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Nelson W. Aldrich. Drawing by Arthur Dove, published in Success, 1909. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-54138).

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Aldrich, Nelson Wilmarth (06 November 1841–16 April 1915), U.S. senator, congressman, and businessman, was born in Foster, Rhode Island, the son of Anan Aldrich and Abby Burgess, farmers. Having received a modest education in East Killingly, Connecticut, and at the East Greenwich Academy in Rhode Island, Aldrich was by age seventeen working in Providence. Eventually a large wholesale grocery firm, Waldron, Wightman & Co., hired him as a clerk and bookkeeper. His career there was briefly interrupted in 1862 by service with the Tenth Rhode Island Volunteers garrisoning Washington, D.C. After contracting typhoid that same year he returned to Providence and, by 1866, had been elevated to junior partner at Waldron, Wightman. He married Abby Chapman that year; the couple would have eleven children. His wife was of independent means, but Aldrich insisted on accumulating a fortune on his own account and gradually did so. He worked his way up to full partner at Waldron, Wightman, was a director of the Roger Williams Bank by 1872, and by 1877 was president of Providence’s First National Bank. He also headed the city’s Board of Trade in these years....

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William Allen. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109897).

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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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Atherton, Charles Gordon (04 July 1804–15 November 1853), U.S. representative and senator, was born in Amherst, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, the son of Charles Humphrey Atherton, a politician and lawyer, and Mary Ann Toppan. Atherton graduated in 1822 from Harvard College, where he received a classical education, and he then studied law under the tutelage of his father, a former Federalist politician and one of the most distinguished attorneys in the state. The bar admitted Atherton in 1825, and he established practice in Dunstable (now Nashua). He continued to practice law for the rest of his life. He married Ann (Nancy) Barnard Clark in 1828; they had no children....

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Bailey, Joseph Weldon (06 October 1863–13 April 1929), U.S. congressman and senator, was born Joseph Edgar Bailey in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, the son of Joseph B. Bailey, a merchant, and Harriet Dees. As a young adult, he changed his middle name to Weldon. His earliest education came from a local tutor. At age sixteen he studied for one year at the Clinton Academy before matriculating at the University of Mississippi, where he honed his oratorical skills with the Phi Sigma Society. During his study at Oxford, Mississippi, Bailey’s political views emerged, and the young man advocated a return to national prominence for southern Democrats. At this time Bailey adopted a style of dress, which later became his trademark, more commonly associated with the antebellum southern planter class. In 1881 Bailey transferred to Vanderbilt University. Unsatisfied, he transferred again to the University of Virginia in October 1881 and studied law. Bailey’s mercurial temper hastened his departure the following spring, when the faculty prevented his debating society from considering the topic of its choice. Bailey then enrolled in the law school of Cumberland University at Lebanon, Tennessee. By the summer of 1883 Bailey had secured enough credits that he was able to get his law license. He moved to Hazelhurst, Mississippi, and began a practice. He entered local politics but fell into a controversy that resulted in the Copiah County election riot over whether Democrats or Republicans would control local politics. Bailey marched with other armed Democrats in an attempt to intimidate GOP voters. A leading Republican was shot and killed, and a riot ensued. This episode prompted Bailey’s departure for Texas. In 1885 he settled in Gainesville, located near the Red River, and the following year he married Ellen Murray, a woman he had met at the University of Mississippi. The couple had two children....

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Barnwell, Robert Woodward (10 August 1801–25 November 1882), educator, congressman, and U.S. and Confederate senator, was born at Beaufort, South Carolina, the son of Robert Gibbes Barnwell, a prosperous planter and Federalist member of Congress, and Elizabeth Wigg Hayne. In 1817 he entered Harvard College, where he became friendly with ...

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Barrett, Frank Aloysius (10 November 1892–30 May 1962), Wyoming governor, congressman, and U.S. senator, was born near Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Patrick J. Barrett and Elizabeth Curran, schoolteachers. His father also worked as a mortician and court bailiff. Barrett was a Catholic and attended public schools and Creighton University, Omaha, earning an A.B. in 1913 and an LL.B. in 1916. He served for seventeen months in the Army Balloon Corps during World War I, attaining the rank of sergeant. After discharge, he married Alice Catherine Donoghue in Omaha in 1919; they had three children. After Alice’s death in 1956, in 1959 he married Augusta K. Hogan....

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Bender, George Harrison (27 or 29 Sept. 1896–17 or 18 June 1961), U.S. congressman and senator, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Joseph Bender, an employee at General Electric, and Anna Sir. Bender attended West Commerce High School, graduating in 1914. With an early interest in politics, he at age fifteen collected 10,000 signatures on a petition encouraging former president ...

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Thomas Hart Benton Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-71877).

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Benton, Thomas Hart (14 March 1782–10 April 1858), U.S. senator and congressman, was born near Hillsboro (now Hillsborough), North Carolina, the son of Jesse Benton, a lawyer and farmer, and Ann “Nancy” Gooch. Jesse Benton died in 1791, leaving eight children, considerable land, extensive debts, and an aristocratic lifestyle. The family suffered a further blow when Thomas Hart Benton, at age sixteen, was expelled from the University of North Carolina for misusing money entrusted to him by roommates. The future senator was known ever after for scrupulous honesty and belligerent defense of his honor; concern that the story of his expulsion might surface probably influenced his consistent refusals to be considered for the presidency....

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Blair, Henry William (06 December 1834–14 March 1920), U.S. representative and senator, was born in Campton, New Hampshire, the son of William Henry Blair and Lois Baker, schoolteachers. When Henry was two years old his father died, and his mother’s straitened circumstances forced her to send him and several siblings to live with neighboring farmers. Engaged in farm work as a youth, he intermittently attended Plymouth Academy and New Hampshire Conference Seminary. He read law with William Leverett of Plymouth, New Hampshire, from 1856 to 1859 and was admitted to the bar in 1859. That same year he married Eliza Ann Nelson; they had at least one child. In 1860 he was appointed Grafton County solicitor. During the Civil War Blair rose to become lieutenant colonel of the Fifteenth New Hampshire Volunteers before severe wounding in the field in 1863 forced him to resign his commission....

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Brown, John (12 September 1757–28 August 1837), lawyer, congressman, and U.S. senator from Kentucky, was born in Staunton, Virginia, the son of John Brown, a prominent Presbyterian minister in the Shenandoah Valley, and Margaret Preston, whose brother William Preston held a number of important government posts in western Virginia. Schooled at his father’s Liberty Hall Academy, which later became Washington and Lee University, the younger John Brown continued his education at Princeton, his father’s alma mater. Brown’s tenure at Princeton was interrupted by the Revolution. When ...

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Burrows, Julius Caesar (09 January 1837–16 November 1915), U.S. representative and U.S. senator, was born in Grahamville, North East Township, Erie County, Pennsylvania, the son of William Burrows and Maria B. Smith, farmers. Julius’s mother, a student of history with a “fervid imagination,” named his brothers Christopher Columbus, Jerome Bonaparte, and Hannibal. Burrows never appreciated his own and his siblings’ names, explaining, “I have detested ‘highfaluting’ names and titles all my life. I have invariably parted my hair on the side, and have been plain Mr. Burrows ever since coming to the Senate. It was a mistake to tag my brothers and me the way they did.”...

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Burton, Theodore Elijah (20 December 1851–28 October 1929), senator and congressman, was born in Jefferson, Ohio, the son of the Reverend William Burton, a Presbyterian minister, and Elizabeth Grant. After attending Grand River Institute in Austinburg, Ohio, Burton entered Grinnell College (Iowa) as a sophomore and graduated from Oberlin College in 1872. He received legal training in the office of Judge ...

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Carlile, John Snyder (16 December 1817–24 October 1878), lawyer and politician, was born in Winchester, Virginia; his parents’ names are unknown. He was educated at home by his mother. His father died when Carlile was young, and at the age of fourteen Carlile worked in a country store as a clerk to help support his mother. When he was seventeen he started his own business as a merchant, but that failed, leaving Carlile in debt. He paid his debts in full, even after all legal obligations had ceased....

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Carlisle, John Griffin (05 September 1834–31 July 1910), U.S. congressman, senator, and secretary of the treasury, was born in Campbell (now Kenton) County, Kentucky, the son of Lilbon Hardin Carlisle and Mary A. Reynolds, farmers. He attended common schools and taught school before studying law under the distinguished lawyer (later governor and U.S. senator) ...

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Chandler, John (01 February 1762–25 September 1841), soldier, U.S. congressman, and senator, was born in Epping, New Hampshire, the son of Joseph Chandler and Lydia Eastman. His father, a subsistence farmer and soldier, died in 1776, leaving a destitute widow and ten children. To help support the family, John, upon turning fifteen, enlisted in the Continental army, engaging in the 1777 Saratoga campaign that resulted in the defeat and capture of General ...

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Tom Connally [left to right] Key Pittman and Senator Tom Connally, 1939. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-104401).

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Connally, Thomas Terry (19 August 1877–28 October 1963), U.S. senator and congressman, was born near Hewitt, Texas, the son of Jones Connally and Mary Ellen Terry, farmers. The Connallys were better off than many Texas farm families at the time, and young Tom was able to attend Baylor University, graduating in 1896. He then entered the law school of the University of Texas. When war erupted with Spain in 1898, Connally enlisted in the Second Texas Infantry Volunteers. Illness prevented his shipping out, but in his absence the University of Texas awarded him the LL.B....