Early LifeOn January 30, 1816 in Waltham Massachusetts, just west of Boston, Nathaniel Prentiss Banks was born to parents Nathaniel P. Banks Sr. and Rebecca Greenwood Banks. As a young man, Banks worked at a local cotton factory, eventually serving as an apprentice for the mechanic of the company. Around the same time Banks was also responsible for editing several weekly local newspapers, starting a debating society and a newspaper for the factory in which he worked; his ability to captivate audiences while speaking would serve him well in a political nature later in life. While working at the factory, Banks was also studying law, and was admitted to the bar at 23 years of age. On April 11, 1847, Banks married Mary Theodosia Palmer of Providence, Rhode Island. '<
Nathaniel Prentiss Banks was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives from Waltham in 1848, as a member of the Free Soil Party. Banks served as a representative until 1853, being elected Speaker of the House in 1851 and 1852. Banks' hand in politics was strengthened by his being elected as the President of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention in 1853, and to the United States House of Representatives as a coalition candidate of the Democratic and Free Soil Parties. '
After the dissipation of the Free Soil Party in 1853, Banks joined the Know-Nothing Party, where he was reelected to Congress in 1854. Early on, Nathaniel Prentiss Banks shared anti-slavery sentiment, and thus he joined the Republican Party in 1855. Banks made a run for the presidential nomination in the election of 1860, but lost at the convention to future President Abraham Lincoln.'
The Civil War
Major General Banks was an important part of the effort at the beginning of the war to keep Maryland, a slave state, in the Union during his command at Anapolis. The next time Banks saw military action was when he was sent to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia in 1862; here, Union forces were driven from this Virginia valley by troops commanded by Confederate Stonewall Jackson.'
General Major Banks joined forces with General U.S. Grant at Vicksburg, Mississippi in the summer of 1863. From here, Banks led some 30,000 Union troops to defend Port Hudson, Louisiana; though the Confederate forces held off Banks' men for nearly fifty days, the Union soldiers gained control of the Mississippi River under his direction. In the fall of that year, General Major Banks organized two expeditions to Texas in order to block any aid to the Confederate troops there.'
Nathaniel Prentiss Banks' final participation in the Civil War was in the Red River Campaign in Louisiana. This campaign was a failure for the Union forces and ended Banks' time service in the Civil War; Banks spend the remaining months of the war in Washington, D.C. preparing plans for reconstruction in Louisiana.
Nathaniel Prentiss Banks returned to his position as Congressman, representing Massachusetts from 1865-1891; he also served one year in the Massachusetts Senate.' During his second run as Congressman, he also served as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and as chair of the Republican Congressional caucus. He was influential in such legislation as the Alaska Purchase during this time.
Nathaniel Prentiss Banks spent his last years at home with his family, plagued by what is assumed to be Alzheimer's disease. He died on September 1, 1894.
Nathaniel Prentice Banks, The National Archives: Northeast Region. http://www.archives.gov/northeast/boston/exhibits/banks/