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John Adams. After a painting by Gilbert Stuart. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-13002 DLC).

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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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John Quincy Adams. From a painting by George Peter Alexander Healy. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117119 DLC).

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Adams, John Quincy (11 July 1767–23 February 1848), secretary of state, sixth president of the United States, and U.S. congressman, was born in Braintree, Massachusetts, the son of John Adams (1735–1826), second president of the United States, and Abigail Smith Adams (Abigail Adams...

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Chester A. Arthur Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-3976 DLC).

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Arthur, Chester Alan (05 October 1829–18 November 1886), twenty-first president of the United States, was born in Fairfield, Vermont, of Irish and English descent, the son of William Arthur, a teacher and Baptist minister, and Malvina Stone. During his youth he and his family experienced considerable economic insecurity. Still, “Chet,” as friends called him, was given a solid classical education, and he graduated from Union College in Schenectady, New York, in 1848. At eighteen, Arthur was a tall, good-looking, charming, somewhat romantic young man who enjoyed debating and writing and who shared his father’s abolitionist beliefs....

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James Buchanan. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-BH82101-6628 DLC).

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Buchanan, James (23 April 1791–01 June 1868), fifteenth president of the United States, was born near Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, the son of James Buchanan, a storekeeper, and Elizabeth Speer. He was educated at a local academy and then at Dickinson College, where he graduated in 1809. He then studied law in Lancaster and was admitted to the bar in 1812. He prospered in his profession and through shrewd investments acquired considerable wealth. In 1819, for obscure reasons, his fiancée broke off their engagement, and when she died shortly thereafter, he vowed never to marry. Though he subsequently carried on many flirtations, he remained a bachelor throughout his life. Henceforth, he found his deepest friendships in the world of politics, while his family interests increasingly centered on his many nephews and nieces....

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Grover Cleveland. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-91490 DLC).

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Cleveland, Grover (18 March 1837–24 June 1908), twenty-second and twenty-fourth president of the United States, was born Stephen Grover Cleveland in Caldwell, New Jersey, the son of Richard Falley Cleveland, a Presbyterian minister, and Ann Neal. The fifth of nine children, Grover Cleveland grew up in the household of an itinerant clergyman whose profession called him to Fayetteville, New York, in 1841 and to Clinton, New York, in 1850. He attended the local academy in both communities until the death of his father in 1853 impelled him to abandon schooling in order to help support his mother and his younger sisters, who then resided in Holland Patent, New York. After spending a year as assistant teacher at the New York Institution for the Blind, young Cleveland set out for the West in 1855 but got no farther than Buffalo, where an uncle persuaded him to remain as his assistant registering the pedigrees of Shorthorn cattle. By the end of the year Cleveland had begun reading law in the Buffalo firm of Rogers, Bowen, and Rogers in preparation for a legal career....

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Calvin Coolidge. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-13030 DLC).

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Coolidge, Calvin (04 July 1872–05 January 1933), thirtieth president of the United States, was born John Calvin Coolidge in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, the son of John Calvin Coolidge, a storekeeper and farmer, and Victoria Moor. After graduating from Amherst College in 1895, Coolidge read law in Northampton, Massachusetts. He was admitted to the bar in 1897. In 1905 he married Grace Anna Goodhue ( ...

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Dwight D. Eisenhower. Photograph by Louis Fabian Bachrach. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117123 DLC).

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Eisenhower, Dwight David (14 October 1890–28 March 1969), U.S. Army general and thirty-fourth president of the United States, was born in Denison, Texas, the son of David Jacob Eisenhower and Ida Elizabeth Stover, shopkeepers and laborers. When Eisenhower was a year old, the family moved to Abilene, Kansas. He was a bright, competitive, ambitious, and athletic boy, a bit above average as a student. In 1911 he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In 1915, after graduating in the middle of his class, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry and assigned to Fort Sam Houston, Texas. There he met Marie Geneva “Mamie” Doud ( ...

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Millard Fillmore. Photograph by Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-13013 DLC).

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Fillmore, Millard (07 January 1800–08 March 1874), thirteenth president of the United States, was born in Cayuga County, New York, the son of Nathaniel Fillmore and Phoebe Millard, farmers. Like many tenant farmers on New York’s western frontier, Fillmore’s parents had difficulty earning a decent living, and his childhood was one of hard work, frequent privation, and virtually no formal schooling. When he was apprenticed to a textile mill in his teens, Millard began to educate himself, reading voraciously and attending classes when the mill periodically shut down. A local judge encouraged Fillmore to study law, and by clerking for him and teaching school as well, Fillmore managed to buy out his obligation to the mill. Following his family west, Fillmore continued to read law and teach in Buffalo, and he was admitted to the bar at age twenty-three or twenty-four. He opened a law office in the nearby village of East Aurora, and two years later he married Abigail Powers. The couple had two children....

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Gerald R. Ford. Announcing amnesty for draft evaders at the White House, Washington, D.C., 16 September, 1974. Photograph by Thomas J. O'Halloran. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-DIG-ppmsca-08536).

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Ford, Gerald R., Jr. (14 July 1913–26 December 2006), thirty-eighth president of the United States, was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., in Omaha, Nebraska, to Leslie Lynch King, Sr., and Dorothy Ayer. His mother fled an abusive relationship with his father and relocated to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she met and married Gerald R. Ford, Sr., a paint salesman. Although he was never formally adopted by his stepfather, Leslie took his name—Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. An Eagle Scout and an all-city football star, Ford entered the University of Michigan in 1931. A star center for the Wolverines, Ford was offered a professional contract by both the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions. Instead in 1935 he accepted a position as the boxing coach at Yale University. In 1938 he enrolled in the Yale Law School, graduating in 1941. Ford returned to Grand Rapids, opening a law practice with his friend Philip Buchen, who would later serve as White House counsel. However, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Ford enlisted in the U.S. Navy in April 1942. He served most of the war as lieutenant (jg) on U.S.S. ...

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James A. Garfield. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-13020 DLC).

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Garfield, James Abram (19 November 1831–19 September 1881), twentieth president of the United States, was born in Orange township (now Moreland Hills) in the Western Reserve region of northern Ohio, the son of Abram Garfield and Eliza Ballou, farmers. After his father’s death in 1833, James was brought up amid rural poverty by his strong-willed mother. The hardships of those early years would later provide grist for campaign biographers, including ...