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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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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....

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Strom Thurmond. At the States' Rights Convention following his nomination for the presidency of the United States, Birmingham, Alabama, 17 July 1948. Courtesy of AP Images.

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Thurmond, J. Strom (05 December 1902–26 June 2003), governor, U.S. senator, and presidential candidate, was born James Strom Thurmond in Edgefield, South Carolina, the son of John William Thurmond, lawyer and politician, and Eleanor Gertrude Strom Thurmond. Thurmond grew up in relative affluence on his father's farm and attended local schools before entering Clemson College (now University), from which he graduated with a bachelor's degree in horticulture in 1923. During the next six years Thurmond taught agriculture and coached athletics at several high schools near his hometown. In 1925 he traveled to Florida to invest in real estate; that year a young African American woman, Carrie Butler, gave birth to his first child, a daughter named Essie Mae. The child was soon placed with Butler's relatives in Coatesville, Pennsylvania; the identity of her father remained a closely guarded secret until after Thurmond's death....

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White, Hugh Lawson (30 October 1773–10 April 1840), U.S. senator and presidential candidate, was born in Iredell County, North Carolina, the son of James White, a militia officer, and Mary Lawson. Around 1784 White moved with his family to Fort Chiswell, Virginia, and in 1786 the family relocated to White’s Fort, which became the town of Knoxville in 1791. Beginning in 1788 White studied classical languages with Rev. ...