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Baker, Howard Henry, Jr. (15 Nov. 1925–26 June 2014), politician and diplomat, was born in Huntsville, Tennessee, to Howard Henry Baker, Sr., a lawyer and politician who subsequently served in the US House of Representatives (1951–1964), and Dora Ladd Baker. The Baker family were staunch Presbyterians, members of the Republican Party since the Civil War, and longtime defenders of civil rights for the minority African American population. Young Baker’s paternal grandfather was a prominent judge, and his maternal grandmother was the first female sheriff in Tennessee....

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Bates, Edward (04 September 1793–25 March 1869), political leader and attorney general of the United States, was born in Goochland County, Virginia, the son of Thomas Fleming Bates, a planter and merchant, and Caroline Matilda Woodson. A Quaker, Thomas Bates was read out of meeting when he enlisted to fight in the Revolution, from which he emerged deeply in debt. Edward nevertheless grew up surrounded by slaves. After his father died in 1805, Edward received a good education at the home of his cousin Benjamin Bates in Hanover, Maryland, and then at Charlotte Hall Academy in St. Marys County, Maryland....

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Bruce, Blanche Kelso (01 March 1841–17 March 1898), black political leader and U.S. senator during the Reconstruction era, was born in Farmville, Virginia, the son of Polly (surname unknown), a slave. The identity of his father is unknown, but he took the surname of the man who owned his mother before he was born. His childhood as a slave on a small plantation, first in Virginia, then briefly in Mississippi, and finally in Missouri did not significantly differ, as he later recalled, from that of the sons of whites. This relatively benign experience in slavery perhaps owed a great deal to the fact that he was a light-skinned mulatto and the favorite of a benevolent master and mistress. He shared a tutor with his master’s son and thus obtained the education that prepared him for later success. During the Civil War, despite the benevolence of his owner, he fled to freedom in Kansas, but after slavery was abolished he returned to Missouri where he reportedly established the first school in the state for blacks, at Hannibal....

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Chase, Salmon Portland (13 January 1808–07 May 1873), statesman, antislavery leader, and chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was born in Cornish, New Hampshire, the son of Ithamar Chase, a glassmaker and tavernkeeper, and Janette Ralston. When Chase was nine years old, his father died. To ease the financial burden on his mother, Chase, the eighth of eleven children, moved to Ohio and lived with his uncle ...

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Cobb, Howell (07 September 1815–09 October 1868), lawyer and politician, was born at Cherry Hill in Jefferson County, Georgia, the son of John Addison Cobb, a planter, and Sarah Robinson (Rootes). Enrolling in Franklin College (now the University of Georgia) in Athens, Georgia, in 1829, he graduated in 1834. His college years were marked by his expulsion from school after participating in a riot to protest disciplinary action by the faculty for a minor infraction of leaving campus without permission; he was later readmitted. At the same time, they saw him first show signs of his strong Unionism, for he opposed the nullification movement in South Carolina. On 26 May 1835 he married Mary Ann Lamar; the couple had six children. With marriage Cobb acquired his wife’s sizable estate, including several cotton plantations and some 200 slaves....

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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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DeLarge, Robert Carlos (15 March 1842–14 February 1874), politician, was born in Aiken, South Carolina. His father was a free black tailor, and his mother was a cloak maker of Haitian descent; their names are unknown. Though several records claim that DeLarge was born into slavery, it is more likely that his parents were free blacks who owned slaves. This peculiar and paradoxical designation surely inspired the dual sensibilities that later characterized his political and social life as both an advocate for universal black enfranchisement and a member of South Carolina’s propertied, often exclusionist, mulatto elite. Fortunate to receive the benefits of the prewar education available to free black children, DeLarge attended primary school in North Carolina and Wood High School in Charleston. For a short time he was employed as a tailor and farmer, and some sources indicate that he was also a part-time barber. During the Civil War, he amassed some money as an employee of the Confederate navy, a curious affiliation in light of his Republican activities during Reconstruction. He later donated most of his Civil War earnings to the state Republican party. By the time he became active in Reconstruction politics, DeLarge was a citizen of considerable standing in Charleston, as indicated both by his net worth of $6,650 in the 1870 census and his membership in the Brown Fellowship Society, a fraternal and charitable association founded in 1870 that admitted only mulattoes....

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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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Houston, Sam (02 March 1793–26 July 1863), president of the Republic of Texas and U.S. senator, was born Samuel Houston in Rockbridge County, Virginia, the son of Samuel Houston and Elizabeth Paxton, well-to-do planters of Scotch-Irish descent. Houston’s father died in 1806, and he moved with his mother and eight siblings to Blount County, Tennessee, in 1807....

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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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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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Muskie, Edmund S. (28 March 1914–26 March 1996), governor, U. S. senator, and secretary of state, was born Edmund Sixtus Muskie in Rumford, Maine, the son of Stephen Muskie, a tailor, and Josephine Czarnecki Muskie. The spelling of his immigrant father's surname, Marciszewski, had been distorted by an official at Ellis Island, and the new version was eventually adopted by the family. Quiet and studious as a boy, Muskie grew up in relative poverty and often felt isolated as a member of one of the few immigrant families in the area. He attended local schools before entering Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, from which he graduated cum laude with a B.A. in 1936. Awarded a scholarship for law school, Muskie received his LL.B. from Cornell in 1939 and gained admittance to the bar in both Massachusetts (1939) and Maine (1940)....

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Percy, Charles Hartung (27 Sept. 1919–17 Sept. 2011), business executive and politician, was born in Pensacola, Florida, to Edward H. Percy, a bank cashier with distinguished family roots in Alabama and Virginia, and Elizabeth Harting Percy, a concert violinist from Illinois. During young Percy’s infancy the family moved to Chicago, where two more children were born. The Percys led a comfortable life in the 1920s, providing their children with music lessons and other middle-class amenities. By ...

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Rainey, Joseph Hayne (21 June 1832–02 August 1887), politician, was born a slave in Georgetown, South Carolina, the son of Edward L. Rainey and Gracia C. (maiden name unknown). The elder Rainey purchased his family’s freedom and moved with them in about 1846 (the exact date is unknown) to Charleston where he was employed as a barber at the exclusive Mills House hotel. He prospered and purchased two male slaves in the 1850s. Joseph Rainey received a modest education and was trained by his father as a barber. In 1859 he traveled to Philadelphia and married Susan E. (maiden name unknown). As a result of the intervention of several friends, the couple managed to circumvent the state prohibition against free people of color entering or returning to South Carolina, and they moved to Charleston. After the Civil War began, Rainey was conscripted to serve as a steward on a Confederate blockade runner. He was later compelled to work in the construction of Confederate fortifications around Charleston. He escaped with his wife to Bermuda on a blockade runner. They settled first in St. George and then in Hamilton. He resumed barbering, and his wife worked as a dressmaker. They returned to Charleston in 1865, shortly after the war ended....

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Rutledge, John (1739–18 July 1800), lawyer and statesman, was born in or near Charleston, South Carolina, the son of John Rutledge, a physician, and Sarah Hext, a wealthy heiress who was only fifteen years old at Rutledge’s birth. His early education was in Charleston, where he read law with one of the leading members of the Charleston bar, James Parsons, before being enrolled in the Middle Temple in London on 11 October 1754. Admitted to the English bar on 9 February 1760, he soon returned to South Carolina. The voters of Christ Church parish promptly elected him to the Commons House of Assembly in 1761, and he continued to represent that area in the local legislature for the remainder of the colonial period. During his first term the house was embroiled in the “Gadsden election controversy” with the royal governor over its right to judge the qualifications of its own members. Rutledge became chairman of the committee on privileges and elections, which vigorously upheld the powers of the representatives of the people. Meanwhile, his private practice as an attorney was flourishing, and he soon became one of the two or three best-paid lawyers in the province. He also operated several plantations and acquired at least 30,000 acres in various grants. These activities may help to explain why his committee work in the Commons House usually put him in the second, rather than the first, rank of leaders. Nevertheless, his colleagues chose him for important assignments. In 1765 the Commons House sent him and two others to the Stamp Act Congress in New York, where Rutledge served as chairman of the committee that drew up a memorial to the House of Lords protesting taxation of Americans by Parliament. In 1763 he married Elizabeth Grimké; they had ten children....

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Shriver, Sargent (09 November 1915–18 January 2011), federal official and vice presidential candidate, was born Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr., in Westminster, Maryland, to Robert Sargent Shriver, Sr., a banker, and Hilda Shriver. His parents were second cousins. On her mother’s side, Hilda Shriver was descended from one of the founding Catholic families of Maryland; for his part, her husband converted to Catholicism upon their marriage. The couple went on to establish several Catholic organizations, and they were among the founders of ...

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Spinola, Francis Barretto (19 March 1821–14 April 1891), politician and congressman, was born in Stony Brook, Long Island, New York. His parents’ background is obscure, although his mother’s family, of Irish descent, were prominent in the American revolutionary cause. At age ten he attended Quaker Hill Academy in Dutchess County. Six years later he became a jeweler’s apprentice in Brooklyn, then briefly a blacksmith, grocer, and carpenter. He also studied law and by 1844 was practicing in Brooklyn. But his life’s work as an assiduous and faithful partisan activist had already begun. He started out a Whig but later joined the Democratic party. After serving in the Brooklyn city clerk’s office in the early 1840s, he became an alderman on the Brooklyn Common Council in 1846, then was elected supervisor. In 1853 he entered the New York State legislature, serving first in the assembly and then in the state senate for four years from 1858. In these years he was clearly identified as a loyal follower of Augustus Schell and ...

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Thurman, Allen Granberry (13 November 1813–12 December 1895), U.S. senator and vice presidential candidate, was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, the son of Pleasant Thurman, a teacher and minister, and Mary Granberry Allen, a teacher. In 1815 the family freed its slaves and moved to Chillicothe, Ohio, where Thurman spent his boyhood. His chief formal education took place under the supervision of his mother at her academy in Chillicothe. Thurman later read law under the tutelage of his uncle ...

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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....