Wilson, Henry (1812-1875) Vice President of the United States
Henry Wilson was born Jeremiah Jones Colbath, on February 16, 1812, in Farmington, New Hampshire. Indentured to a farmer at the age of 10, he worked for more than ten years, while educating himself by reading borrowed books voraciously. After he had been set free on his twenty-first birthday, he sold the livestock he had been given and changed his name legally to Henry Wilson. He apprenticed himself to a shoe-maker in Natick, Massachusetts, and, by the time he was 27 years old, owned a shoe factory employing as many as one hundred people. He built a modest fortune, but his eyes were set on a political career. Wilson continued educating himself through reading and developed his oratorical skills. In 1840, he was elected to the Massachusetts legislature as a Whig, and served on and off for twelve years. That year, he married Harriet Malvina Howe, who died ten years later of cancer.
In 1848, he left the Whig party because of its indecisiveness on slavery, which he strongly opposed. He helped form the Free Soil party, and edited the partys Boston Republican from 1848 to 1851. He joined the conservative American ("Know Nothing") party in 1854, but left it also over the issue of slavery. Finally, he joined the Republican party.
In 1855, Wilson was elected to the US Senate by the Massachusetts legislature to fill an unexpired term. He remained in that body until 1873. In the Senate, he continued his campaign against slavery, alienating many Southern Congressmen, and championed the rights of factory workers. His fear of assassination by political enemies led him to begin carrying a pistol and making plans for his family in the event of his death.
During the Civil War, Wilson was chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, proving himself an effective leader in raising and supporting the massive Union army. His only child, Henry Hamilton Wilson, served as a Union officer, but died in 1866 while still serving in the army. After the war, Senator Wilson supported the Reconstruction policies proposed by the radical Republicans, and voted for President Andrew Johnsons impeachment. After touring the South and West, however, his views on Reconstruction became more moderate.
In 1872, Wilson was nominated to become President Ulysses S. Grants running mate in Grants bid for reelection. The Republican team managed to win the election, despite the revelation that Wilson, like Vice President Schuyler Colfax before him, had been involved in the Crédit Mobilier congressional bribery scandal. Grants popularity helped the Republicans defeat Democrat Horace Greeley decisively in the electoral college.
Soon after the election, Wilson had a stroke, but claimed to be well enough for the demands of the office upon his recovery. Nevertheless, he was less than effective in his duties as presiding officer of the Senate. On November 22, 1875, with a year and a half still remaining in his term, Wilson died in Washington, D.C., having suffered a second stroke.