All Biographies

You are here: Home >                                                                                    

Henry Wilson


FROM the lowliest to the loftiest station—from extreme penury, the hard grinding poverty which knows the bitter experiences of hunger, and insufficient clothing, and wearisome toil, even in childhood, from the early dawn far into the hours of night, to the comforts and enjoyments of refined society, and a position in the highest legislative body in the world, the American Senate—these are the vicissitudes through which more than one of our eminent states-men have passed. Senator Wilson is one of those whose lives have not been all sunshine, and who have attained their present high station only through labor and struggles, which less resolute, earnest men would have deemed beyond human power and endurance.

HENRY WILSON was born in Farmington, New Hampshire, February 16th, 1812. His parents were extremely poor: and this son they were driven, by their poverty, to bind out to a farmer, as an apprentice, when he was but ten years of age. The apprenticeship was for eleven years, an age to a boy. It would seem, however, that he fell into good hands; for, though faring much as other bound-boys do, in regard to the labor of the farm, he had his fair share of schooling, and by some appropriation of the hours usually devoted to sleep, and a careful husbanding of those which he could rightfully call his own, he had managed, in those eleven years, to read eagerly and treasure, in part at least, in his memory, more than a thousand volumes of history, biography, travel, discovery, etc. There was no reason to fear that a boy, so ravenously hungry for knowledge, would remain through life in a position as humble as that from which he sprung.. Senator Wilson has none of that miserable snobbishness, which leads some men to desire to conceal their humble birth. No ! he glories rather in being "a son of the soil." Witness his reply to that infamous speech of Governor Hammond, of South Carolina, in which he characterized working men as mudsills, and asserted that, "the hireling manual laborers," who lived by daily toil, were "essentially slaves." To these taunts, Mr. Wilson replied :

"Sir, I am a son of a hireling 'manual laborer;' who, with the frosts of seventy winters on his brow, ' lives by daily labor.' I, too, have ' lived by daily labor.' I, too, have been a ' hire-ling manual laborer.' Poverty cast its dark and chilling shadow over the home of my childhood; and want was sometimes there—an unbidden guest. At the age of ten years—to aid him who gave me being in keeping the gaunt spectre from the hearth of the mother who bore me,—I left the home of my boyhood, and went forth to earn my bread by ' daily labor' "

 A noble, manly avowal, which ought to have won the respect of the haughty slavocrat, who was himself not more than two generations removed from the "mudsills," whom he contemned.
When Mr. Wilson was twenty-one years of age, he left New Hampshire, and entered a shoe-shop at Natick, Massachusetts, to learn the art and mystery of shoemaking. He labored at this trade for three years, and, at the end of that time, having, as he supposed, earned a sufficient sum to enable him to obtain a collegiate education, he returned to New Hampshire, and, in1836, entered Strafford Academy, to complete his preparation for college. 

A few weeks previous to this, however, he had visited the national capital, and listened to the exciting debates in the Senate chamber and the hall of Representatives. There he had seen Pinckney's resolutions, against the reception of anti-slavery petitions, receive a majority vote in the house, and Calhoun's Incendiary Publication Bill, pass the Senate by the casting vote of Vice-President Van Buren. He had visited, too, Williams's slave-pen ; had seen men and women in chains, put upon the auction block, for the crime of possessing "a skin darker than his own," and sold to hopeless slavery in the far southwest. Shoemakers are proverbially thoughtful men, and this. one was no exception to the rule. He thought deeply and sadly of the horrors and aggressions of slavery, its inhuman cruelties, its traffic in the souls and bodies of men, its deliberate trampling upon the political as well as social rights of the nation, and from that day forth, the settled purpose of his heart was to make war upon slavery. That purpose he has never changed. His method of conducting the contest may have differed, some-times, from those of other prominent anti-slavery leaders; they may have been as good, or better, or worse ; but to one aim he has ever been true, the overthrow of the slave power. At the close of his first term at Strafford academy, at the public exhibition, he maintained the affirmative of the question, " Ought Slavery to be abolished in the District of Columbia ?" in an oration of decided ability. Early the next year, the young men of New Hampshire held an Anti-slavery Convention, at Concord, and Mr. Wilson, who was then attending the academy at Concord, was a delegate to the convention, and took an active part in its deliberations.

The opportunities of our young shoemaker for attaining a higher education in academies and colleges 'were destined to be short. The man to whom he had entrusted the hard-earned little hoard which was to pay his way through college, became insolvent, and the money was wholly lost. Sorrowful, but not despondent, he retraced his steps to Natick, and, after teaching school for a time, engaged in the shoe manufacturing business, and prospered. He continued in this pursuit for several years, still employing all his leisure in mental cultivation. In 1840, he took an active part in promoting the election of General Harrison, making more than sixty speeches, during the campaign, and proving a very effective political speaker. He was elected the same autumn to the house of representatives of the State legislature, and re-elected in 1841. In 1844 and 1845, he was chosen as State Senator from his district. He took an active part in favor of the admission of colored children into the public schools, the protection of colored seamen in South Carolina, and in opposition to the annexation of Texas. In the autumn of 1845, he got up a convention, in the county of Middlesex, at which a committee was appointed, which obtained more than sixty thousand signatures to petitions against the admission of Texas, as a slave State ; and with the poet Whit-tier, was appointed a committee to carry the petitions to Washington. In 1846, Mr. Wilson was again a member of the House of Representatives. He introduced the resolution, declaring the continued opposition of Massachusetts to "the farther extension and longer existence of slavery in America," and made an elaborate speech in its favor, which was pronounced by Mr. Garrison in "The Liberator," to be the most comprehensive and exhaustive speech on slavery ever made in any legislative body in the United States.

Mr. Wilson was a delegate to the Whig National Convention at Philadelphia, in 1848 ; and on the rejection by the Convention of the Wilmot Proviso, and the nomination of General Taylor, he denounced its action, retired from it, returned home, and issued an address to the people of his district vindicating his action. He purchased " The Boston Republican," the organ of the Free-soil party in Massachusetts, and edited it for more than two years.

In 1850, Mr. Wilson was again a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and the candidate of the Free-soil members for Speaker. He was the chairman of the State Central Free-soil Committee; was the originator and organizer of the celebrated coalition between the Free-soil and Democratic parties, which made Mr. Boutwell governor in 1851 and 1852, and sent Mr. Rantoul and Mr. Sumner to the Senate of the United States. He was a member of the State Senate in 1851 and 1852, and president of that body in those years. In 1852, he was a delegate to the Free-soil National Convention at Pittsburg; was made president of the convention, and chairman of the National Committee. He was the Free-soil candidate for Congress in 1852 ; and though his party was in a minority, in the district, of nearly eight thousand, he was beaten by only ninety-three votes. He was a member of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention in 1853, and took a leading part in its deliberations. In 1853 and 1854, Mr. Wilson was the candidate of the Free-soil party for Governor of Massachusetts ; and in 1855 he was elected to the Senate to fill the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of Mr. Everett.

"Time," it is said, " often brings its whirligig of revenges ;" but it is seldom the case that one occurs more marked than this. The Whig party of Massachusetts was essentially an aristocratic party ; its leaders were all men of high culture, of great refinement, fastidious in the extreme—and though, upon occasion, professing great friendship and regard for the working men, they were generally very careful to avoid any close contact with them. Edward Everett, a good, though timid man, an elegant scholar, a courteous gentleman, and the associate and friend of the titled aristocracy of Great Britain, had represented them in the Senate. Mr. Sumner had been his colleague for a year or two previous, it is true, and this annoyed them. But Mr. Sumner was an elegant scholar, a man of refinement, and of a distinguished family; so that, notwithstanding his abolitionism, they could endure him. But imagine the horror of the Winthrops, the Appletons, the Lawrences, and the rest of the cotton lords, on learning that the Natick shoemaker, whom they had been disposed to snub when he was a member of their party, and whose defection to the ranks of the Free-soilers they had regarded as rather a matter of rejoicing than regret, had the audacity to be a candidate for the Senatorship which Edward Everett had filled and, what was worse, was actually elected! They denounced, in no measured terms, this disgrace to the old and fair fame of Massachusetts.

But the Natick mechanic, like another mechanic from Waltham, who was elected to Congress the same year, and who was subsequently the governor of the State, proved to be no boor, He was not, probably equal to his predecessor in classic or belles-lettres scholarship, but he had made the most of his scanty opportunities of intellectual culture. He was a gentle-man in his manners and address, and in thorough mastery of all political questions relating to our own government, and able, fearless exposition of the principles which lie at the foundation of all good government, he was the peer of Mr. Everett, or any man in the Senate. So fully have the people of Massachusetts been satisfied of his ability to represent the State, and of his industry and faithfulness as a legislator, that they have thrice re-elected him, for the term of six years, by an almost unanimous vote of their Legislature.

In the Senate, from the 10th of February, 1855, the day on which he first took his seat, he has been the inflexible and relentless enemy of slavery, and has done as much, or more, than any other man in the nation for its overthrow. In his first speech, made a few days after entering the Senate, he announced the uncompromising position of himself and his anti-slavery friends to be, " We mean, sir, to place in the councils of the nation, men who, in the words of Jefferson, ' have sworn, on the altar of God, eternal hostility to every kind of oppression over the mind and body of man: " Mr. Wilson was a member of the American National Council, held at Philadelphia in 1855, and the acknowledged leader of the opponents of slavery. In response to a rude menace of one of the southern leaders, who left his seat, crossed the room, and, with his hand upon his revolver, took a seat beside him while addressing the convention, Mr. Wilson said—" Threats have no terrors for freemen; I am ready to meet argument with argument, scorn with scorn, and, if need be, blow with blow. It is time the champions of slavery in the South should realize the fact, that the past is theirs—the future, ours." Under his lead, the anti-slavery delegates issued a protest against the action of the National Council, seceded from it, disrupted the organization, and broke its power forever.

When, in the spring of 1856, Mr. Sumner was assailed in the Senate chamber by Preston S. Brooks, of South Carolina, for words spoken in debate, Mr. Wilson, on the floor of the Senate, characterized that act as "Brutal, murderous, and cowardly." These words, uttered in the Senate chamber, drew forth a challenge from Brooks; to which Mr. Wilson replied, in words which were enthusiastically applauded by the country.

"I have always regarded duelling as a lingering relic of barbarous civilization, which the law of the country has branded as a crime. While, therefore, I religiously believe in the right of self-defence, in its broadest sense, the law of my country, and the matured convictions of my whole life, alike forbid me to meet you for the purpose indicated in your letter." This response to the drunken and blood-thirsty bully who had sent the challenge, was effectual. He did not desire to prosecute a quarrel with a man who " believed in the right of self-defence in its broadest sense," and he wisely concluded to let Mr. Wilson alone. For the four or five years that followed, the position of Mr. Wilson as one of the acknowledged leaders of the Re• publican party, then a small minority in the Senate, was one of great difficulty ; yet he never faltered or flinched. Base and outrageous measures, in the interests of slavery, were passed by the majority, but never without his earnest protest, and his exhausting all possible means of opposition to them. The members of that gallant band of Republicans in the Senate, knew that they could always confide in the strong common sense, the unfailing command of temper, and the ready and skilful use of all the resources which his thorough knowledge of political tactics, and of parliamentary rules, enabled him to command ; and they Were content to organize for each contest under his direction.

In the new distribution of committees in the Senate, made by Vice-President Hamlin, in March, 1861, Mr. Wilson was wisely assigned to the chairmanship of the committee on Military Affairs. For four years previous he had been a member of that committee, when Jefferson Davis was its chairman, and, though in a minority, had profited by his position in becoming thoroughly familiar with all the details of the condition of the arms and defences of the country, and the state of the army and its officers. To it he now brought his indomitable energy and tireless industry. Its duties were multiplied a hundred fold in the four years that followed.

The important legislation for raising, organizing, and governing the armies, originated in that committee, or was passed upon by it; and eleven thousand nominations, from the second lieu-tenant to the lieutenant-general, were referred to it. The labors of Mr. Wilson as chairman of the committee were immense. Important legislation affecting the armies, and the thousands of nominations, could not but excite the liveliest interest of officers and their friends; and they ever freely visited him, consulted with and wrote to him. Private soldiers, too, ever felt at liberty to visit him or write to him concerning their affairs. Thousands did so ; and so promptly did he attend to their needs, that they christened him the " Soldier's Friend."

Having been, for twenty-five years, the unflinching foe of slavery, and all that belonged or pertained to it, comprehending the magnitude of the issues, and fully understanding the character of the secession leaders, Mr. Wilson believed that the conflict, whenever the appeal should be made to arms, would be one of gigantic proportions. Being in Washington when Fort Sumter fell, he was one among the few who advised that the call should be for three hundred thousand instead of seventy-five thousand men. On the day that call was made, he induced the Secretary of War to double the number of regiments apportioned to Massachusetts.

Returning to Massachusetts, he met the sixth regiment on its way to the protection of the capital. He had hardly reached Boston when the startling intelligence came that the regiment had been fired upon in the streets of Baltimore. Having passed that anxious night in the company of his friend General Schouler, adjutant-general of the commonwealth, discussing the future that. darkly loomed up before them, he left the next day for Washington. He sailed from New York, on the 21st of April, with the forces leaving that day, and found General Butler at Annapolis, and communication with the capital closed. At the request of General Butler, he returned to New York, obtained from General Wool several heavy cannon for the protection of Annapolis, and then went to Washington, where he remained most of the time, until the meeting of Congress, franking letters for the soldiers, working in the hospitals, and preparing military measures to be presented when Congress should meet on the 4th of July. On the second day of the session, Mr. Wilson introduced five bills and a joint resolution. The first bill was a measure authorizing the employment of five hundred thousand volunteers for three years, to aid in enforcing the laws; the second was a measure increasing the regular army by the addition of twenty-five thousand men ; the third was a measure providing for the "better organization of the military establishment," in twenty-five sections, embracing very important provisions. These three measures were referred to the Military Committee, promptly reported back by Mr. Wilson, slightly amended, and enacted into laws. The joint resolution to ratify and confirm certain acts of the President for the suppression of insurrection and rebellion was reported, debated at great length, but failed to pass, though its most important provisions were, on his motion, incorporated with another measure.

Mr. Wilson, at the called session, introduced a bill in addi- tion to the "Act to authorize the Employment of Volunteers," which authorized the President to accept five hundred thousand more volunteers, and to appoint for the command of the volunteer forces, such number of major and brigadier generals as in his judgment might be required; and this measure was passed.

He introduced bills "to authorize the President to appoint additional aides-de-camp," containing a provision abolishing flogging in the army ; "to make appropriations ;" " to provide for the purchase of arms, ordnance, and ordnance stores ;" and " to increase the corps of engineers ; " all of which were enacted. He introduced also a bill, which was passed, " to increase the pay of the privates," which raised the pay of the soldiers from eleven to thirteen dollars per month and provided that all the acts of the President respecting the army and navy should be approved, legalized and made valid. The journals of the Senate, and the " Congressional Globe," bear ample evidence that Mr. Wilson's labors at this period were incessant, in originating and pressing forward the measures for increasing and organizing the armies, to meet the varied exigencies of the mighty conflict so suddenly forced upon the nation.

At the close of the session, General Scott emphatically declared that Senator Wilson had done more work, in that short session, than all the chairmen of the military committees had done in the last twenty years. Indeed, so highly did the veteran general-in-chief prize his labors, that, on the 10th of August, 1861, he addressed him an autograph letter, thanking him most warmly for his able and zealous efforts, and expressing the hope that it might be long before the army should lose his valuable services in the same capacity.

A fondness for military studies, and a considerable experience in the organization of the militia, in which, before becoming a Senator, he had passed through the various official grades up to the rank of brigadier-general, added to the very large amount of theoretical knowledge acquired in his service on the military committee, rendered it desirable that Senator Wilson should hold a military command, and accordingly, after the adjournment of Congress, General Scott recommended to the President, the appointment of Senator Wilson to the office of brigadier-general of volunteers; but, as the acceptance of such a position would have required the resignation of his seat in the Senate, the subject was, after consideration, dropped. Anxious, however, to do something for the endangered country during the recess of Congress, Mr. Wilson made an arrangement with General McClellan to go on his staff, as a volunteer aide-de-camp, with the rank of colonel; but at the pressing solicitation of Mr. Cameron, Mr. Seward, and Mr. Chase, who were very anxious to give a new impulse to volunteering, then somewhat checked by the defeat at Bull Run, he accepted authority to raise a regiment of infantry, a company of sharp-shooters, and a battery of artillery. Returning to Massachusetts, he issued a stirring appeal to the young men of the State, called and addressed several public meetings, and in forty days filled to overflowing the twenty-second regiment, one company of sharpshooters, two batteries, and nine companies of the twenty-third regiment, in all, numbering nearly two thousand three hundred men. He was commissioned colonel of the twenty-second regiment, with the distinct understanding that he would remain with the regiment but a brief period, and would arrange with the War Department, to have an accomplished army officer for its commander. With the twenty-second regiment, a company of sharpshooters, and the third battery of artillery, he went to Washington, and was assigned to General Martindale's brigade, in Fitz John Porter's division, stationed at Hall's hill in Virginia. The passage of the regiment, from their camp at Lynnfield to Washington, was an ovation. On Boston Common, a splendid flag was presented to the regiment by Robert C. Winthrop; in New York, a flag was presented by James T. Brady, and a banquet given by the citizens, which was attended by eminent men of all parties.

After a brief period, General Wilson, at the solicitation of the Secretary of War, resigned his commision, put the accomplished Colonel Gove of the regular army in command of his regiment, and took the position of volunteer aid, with the rank of colonel, on the staff of General McClellan. The Secretary of War, in pressing General Wilson to resign his commision and take this position, expressed the opinion that it would enable him, by practical observation of the condition and actual experience of the organization ?f the army, the better to pre-pare the proper legislation to give the highest development and efficiency to the military forces. He served on General McClellan's staff until the 9th of January, 1862, when pressing duties in Congress forced him to tender his resignation. In accepting it, Adjutant-General Williams said :-- "The major-general commanding, desires me to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 9th instant, in which you tender your resignation of the appointment of aid-de-camp upon his staff. The reasons assigned in your letter are such, that the general is not permitted any other course than that of directing the acceptance of your resignation. He wishes me to add, that it is with regret that he sees the termination of the pleasant official relations which have existed between you and himself; and that he yields with reluctance to the necessity created by the pressure upon you of other and more important public duties."

During the second session of the XXXVIlth Congress, Mr. Wilson originated, introduced, and carried through, several measures of vital importance to the army, and the interests of the country. Among these measures, were the bills " relating to courts-martial ;"to provide for allotment certificates ;" " for the better organization of the signal department of the army ;" "for the appointment of sutlers in the volunteer service, and defining their duties ;" "authorizing the President to assign the command of troops in the same field or department, to officers of the same grade, without regard to seniority ;" " to increase the efficiency of the medical department of the army ;" " to facilitate the discharge of enlisted men for physical disability ;" "to provide additional medical officers of the volunteer service ;" "to encourage enlistments in the regular army, and volunteer forces ;" "for the presentation of medals of honor to enlisted men of the army and volunteer forces, who have distinguished, or who may distinguish themselves in battle during the present rebellion ;" " to define the pay and emoluments of certain officers of the army, and for other purposes,"—a bill of twenty-two sections of important provisions; and "to amend the act calling forth the militia to execute the laws, suppress insurrection, and repel invasion." This last bill authorized for the first time the enrolment in the militia, and the drafting, of negroes; and empowered the President to accept, organize, and arm colored men for military purposes. Military measures introduced by other Senators, or originating in the House, and amendments made to Senate bills in the House, were referred to the Committee on Military Affairs, imposing upon Mr. Wilson much care and labor.

During the session, Mr. Cameron, the Secretary of War, resigned; and on leaving the department, he said, in a letter to Senator Wilson :—" No man, in my opinion, in. the whole country, has done more to aid the War Department in pre-paring the mighty army now under arms, than yourself; and, before leaving this city, I think it my duty to offer to you my sincere thanks, as its late head. As chairman of the Military Committee of the Senate, your services were invaluable. At the first call for troops, you came here; and up to the meeting of Congress, a period of more than six months, your labors were incessant ; sometimes in encouraging the administration by assurance of support from Congress, by encouraging volunteering in your own State, by raising a regiment yourself, when other men began to fear that compulsory drafts might be necessary ; and in the Senate, by preparing the bills, and assisting to get the necessary appropriations for organizing, clothing, arming, and supplying the army, you have been constantly and profitably employed in the great cause of putting down this unnatural rebellion."

Mr. Cameron was succeeded by Mr. Stanton, whose rapid intuitions, indomitable energy, and wonderful industry, and executive ability, were made so manifest in the six years which followed, and enabled him to accomplish more than any other man could have done for the prosecution of the war. That Mr. Stanton's manner was brusque and abrupt, is well known, but his relations with Mr. Wilson, which were constant throughout the war, were of the most cordial and friendly character, and the secretary always found in him a prompt and able defender. In the last session of the XXXVIIth, and the whole of the XXXVIIIth Congress, Mr. Wilson labored with the same vigor and persistency to organize and develop the military resources of the nation, to do justice to the officers, and to care for the soldiers. Aside from the numerous bills which, though originating with him, were offered by others, and the amendments which he suggested to bills originating with other Senators, or with the House of Representatives, the following important measures were introduced and advocated by him, and passed through his efforts :-" An act to facilitate the discharge of disabled soldiers, and the inspection of convalescent camps and hospitals ;" "to improve the organization of the cavalry forces ;" " to authorize an increase in the number of major and brigadier-generals;" " for enrolling and calling out the national forces, and for other purposes ;" (this act contained thirty-eight sections, and was one of the most important passed during the session ;) "to amend an act entitled ' An act for enrolling and calling out the national forces;'" (this bill contained the provision that "colored persons should, on being mustered into the service, become free ;") "an act to establish a uniform system of ambulances in the armies ;" "to increase the pay of soldiers in the United States army, and for other purposes ;" (this increased the pay of a private soldier to sixteen dollars a months;) "to provide for the examination of certain officers of the army ;" " to provide for the better organization of the Quartermaster's Department ;" "an act in addition to the several acts for enrolling and calling out the national forces ;" "to incorporate a national military and naval asylum for the relief of totally disabled men of the volunteer forces ;" "to incorporate the National Freedmen's Saving Bank ;" "to incorporate the National Academy of Sciences ;" (the humble shoe-maker perfecting and reporting a bill for the organization of an association of the most learned and scientific men of the nation !) "to encourage enlistments, and promote the efficiency of the military and naval forces, to making free the wives and children of colored soldiers ;" and a joint resolution " to encourage the employment of disabled and discharged soldiers." The important legislation securing to colored soldiers equality of pay from the 1st of January, 1864, and to officers in the field an increase in the commutation-price of the ration; and three months' extra pay to those who should continue in service to the close of the war, was moved by Mr. Wilson upon appropriation-bills.

With the close of the XXXVIIIth Congress, or rather shortly after its adjournment, came the conclusion of the war. But the assembling of the XXXIXth Congress, in the following December, brought no cessation of labor to Mr. Wilson, The bill for the continuation of the Freedmen's Bureau, the Civil Rights bill, the Fourteenth Constitutional Amendment, the questions of the basis of representation, negro suffrage, and the Reconstruction acts of that and the XLth Congress, as well as the matter of impeachment, all demanded his attention. The creation of the rank of' general in the army, and admiral in the navy, both originated with his committee, and he had the satisfaction of seeing Lieutenant-General Grant appointed to the one, and Vice-Admiral Farragut to the other, and the two brave and deserving officers, Major-General Sherman, and Rear-Admiral Porter, advanced to the vacancies thus made. But while laboring, with ever-watchful care, for the interests of the army and the support of the Government in its gigantic efforts to suppress the rebellion, Mr. Wilson did not lose sight, for a moment, of slavery, to the ultimate extinction of which he had consecrated his life more than a quarter of a century before slavery revolted against the authority of the nation. In that remarkable series of anti-slavery measures which culminated in the anti-slavery amendment of the Constitution, he bore no undistinguished part. He introduced the bill abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia, which became a law on the 16th of April, 1862, and by which more than three thousand slaves were made forever free, and slavery became forever impossible in the nation's capital. He introduced a provision, which became a law on the 21st of May, 1862, providing that persons of color in the District of Columbia should be subject to the same laws to which white persons were subject; that they should be tried for offences against the laws in the same manner as white persons were tried, and, if convicted, be liable to the same penalty, and no other, as would be inflicted upon white persons for the same crime. On the 12th of July, 1862, he introduced from the Military Committee the bill, which became the law on the 17th, to amend the act of 1795, calling for the militia to execute the laws. This bill made negroes a part of the militia, authorized the President to receive, into the military or naval service, persons of African descent, and made free such persons, their mothers, wives, and children, if they owed service to any persons who gave aid to the rebellion. On the 24th of February, 1864, he caused the enrolment act to be so amended as to make colored men, whether free or slave, part of the national forces; and the masters of slaves were to receive the bounty when they should free their drafted slaves. On the Committee of Conference, Mr. Wilson moved that the slave should be made free, not by the act of their masters, but by the authority of the Government, the moment they entered the service of the United States, and this motion prevailing, the act passed in that form. General Palmer reported that in Kentucky alone, more than twenty thousand slaves were made free by it. He subsequently introduced, and in the face of the most persistent opposition carried through, a joint resolution making the wives and children of all colored soldiers forever free. Six months after the passage of this bill, Major-General Palmer reported that, in Kentucky alone, nearly seventy-five thousand women and children had received their freedom through it.

Senator Wilson also moved and carried an amendment to the army appropriation bill of June 15, 1864, providing that all persons of color who had been or who might be mustered into the military service should receive the same uniform, clothing, arms, equipments, camp equipage, rations, medical attendance, and pay, as other soldiers, from the first day of January, 1864.

His efforts in behalf of the fifty-fourth and fifty-fifth Massachusetts colored regiments are well known, and it was due to his persistency, that they received a part of what was their just due. The Freedmen's Bureau bill was originally reported by him, and in all the subsequent 'legislation on that subject, he was active and decided in favor of its organization and maintenance. He defended with great ability and secured the adoption of negro suffrage as a part of the Congressional plan of reconstruction, and in both the XXXIXth and XLth Congresses, he has maintained fully his old reputation as the champion of the oppressed and down trodden.

This championship is with him no matter of expediency, no political trick to gain a cheap popularity. Born in poverty, nursed in childhood in the lap of penury, and throughout his youth and early manhood' accustomed to constant and severe manual labor, he has learned, from the stern experiences of his own early life, the divine art of sympathy, and has become imbued with the doctrine of human brotherhood and love. A man of the people, sprung from the toiling classes, he has pi o-found faith in them, and commands, as few men can, their ea] nest and abiding love.

From boyhood Mr. Wilson has been strictly temperate and a man of irreproachable moral character; but within the past six or seven years, he has felt the necessity of a more actively religious life, and professing conversion, has united himself with the Congregational church at his home. In this, as in all other public acts of his life, he has given abundant proof of his earnestness and the purity of his motives. He was, in 1866, active in organizing a Congressional Temperance society, an association of which there was much need, and has been using his great influence to win members of Congress, who had fallen into habits of intoxication, to reformation. He has met with gratifying success in this laudable enterprise.

Mr. Wilson was a prominent candidate (rather from the urgency of his friends than from any particular ambition of his own) for the Vice-Presidency, in the political campaign of 1868, and though Mr. Colfax eventually received the nomination, the vote for Mr. Wilson was large, and under other circumstances could not have failed to secure him a place on the ticket.

On the election of General Grant to the Presidency he was tendered a position in the Cabinet, but he wisely preferred his place in the Senate to which, in 1871, he was re-elected, as being one of equal dignity and less liability to censure. In the recent discord among the Republicans of the Senate, Mr. Wilson has supported President Grant, though temperately and with moderation ; but while he differs in his views from his able and distinguished colleague (Mr. Sumner), their personal relations to each Other are, as they always have been, cordial and heartily friendly.

At the National Republican Convention held at Philadelphia, June 5th and 6th, 1872, Mr. Wilson was nominated for the Vice-Presidency on the first ballot, receiving 384 1/2 votes against 314 1/2 polled for Mr. Colfax. This result was due to several causes, of which Mr. Wilson's real merit and ability was one; a declinature by Mr. Colfax of a renomination, early in 1871, which was subsequently reconsidered, and the belief that after the scathing speech of Mr. Sumner, Mr. Wilson's nomination was necessary to secure the New England vote for Mr. Grant, were others. But whatever may have been the causes which led to it, a good and true man has been put in nomination.

Source: Source: Men of Our Day; or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country, by L. P. Brockett, M. D., Published by Ziegler and McCurdy, Philadelphia Penna; Springfield, Mass; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo., 1872   

Related Links:



Access Genealogy
One of the largest websites online providing free genealogy. A must see for Native American research!

Find Your Ancestors at SurnameWeb
The oldest, most complete listings of surnames and related websites online.

Free Family Tree
Family Tree Guide is a quick, simple and free way for you to share your family history. Within minutes, you can have a dynamically driven website that creatively portrays your family tree.

Free Genealogy Charts
These free genealogy charts will enable you to begin development of a notebook in which you can track your ancestry as you research it.

Copyright, 2005-2010 by Webified Development all rights reserved.