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Bryan, William Jennings (19 March 1860–26 July 1925), Democratic party leader, was born in Salem, Illinois, the son of Silas Bryan, a lawyer and judge, and Mariah Jennings. Bryan received strong values from his parents. His father was a Baptist, and his mother was a Methodist; church took a central place in the family’s life. William, at age fourteen, avoided choosing between his parents’ churches by becoming a Presbyterian during a revival meeting. Although he was a devout and active Presbyterian throughout his life, he felt comfortable worshiping with any of the major Protestant denominations. Silas Bryan was also a staunch Jacksonian Democrat, and William enthusiastically embraced his father’s party....

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Cass, Lewis (09 October 1782–17 June 1866), political leader and presidential candidate, was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, the oldest child of Jonathan Cass, a skilled craftsman, revolutionary war veteran, soldier, and landowner, and Mary Gilman, daughter of a wealthy merchant. Both parents’ families had emigrated to New England in the seventeenth century. Cass was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy between 1792 and 1799, briefly taught school in Delaware, and then moved to Marietta in the Ohio territory, where his family had gone while his father served in the army on the frontier. Cass studied law in a local law office and established a practice in Zanesville, Ohio, where he married Elizabeth Spencer, a doctor’s daughter, in 1806. The family grew to include four daughters and one son....

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Crawford, William Harris (24 February 1772–15 September 1834), U.S. senator, cabinet member, and presidential candidate, was born in Amherst County, Virginia, the son of Joel Crawford and Fanny Harris, farmers. In 1779 financial reverses led the Crawfords to move to the Edgefield District of South Carolina and four years later to Kiokee Creek, near Appling, Georgia. Joel Crawford valued education, and his children attended the field schools that served families in rural areas. After Joel’s death in 1788, young William Harris helped out on the farm while teaching at the field school he had recently attended. In 1794, at the age of twenty-two, Crawford enrolled for two years in ...

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Davis, John William (13 April 1873–24 March 1955), lawyer and Democratic presidential candidate, was born in Clarksburg, West Virginia, the son of John James Davis, a prominent attorney, Presbyterian elder, and former congressman, and Anna Kennedy. Davis earned both the A.B. (1892) and LL.B. (1895) at Washington and Lee University, where he also taught law for one year. In June 1899 he married Julia McDonald of Charles Town. Fourteen months later she died after giving birth to a daughter, who survived. In 1912 he married Ellen Graham Bassel of Clarksburg; they had no children....

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Debs, Eugene Victor (05 November 1855–20 October 1926), labor organizer and presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America, was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, the son of Marguerite Bettrich and Daniel Debs, Alsatian immigrants and retail grocers. Following the completion of ninth grade, Debs left school to work as a paint scraper on the Terre Haute and Vandalia Railroad. Within a year he rose to locomotive fireman but was laid off in the sustained economic depression of the mid-1870s. Searching for work in St. Louis in 1874, he encountered extensive urban poverty for the first time....

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Dewey, Thomas Edmund (24 March 1902–16 March 1971), prosecutor, governor of New York, and presidential candidate, was born in Owosso, Michigan, the son of George Martin Dewey, Jr., a newspaper editor, and Annie Louise Thomas. The Deweys were a Republican family of newspaper editors and publishers. During his youth in Owosso, Thomas showed promise as a baritone, and he studied both music and law at the University of Michigan from 1919 to 1923, graduating with an A.B. In 1923 Dewey moved to New York after winning a summer scholarship for further vocal training, but he also enrolled at Columbia Law School and ultimately decided to abandon music for the law. After graduating with an LL.B. in 1925, he worked at two Wall Street law firms and became active in Republican party politics in Manhattan in the late 1920s. During this time he first encountered ...

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Douglas, Stephen Arnold (23 April 1813–03 June 1861), U.S. senator and presidential candidate, was born in Brandon, Vermont, the son of Stephen Arnold Douglass, a college-educated physician, and Sarah Fisk (he dropped the final “s” in his name in 1846). Following his father’s death, while Stephen was still an infant, he lived with his mother on the farm of a bachelor uncle, who with an outspoken and eccentric grandfather exerted an important influence on the boy. While serving as an apprentice to a Middlebury cabinetmaker, Douglas was captivated by the image of ...

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Frémont, John Charles (21 January 1813–13 July 1890), explorer and presidential candidate, was born in Savannah, Georgia, the son of Jean Charles Fremon, a French émigré teacher, and Anne Beverley Whiting Pryor, a Virginia woman of patrician birth who left her elderly husband in 1811 to run away with Fremon. The couple, who apparently never married, moved frequently, living for a period in Savannah, where Jean Charles gave French and dancing lessons, and Anne took in boarders. In 1818 Jean Charles Fremon died, and the family, which by then included several younger children, eventually settled in Charleston, South Carolina, to a life of genteel poverty. The social and economic insecurity of his situation profoundly influenced Frémont. He grew up an outsider—proud, reserved, cautious in sharing his feelings, skeptical of rules and authority, and eager, at times to the point of recklessness, to prove himself....

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Hancock, Winfield Scott (14 February 1824–09 February 1886), soldier and presidential candidate, was born at Montgomery Square, Pennsylvania, the son of Benjamin Franklin Hancock, a schoolteacher and later a lawyer, and Elizabeth Hoxworth, who named him in honor of Winfield Scott, a military hero of the War of 1812. Raised at Norristown, Pennsylvania, he attended the local academy, where he organized a military company before his appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After graduating in 1844, eighteenth in a class of twenty-five (with fifty-five nongraduates), Hancock was assigned to the Sixth Infantry. He barely arrived in time for the last month of fighting in the Mexican War, winning brevet promotion to first lieutenant. While stationed at St. Louis, in 1850 he married Almira Russell; they had two children....

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Kennedy, Robert Francis (20 November 1925–06 June 1968), politician, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph Patrick Kennedy, a capitalist, and Rose Fitzgerald. His father Joseph made a fortune in the stock market and through other investments and served from 1938 to 1940 as U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. The seventh of nine children, Robert, known as “Bobby,” graduated from Milton Academy in 1943. In March 1944 he enrolled in the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, leaving it in February 1946 to become an apprentice seaman aboard the destroyer USS ...

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La Follette, Robert Marion (14 June 1855–18 June 1925), Wisconsin governor, U.S. congressman, and Progressive presidential candidate, was born in Primrose, Wisconsin, the son of Josiah La Follette and Mary Ferguson Buchanan, farmers. Only eight months old when his father died, La Follette throughout his life sought to measure up to an idealized image of the father he never knew. He was seven when his mother married John Z. Saxton, a stern, elderly merchant and Baptist deacon....

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Landon, Alfred Mossman (09 September 1887–12 October 1987), governor of Kansas and Republican presidential nominee, known as Alf, was born in West Middlesex, Pennsylvania, the son of John M. Landon, an oil and natural gas executive, and Anne Mossman. Landon received a law degree from the University of Kansas in 1908. In 1915 he married Margaret Fleming, who died in 1918. They had a daughter. Landon married Theo Cobb in 1930, and they had a son and a daughter, Nancy Landon Kassebaum, who was elected to the U.S. Senate from Kansas in 1978....

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Lemke, William Frederick (13 August 1878–30 May 1950), agrarian leader, congressman, and presidential candidate, was born in Albany, Minnesota, and raised in Towner County, North Dakota, the son of Fred Lemke and Julia Anna Klier, pioneer farmers who were successful enough to accumulate some 2,700 acres of land. The young Lemke worked long hours on the family farm, attending a common school for only three months in the summers. The family did, however, reserve enough money to send William to the University of North Dakota, where he was a superior student. Graduating in 1902, he stayed at the state university for the first year of law school but moved to Georgetown University, then to Yale, where he finished work on his law degree and won the praise of the dean....

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McClellan, George B. (03 December 1826–29 October 1885), general and presidential candidate, was born George Brinton McClellan in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of George McClellan, a physician, and Elizabeth Steinmetz Brinton. After two years at the University of Pennsylvania, he entered the U.S. Military Academy at age fifteen. Four years later he graduated second in the class of 1846....

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Seymour, Horatio (31 May 1810–12 February 1886), presidential candidate and governor of New York, was born in Pompey Hill, near Syracuse, New York, the oldest son of Henry Seymour, a storekeeper, entrepreneur, and political activist, and Mary L. Forman, the daughter of a prominent Madison County landowner. Seymour was educated in several local academies and then studied law in Utica, where the family had moved. Admitted to the bar in 1832, he moved in 1833 to Albany. He immediately became involved in state Democratic politics, drawing particularly close to ...

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Smith, Alfred E. (30 December 1873–04 October 1944), politician, was born Alfred Emanuel Smith in New York City, the son of a truckman and Union army veteran who passed his full name to his son and Catherine Mulvehill, a factory worker and shopkeeper. In his political career “Al” Smith, as he was commonly known, was to be the symbolic spokesman of the nation’s city dwellers of stock that Anglo-Americans have considered immigrant. For this role he had, most clearly on his mother’s side, an appropriate ancestry; she was the daughter of Irish immigrants. The noncommittal but normally English “Smith” obscures his father’s European origins, about which little is known. One scholar suggests Italian forebears. Enemies of Al Smith, probably trying to sever him from the Irish, spread rumors that the father had changed his name from “Schmidt.” Al Smith, at any rate, is remembered as Irish American and a product of New York City’s multiethnic culture....

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Stassen, Harold (13 April 1907–04 March 2001), governor and presidential candidate, was born Harold Edward Stassen in Dakota County, Minnesota, a rural area near Saint Paul, the son of William A. and Elsie Mueller Stassen, farmers. His father was the son of Norwegian and Czech immigrants; his mother's parents had emigrated from Germany. The fourth of five children, Harold worked on the family farm throughout his childhood while also excelling at his studies, and he graduated from Humboldt High School in Saint Paul in 1922. He was forced to delay going to college for a year in order to reach the mandatory minimal age required for enrollment by the University of Minnesota....

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Stevenson, Adlai Ewing, II (05 February 1900–14 July 1965), governor, diplomat, and two-time candidate for president, was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of Lewis Green Stevenson, a businessman, and Helen Louise Davis. He was named after his grandfather, Adlai Ewing Stevenson...

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Thurmond, J. Strom (05 December 1902–26 June 2003), governor, U.S. senator, and presidential candidate, was born James Strom Thurmond in Edgefield, South Carolina, the son of John William Thurmond, lawyer and politician, and Eleanor Gertrude Strom Thurmond. Thurmond grew up in relative affluence on his father's farm and attended local schools before entering Clemson College (now University), from which he graduated with a bachelor's degree in horticulture in 1923. During the next six years Thurmond taught agriculture and coached athletics at several high schools near his hometown. In 1925 he traveled to Florida to invest in real estate; that year a young African American woman, Carrie Butler, gave birth to his first child, a daughter named Essie Mae. The child was soon placed with Butler's relatives in Coatesville, Pennsylvania; the identity of her father remained a closely guarded secret until after Thurmond's death....

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Tilden, Samuel Jones (09 February 1814–04 August 1886), governor of New York and presidential candidate, was born in New Lebanon, New York, the son of Elam Tilden, whose family had emigrated to Massachusetts in the 1630s, and Polly Jones, the stepdaughter of a local doctor. Tilden’s father, who was first a farmer, then a storekeeper, was an active Democratic party worker and longtime friend of ...