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Adams, John Quincy (11 July 1767–23 February 1848), secretary of state, sixth president of the United States, and U.S. congressman, was born in Braintree, Massachusetts, the son of John Adams (1735–1826), second president of the United States, and Abigail Smith Adams (Abigail Adams...

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Aldrich, Nelson Wilmarth (06 November 1841–16 April 1915), U.S. senator, congressman, and businessman, was born in Foster, Rhode Island, the son of Anan Aldrich and Abby Burgess, farmers. Having received a modest education in East Killingly, Connecticut, and at the East Greenwich Academy in Rhode Island, Aldrich was by age seventeen working in Providence. Eventually a large wholesale grocery firm, Waldron, Wightman & Co., hired him as a clerk and bookkeeper. His career there was briefly interrupted in 1862 by service with the Tenth Rhode Island Volunteers garrisoning Washington, D.C. After contracting typhoid that same year he returned to Providence and, by 1866, had been elevated to junior partner at Waldron, Wightman. He married Abby Chapman that year; the couple would have eleven children. His wife was of independent means, but Aldrich insisted on accumulating a fortune on his own account and gradually did so. He worked his way up to full partner at Waldron, Wightman, was a director of the Roger Williams Bank by 1872, and by 1877 was president of Providence’s First National Bank. He also headed the city’s Board of Trade in these years....

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Allen, William (18 December 1803–11 July 1879), U.S. senator and congressman and governor of Ohio, was born in Edenton, North Carolina, the son of Nathaniel Allen, a wealthy merchant and landowner, and Sarah Colburn. Allen’s father had surrendered his Quaker principles to fight in the American Revolution and was a delegate to the North Carolina convention convened to consider the federal Constitution in 1788. Both parents died shortly after William’s birth, and he was raised by his half sister, the wife of a Methodist Episcopal minister, the Reverend Pleasant Thurman. Although born into the gentry, the tangled genealogy of his family, owing to his father’s three marriages and various legal technicalities, denied Allen any inheritance of his father’s considerable assets....

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Ames, Fisher (09 April 1758–04 July 1808), Federalist party leader, member of Congress, essayist, and renowned orator, was born in Dedham, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Ames, Sr., a physician, tavern keeper, and almanac writer, and Deborah Fisher. Intellectually honed, Ames was admitted to Harvard at twelve. Steeped in the classics, he excelled in elocution and participated in a debating club, the Institute of 1770. Graduating in 1774, he served with the Dedham militia at the time of the battle of Bunker Hill but did not see combat. At home he pursued his scholarly interests, reading widely in classical literature and history. He also occasionally taught school. Under the tutelage of the prominent ...

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Ames, Oakes (10 January 1804–08 May 1873), businessman and politician, was born in North Easton, Massachusetts, the son of Oliver Ames, a manufacturer, and Susanna Angier. He was educated in local schools and, for a few months, at Dighton Academy. At the age of sixteen, he entered his father’s shovel factory as an apprentice, rising quickly to become the works superintendent and then his father’s assistant. In 1827 he married Evelina Orvile Gilmore, and for the next three decades lived with her and their four children in one wing of his father’s house opposite the factory....

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Banks, Nathaniel Prentiss (30 January 1816–01 September 1894), congressman and Civil War general, was born in Waltham, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel P. Banks, a textile mill foreman, and Rebecca Greenwood. He attended a school for factory children until he began work in the mills as a bobbin boy at age eleven. At seventeen he left factory work to assist his father in carpentry and to learn the machinist’s trade....

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Barden, Graham Arthur (25 September 1896–29 January 1967), U.S. congressman, was born in Sampson County, North Carolina, near Turkey township, the son of James Jefferson Barden and Mary James. After Graham’s early years on the family farm, the Bardens moved to Burgaw so the children could attend high school. Following graduation from Burgaw High School, Barden enrolled in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. World War I intervened, and he enlisted in the navy about a month before the armistice. Discharged after five months of service, he returned to the university, where he earned his LL.B. in 1920. After passing the state bar examination, he taught and coached at New Bern High School to earn money for a law library. The next year he established his first law practice with a friend. He married Agnes Foy in 1922. They had two children. In 1931 he left his law firm to practice with his wife’s brother-in-law....

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Barnard, Daniel Dewey (11 September 1796–24 April 1861), lawyer, congressman, and diplomat, was born in East Hartford, Connecticut, the son of Timothy Barnard, a county judge, and Phebe Dewey. Barnard’s early years were spent on the family farm near Hartford, Connecticut. When he was twelve the family moved to Mendon, New York (near Rochester). His formal education started with a year at Lenox Academy, after which he transferred to Williams College, where he graduated in 1818....

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Beck, James Montgomery (09 July 1861–12 April 1936), lawyer, solicitor general, and congressman, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of James Nathan Beck, the owner of a small music publishing company, and Margaretta C. Darling. Coming from modest financial means, Beck inherited his father’s interest in music and the family’s Moravian antiwar and communitarian heritage, which contributed to his early pacifism and anticorporation viewpoints. Following matriculation at Philadelphia’s Episcopal Academy, Beck graduated from Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1880. After reading law, he began legal practice in 1884. From 1888 to 1892, he served as assistant U.S. attorney for eastern Pennsylvania. In 1890 he married Lilla Mitchell, daughter of a Philadelphia businessman, with whom he had two children....

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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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Berger, Victor Louis (28 February 1860–07 August 1929), a founder and leader of the Socialist Party of America and a U.S. congressman, was born in the Nieder-Rehbach region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Romania) to Ignatz Berger and his wife, Julia (maiden name unknown), innkeepers. Berger attended the Universities of Vienna and Budapest for two years. His family suffered economic reversals and in 1878 emigrated to Bridgeport, Connecticut. In 1881 Berger settled in Milwaukee, where he taught school. In the heavily Germanic city he emerged as a leader, initially through the ...

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Bloom, Sol (c. 9 Mar. 1870–07 March 1949), music and entertainment entrepreneur and longtime congressman, was born in Pekin, Illinois, the son of Gershon (later anglicized to Garrison) Bloom and Sara Bloom, Jewish immigrants from Szyrpez, Prussian Poland, who emigrated to the United States before the Civil War. Although legal papers maintain that he was born on 9 March, Bloom acknowledged in his autobiography that his exact date of birth is unknown. Never well-off, the Blooms moved to San Francisco in 1873. According to Bloom his formal education lasted one day, but his mother—the family force—taught him to read and write....

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Burton, Phillip (01 June 1926–10 April 1983), congressman, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Thomas Burton, a salesman and physician, and Mildred Leonard. He spent his boyhood in the Midwest, living in Cincinnati, Detroit, and Milwaukee before the family moved to San Francisco during his high school years. Burton graduated from the University of Southern California in 1947 and from Golden Gate Law School in 1952. He served in the navy’s V-12 program while attending USC during World War II and enlisted as a lawyer in the air force during the Korean War; in neither war did his military obligations take him outside California. In 1953 he married Sala Galant Lipschultz; they had one child. He immediately became active in Democratic politics in San Francisco and in 1954 challenged incumbent William “Cliff” Berry for a seat in the California assembly. Berry died during the primary campaign, but Burton had alienated San Francisco boss William Malone, who exacted revenge by insuring Burton’s defeat. Two years later Burton challenged another incumbent assemblyman, Republican Tommy Maloney, and defeated him by appealing to the neglected voting potential of African-American and Chinese communities....

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Cannon, Joseph Gurney (07 May 1836–12 November 1926), Speaker of the House, was born in New Garden, Guilford County, North Carolina, the son of Horace Franklin Cannon and Gulielma Hollingsworth. His father, a country school teacher and self-taught doctor, hated slavery. Cannon moved with his Quaker parents to Bloomingdale, Indiana, in 1840, studied law at the Cincinnati Law School, and was admitted to the bar in 1858. He then moved to Tuscola, Illinois, in 1859 and served as state’s attorney for the Twenty-seventh Judicial District of Illinois from March 1861 to December 1868. In 1862 he married Mary Pamela Reed; they had three children. In 1869 he settled in Danville, Illinois. Elected as a Republican in 1872 to the Forty-third Congress, Cannon served, with the exception of two terms (Fifty-second Congress, 1891–1892, and Sixty-third Congress, 1913–1915) when he was defeated for reelection, until 1923, when he retired from public life. In all, Cannon served a total of forty-six years in Congress, the longest tenure of any member prior to World War II....

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Clark, Champ (07 March 1850–02 March 1921), Speaker of the House of Representatives, was born James Beauchamp Clark in Lawrenceburg, Anderson County, Kentucky, the son of John Hampton Clark, a traveling dentist and buggy maker, and Althea Jane Beauchamp. Although he received only a rudimentary education, Clark began teaching school himself at the age of fifteen. From 1867 to 1870 he attended Kentucky University (now Transylvania University), from which he was expelled for shooting at a fellow student. In 1872 entered Bethany College in West Virginia and graduated in 1873 after a single year of study. The prizes he received at commencement earned him the presidency of Marshall College in West Virginia for a year. He then completed the course of study at the Cincinnati Law School in 1875. While in law school, he shortened his name to “Champ,” which would fit better in a newspaper headline. In 1881 he married Genevieve Bennett; they had four children, one of whom was ...

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Colfax, Schuyler (23 March 1823–13 January 1885), congressman and vice president of the United States, was born in New York City, the posthumous son of Schuyler Colfax, a bank clerk, and Hannah Stryker. He and his mother lived with his widowed grandmother while he attended public schools. At age ten he entered the workforce as a store clerk. In 1834 his mother married George W. Matthews, who removed the family to New Carlisle, Indiana, in 1836. Matthews ran a store (in which Colfax clerked) and held the patronage position of village postmaster. In 1841 Matthews was elected county auditor on the Whig ticket and moved to the county seat, South Bend. Colfax served as his deputy until 1849. Following his parents’ wishes, Colfax read law, but his real love was politics. He corresponded with prominent Whigs, contributed to ...

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Connally, Thomas Terry (19 August 1877–28 October 1963), U.S. senator and congressman, was born near Hewitt, Texas, the son of Jones Connally and Mary Ellen Terry, farmers. The Connallys were better off than many Texas farm families at the time, and young Tom was able to attend Baylor University, graduating in 1896. He then entered the law school of the University of Texas. When war erupted with Spain in 1898, Connally enlisted in the Second Texas Infantry Volunteers. Illness prevented his shipping out, but in his absence the University of Texas awarded him the LL.B....

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Crockett, Davy (17 August 1786–06 March 1836), frontiersman, Tennessee and U.S. congressman, and folk hero, was born David Crockett in Greene County, East Tennessee, the son of John Crockett, a magistrate, unsuccessful land speculator, and tavern owner, and Rebecca Hawkins. John Crockett hired his son out to Jacob Siler in 1798 to help on a cattle drive to Rockbridge County, Virginia, and Siler tried forcibly to detain young Crockett after the completion of the job. The boy ran away at night, however, and arrived home in late 1798 or early 1799. Preferring to play hooky rather than attend school, he ran away from home to escape his father’s wrath. His “strategic withdrawal,” as he called it, lasted about thirty months while he worked at odd jobs and as a laborer and a wagon driver. When he returned home in 1802, he had grown so much that his family at first did not recognize him. He soon found that all was forgiven and reciprocated their generosity by working for a year to settle the debts that his father had incurred....

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Curtis, Charles (25 January 1860–08 February 1936), congressman, senator, and vice president of the United States, was born in North Topeka, Kansas, the son of Orren Arms Curtis, a soldier, and Ellen Gonville Pappan, a quarter-blood member of the Kansa (Kaw) Indian tribe. The only person of Indian blood to be elected to the second highest office in the land, Curtis traced his ancestry on the maternal side to Kansa chief White Plume, who married a daughter of the renowned Osage chief ...

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Dawson, William Levi (26 April 1886–09 November 1970), congressman, was born in Albany, Georgia, the son of Levi Dawson, a barber, and Rebecca Kendrick. Dawson received his early education in Albany, then attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1909....