Why Some Succeed While Others Fail: Henry Wilson

Great honor is due any man who rises from the shoe-maker’s bench to be Vice-President of the United States. Such a man was Henry Wilson, who was born at Farmington, New Hampshire, February 16th, 1812. When yet a mere child he was apprenticed to a farmer, whom he was to serve until of age. Eleven long years did he serve this man, receiving only about one year’s schooling during that time, but he borrowed books and read nearly one thousand volumes during the “wee sma’ hours” of his apprenticeship. Upon obtaining his majority he started on foot for Natick, Massachusetts, and entered the town with all his worldly possessions in a bundle. Obtaining employment as a shoemaker he was thus occupied for the next two years. His course of reading, so faithfully followed, had made him proficient in history, but thirsting for additional knowledge he decided to attend school with the money he had saved. About this time he went to Washington, when the sight of slaves bought and sold excited his sympathy, and he decided to forever oppose with all his might the institution of bondage, which he always did, no matter how found. Upon his return he found his earnings swept away by the failure of the man to whom he had intrusted them. Accordingly he resumed the shoe business, but his light was beginning to be seen. He was invited to partake in the anti-slavery meetings, then so frequent in Massachusetts, and actively engaged in the campaign in which Harrison was elected President, making over sixty speeches.

In 1843 he was elected to the State Senate. Also manufactured shoes on an extended scale for the southern market. The old Whig party, with whom he had been so earnestly allied, proving itself unable to cope with the slave power, by rejecting the anti-slavery resolutions at the convention of 1843, he withdrew from it. Later, he was a conspicuous figure in the organization of the new Free Soil party, being the Chairman of the committee in his State, and editor of the Boston Republican. In 1850-52 he was president of the State Senate, and in ’52 presided at the Free Soil contention at Pittsburgh. The next year he was the Free Soil candidate for Governor of Massachusetts, but was defeated. In 1855 he was chosen United States Senator, where he distinguished himself. When his colleague, Mr. Sumner, was attacked by Preston S. Brooks, Mr. Wilson fearlessly denounced it as a cowardly, not to say dastardly assault. He was immediately challenged by Mr. Brooks, but declined on the ground that dueling is a barbarous custom which the law of the country has branded as a crime. He was one of the leaders in the new Republican party movement.

During the civil war his labors were indefatigable for the Union, and in 1872 he was elected on that ticket with Grant by an overwhelming majority.

He died in office, November 22nd, 1875, and the boy shoemaker was mourned by a great nation. Truly, the price of success is patient toil.