*a quick note, summer has been busy so I'm a bit behind in my homework but I'm trying to catch up*
Henry Wilson (Jeremiah Jones Colbath) was born in Farmington New Hampshire on February 16th, 1812. His father Winthrop had named him Jeremiah after a wealthy neighbor in hopes of an inheritance. Colbath didn’t like his name so when he turned 21 he legally changed it to Henry Wilson. Wilson came from a poor family; his father had been a day laborer so when he was 10 he was indentured to a nearby farm, this would shape his future opinion about slavery. He had a rudimentary education but had access to books at the farm and became self educated. When he finished the term of his indenture he was given six sheep and two oxen which he sold for $85 dollars and set out on his own.
Wilson moved to Natic Massachusetts where he contracted himself to a shoe maker. After learning the trade he bought out the rest of his deal and set up shop for himself. His idea was to raise enough money to pay is way through law school but old debts and ill health interfered with his plans. Instead he took his remaining money, plus what he earned teaching school, and set up a successful shoe factory, at one point he had 100 employees working for him.
After the panic of 1837 Wilson joined the Whig party to support Harrison’s campaign against Van Buren. He was also elected to the Massachusetts State House and served for two years. In 1844 he ran for the State Senate and served until 1852 even holding the position of President Pro Tempore. As a strong supporter of abolition he began to become discouraged with the Whigs and their compromises and created a petition to block the government from annexing Texas, a potential slave state.
In 1848 Wilson attended the Whig nominating convention but became angry when the party refused to adopt abolitionist doctrine into their platform. When slave owner Taylor won the nomination Wilson left the Whig party and helped found the Free Soils Party. At this time he stared his own newspaper, the Boston Republican, which promoted abolitionist ideology. Along with being a member of the State Senate he also joined the militia where he became the commander of the 1st Artillery Regiment and eventually rose to the rank of brigadier general in command of the 3rd Brigade.
Wilson expanded his part in the Free Soils Party by chairing the nomination committee of in 1852. The party nominated John Hale as their candidate but he lost to Franklin Pierce, the Free Soils gained no votes in the Electoral College. They also pushed for a number of reforms to the Massachusetts constitution but they were all rejected by the voters. Wilson ran for the U.S. House but lost. In 1853 and again in 1854 her ran for Governor of Massachusetts but lost both times. In 1855 the Free Soils Party wanted Wilson to run for Governor a third time but he was elected to the Senate and served until 1873.
In the Senate Wilson became an outspoken advocate of ending slavery. He pushed for the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act which gave the government the power to return runaway slaves to their owners. After the Bloody Shirt Incident Wilson loudly condemned Brooks, the pro slavery senator who brutally beat anti slavery Sumner in the Senate Chambers. Brooks challenged Wilson to a duel but he refused, however he feared for his life. Wilson also accused California Senator Gwin of corruption, and was challenged to another duel. Neither Senator wanted to go through with the duel so they allowed a committee to resolve the dispute, both apologized and their comments were stricken from the Congressional Record.
When the Civil War broke out Wilson was named Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. He oversaw the raising of funds and the administration of a draft system. He also returned to Massachusetts to raise and equip the militia. His actions earned him the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. In July of 1861 Wilson joined with the other observers at the first battle of Bull Run, he even brought a picnic lunch. When the battle turned for the South Wilson attempted to flee back to Washington but his carriage overturned and he was almost captured by the South. After the battle people tried to scapegoat Wilson claiming he had an affair with Rose O’Neil, a Southern spy, and leaked the plans of the battle but the claims went unproven.
Taking advantage of the war Wilson began pushing through abolitionist policies including outlawing slavery in Washington D.C. and recruiting Blacks, including southern slaves, to fight in the military and earn equal pay. He also passed a bill to allow the education of Black children (teaching Blacks had been against the law in most states in the U.S.) and declaring the families of run away slaves who joined the military as freed citizens.
After the assassination of Lincoln and the end of the Civil War Wilson hoped to work with Johnson to rebuild the nation and declare equal rights to freed slaves. However Johnson pushed his own policies including allowing former Confederates to return to the Senate and not extending voting rights to Blacks in the South. Wilson joined with the Radial Republicans who worked against Johnson and eventually pushing for the impeachment of the President.
As the Confederate states returned to the Union Wilson insisted that they all put into their new State Constitution that they swore loyalty to the United States and would never try to secede again (this included Texas). He also fought hard for Hiram Revels (Mississippi), the first Black man elected to the Senate. The Democrats tried to block his taking the oath but Wilson proved that there was no rule of law that gave them the power to do so, plus he quoted the Senate’s own standard of the Golden Rule, Do Unto Others. Revels was administered the oath and became the first Black Senator.
In 1868 Wilson became heavily involved in the election, touring the South giving fiery speeches supporting the Republican candidates. Many believed that he was attempting to get the party’s nomination for the Presidency but he was a strong supporter of Grant and hoping for the Vice Presidency. When the votes were cast Wilson had the opportunity to gain a majority but as an act to unify the party the delegates switched their votes to Colfax who became the Vice President. After the election Grant offered Wilson the position of Secretary of War but he turned it down.
When the election of 1872 rolled around Grant had decided to not seek reelection so Colfax decided to put up his own name and said he wouldn’t want to be nominated for Vice President again, however Grant changed his mind. Meanwhile Colfax was named in the Credit Mobilier Scandal (a kickback scheme from the Union Pacific railroad) and the Republicans decided to drop him from the ticket. Wilson was seen as a candidate who could win the Black vote following his work for the ratification of the 15th Amendment.
Shortly after taking the oath of office Wilson was named as a participant in the Credit Mobilier Scandal. Although he first denied the charges he then admitted that he had convinced his wife to purchase stock but when she became suspicious they sold it at a loss. Harriet Wilson had died in 1870 so it was impossible to question her about the deal so the Senate decided to believe Wilson’s story and no charges were filed.
Two months after becoming the Vice President Wilson suffered a stroke which greatly inhibited his ability to be in office however there were no rules concerning removal or naming a replacement. For the next few years he handled his ceremonial duties such as attending the hundredth anniversary of the Boston Tea Party and presiding at the funerals of dignitaries but the stroke left him unable to speak and in ill health. In 1875 he suffered another stroke and remained at home. Although family and friends thought he was recovering he passed away from a final stroke on November 22nd 1875. His body lied in state at the Capitol and then was shipped to Natic Massachusetts where he was buried. The office remained vacant until the next election.
Although many of the issues Wilson fought for failed in his time they eventually became the basis of the Civil Rights movement a hundred years later. It turned out he had a major impact on the history of the United States although most of the people who benefited from his crusade never even knew his name. However due to his stroke he had little or no impact on the office of the Vice President.
And so ends the life of Henry Wilson, an important but forgotten Vice President. And I promise if elected I will do everything in my power to avoid a debilitating illness.