Wilson, Henry,1812–75, American politician, Vice President of the United States (1873–75), b. Farmington, N.H. At 21 he legally changed his name from Jeremiah Jones Colbath, and as Henry Wilson he apprenticed himself to a cobbler at Natick, Mass. Wilson became successful as a shoe manufacturer and as a Whig politician, serving as a state legislator for most of the years from 1841 to 1852. His strong abolitionist convictions led him to leave the Whigs in 1848, when he helped organize the Free Soil party. Elected (1855) to the U.S. Senate by the Know-Nothing legislature, Wilson finally joined (1856) the Republican party because of its clear opposition to slavery. He was a leading radical Republican for the rest of his career. During the Civil War he was chairman of the Senate committee on military affairs. The "Natick cobbler," as he was called, was elected Vice President on the ticket headed by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, but he died before completing his term. Wilson wrote the History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America (3 vol., 1872–77), the first major history of the coming of the Civil War.
See biographies by E. McKay (1971) and R. H. Abbott (1972).
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Wilson, Henry (b. Jeremiah Jones Colbath)(1812–75) vice-president, abolitionist; born in Farmington, N.H. A poor farm laborer with little formal schooling, at age 21 he renamed himself and went off to Massachusetts where he soon had a successful shoe factory. After a trip to Virginia exposed him to slavery (1836), he devoted the rest of his life to abolishing it, frequently changing political affiliations until he found a party, the new Republican Party, opposed to slavery. He represented Massachusetts in the Senate (1855–73), when he became Ulysses S. Grant's second-term vice-president; but after two strokes he died in office.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.