Death of Henry Wilson

"Death of the Late Vice-President Henry Wilson, in the Vice-President's Room, at the Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday Morning, November 22d."
Unknown Artist
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
December 11, 1875

"Washington, D.C.—The Body of the Late Vice-President Henry Wilson Lying in State in the Rotunda of the Capitol, Thursday, November 25th."
Unidentified Artist
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
December 11, 1875


Wilson, Hen.—2

Mr. Wilson and I had many conversations in relation to the affairs of the Senate. When Vice President Mr. Wilson had an iron railing once placed around the bar of the Senate. There had been a railing in the Old Senate Chamber, and ever since (Jan 1859) the Senate had occupied its new chamber, Mr. W had been desirous {desirous/ambitious} to have one. He regarded it as necessary to prevent strangers (visitors) from occupying the seats of senators, and consequently as a means of preventing confusion and disorder on the floor. But such were the objections and ridicule of senators that he was forced to have it removed. It annoyed {trouble/worried/annoyed} him a great deal. He lamented what he regarded as the great change in the (senatorial character or character of the Senate). Senators were less dignified [ . . . ] and the rules of the Senate were less observed, [nor] was he greatly enamored of nor did he like his position as vice prest. He said he did not feel at home in the chair, and regretted that he had accepted the office (place). He preferred that of senator. In reply, I would tell him to be patient, he would soon be able to occupy his old seat. He would respond, “I wish I could now.”

I was with him in his last sickness. On the morning that he was struck down, he left me in the Vice President’s Room saying, “I am going to the barber’s to be shaved and have a bath. I’m not feeling well. I expect a gentleman to call. Please ask him to take a seat. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” While I was waiting for him to return, the barber came up and said “Mr. Wilson wants to see you very much, he is very sick.” I immediately went down and found Mr. W. sitting in the barber’s chair, partly dressed. He said, “Bassett, I am very sick, but hope to be better directly.” The sergeant at arms, coming in, and Mr. W. continuing to grow worse, he had him placed on a sofa and carried to the Conference Room of the Supreme Court. I then sent for a physician. He came and ascertaining the condition of Mr. W., directed Mr. W. to be carried to the Vice President’s Room, in which he died Nov. 22, 1875, in the 64th year of his age. [He] was regarded by many [a] good-looking, handsome man. . . . [20H202-20H205]

Editor's Note:

Henry Wilson was born Jeremiah Jones Colbath in 1812. He served as a U.S. senator from Massachusetts from 1855 to 1873, when he resigned to become vice president under Ulysses S. Grant. A marble bust of Wilson was placed in the Vice President’s Room in the Capitol where Wilson died. It remains there to this day.

People, Places, & Things:

  • Vice President - Under the Constitution, the vice president serves as president of the Senate. In the Senate Chamber, the vice president sits on the platform at the front of the Senate. He is allowed to vote only in the case of a tie. The president pro tempore, or others designated by that officer, presides in the absence of the vice president.
  • Vice President’s Room - As president of the Senate, the vice president of the United States has an office in the Capitol, just outside the Senate Chamber.
  • Barber - The Senate Barber Shop was located in the north wing of the Capitol from 1860 to 1980. The Senate also had marble bathtubs for the use of its members; two of which still exist, although they are no longer in use.
  • Sergeant at Arms - This position was originally that of doorkeeper, and was established in 1789. The doorkeeper tended the Senate Chamber door and enforced order in the galleries. Over the years, the title and duties grew; the title is now "sergeant at arms and doorkeeper." The sergeant at arms serves the Senate as its chief law enforcement officer, protocol officer, and executive officer.
  • Supreme Court - The Supreme Court occupied space in the Capitol until 1935, when it relocated to its new building, just east of the Capitol. At the time of Wilson’s death, the Supreme Court was using the Old Senate Chamber.