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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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Broderick, David Colbert (04 February 1820–16 September 1859), U.S. senator, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Thomas Broderick, a stonemason, and Honora Colbert. In 1817 Thomas Broderick moved his family from County Cork, Ireland, to Washington, D.C., where he worked on the Capitol. In 1825 the Brodericks moved to Greenwich Village, New York, where Thomas Broderick died in 1834. At age fourteen, David Broderick began a five-year apprenticeship as a stonemason, while his mother opened a china shop. China importer Townsend R. Harris, later the first envoy to Japan and founder of the City University of New York, revealed the world of books to young Broderick, and journalist George Wilkes broadened his reading....

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Brooks, Preston Smith (06 August 1819–27 January 1857), U.S. congressman, was born in Edgefield, South Carolina, the son of Whitfield Brooks, Sr., a planter, and Mary Parsons Carroll. Brooks was an eldest son born into one of the most influential planter families in antebellum South Carolina. Connected by marriage to the leading families in Edgefield District and upcountry South Carolina, the Brooks line stood proudly among the state’s ruling elite. The sons of planters, as befitting their status and wealth, were socialized to live by a code of honor that placed a premium on absolute loyalty to family, kin, and section. Manliness of spirit in defense of honor, the direct antithesis of the presumed submissiveness of the docile slave, was the highest and most esteemed male virtue. This was one of the most important lessons Brooks learned in his private education, first at the Moses Waddel school in Willington and then at the College of South Carolina, the training ground for the state’s future leaders....

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B. Gratz Brown. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90757).

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Brown, Benjamin Gratz (28 May 1826–13 December 1885), U.S. senator and governor of Missouri, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the son of Mason Brown, a lawyer, and Judith Bledsoe. He was educated at Transylvania and Yale Universities, graduating from the latter in 1847. He then earned a degree from Louisville Law School. Upon being admitted to the bar in the fall of 1849, he moved to St. Louis to join his cousins ...

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Aaron Burr. Engraving on paper, c. 1793 - 1814, by Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon.

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Burr, Aaron (06 February 1756–14 September 1836), revolutionary soldier, U.S. senator, and vice president of the United States, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Aaron Burr, a theologian and the second president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), and ...

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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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Daniel, Peter Vivian (24 April 1784–31 May 1860), lawyer, state official, and associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was born at “Crow’s Nest,” in Stafford County, Virginia, the son of Travers Daniel, a planter, and Frances Moncure. His ancestors settled in Virginia early in the seventeenth century and founded a prominent gentry family. Daniel attended the College of New Jersey at Princeton for a time, but left in 1805 to read law in Richmond with ...

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Jefferson Davis. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92005).

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Davis, Jefferson (03 June 1808?–06 December 1889), president of the Confederate States of America and U.S. senator, was born in Christian (later Todd) County, Kentucky, the tenth and last child of Samuel Emory Davis and Jane Cook, farmers. The year of his birth is uncertain; for many years Davis regarded 1807 as correct, but he later settled upon 1808....

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Flagg, Edmund (24 November 1815–01 November 1890), author and civil servant, was born in Wiscasset, Maine, the son of Edmund Flagg and Harriet Payson. He graduated with distinction from Bowdoin College in 1835. Later that year he moved with his widowed mother and sister to Louisville, Kentucky, where he briefly taught the classics in a boys’ school. The following summer, he explored the Illinois and Missouri prairies and published in the ...

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Henry S. Foote. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-110163).

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Foote, Henry Stuart (28 February 1804–20 May 1880), U.S. senator and governor of Mississippi, was born in Fauquier County, Virginia, the son of Richard Helm Foote and Jane Stuart. After graduating from Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in 1819, he was admitted to the bar in Richmond in 1823. Soon, he moved to Tuscumbia, Alabama, for a few years, where he edited a Democratic newspaper, and then to Mississippi, where he quickly became one of the leading criminal lawyers in the state....

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Hamilton, James, Jr. (08 May 1786–15 November 1857), congressman and governor of South Carolina, was born near Charleston, South Carolina, the son of James Hamilton, a rice planter and formerly an aide to George Washington, and Elizabeth Lynch, whose brother Thomas Lynch had signed the Declaration of Independence. He was educated in Newport, Rhode Island, and Dedham, Massachusetts, and then read law in Charleston. Admitted to the bar in 1810, he established a practice with ...

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Hemphill, John (18 December 1803–04 January 1862), jurist and U.S. senator, was born in Chester District, South Carolina, the son of the Reverend John Hemphill and Jane Lind, both of Scotch-Irish descent and of the Presbyterian faith. Raised primarily by his father after his mother’s death, and by his stepmother Mary Nixon after 1811, young John attended local schools before enrolling at Jefferson College (now Washington and Jefferson College) in Pennsylvania. In 1825 he graduated second in his class and returned to South Carolina, where he taught in various classical academies. After a few years he abandoned teaching to take up the study of law and in 1828 entered the office of D. J. McCord, a prominent attorney in Columbia. A year later the two of them established their own practice in Sumterville....

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Andrew Jackson. From an engraving by James Barton Longacre. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117120).

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Jackson, Andrew (15 March 1767–08 June 1845), soldier and seventh president of the United States, was born in the Waxhaw Settlement, South Carolina, the son of Andrew Jackson and Elizabeth Hutchinson, farmers. Like many other Scotch-Irish at the time, Andrew and Elizabeth Jackson migrated to this country from the port of Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland in 1765, landing most probably in Philadelphia and then journeying southward to join relatives living in the Waxhaw Settlement along the northwestern boundary separating North and South Carolina. They settled with their two sons, Hugh and Robert, on a stretch of land on the south side of Twelve Mile Creek, a branch of the Catawba River, and for two years tried to scratch a living from this acid soil. Then, early in March 1767, Andrew died suddenly. Approximately two weeks later, on 15 March, Elizabeth gave birth to her third son and named him after her deceased husband. Later a dispute arose over the exact location of the birthplace of the future president—whether he was born in North or South Carolina—but Jackson himself always believed and repeatedly stated that he was born in South Carolina....