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Adams, Henry Cullen (28 November 1850–09 July 1906), legislator and public servant, was born in Verona, Oneida County, New York, the son of Benjamin Franklin Adams, a professor of classical languages at Hamilton College, and Caroline Shepard. His parents moved to southern Wisconsin before the Civil War, and young Henry grew up on a farm, acquiring an attachment to agriculture that would permeate the remainder of his life. He was educated in country schools, at Albion College, and then spent three years during the 1870s at the University of Wisconsin, but fragile health forced him to quit before earning a degree. Adams returned to his father’s farm near Madison and in 1878 married Anne Burkley Norton, with whom he had four children....

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Aiken, William (28 January 1806–06 September 1887), planter and congressman, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of William Aiken, Sr., an Irish immigrant, and Henrietta Wyatt. At the time of his death, the elder Aiken was president of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company and a wealthy merchant. Aiken attended the South Carolina College, from which he graduated in 1825. He then traveled to Europe. Upon returning to Charleston, he married Harriet Lowndes in 1831. They had one child....

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William Allen. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109897).

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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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Nathaniel Prentiss Banks. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-4780).

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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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Barrett, Frank Aloysius (10 November 1892–30 May 1962), Wyoming governor, congressman, and U.S. senator, was born near Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Patrick J. Barrett and Elizabeth Curran, schoolteachers. His father also worked as a mortician and court bailiff. Barrett was a Catholic and attended public schools and Creighton University, Omaha, earning an A.B. in 1913 and an LL.B. in 1916. He served for seventeen months in the Army Balloon Corps during World War I, attaining the rank of sergeant. After discharge, he married Alice Catherine Donoghue in Omaha in 1919; they had three children. After Alice’s death in 1956, in 1959 he married Augusta K. Hogan....

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Bartley, Mordecai (16 December 1783–10 October 1870), congressman and governor of Ohio, was born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, the son of Elijah Bartley and Rachel Pearshall, farmers. He attended country schools in Pennsylvania. In 1804 he married Elizabeth Welles, and five years later they migrated to Jefferson County in eastern Ohio, where Bartley farmed. The couple had at least two children. During the War of 1812 Bartley was captain of a company of volunteers and served under General ...

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Bedinger, George Michael (10 December 1756–08 December 1843), soldier, legislator, and businessman, was born in York County, Pennsylvania, the son of Henry Bedinger and Magdalene von Schlegel, innkeepers. In 1737 his grandfather had moved to Pennsylvania from the vicinity of Strasbourg in Alsace-Lorraine. At the time of George Michael’s birth, the family name was spelled Biedinger and German was the language spoken at home. Late in life Bedinger was described by a contemporary as a “full blooded Virginia Dutchman.”...

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Bissell, William Henry (25 April 1811–18 March 1860), U.S. congressman and governor of Illinois, was born near Hartwick, Otsego County, New York, the son of Luther Bissell and Hannah Sheperd, farmers. He received an M.D. from Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia in 1834 and practiced medicine in Painted Post, New York. In about 1837 he moved to Monroe County, Illinois, where he first taught school and then practiced medicine. In 1840 he married Emily Susan James, who bore two daughters before her death in 1844. In 1851 he married Elisabeth Kintzing Kane....

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Blair, Austin (08 February 1818–06 August 1894), governor of Michigan and congressman, was born in Caroline, New York, the son of George Blair and Rhoda Blackman Mann, farmers. Prior to graduating from Union College in 1839, he worked as a teacher in Speedsville, New York. He then studied law as a clerk with the firm of Sweet and Davis in Owego, New York. In 1841 he married Persis Lyman, a former student, and was admitted to the Tioga County bar. Unlikely to prosper in such a competitive legal environment and unable to support his bride as a law clerk, Blair decided his practice and family would both be better off in less crowded confines. Consequently, he followed his uncle to Jackson, Michigan, where he established a firm with Reule C. Baker in 1842....

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Bonham, Milledge Luke (25 December 1813–27 August 1890), governor, congressman, and soldier, was born in South Carolina’s Edgefield District, the son of James Bonham and Sophie Smith, planters. His father died when he was two, and his mother saw to his education. Bonham attended private academies before graduating from South Carolina College in 1834. He entered the legal profession, engaged in local politics, and became prominent in state military affairs, rising to the rank of major general of militia. He led a brigade of Palmetto State volunteers in the Seminole War of 1836, a position that helped win him a stint in the state house of representatives (1840–1844). In 1845 he married Ann Griffin; they had fourteen children....

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Boutwell, George Sewall (28 January 1818–27 February 1905), governor, congressman, and senator, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, the son of Sewall Boutwell and Rebecca Marshall, farmers. Although his family’s poverty prevented him from securing a formal education after the age of ten, he was sufficiently well read and self-taught to take over a district school at the age of sixteen. From 1835 he clerked in a country store in Groton, Massachusetts. He eventually became a partner and worked in the business until 1855. He studied law in the office of Bradford Russell of Groton and was admitted to the bar in 1836. He served as the clerk of chancery court for two years, from 1838 to 1840. In 1839 he was elected to the school committee, the first formal step in what would become a lifelong interest in education. A few weeks later he was chosen as the Temperance party’s candidate for the Massachusetts House of Representatives, but he was not elected. Meanwhile, Boutwell continued a serious and intensive course of reading in an effort to make up for his lack of a college education....

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Briggs, George Nixon (12 April 1796–12 September 1861), lawyer, congressman, and governor, was born in Adams, Massachusetts, the son of blacksmith Allen Briggs, a veteran of the revolutionary war, and Nancy Brown. As with many settlers in the Berkshire area of Massachusetts, the Briggses had moved north from Rhode Island and were earnest Baptists (although Nancy Briggs had come from a Huguenot family). At age thirteen Briggs, one of twelve siblings, was apprenticed to Quaker John Allen, a hatter in White Creek, New York. He returned home in 1811 to help his father and attended grammar school for about a year. In 1813 he studied law with Ambrose Kasson (also spelled Kapen) of Adams, Massachusetts; the following year he moved to the office of Luther Washburn in Lanesboro. During his apprenticeship in White Creek, Briggs, then a Quaker, had experienced a conversion at a revival and thereby became a Baptist. While studying law in Lanesboro and helping to found a Baptist church there, he met Harriet Hall, whom he married in May 1818; they would have at least two children....

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Brown, Albert Gallatin (31 May 1813–12 June 1880), U.S. and Confederate congressman, was born in Chester District, South Carolina, the son of Joseph Brown. (His mother’s identity is unknown.) The second son of a struggling, ambitious farmer, Brown moved with his family in 1820 from South Carolina to Copiah County, Mississippi. In this raw frontier setting his father acquired land and slaves. After attending Mississippi College and Jefferson College from 1829 to 1832, Brown wanted to attend Princeton or Yale, but when his father refused to pay the costs, he turned to law and politics. He won his first elective office in 1832 as a colonel of militia. He was admitted to the Mississippi bar in 1833 and had just started his law practice in the now extinct town of Gallatin when he was elected a brigadier general in the militia. Soon after his marriage in 1835 to Elizabeth Frances Taliaferro, he entered the Mississippi legislature as a Democratic representative. He began a remarkable record of holding elective office virtually without interruption for the next thirty years....

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Burton, Hutchins Gordon (1782–21 April 1836), North Carolina governor and congressman, was born in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, the son of John Burton and Mary Gordon. After the death of John Burton, his widow and her three-year-old son took up residence in the home of Colonel Robert Burton, a paternal uncle, at Williamsboro in Granville (now Vance) County, North Carolina. The uncle, a revolutionary leader and soldier, became Burton’s guardian and mentor. Burton attended the University of North Carolina in 1795 but did not graduate. He read law with Judge ...

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Calhoun, William Barron (29 December 1796–08 November 1865), lawyer, writer, and politician, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Andrew Calhoun, a merchant, and Martha Chamberlain. His father was one of the founders of Boston’s Park Street Church. Calhoun was prepared for college by Harvard graduate William Wells, then he attended Yale, graduating in 1814. While a senior at Yale, Calhoun was one of the editors of a student publication, the ...

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Caminetti, Anthony (30 July 1854–17 November 1923), California legislator and U.S. commissioner general of immigration, was born in Jackson Gate, near Jackson, California, the son of Italian immigrants Roche “Rocco” Caminetti, a farmer and miner, and Batistina Guisto. Caminetti was raised in the heart of the Mother Lode region in the turbulent frontier atmosphere of the gold rush, which had lured his parents from Boston to California in 1849 via the Cape Horn route. Young Anthony attended primary schools in Jackson until the age of ten. His parents then sent him to San Francisco, where he completed his grammar school education in 1867. Returning to Jackson, Caminetti spent the next three years working in a store owned by his uncle Biagio Caminetti. In 1870 Caminetti journeyed once again to San Francisco to begin the study of law as a clerk in the offices of Leander Quint and James H. Hardy. He remained with them until March 1871, when he enrolled at the University of California. Withdrawing in October 1873 because of poor health and finances, Caminetti resumed working in his uncle’s store and studying law under the tutelage of James T. Farley, a prominent Jackson attorney and Amador County politician....

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Campbell, William Bowen (01 February 1807–19 August 1867), congressman and governor, was born in Sumner County, Tennessee, the son of David Campbell and Catherine Bowen, farmers. The family was related by marriage to David Campbell (1779–1859) of Abingdon, Virginia, governor of Virginia from 1837 to 1840, who took responsibility for the education of his wife’s nephew. After studying law with the famed ...

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Cannon, Newton (22 May 1781–16 September 1841), congressman and governor of Tennessee, was born in Guilford County, North Carolina, the son of Minos Cannon, a farmer and revolutionary war veteran, and Letitia Thompson. In 1784 the Cannon family moved to what is now Tennessee but soon returned to North Carolina. About 1790 the family again journeyed westward, staying at Fort Nashboro (present-day Nashville) until about 1798, when they moved near Nelsonville in Williamson County. Cannon had limited formal education. After working as a saddler, clerk, and merchant, he became a land surveyor and, using his knowledge to advantage, acquired large holdings and established a plantation on the Big Harpeth River in Williamson County....