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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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Agnew, Spiro T. (09 November 1918–17 September 1996), vice president, was born Spiro Theodore Agnew in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Margaret Pollard Akers Agnew and Theodore Spiro Agnew, who, after immigrating from Greece in 1897, changed his name from Anagnostopoulos. Agnew's father was a successful restaurateur and a leader in the Greek community until the Great Depression, when he lost his business and turned to selling fruit and vegetables on the street. Agnew supplemented the family income by doing odd jobs while he attended public schools in Baltimore. After graduating from Forest Park High School, he entered Johns Hopkins in 1937, majoring in chemistry, but in 1940 he left and began taking night classes at the University of Baltimore School of Law. During the day he worked alternately as an assistant personnel manager of a grocery-store chain and as an insurance investigator and claims adjuster. In 1942 he married Elinor Isabel Judefind, a coworker at his insurance company; they had four children....

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Aiken, William (28 January 1806–06 September 1887), planter and congressman, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of William Aiken, Sr., an Irish immigrant, and Henrietta Wyatt. At the time of his death, the elder Aiken was president of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company and a wealthy merchant. Aiken attended the South Carolina College, from which he graduated in 1825. He then traveled to Europe. Upon returning to Charleston, he married Harriet Lowndes in 1831. They had one child....

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James Lusk Alcorn. Photograph from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-111-B-1117).

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Alcorn, James Lusk (04 November 1816–20 December 1894), governor of Mississippi and U.S. senator, was born in Golconda, Illinois, the son of James Alcorn and Hannah (maiden name unknown). Soon after his birth, Alcorn’s family moved to Salem, Kentucky, where his father farmed and served as a boatman on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. In 1836 Alcorn briefly attended Cumberland College in Princeton, Kentucky. He tried teaching in Jackson, Arkansas, but soon returned to Livingston County, Kentucky, to serve as deputy sheriff under his uncle. Alcorn also studied law and in 1838 was admitted to the Kentucky bar. In the same year he married Mary Catherine Stewart; they had four children....

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Allen, Philip (01 September 1785–16 December 1865), manufacturer, governor, and senator, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Captain Zachariah Allen, a West Indies trader, and Nancy Crawford. Allen received his early education from tutors before attending Taunton Academy in Providence, Robert Rogers School in Newport, and Jeremiah Chaplin’s Latin School in Providence. In 1799 he entered Rhode Island College (now Brown University) and graduated in 1803....

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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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Adalbert Ames. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-B8172-1728).

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Ames, Adelbert (31 October 1835–13 April 1933), soldier and politician, was born in Rockland, Maine, the son of Jesse Ames, a sea captain, and Martha B. Tolman. After spending some time at sea as a teenager, Ames entered the U.S. Military Academy, graduating in 1861. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the Fifth Artillery. During the Civil War he was wounded at First Bull Run (First Manassas) on 21 July, and he later received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism there in refusing to leave his post despite the wound. He served with the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula campaign of 1862, and for his actions at Malvern Hill he was brevetted lieutenant colonel. On 8 August 1862 he was named colonel in command of the Twentieth Maine Volunteer Infantry, with ...

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Anthony, Henry Bowen (01 April 1815–02 September 1884), newspaper editor and U.S. senator, was born in Coventry, Rhode Island, the son of William Anthony, a cotton manufacturer, and Mary Kinnicutt Greene. Preparatory school in Providence preceded Anthony’s entrance into Brown University. He graduated in 1833, fifth in a class of twenty. His lifelong regard for literature and Brown University culminated in the bequest of an exceptional collection of poetry volumes....

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Roger S. Baldwin. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90730).

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Baldwin, Roger Sherman (04 January 1793–19 February 1863), lawyer, governor, and senator, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Simeon Baldwin, a lawyer, judge, congressman, and mayor of New Haven, and Rebecca Sherman. Baldwin was a direct descendant of the Puritan settlers of Connecticut and the Founding Fathers of the nation. His father’s family was among the original New Haven colonists, and his mother was the daughter of ...

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Nathaniel Prentiss Banks. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-4780).

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Banks, Nathaniel Prentiss (30 January 1816–01 September 1894), congressman and Civil War general, was born in Waltham, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel P. Banks, a textile mill foreman, and Rebecca Greenwood. He attended a school for factory children until he began work in the mills as a bobbin boy at age eleven. At seventeen he left factory work to assist his father in carpentry and to learn the machinist’s trade....

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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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Bartley, Mordecai (16 December 1783–10 October 1870), congressman and governor of Ohio, was born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, the son of Elijah Bartley and Rachel Pearshall, farmers. He attended country schools in Pennsylvania. In 1804 he married Elizabeth Welles, and five years later they migrated to Jefferson County in eastern Ohio, where Bartley farmed. The couple had at least two children. During the War of 1812 Bartley was captain of a company of volunteers and served under General ...

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Bate, William Brimage (07 October 1826–09 March 1905), Confederate general, governor, and U.S. senator, was born in Bledsoe’s Lick (now Castalian Springs), Sumner County, Tennessee, the son of James Henry Bate and Amanda Weathered, planters. William Bate received the rudiments of education at a local school, later named the Rural Academy, which he attended until age sixteen. At that time, 1842, his father died, and Bate took a job as a clerk on the steamboat ...

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Bell, Samuel (09 February 1770–23 December 1850), lawyer, governor, and senator, was born in Londonderry, New Hampshire, the son of John Bell and Mary Ann Gilmore, farmers. His father, a tall, rugged, hot-tempered man, was a commanding figure in his community, who served as a deacon and selectman and as a member of the New Hampshire committee of safety and provincial congress during the Revolution. After working on the farm until he was eighteen, Bell studied at a local school and attended New Ipswich Academy before entering the sophomore class at Dartmouth College in 1791. Following graduation in 1793, he studied law in Amherst, New Hampshire, under ...