Henry Wilson, eighteenth vice president of the United States, born at Farmington, N. H., Feb. 16, 1812, died in Washington, D. C., Nov. 22, 1875. His original name was Jeremiah Jones Colbath, but at the age of 17 he was authorized by the legislature to call himself Henry Wilson. He was apprenticed at 10 years of age to a farmer in his native town, with whom he continued 11 years, during which he received about 12 months of schooling, and read nearly 1,000 volumes. On attaining his majority, with all his possessions in a pack on his back, he walked to Natick, Mass., where he worked for two years at shoemaking, when he returned to New Hampshire and studied in the academies at Stafford, Wolfeborough, and Concord. His plan of education was cut short by the insolvency of the person to whom he had intrusted his savings, and he returned to Natiok and resumed work as a shoemaker in 1838. In 1840 he made more than 60 speeches in behalf of Gen. Harrison, the whig candidate for president. In the next five years he was three times elected a representative from Natick to the legislature, and twice a state senator from Middlesex co.
In the legislature he was known as a zealous opponent of slavery, and in 1845 he was selected in conjunction with the poet Whittier to carry to Washington the great anti-slavery petition from Massachusetts, against the annexation of Texas. He was a delegate to the whig national convention of 1848, and on the rejection of anti-slavery resolutions by the convention he withdrew from it and took a prominent part in organizing the free-soil party. He purchased at this time the " Boston Republican," a daily newspaper, which he edited for two years. In 1849 he was chosen chairman of the free-soil state committee of Massachusetts, a post which he actively filled for four years. In 1850 and 1851 he was a state senator, and during both terms was president of the senate. In 1852 he was made president of the free-soil national convention at Pittsburgh, and chairman of the national committee of the party. In the same year he was the candidate of his party for congress in the eighth district of Massachusetts, where, although the majority against the free-soilers exceeded 7,500, he was defeated by only 93 votes. He was elected to the constitutional convention of 1853, and in the same year was candidate for governor, and was defeated.
In 1855 he was chosen to succeed Edward Everett in the United States senate, and shortly after taking his seat made a speech advocating the repeal of the fugitive slave law and the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia and in the territories. For a brief period in 1855 he was associated with the American party; but on the adoption of a pro-slavery platform by the national council of that organization, he withdrew from it and assisted in organizing the republican party on the basis of opposition to the extension of slavery. When, in May, 1856, Mr. Sumner, his colleague, was assailed by Mr. Brooks of South Carolina, Mr. Wilson in a speech to the senate denounced the act as a " brutal, murderous, and cowardly assault." For this he was challenged by Mr. Brooks, but declined to accept the challenge on the ground that duelling is a barbarous practice which the law of the country has branded as a crime. During the four following years Mr. Wilson took part in all important debates in the senate, and made elaborate speeches, remarkable for fulness and accuracy of statement, on Kansas, the treasury note bill, the expenses of the government, the tariff, the Pacific railroad, and many other topics.
His speech in defence of free labor, in reply to Senator Hammond of South Carolina, March, 1859, attained an immense circulation through the free states. In January of the same year the Massachusetts legislature reelected him to the senate by nearly a unanimous vote. In March, 1861, he became chairman of the committee on military affairs, and so remained till the end of the civil war. In the regular session of 1861 - '2 Mr. Wilson introduced the bills for abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia, for abolishing the "black code," and for enrolling colored men in the militia, and granting freedom to all who entered the military service of the United States and to their families. After the close of the war he took a prominent part in the legislation for the reduction of the army and for the reconstruction of the southern states. He advocated the mildest measures toward those states, and also the granting of all political and civil rights to the colored population. In 1865 the Massachusetts legislature elected him for the third time to the senate. In 1870 he made a summer visit to Europe. In 1872 he was nominated by the republican national convention for vice president, with Gen. Grant for president, and was elected.
In the following year Mr. Wilson while at Boston sustained a shock of apoplexy, causing partial paralysis, from which he had nearly recovered when on Nov. 10, 1875, a second shock prostrated him in the capitol. For twelve days he lay ill in the vice president's room, and died very suddenly from a third shock. In the latter years of his life he wrote the following books: " History of the Anti-Slavery Measures of the 37th and 38th United States Congresses " (Boston, 1864); " History of the Reconstruction Measures of the 39th and 40th Congresses " (Hartford, 1868); and "History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America" (3 vols., Boston, 1871-6). The last is his principal work, and the third volume was not quite finished when he died.