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Baker, Howard Henry, Jr. (15 Nov. 1925–26 June 2014), politician and diplomat, was born in Huntsville, Tennessee, to Howard Henry Baker, Sr., a lawyer and politician who subsequently served in the US House of Representatives (1951–1964), and Dora Ladd Baker. The Baker family were staunch Presbyterians, members of the Republican Party since the Civil War, and longtime defenders of civil rights for the minority African American population. Young Baker’s paternal grandfather was a prominent judge, and his maternal grandmother was the first female sheriff in Tennessee....

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Bentsen, Lloyd (11 February 1921–23 May 2006), U.S. senator, vice presidential nominee, and Treasury secretary, was born just north of the Mexican border in Mission, Texas, to Lloyd Bentsen, Sr., a pioneer in military aviation who became a prosperous rancher, land speculator, and banker, and Edna Ruth (Dolly) Colbath. The couple raised four children amid the citrus groves and cotton fields of the Rio Grande Valley and on the family’s expansive Arrowhead Ranch....

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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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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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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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William H. Crawford. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97178).

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Crawford, William Harris (24 February 1772–15 September 1834), U.S. senator, cabinet member, and presidential candidate, was born in Amherst County, Virginia, the son of Joel Crawford and Fanny Harris, farmers. In 1779 financial reverses led the Crawfords to move to the Edgefield District of South Carolina and four years later to Kiokee Creek, near Appling, Georgia. Joel Crawford valued education, and his children attended the field schools that served families in rural areas. After Joel’s death in 1788, young William Harris helped out on the farm while teaching at the field school he had recently attended. In 1794, at the age of twenty-two, Crawford enrolled for two years in ...

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Stephen A. Douglas. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-110141).

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Douglas, Stephen Arnold (23 April 1813–03 June 1861), U.S. senator and presidential candidate, was born in Brandon, Vermont, the son of Stephen Arnold Douglass, a college-educated physician, and Sarah Fisk (he dropped the final “s” in his name in 1846). Following his father’s death, while Stephen was still an infant, he lived with his mother on the farm of a bachelor uncle, who with an outspoken and eccentric grandfather exerted an important influence on the boy. While serving as an apprentice to a Middlebury cabinetmaker, Douglas was captivated by the image of ...

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Goldwater, Barry (01 January 1909–29 May 1998), U.S. senator and presidential candidate, was born Barry Morris Goldwater in Phoenix, Arizona, the son of Baron M. “Barry” Goldwater, a businessman and retailer, and Josephine Williams Goldwater. Although raised an Episcopalian, Goldwater was the grandson of a Jewish immigrant from Poland, Michel Goldwasser, who had prospered in the “dry goods” business. Goldwater's father, Baron, eventually settled in Phoenix, where he opened a successful women's clothing store. Young Barry's unimpressive school record led his father to enroll him, at age fifteen, at Staunton Military Academy in Virginia, where Goldwater graduated as top military cadet in 1928. After his father's death in 1929, Goldwater dropped out of the University of Arizona and joined the family department store business. In 1934 he married Margaret “Peggy” Johnson; the couple had two sons and two daughters....

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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 F. Kennedy. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ61-1866).

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Robert F. Kennedy Speaking at the University of Mississippi, 1966. Courtesy of Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111226).

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Kennedy, Robert Francis (20 November 1925–06 June 1968), politician, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph Patrick Kennedy, a capitalist, and Rose Fitzgerald. His father Joseph made a fortune in the stock market and through other investments and served from 1938 to 1940 as U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. The seventh of nine children, Robert, known as “Bobby,” graduated from Milton Academy in 1943. In March 1944 he enrolled in the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, leaving it in February 1946 to become an apprentice seaman aboard the destroyer USS ...

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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....