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Vice President Henry Wilson

Henry Wilson was an American statesman and the 18th Vice President of the United States (1873-75) during President Ulysses S. Grant's second term. He was also a 4-term U.S. Senator (1855-73), and a writer/historian of Military Measures of the United States Congress and History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America. Wilson was owner and editor of the antislavery periodical Boston Republican (1848-51). He ranks as one of the most effective and eloquent opponents of slavery in 19th century U.S. politics.

Henry Wilson
Henry Wilson
Biographical fast facts

Full or original name at birth: Jeremiah Jones Colbath*

Date and place of birth: February 16, 1812, Farmington, New Hampshire, U.S.A.

Date, time, place and cause of death: November 22, 1875, at 7:20 a.m., U.S. Capitol Building, Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C. (Stroke)

Wife: Harriet Malvina Howe (m. 1840 - 1870) (her death)

Son: Henry Hamilton Wilson
Adopted daughter: Eva Wilson

Father: Winthrop Colbath, Jr. (a laborer) (b. April 7, 1787, Farmington, New Hampshire - d. February 10, 1860, Natick, Massachusetts)
Mother: Abigail Colbath (b. March 21, 1785 - d. August 8, 1866)

Burial site: Old Dell Park Cemetery, Natick, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Error correction or clarification

* His father named him after a wealthy bachelor neighbor in a futile attempt to receive an inheritance from him. A child of extreme poverty, he would serve 11 years as an indentured laborer, beginning when he was just 10 years of age. He grew to hate his name, and upon his release at age 21, he had it legally changed on the advice of the family with whom he had lived and been indentured from age 10-21. He chose the name Henry Wilson, inspired by a biography he'd read.

"Wilson" by John Greenleaf Whittier

Read at the Massachusetts Club on the seventieth anniversary of the birthday of Vice-President Wilson, February 16, 1882.

The lowliest born of all the land,
He wrung from Fate's reluctant hand
The gifts which happier boyhood claims;
And, tasting on a thankless soil
The bitter bread of unpaid toil,
He fed his soul with noble aims.

And Nature, kindly provident,
To him the future's promise lent;
The powers that shape man's destinies,
Patience and faith and toil, he knew,
The close horizon round him grew,
Broad with great possibilities.

By the low hearth-fire's fitful blaze
He read of old heroic days,
The sage's thought, the patriot's speech;
Unhelped, alone, himself he taught,
His school the craft at which he wrought,
His lore the book within his, reach.

He felt his country's need; he knew
The work her children had to do;
And when, at last, he heard the call
In her behalf to serve and dare,
Beside his senatorial chair
He stood the unquestioned peer of all.

Beyond the accident of birth
He proved his simple manhood's worth;
Ancestral pride and classic grace
Confessed the large-brained artisan,
So clear of sight, so wise in plan
And counsel, equal to his place.

With glance intuitive he saw
Through all disguise of form and law,
And read men like an open book;
Fearless and firm, he never quailed
Nor turned aside for threats, nor failed
To do the thing he undertook.

How wise, how brave, he was, how well
He bore himself, let history tell
While waves our flag o'er land and sea,
No black thread in its warp or weft;
He found dissevered States, he left
A grateful Nation, strong and free!


The most in-depth of more than two dozen sources consulted in preparing this profile, was the biography, The Life and Public Services of Henry Wilson, Late Vice-President of the United States, by Elias Nason and Thomas Russell (1876).

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