas R. Marshall. [left to right] Woodrow Wilson and Thomas R. Marshall. Presidential campaign poster. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-95033).

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Marshall, Thomas Riley (14 March 1854–01 June 1925), governor of Indiana and vice president of the United States, was born in North Manchester, Indiana, the son of Daniel M. Marshall, a physician, and Martha Patterson. From 1856 to 1860 the Marshall family lived in Illinois, Kansas, and Missouri before returning to Indiana. Marshall grew up in the village of Pierceton, attended school in Warsaw, and completed high school in Fort Wayne. At Wabash College he concentrated on the classics and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He graduated in 1873. He read law under the direction of Judge Walter Olds in Fort Wayne and was admitted to the bar in Columbia City, a nearby county seat town, on his twenty-first birthday. For thirty-three years he was a country lawyer, taking every kind of case, civil and criminal. He won a reputation for persuasive speaking when addressing juries. In 1895 he married Lois Irene Kimsey. He and his wife took prominent roles in the Presbyterian church, and Marshall held high offices in the Masonic Lodge....

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Levi Parsons Morton. Oil on canvas, 1883, by Leon Joseph Florentin Bonnat. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mrs. Eustis Emmet and Mrs. David E. Finley.

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Morton, Levi Parsons (16 May 1824–16 May 1920), twenty-second vice president of the United States and governor of New York, was born in Shoreham, Vermont, the son of Daniel Oliver Morton, a Congregational minister, and Lucretia Parsons. A member of an old New England family, Morton could count some eighty ancestors living in America before 1650. His family moved to Springfield, Vermont, in 1832 and to Winchendon, Massachusetts, in 1837. Morton attended district schools, but unable to afford college, he instead started work at age fourteen as a clerk in a general store in Enfield, New Hampshire. He later taught in a one-room school in Boscawen, New Hampshire, and then worked as clerk in a general store in Concord, New Hampshire. At age nineteen Morton was placed in charge of the store’s Hanover, New Hampshire, branch. When the store’s headquarters in Concord failed and its chief creditor approved the continuation of the Hanover store, Morton purchased it. By 1845, when he was twenty-one years old, Morton had become in the words of his biographer “an independent, and singularly successful merchant.” He initiated advertising over a wide area, attracting a substantial trade. As his business prospered he took a growing interest in politics, becoming a devoted Whig and leading the local presidential campaign for ...