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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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Adams, Samuel (27 September 1722–02 October 1803), revolutionary politician, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Massachusetts governor, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Adams and Mary Fifield. Of the twelve children born to the couple, he was one of only three who survived their parents. The elder Samuel Adams was a prosperous investor in real estate and other ventures, including the ill-fated land bank of 1740–1741, and the owner of a brewery. He also held several public offices—Boston selectman, justice of the peace, and member of the provincial assembly....

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Adams, Sherman Llewelyn (08 January 1899–27 October 1986), public servant, was born in East Dover, Vermont, the son of Clyde H. Adams, a grocer, and Winnie Marion Sherman. Through his father he was descended from a collateral branch of the famous Quincy Adams clan. In 1901 the family moved to Providence, Rhode Island, but Adams’s parents divorced soon thereafter. In 1916 Adams enrolled at Dartmouth College. His academic record there was solid, but he was best remembered for the gusto with which he threw himself into extracurricular activities. For Adams, physical fitness was practically a religion....

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Alcorn, James Lusk (04 November 1816–20 December 1894), governor of Mississippi and U.S. senator, was born in Golconda, Illinois, the son of James Alcorn and Hannah (maiden name unknown). Soon after his birth, Alcorn’s family moved to Salem, Kentucky, where his father farmed and served as a boatman on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. In 1836 Alcorn briefly attended Cumberland College in Princeton, Kentucky. He tried teaching in Jackson, Arkansas, but soon returned to Livingston County, Kentucky, to serve as deputy sheriff under his uncle. Alcorn also studied law and in 1838 was admitted to the Kentucky bar. In the same year he married Mary Catherine Stewart; they had four children....

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Allen, Henry Justin (11 September 1869–17 January 1950), politician and newspaper editor, was born in Pittsfield, Pennsylvania, the son of John Allen, a farmer, and Rebecca Goodwin. In 1870 the Allens settled on a farm in Clay County, Kansas, which they lost in 1879. The family relocated in Osage County, Kansas, where Allen graduated from Burlingame High School. Working as a barber to attend Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas, he excelled at forensics, which led to his first newspaper job and forecast his later stature as one of America’s most popular public speakers. While at Baker, he met Elsie Jane Nuzman, and they were married in 1892. Only one of their four children survived to adulthood....

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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, Adelbert (31 October 1835–13 April 1933), soldier and politician, was born in Rockland, Maine, the son of Jesse Ames, a sea captain, and Martha B. Tolman. After spending some time at sea as a teenager, Ames entered the U.S. Military Academy, graduating in 1861. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the Fifth Artillery. During the Civil War he was wounded at First Bull Run (First Manassas) on 21 July, and he later received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism there in refusing to leave his post despite the wound. He served with the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula campaign of 1862, and for his actions at Malvern Hill he was brevetted lieutenant colonel. On 8 August 1862 he was named colonel in command of the Twentieth Maine Volunteer Infantry, with ...

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Baldwin, Roger Sherman (04 January 1793–19 February 1863), lawyer, governor, and senator, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Simeon Baldwin, a lawyer, judge, congressman, and mayor of New Haven, and Rebecca Sherman. Baldwin was a direct descendant of the Puritan settlers of Connecticut and the Founding Fathers of the nation. His father’s family was among the original New Haven colonists, and his mother was the daughter of ...

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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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Barnett, Ross Robert (22 January 1898–06 November 1987), governor of Mississippi, was born on a farm in the Standing Pine community of Leake County in central Mississippi, the son of Virginia Ann Chadwick and John William Barnett, a Confederate veteran, farmer, and part owner of a cotton gin. He worked his way as a barber through high school and Mississippi College, from which he graduated in 1922. He taught high school for two years in Pontotoc before studying law. After receiving a law degree from the University of Mississippi in 1926, he practiced law in Jackson and gained a reputation for his success in civil damage suits. In 1929 he married Mary Pearl Crawford; they had three children....

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Bingham, Hiram (19 November 1875–06 June 1956), explorer, was born Hiram Bingham III in Honolulu, Hawaii, the son of Hiram Bingham (1831–1908) and Clarissa Minerva Brewster, missionaries. Bingham’s family assumed he would constitute the third generation of missionary service to the natives of the south Pacific and constantly pressured him to live the godly life. His few efforts as a missionary literally made him sick, and he seems to have had little interest in the salvation of the natives. Bingham (he appears to have dropped the III about the time his father died) instead sublimated the family’s missionary zeal into a broad variety of interests....

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Blackburn, Luke Pryor (16 June 1816–14 September 1887), physician and governor of Kentucky, was born in Woodford County, Kentucky, the son of Edward Blackburn and Lavinia Bell, farmers. He graduated from Transylvania University’s medical department in 1835, married Ella Gist Boswell of Lexington a few months later, and practiced medicine in Woodford and adjoining counties....

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Blaine, John James (04 May 1875–16 April 1934), governor of Wisconsin and U.S. senator, was born near Castle Rock, in Grant County, Wisconsin, the son of James Ferguson Blaine and Elizabeth Johnson-Brunstad, farmers. Blaine attended Valparaiso University, from which he received a law degree in 1896. He began a law practice in Boscobel, Wisconsin, immediately after graduation. He married Anna C. McSpaden in 1904; they had one daughter....

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Blease, Coleman Livingston (08 October 1868–19 January 1942), governor of South Carolina and U.S. senator, was born near Newberry Courthouse, South Carolina, the son of Henry Horatio Blease, a farmer who later became a hotel and livery stable owner, and Mary Ann Livingston. Cole, or “Coley,” lived with his large family in the conviviality of their popular Newberry hotel, which nurtured his gregarious personality and prepared him for a career in popular politics. In 1879 he entered Newberry Academy (later College), where he eventually completed the junior year of the school’s collegiate curriculum. In 1887 he enrolled at the law school of South Carolina College but was soon expelled for plagiarism. In 1888 he ran for the state legislature, mounting a campaign that featured white supremacist and anticorporate harangues, but he received little support at the Democratic county convention. Following his defeat, he attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he earned a bachelor of laws degree in 1889, and later that year he began practicing law in Newberry and Saluda, South Carolina. In 1890 he married Lillie B. Summers, who died in 1934. They had no children....

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Bricker, John William (06 September 1893–22 March 1986), governor and U.S. senator, was born in Madison County, Ohio, the son of Lemuel Spencer Bricker and Laura King, farmers. Bricker graduated from Ohio State University in 1916, and when a slow heartbeat disqualified him from military service during World War I, he was ordained as a minister so he could serve as an army chaplain. He received his law degree from Ohio State and began practicing law in Columbus, Ohio, in 1920, the same year he married Harriet Day. They had one child....

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Bridges, Styles (09 September 1898–26 November 1961), governor of New Hampshire and U.S. senator, was born Henry Styles Bridges in West Pembroke, Maine, the son of Earl Leopold Bridges, a tenant farmer, and Alina Roxana Fisher. After his father’s early death, Bridges bore heavy responsibilities on the farm, even while attending school. Upon graduation with a degree in agriculture from the University of Maine in 1918, he worked as an agricultural agent until 1922, when he became executive secretary of the New Hampshire Farm Bureau Federation. Later in the 1920s, while serving as secretary of a New Hampshire investment company, he became a protégé of former governor ...

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Briggs, Ansel (03 February 1806–05 May 1881), pioneer and first governor of Iowa, was born in Shoreham (Addison County), Vermont, the son of Benjamin Ingley Briggs, a farmer, and Electa Trippman Briggs. His biographer reports that he received a “fair education in the common schools” in Vermont, supplemented by a term at the Norwich Academy. In the early 1820s his family moved to Guernsey County, Ohio, where they farmed; young Briggs took an interest in the stagecoach business and hauled freight in the area. Sometime between 1825 and 1828 Benjamin Briggs died in an accident while driving a wagon loaded with salt. The family then moved to Cambridge, a town in Guernsey County, where Ansel Briggs became head of the household....

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Brown, Benjamin Gratz (28 May 1826–13 December 1885), U.S. senator and governor of Missouri, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the son of Mason Brown, a lawyer, and Judith Bledsoe. He was educated at Transylvania and Yale Universities, graduating from the latter in 1847. He then earned a degree from Louisville Law School. Upon being admitted to the bar in the fall of 1849, he moved to St. Louis to join his cousins ...

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Burnside, Ambrose Everett (23 May 1824–13 September 1881), soldier and businessman, was born in Liberty, Indiana, the son of Pamelia Brown and Edghill Burnside, a law clerk and farmer. The Burnsides had nine children and only a modest income, so Ambrose received no more than a rudimentary education before starting work as an apprentice tailor in 1840. His father took advantage of a term in the state legislature to have the boy appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, which he entered on 1 July 1843. He graduated eighteenth out of thirty-eight cadets in the class of 1847 and was commissioned second lieutenant in the Third U.S. Artillery. His battery was serving in the Mexican War, and he joined it in Mexico City, too late to see action. Bored, he gambled away six months’ pay. Further embarrassment was prevented by a posting, in spring 1848, to Fort Adams, Rhode Island....

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Butler, Benjamin Franklin (05 November 1818–11 January 1893), governor of Massachusetts and Civil War general, was born in Deerfield, New Hampshire, the son of John Butler, a seaman, and Charlotte Ellison, both of Scots-Irish descent. John Butler died while his son was still an infant, and in 1828 Charlotte moved to Lowell, Massachusetts, to keep a boardinghouse for female factory workers. Butler was educated at Waterville (now Colby) College, which he attended from 1834 to 1838. He studied law while clerking for the Lowell attorney William Smith and was admitted to the bar in 1840. In 1844 he married the actress Sarah Hildreth, with whom he had four children, three of whom survived to adulthood....