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Barry, William Taylor (05 February 1784–30 August 1835), politician, jurist, and postmaster general, was born in Lunenburg County, Virginia, the son of John Barry, a revolutionary war veteran and farmer, and Susannah Dozier. The family moved to Kentucky, apparently in 1796, and settled in Fayette County. Following a course of study in law at William and Mary College, Barry was admitted to the Kentucky bar and set up practice in Lexington in 1805. That same year he married Lucy Waller Overton, with whom he would have two children before her premature death....

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Edward Bates. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-B8172-1741).

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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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Brown, Walter Folger (31 May 1869–26 January 1961), lawyer, politician, and government official, was born in Massillon, Ohio, the son of James Marshall Brown, a lawyer, and Lavinia Folger. Reared in comfortable circumstances, Brown graduated from Western Reserve Academy in 1888 and Harvard University in 1892, worked briefly for the ...

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Blanche Kelso Bruce. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-2781).

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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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Calhoun, John (14 October 1806–13 October 1859), politician and territorial officeholder, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Andrew Calhoun, a successful merchant, and Martha Chamberlain. He spent his youth on a farm in Montgomery County, New York, to which his family had moved following his father’s retirement. After completing his studies at Canajoharie Academy, Calhoun turned to the study of law. Restless and looking for opportunity, he left home and family in 1830 and settled in Springfield, Illinois, where he continued his law study and taught school. He married Sarah Cutter the following year; they had nine children, seven of whom grew to adulthood....

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Cameron, Don (14 May 1833–30 August 1918), U.S. senator and political boss, was born James Donald Cameron in Middletown, Pennsylvania, the son of Simon Cameron, a politician and businessman, and Margaret Brua. After graduating from Princeton in 1852, Cameron worked as a clerk in the Bank of Middletown, established by his father, soon rising to the post of cashier and then president. As a result of his father’s mounting political ambitions, Don Cameron also took charge of the Northern Central Railroad, the so-called Cameron Road, serving as president of the company from 1863 until its absorption by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1874....

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Catron, Thomas Benton (06 October 1840–15 May 1921), U.S. senator and New Mexico territorial politician, was born near Lexington, Missouri, the son of John Catron and Mary Fletcher, farmers. Thomas Catron graduated from the University of Missouri in July 1860 and had just begun to read law when the Civil War broke out. Two months after Fort Sumter, he joined a Confederate infantry brigade that experienced frequent action throughout the war, including participation in the battle of Vicksburg....

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Salmon P. Chase. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-B8172-1747).

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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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Chipman, Nathaniel (15 November 1752–15 February 1843), jurist, U.S. senator, and conservative political leader, was born in Salisbury, Connecticut, the son of Samuel Chipman, a blacksmith and farmer, and Hannah Austin. Chipman entered Yale University in 1773. He joined the Continental army as an ensign during his senior year, in spring 1777, receiving his degree in absentia. Chipman was promoted to lieutenant during the winter at Valley Forge and was present at the battle of Monmouth in June 1778. In October Chipman resigned his commission to study law, complaining that an officer’s salary was insufficient to “support the character of a gentleman” (Chipman, p. 32). One of the first graduates of ...

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Howell Cobb. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-110081).

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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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Creighton, William (29 October 1778–01 October 1851), congressman and political leader in early Ohio, was born in Berkeley County, Virginia (now W.Va.), the son of William Creighton (his mother’s identity is unknown). Creighton graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1795, studied law in Martinsburg, Virginia (now W.Va.), and migrated to the Scioto Valley in the Northwest Territory in 1799. There he built a reputation as a lawyer and as a caustic opponent of popular rule in general and the territorial government in particular. Creighton was more interested in the economic development of the Scioto Valley than in social equality or political democracy; not surprisingly, this conservative Jeffersonian Republican became a stalwart Whig....

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Robert Carlos DeLarge. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98796).

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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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Dingley, Nelson, Jr. (15 February 1832–14 January 1899), politician and congressman, was born in Durham, Maine, the son of Nelson Dingley, a farmer, owner of a general store, and tavern keeper, and Jane Lambert. Dingley went to schools in Parkman and Unity, Maine, read avidly, and took an intense interest in politics. He started a diary when he was in his early teens and added regular entries until he became fatally ill. He spent several years at Waterville Academy and continued on at Waterville College (now Colby) until 1853, when he left in a dispute with the faculty. He finished his undergraduate work at Dartmouth College, graduating with the class of 1855. He studied law and was admitted to the bar. Dingley married Salome McKenney in 1857; they had five children....

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Elliott, Robert Brown (11 August 1842–09 August 1884), Reconstruction politician and congressman, was born probably in Liverpool, England, of unknown West Indian parents. Elliott’s early life is shrouded in mystery, largely because of his own false claims, but apparently he did receive an English public school education (but not at Eton as he claimed) and was trained as a typesetter. It is likely also that in 1866 or 1867, while on duty with the Royal Navy, he decided to seek his fortune in America and jumped ship in Boston harbor, without, however, taking out citizenship papers. All that is known for certain is that by March 1867 Elliott was associate editor of the ...

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Hitchcock, Frank Harris (05 October 1867–05 August 1935), politician and postmaster general, was born in Amherst, Ohio, the son of Henry Chapman Hitchcock, a Congregational clergyman, and Mary Laurette Harris. He attended public school in Boston and entered Harvard in 1887. Interested in politics and sports, he participated in collegiate boxing matches and was a Republican precinct committeeman in Boston. After graduation in 1891, he began a career in public service, holding several minor jobs in Washington, D.C., including that of a biologist in the Department of Agriculture. During this time he studied at the Columbian law school (now George Washington University), where he earned an LL.B. degree in 1894 and the LL.M. in 1895. He was admitted to the District of Columbia bar in 1894. In 1897 he was made chief of the Agriculture Department’s Division of Foreign Markets....