Learn About Henry Wilson's Life

The 1872 campaign poster for Ulysses S Grant and Henry Wilson
Henry Wilson was born Jeremiah Jones Colbath in our Town of Farmington, on February 16, 1812. His impoverished father named him after a wealthy neighbor who was a childless bachelor in the vain hope of receiving an inheritance. The boy hated the name, and when he came of age he had it legally changed to Henry Wilson. He chose the name because he was either inspired by a biography of a Philadelphia teacher or a portrait of a minister named Henry Wilson from a book on English clergymen. Another tie to the Town of Farmington was Henry Wilson's original profession. He left Farmington for Natick, Massachusetts in 1833 and became a shoemaker. As a politician, he would often be refferred to as the "Natick Cobbler". He attended several local academies, and also taught school in Natick before becoming a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He served between 1841 and 1852, and was also the owner and editor of the Boston Republican newspaper from 1848 to 1851.

In 1852, Wilson was an unsuccessful candidate for US Representative. He was a delegate to the state constitutional convention in 1853 and also ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Massachusetts in 1853. However, in 1855 he was elected to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Edward Everett. He was reelected as a Republican in 1859, 1865 and 1871, and served as a Senator from January 31, 1855 to March 4, 1873, when he resigned to become our Vice President under President Ulysses S. Grant.
As a Senator, Wilson was Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs and the Militia and the Committee on Military Affairs. In that capacity, Wilson passed on over 15,000 nominations that Lincoln submitted during the course of the War, and worked closely with him on legislation affecting the Army and Navy. During the Civil war, he raised and briefly commanded the 22nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. After the war he became an early member of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.
A controversy that swirled around Wilson's name since 1861 was that he (while Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs) may have revealed plans for the invasion of Virginia culminating in the First Battle of Bull Run to southern spy (and Washington society figure) Rose O'Neal Greenhow. Wilson (although married) had seen a great deal of Mrs. Greenhow, and while with her may have told her about the plans followed by Major General Irvin McDowell, which may have been part of the intelligence Mrs. Greenhow got to Confederate forces under Major General Pierre Beauregard. If so this information may have led to the Northern rout in that battle. However, in his most recent biography, an alternative (a Northern clerk named Horace White) was suggested as the real leak.

An abolitionist and fierce supporter of equal rights in the United States Senate, Henry Wilson advocated for equal pay for African-American soldiers. In a speech in the U. S. Senate, he said that our treatment of black soldiers was almost as bad as that of the rebels soldiers.
Wilson suffered a serious stroke in 1873. Although partly paralyzed, he fought to actively perform his duties as presiding officer over the United States Senate. He suffered what was believed to be a minor attack on November 10, 1875, and was taken to the Vice President's Room to recover. Over the next several days, his health appeared to improve and his friends thought he was nearly recovered. However, on November 22 at 7:20 am, Wilson died from a second stroke while working in the United States Capitol Building. He was interred in Old Dell Park Cemetery in Natick, Massachusetts.  
Photos from Wikimedia Commons

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