Saturday, February 17, 2007

February 16, 1812:

Jeremiah Jones Colbath’s Birthday.

As a vice president of the United States, Jeremiah Jones Colbath has a number of distinctions. In first place, the nation did not know him as Vice President Colbath – rather, he was Henry Wilson by that time, having changed his name as a young man. Apparently he despised his father, and the name he had been given.

He was also one of the few vice presidents born dirt poor (the other would be Andrew Johnson). While quite young, he learned shoemaking, and became a shoe manufacturer, but it was also a time when a talent for oratory could get you noticed, and eventually Wilson rose in Massachusetts politics on the strength of his speaking talents as a particularly ardent opponent of slavery. He was a US senator from Massachusetts from 1855 to 1873, serving as chairman of the Senate committee on military affairs during the Civil War, a most important position.

He was President Grant’s second vice president, replacing Schuyler Colfax on the ticket in 1872, which coasted to an easy win over Horace Greeley. Since Grant, too, did not use his birth-name – Hiram Ulysses Grant – it was the only time that both the president and vice president were known by names they weren’t given at birth.

Vice President Wilson suffered a stroke in 1873 and did not survive to the end of his term, dying in his office in the Senate on November 22, 1875. Death in office was a frequent fate of vice presidents before the 1920s: George Clinton, Elbridge Gerry and William King had all done so before Wilson, and Thomas Hendricks, Garret Hobart and James Sherman would do so afterwards (no veep has died in office since Sherman in 1912, however).

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