Vallandigham, Clement (1820–1871) Vallandigham was an Ohio “Copperhead,” a Northern Democrat sympathetic to the Confederacy and favoring a negotiated end to the Civil War. Vallandigham and other Copperheads saw Union victory in the Civil War as benefiting only East Coast moneyed interests. Vallandigham’s wartime activities were judged subversive by Union authorities, and he was exiled to the South.

Van Buren, Martin (1782–1862) Van Buren had served as a senator from New York, governor of New York, and secretary of state during President Andrew Jackson’s first term. He was Jackson’s vice president during his second term, from 1833 to 1837 and, handpicked by Jackson, was elected president in 1836. Seeking to avoid civil war, he tended to placate the southern slaveholders, although, after being defeated for reelection in 1840, he unsuccessfully ran for president in 1848 as the candidate of the antislavery Free Soil Party.

Vance, Cyrus (1917–2002) Vance was an attorney who served as secretary of the army during the Kennedy administration and as deputy secretary of defense under Lyndon B. Johnson. Initially in favor of the Vietnam War, he turned against it in 1968, and Johnson appointed him deputy chief delegate to the Paris Peace Talks. As Carter’ secretary of state, Vance played an important role in facilitating the Camp David Accords, which brought peace between Israel and Egypt in 1978.

Vanderbilt, Cornelius (1794–1877) Vanderbilt built his fortune on ferry operations between Staten Island and Manhattan, expanding this to control the Hudson River passenger traffic and then, during the California gold rush that began in 1849, operating steamship service from New York and New Orleans to San Francisco via Nicaragua. After 1850, Vanderbilt became increasingly interested in rail transportation, acquiring control of the New York Central in 1863 and expanding it to connect Chicago and New York. By the time of his death, Vanderbilt was worth in excess of $100 million.

Vanzetti, Bartolomeo (1888–1927) Vanzetti was born in Italy and immigrated to the United States when he was 20. He became a fish peddler and, angered by the way many immigrants lived in America, he became a committed anarchist. On May 5, 1920, Vanzetti and his friend and fellow anarchist Nicola Sacco were arrested for the robbery-murders of a shoe factory paymaster and a guard. On flimsy circumstantial evidence, they were convicted in 1921. The case became an international cause célèbre as prominent intellectuals the world over protested that the men had been convicted for their political beliefs. On August 23, 1927, after seven years of appeals and incarceration, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. Subsequent investigation suggested that Sacco was in fact guilty, but Vanzetti innocent. On August 23, 1977, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis posthumously exonerated both men.

Vaux, Calvert (1824–1895) Vaux was born in London and came to America in 1850 to work with landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing in creating the grounds of the White House and the Smithsonian Institution, among many other works. In 1857, Vaux became a founding member of the American Institute of Architects and started a vogue for “Victorian Gothic” architecture. He is best remembered today for his collaboration with Frederick Law Olmsted in designing Central Park in 1858.

Veblen, Thorstein (1857–1929) Veblen took an evolutionary approach to the analysis of economic institutions, publishing in 1899 The Theory of the Leisure Class, an economic study that verged on satire and that became a popular sensation with iconoclastic readers. Veblen coined the term—and concept—“conspicuous consumption” to describe spending habits among the well off, who customarily purchase items chiefly to exhibit and demonstrate their socioeconomic status.

Verrazano, Giovanni da (1485–1528) Sailing for France, this Italian navigator ventured to the New World in 1524 and explored the east coast of what is now the United States. He discovered the sites of present-day New York Harbor, Block Island, and Narragansett Bay. His name is commemorated in the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge spanning New York Harbor from Brooklyn to Staten Island.

Vesco, Robert (1935– ) Vesco worked his way up from Detroit auto worker to owning controlling interests in companies with more than $100 million in sales by the late 1960s. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused Vesco of looting investments in one of his companies, thereby defrauding thousands of investors, and in 1973 Vesco was indicted for illegal contributions to the Nixon reelection campaign. Vesco fled prosecution, eventually ending up in Cuba, where Fidel Castro jailed him and refused extradition.

Vesey, Denmark (circa 1767–1822) Vesey was a self-educated slave who purchased his freedom in 1800 (using $600 won in a street lottery). While free, he read anti-slavery literature and became radicalized. He organized perhaps as many as 9,000 slaves in and around Charleston, South Carolina, in a revolt that called for seizure of arsenals, the killing of all whites, and the destruction of the city. Tipped off by a house servant, authorities crushed the rebellion just before it began. Of approximately 130 blacks arrested and tried, 67 were convicted and 35, including Vesey, were hanged. It was the most extensive planned slave revolt in U.S. history.

Vespucci, Amerigo (1454–1512) This Italian navigator participated in New World voyages during 1499–1500 and 1501–1502 and served Spain as piloto mayor (“master navigator”) from 1508 to 1512. In 1507, the German geographer Martin Waldseemhller coined the name “America” in his Cosmographiae Introductio, mistakenly attributing the discovery of the New World to Vespucci, whose earliest New World voyage was in 1499, seven years after Columbus.

von Neumann, John (1903–1957) Born in Hungary and educated there as well as in Germany and Switzerland, von Neumann immigrated to the United States in 1930 to teach at Princeton. He made fundamental contributions to mathematics (including the definition of ordinal numbers) and physics (his 1932 Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics remains standard), then created the field of game theory, with special application in economics. In computer science, von Neumann pioneered logical design.

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