Henry Wilson (born Jeremiah Jones Colbath; February 16, 1812 - November 22, 1875) was the 18th Vice President of the United States (1873-75) and a Senator from Massachusetts (1855-73). Before and during the American Civil War, he was a leading Republican, and a strong opponent of slavery. He devoted his energies to the destruction of the "Slave Power" - the faction of slave owners and their political allies which anti-slavery Americans saw as dominating the country. Originally a Whig, Wilson...See more
Henry Wilson (born Jeremiah Jones Colbath; February 16, 1812 - November 22, 1875) was the 18th Vice President of the United States (1873-75) and a Senator from Massachusetts (1855-73). Before and during the American Civil War, he was a leading Republican, and a strong opponent of slavery. He devoted his energies to the destruction of the "Slave Power" - the faction of slave owners and their political allies which anti-slavery Americans saw as dominating the country. Originally a Whig, Wilson was a founder of the Free Soil Party in 1848. He served as the party chairman before and during the 1852 presidential election. He worked diligently to build an anti-slavery coalition, which came to include the Free Soil Party, anti-slavery Democrats, New York Barnburners, the Liberty Party, anti-slavery members of the Native American Party (Know Nothings), and anti-slavery Whigs (called Conscience Whigs). When the Free Soil party dissolved in the mid-1850s, Wilson joined the Republican Party, which he helped found, and which was organized largely in line with the anti-slavery coalition he had nurtured in the 1840s and 1850s. While a Senator during the American Civil War, Wilson was considered a "Radical Republican," and his experience as a militia general, organizer and commander of a Union Army regiment, and chairman of the Senate military committees enabled him to assist the Abraham Lincoln administration in the organization and oversight of the Union Army and Union Navy. Wilson successfully authored bills that outlawed slavery in Washington, D.C., and incorporated African Americans in the Union Civil War effort in 1862. After the Civil War, he supported the Radical Republican program for Reconstruction. In 1872, he was elected Vice President as the running mate of Ulysses S. Grant, the incumbent President of the United States, who was running for a second term. The Grant and Wilson ticket was successful, and Wilson served as Vice President from March 4, 1873, until his death on November 22, 1875. Wilson's effectiveness as Vice President was limited after he suffered a debilitating stroke in May 1873, and his health continued to decline until he was the victim of a fatal stroke while working in the United States Capitol in late 1875. Throughout his career, Wilson was known for championing causes that were at times unpopular, including the abolition of slavery and workers' rights for both blacks and whites. Massachusetts politician George F. Hoar, who served in the United States House of Representatives while Wilson was a Senator, and later served in the Senate himself, believed Wilson to be the most skilled political organizer in the country. However, Wilson's reputation for personal integrity and principled politics was somewhat damaged late in his Senate career by his involvement in the Crédit Mobilier scandal. Henry Wilson was born in Farmington, New Hampshire, on February 16, 1812, one of several children born to Winthrop and Abigail (Witham) Colbath. His father named him Jeremiah Jones Colbath after a wealthy neighbor who was a childless bachelor, vainly hoping that this gesture might result in an inheritance. Winthrop Colbath was a militia veteran of the War of 1812 who worked as a day laborer and hired himself out to local farms and businesses, in addition to occasionally running a sawmill. The Colbath family was impoverished and, after a brief elementary education, at the age of 10 Wilson was indentured to a neighboring farmer, where he worked as a laborer for the next 10 years. During this time two neighbors gave him books and Wilson enhanced his meager education by reading extensively on English and American history and biography. At the end of his service... See less
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