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Sam Houston. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-110029).

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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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Johnson, Herschel Vespasian (18 September 1812–16 August 1880), Georgia governor, U.S. and Confederate senator, and vice presidential candidate, was born in Burke County, Georgia, the son of Moses Johnson, a planter, and Nancy Palmer. He studied at local schools before entering Monaghan Academy near Warrenton at fourteen. Attending the University of Georgia, he became a friend of ...

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Robert M. La Follette Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G3999-0089-A).

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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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Edmund S. Muskie. Campaign poster, 1968. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-106838).

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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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Russell, Richard Brevard, Jr. (02 November 1897–21 January 1971), senator and political leader, was born in Winder, Georgia, the son of Richard Brevard Russell, a lawyer and judge, and Blandina Dillard. Russell was educated at Gordon Military Institute and at the University of Georgia, where he received a law degree in 1918. After serving only about two months in the navy at the end of World War I in late 1918, he returned to practice law with his father in Winder....

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Strom Thurmond. At the States' Rights Convention following his nomination for the presidency of the United States, Birmingham, Alabama, 17 July 1948. Courtesy of AP Images.

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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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Worthington, Thomas (16 July 1773–20 June 1827), entrepreneur, politician, and U.S. senator, was born near Charlestown, Berkeley County, Virginia (now Jefferson County, W.Va.), the son of Robert Worthington, a prominent planter, and Margaret Matthews, from Frederickton, Maryland, who was of Irish background. Orphaned by the age of seven, he received little formal education and in May 1791 went to sea for two years. On his return he farmed the Berkeley County estate, took up surveying, and bought up Virginia military land warrants that he located near Chillicothe in the Northwest Territory. In December 1796 he married Eleanor Van Swearingen of Shepherdstown, Virginia, herself an orphan with a rich property. The couple had ten children. In spring 1798 Worthington freed his slaves and moved his family to Chillicothe; they were joined by his brother-in-law and lifelong political ally, ...