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Henry Clay

In office
March 4, 1849 – June 29, 1852
Preceded by Thomas Metcalfe
Succeeded by David Meriwether

In office
November 10, 1831 – March 31, 1842
Preceded by John Rowan
Succeeded by John J. Crittenden

In office
March 7, 1825 – March 3, 1829
President John Quincy Adams
Preceded by John Quincy Adams
Succeeded by Martin Van Buren

In office
December 1, 1823 – March 4, 1825
President James Monroe
Preceded by Joseph B. Varnum
Succeeded by Langdon Cheves

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 3rd district
In office
March 4, 1823 – March 6, 1825
Preceded by John T. Johnson
Succeeded by James Clark

In office
December 4, 1815 – October 28, 1820
President James Madison
James Monroe
Preceded by Langdon Cheves
Succeeded by John W. Taylor

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Kentucky's 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1815 – March 3, 1821
Preceded by Samuel McKee
Succeeded by Joseph H. Hawkins

In office
November 4, 1811 – January 19, 1814
President James Monroe
Preceded by Philip Pendleton Barbour
Succeeded by John W. Taylor

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1813 – January 19, 1814
Preceded by Joseph H. Hawkins
Succeeded by Samuel H. Woodson

In office
January 4, 1810 – March 4, 1811
Preceded by Buckner Thruston
Succeeded by George M. Bibb

In office
November 19, 1806 – March 4, 1807
Preceded by John Adair
Succeeded by John Pope

Born April 12, 1777 (1777-04-12)
Hanover County, Virginia
Died June 29, 1852 (1852-06-30) (aged 75)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic-Republican
National Republican
Spouse(s) Lucretia Hart Clay
Children Henrietta Clay
Theodore Clay
Thomas Clay
Susan Clay
Anne Clay
Lucretia Clay
Henry Clay, Jr.
Eliza Clay
Laura Clay
James Brown Clay
John Morrison Clay
Alma mater College of William and Mary
Profession Law
Religion Episcopalian
Overton Farm, the childhood home of Lucretia Hart Clay.
Henry Clay and his wife, Lucretia Hart Clay
Death of Lt Colonel Henry Clay Jr in 1847

Henry Clay, Sr. (April 12, 1777 – June 29, 1852) was a nineteenth-century American statesman and orator who represented Kentucky in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, where he served as Speaker. He also served as Secretary of State from 1825 to 1829.

He was a dominant figure in both the first and Second Party Systems. As a leading war hawk, he favored war with Britain and played a significant role in leading the nation to war in 1812.[1] He was a major supporter of the American System, fighting for an increase in tariffs to foster industry in the United States, the use of federal funding to build and maintain infrastructure, and a strong national bank.[2] Dubbed the "Great Compromiser," he brokered important compromises during the Nullification Crisis and on the slavery issue, especially in 1820 and 1850, during which he was part of the "Great Triumvirate" or "Immortal Trio," along with his colleagues Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun. He was viewed as the primary representative of Western interests in this group, and was given the names "Henry of the West" and "The Western Star."[3] In 1957, a Senate committee chaired by John F. Kennedy named Clay as one of the five greatest senators in U.S. history.[4] In his early involvement in Illinois politics and as a fellow Kentucky native, Abraham Lincoln was a great admirer of Clay.[5]


Early life

Birthplace of Henry Clay


Henry Clay was born on April 12, 1777, at the Clay homestead in Hanover County, Virginia in a story-and-a-half frame house, an above average home for a Virginia farmer of the time.[6] He was the seventh of nine children of the Reverend John Clay and Elizabeth Hudson Clay.[7] His father, a Baptist minister called "Sir John," died four years later (1781).[6] He left Henry and his brothers two slaves each and his wife eighteen slaves and 464 acres (1.88 km2) of land.[8]

She soon married Capt. Henry Watkins, who proved himself to be an affectionate stepfather to Clay. He moved the family to Richmond, Virginia[9] where Elizabeth had seven children with Watkins to add to the nine she had with John Clay.[8]


In Richmond, Clay was hired as a shop assistant.[9] His stepfather later secured Clay employment in the office of the Court of Chancery, where he displayed an adeptness for understanding the intricacies of law.[10] There he became friends with George Wythe,[10] who was hampered by a crippled hand and chose Clay to be his secretary because of his neat handwriting.[10] While Clay was employed as Wythe's amanuensis, the chancellor took an active interest in Clay's future and arranged a position for him with the Virginia attorney general, Robert Brooke. Clay received a formal legal education at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, studying under George Wythe. Under Brooke, Clay prepared for the bar, to which he was admitted in 1797.[9]


On April 11, 1799, Clay married Lucretia Hart at the Hart home in Lexington, Kentucky. She was a sister to Captain Nathaniel G. T. Hart, who died in the Massacre of the River Raisin in the War of 1812.[11] Clay and his wife had eleven children (six daughters and five sons): Henrietta (1800-1801), Theodore (1802-1870), Thomas (1803-1871), Susan (1805-1825), Anne (1807-1835), Lucretia (1809-1823), Henry, Jr.(1811-1847), Eliza (1813-1825), Laura (October 1815-1817), James Brown (1817-1864), and John (1821-1887). Seven of Clay's children preceded him in death. By 1835 all six daughters had died of varying causes from whooping cough to yellow fever to complications of childbirth, and Henry Clay Jr. was killed at the Battle of Buena Vista during the Mexican-American War. His wife Lucretia died in 1864 at the age of 83 and is interred with her husband in the vault of his monument at the Lexington Cemetery. Clay was a second cousin of emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay and the great-grandfather of suffragette Madeline McDowell Breckinridge.[12]

Legal career

Current view of Henry Clay's law office from 1803-1810 in Lexington, KY

Seeking to establish a lucrative law practice, Clay relocated in November 1797 to Lexington, Kentucky, near where his family then resided in Woodford County. He soon established a reputation for his legal skills and courtroom oratory.[13] Some of his clients paid him with horses and with land. Clay came to own town lots and the Kentucky Hotel. By 1812, Clay owned a lucrative 600-acre (240 ha) plantation dubbed "Ashland."[2] One of Clay's clients was his father-in-law, Colonel Thomas Hart, who was an early settler of Kentucky and a prominent businessman.[11] Clay's most famous client, however, was Aaron Burr in 1806 when United States District Attorney Joseph Hamilton Daviess indicted him for planning an expedition into Spanish Territory west of the Mississippi River. Clay and his partner, John Allen, successfully defended Burr. Some years later Thomas Jefferson convinced Clay that Daviess had been right. Clay was so upset by this that many years later when he met Burr again, Clay refused to shake his hand.[14]

Early political career

State legislator

In 1803 Clay was elected to serve as the representative of Fayette County in the Kentucky General Assembly. As a legislator, Clay advocated a liberal interpretation of the state's constitution and initially the gradual emancipation of slavery in Kentucky, although the political realities of the time forced him to abandon that position.[2] Clay also advocated moving the state capitol from Frankfort to Lexington. He also worked diligently to defend the Kentucky Insurance Company, which he saved from an attempt in 1804 by Felix Grady to repeal its monopolistic charter.[15] However, Clay's most famous deed in the assembly was the part he played in the passage of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which expressed opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts that were viewed as tyrannical.[2]

First Senate appointment and Speaker of the State House

Clay's influence in Kentucky state politics was great enough for him to be elected by the Kentucky legislature to fill the Senate seat vacated by John Adair, who had to resign his seat for his alleged part in the Burr Conspiracy. He was elected in 1806 and served for one year. Interestingly, Clay was below the constitutionally appointed age of thirty when elected. When he returned in 1807 he was elected the Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.[16]

Duel with Humphrey Marshall

On January 3, 1809, Clay introduced to the Kentucky General Assembly a resolution requiring members to wear homespun suits rather than British broadcloth. Only two members voted against the patriotic measure. One of them was Humphrey Marshall, an "aristocratic lawyer who possessed a sarcastic tongue," who had been hostile toward Clay in 1806 during the trial of Aaron Burr. Clay and Marshall nearly came to blows on the Assembly floor and Clay challenged Marshall to a duel. The duel took place on January 9 in Shippingport, Indiana. They each had three turns. Clay grazed Marshall once, just below the chest. Marshall hit Clay once in the thigh.[17]

Second Senate appointment

In 1810, United States Senator Buckner Thruston resigned to serve as a judge on the United States Circuit Court and Clay was again appointed to fill his seat.

Speaker of the House

Early years

In the summer of 1811 Clay was elected to the United States House of Representatives. He was chosen Speaker of the House on the first day of his first session, something never done before or since. During the fourteen years following his first election, he was re-elected five times to the House and to the speakership.[18]

Before Clay's entrance into the House, the position of Speaker had been that of a rule enforcer and mediator. Clay turned the speakership into a position of power second only to the President of the United States. He immediately appointed members of the War Hawk faction (of which he was the "guiding spirit"[1]) to all the important committees, effectively giving him control of the House, quite a maneuver for a 34-year-old House freshman. The War Hawks, mostly from the South and the West, resented British violation of U.S. maritime rights and treatment of U.S. sailors. They advocated for a declaration of war against the British.[19]

As the Congressional leader of the Democratic-Republican Party, Clay took charge of the agenda, especially as a "War Hawk," supporting the War of 1812 with the British Empire. Later, as one of the peace commissioners, Clay helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent and signed it on December 24, 1814.[2] In 1815, while still in Europe, he helped negotiate a commerce treaty with Great Britain. Also during his early House service, he strongly opposed the creation of a National Bank, in part because of his personal ownership in several small banks in his hometown of Lexington. Later he changed his position and gave strong support for the Second National Bank when he was seeking the presidency.

Henry Clay helped establish the American Colonization Society, a group that wanted to send freed African American slaves to Africa and that founded Monrovia in Liberia for that purpose. On the amalgamation of the black and white races, Clay said that "The God of Nature, by the differences of color and physical constitution, has decreed against it."[20] Clay presided at the founding meeting of the ACS on December 21, 1816, at the Davis Hotel in Washington, D.C. Attendees also included Robert Finley, James Monroe, Bushrod Washington, Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key, and Daniel Webster.

The "American System"

Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun helped to pass the Tariff of 1816 as part of the national economic plan Clay called "The American System," rooted in Alexander Hamilton's American School. Described later by Friedrich List, it was designed to allow the fledgling American manufacturing sector, largely centered on the eastern seaboard, to compete with British manufacturing through the creation of tariffs.

After the conclusion of the War of 1812, British factories were overwhelming American ports with inexpensive goods. To persuade voters in the western states to support the tariff, Clay advocated federal government support for internal improvements to infrastructure, principally roads and canals. These internal improvements would be financed by the tariff and by sale of the public lands, prices for which would be kept high to generate revenue. Finally, a national bank would stabilize the currency and serve as the nexus of a truly national financial system.

Clay's American System ran into strong opposition from President Jackson's administration. One of the most important points of contention between the two men was over the Maysville Road. Jackson vetoed a bill which would authorize federal funding for a project to construct a road linking Lexington and the Ohio River, the entirety of which would be in the state of Kentucky, because he felt that it did not constitute interstate commerce, as specified in the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.

Foreign policy

In foreign policy, Clay was the leading American supporter of independence movements and revolutions in Latin America after 1817. Between 1821 and 1826, the U.S. recognized all the new countries, except Uruguay (whose independence was debated and recognized only later). When in 1826 the U.S. was invited to attend the Columbia Conference of new nations, opposition emerged, and the American delegation never arrived. Clay supported the Greek independence revolutionaries in 1824 who wished to separate from the Ottoman Empire, an early move into European affairs.

The Missouri Compromise and 1820s

In 1820 a dispute erupted over the extension of slavery in Missouri Territory. Clay helped settle this dispute by gaining Congressional approval for a plan called the "Missouri Compromise." It brought in Maine as a free state and Missouri as a slave state (thus maintaining the balance in the Senate, which had included 11 free and 11 slave states), and it forbade slavery north of 36º 30' (the northern boundary of Arkansas) except in Missouri.

Portrait of Henry Clay

Election of 1824

By 1824, the unparalleled success of the National Republican Party had driven all other parties from the field. Thus, there were four major candidates seeking the office of president, one of whom was Clay. Because of the unusually large number of candidates, no candidate secured a majority and the tie between the two front runners, Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams, was broken in the House of Representatives, where Clay used his political clout to secure the victory for Adams, whom he felt was both more sympathetic to Clay's political views and more likely to appoint Clay to a cabinet position. When Clay was appointed Secretary of State, his maneuver was called a "corrupt bargain" by many of Jackson's supporters and tarnished Clay's reputation.

Senate career

The Nullification Crisis

After the passage of the Tariff of 1828, dubbed the "tariff of abominations" which raised tariffs considerably in an attempt to protect fledgling factories built under previous tariff legislation, South Carolina declared its right to nullify federal tariff legislation and stopped assessing the tariff on imports. It threatened to secede from the Union if the Federal government tried to enforce the tariff laws. Furious, President Jackson threatened to lead an army to South Carolina and hang any man who refused to obey the law.

The crisis worsened until 1833 when Clay, again a U.S. Senator re-elected by Kentucky in 1831, helped to broker a deal in Congress to lower the tariff gradually. This measure helped to preserve the supremacy of the Federal government over the states, but the crisis was indicative of the developing conflict between the northern and southern United States over economics and slavery.

Charlotte Dupuy's suit for freedom

During Clay's congressional and Secretary of State terms, he lived on Lafayette Square in Washington, DC, originally called the President's Park, in the house originally built for Stephen Decatur. When Clay relocated to Washington from Kentucky, he brought with him slaves Aaron and Charlotte Dupuy to work in his household, as well as their two children Charles and Mary Ann. Living there for nearly two decades, they enjoyed the relative freedoms of urban life as part of a community of blacks, both enslaved and free, in the city.

As Clay was preparing to leave Washington to return to Kentucky in 1829, Charlotte Dupuy had an attorney file a lawsuit in district court for her freedom. Her legal challenge to slavery preceded the more famous Dred Scott case by 17 years. Unlike the latter, it never reached the US Supreme Court. Dupuy accused Henry Clay of wrongful enslavement and demanded freedom for her and her children, based on a promise of freedom by her previous owner James Condon. Many details of the case are unknown, but there is evidence that the case received a fair amount of attention in the press. It lasted quite a while, and the court ordered that Charlotte Dupuy remain in DC until the case was settled. Clay returned to his plantation in Lexington with Aaron, Charles and Mary Ann Dupuy.

The Court ruled against Dupuy, arguing that any agreement with Condon did not bear on her next owner. Because she refused to return voluntarily to Kentucky, Clay had his agent arrest her. Dupuy was imprisoned in Alexandria, Virginia before Clay arranged for her transport to New Orleans, where he placed her with his daughter and son-in-law Martin Duralde. She worked there for another decade. Her daughter was sent to join her there.[21][22]

Dupuy's case has not been well known. The Decatur House Museum now has a permanent exhibit on urban slavery and Dupuy's legal challenge of her powerful master. Restored areas of the house museum include the kitchen, where Dupuy would most likely have worked.[22]

In 1840 Henry Clay finally gave Charlotte and her daughter Mary Ann Dupuy their freedom in New Orleans. He kept Charles Dupuy with him as a servant during his speaking engagements, frequently citing him as an example of how well he treated his slaves. Clay granted Charles Dupuy his freedom in 1844.[21]

Opposition to Jackson and creation of Whig Party

After the election of Andrew Jackson, Clay led the opposition to Jackson's policies. Those in Clay's camp included the National Republicans who were beginning to refer to themselves as "Whigs" in honor of their ancestors during the Revolutionary War, who opposed the tyranny of King George III just as they opposed the "tyranny" of Jackson. Clay strongly opposed Jackson's failure to renew the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, advocating the passage of a resolution to censure Jackson for his actions.[23]

In 1832 Clay was unanimously nominated for the presidency by the National Republicans; Jackson, by the Democrats. The main issue was the policy of continuing the Second Bank of the United States. Clay lost by a wide margin to the highly popular Jackson (55% to 37%).

In 1840, Clay was a candidate for the Whig nomination, but he was defeated in the party convention by supporters of war hero William Henry Harrison. Harrison was chosen because his war record was attractive and he was seen as more electable than Clay. If the Whigs had been more aware of the political weakness of President Martin Van Buren, they would have probably selected Clay.

1844 handbill

In 1844, Clay was nominated by the Whigs against James K. Polk, the Democratic candidate. Clay lost due in part to national sentiment for Polk's "54º40' or Fight" campaign, which was to settle the northern boundary of the United States with Canada, then under the control of the British Empire. Clay opposed admitting Texas as a state because he believed it would reawaken the slavery issue and provoke Mexico to declare war. Polk took the opposite view, supported by most of the public, especially in the Southern United States. Nevertheless, the election was close; New York's 36 electoral votes proved the difference, and went to Polk by a slim 5,000 vote margin. Liberty Party candidate James G. Birney won a little over 15,000 votes in New York and may have taken votes from Clay. Eventually, Clay's warnings came true. The US annexation of Texas led to the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), while the North and South came to increased tensions during Polk's Presidency over the extension of slavery into Texas and beyond.

Clay takes the floor of the Old Senate Chamber; Millard Fillmore presides as Calhoun and Webster look on. Digitally restored.

The Compromise of 1850

After losing the Whig Party nomination to Zachary Taylor in 1848, Clay decided to retire to his Ashland estate in Kentucky. Retired for less than a year, he was in 1849 again elected to the U.S. Senate from Kentucky. During his term, the controversy over the expansion of slavery in new lands had reemerged with the addition of the lands ceded to the United States by Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War. David Wilmot, a Northern congressman, had proposed preventing the extension of slavery into any of the new territory in a proposal referred to as the "Wilmot Proviso".[24]

On January 29, 1850, Clay proposed a series of resolutions that he saw as amenable to both Northern and Southern viewpoints in what would widely be called the Compromise of 1850. Originally intended by Clay to be voted on separately, at the urging of southerners Clay agreed to the creation of a Committee of Thirteen to consider the measures. The committee was formed on April 17, and on May 8 Clay, the chairman of the committee, presented an Omnibus bill linking all of the resolutions to the Senate floor.[25] These resolutions included:

  • Admission of California as a free state, ending the balance of free and slave states in the senate.[24]
  • Organization of the Utah and New Mexico territories without any slavery provisions, giving the right to allow or prohibit slavery to the territorial populations.[24]
  • Prohibition of the slave trade, not the ownership of slaves, in the District of Columbia.[24]
  • A more stringent Fugitive Slave Act.[24]
  • Establishment of boundaries for the state of Texas in exchange for federal payment of Texas's ten million dollar debt.[24]

The Omnibus bill, despite Clay's efforts, failed in a crucial vote on July 31 with the majority of his Whig Party opposed. He announced on the Senate floor the next day that he intended to persevere and pass each individual part of the bill. Clay, however, was physically exhausted as the effects of the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him began to take its toll. Clay left the Senate to recuperate in Newport, Rhode Island, while Stephen A. Douglas wrote the separate bills and guided them through the Senate.[26]

Clay was still given much of the credit for the Compromise's success. It quieted the controversy between Northerners and Southerners over the expansion of slavery and delayed secession and civil war for another decade. Senator Henry S. Foote of Mississippi, who had suggested the creation of the Committee of Thirteen, later said, "Had there been one such man in the Congress of the United States as Henry Clay in 1860-'61 there would, I feel sure, have been no civil war."[27]

Henry Clay

Death and estate

Clay's estate, Ashland, in Lexington, Kentucky

Clay continued to serve both the Union he loved and his home state of Kentucky until June 29, 1852, when he died in Washington, D.C., at the age of 75. Clay was the first person to lie in state in the United States Capitol. He was buried in Lexington Cemetery, and the eulogy was provided by Theodore Frelinghuysen, who ran as Clay's vice-presidential candidate in the election of 1844.[28] Clay's headstone reads simply: "I know no North — no South — no East — no West." The 1852 novel Life at the South; or, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" As It Is by W.L.G. Smith is dedicated to Clay's memory.[29]

Ashland, named for the many ash trees on the property, was his plantation and mansion for many years. He owned as many as 60 slaves at once. It was there he introduced the Hereford livestock breed to the United States.

Rebuilt and remodeled by his heirs, Ashland is now a museum. The museum includes 17 acres (6.9 ha) of the original estate grounds and is located on Richmond Road (US 25) in Lexington. It is open to the public (admission charged). For several years (1866-1878), the mansion was used as a residence for the regent of Kentucky University, forerunner of the University of Kentucky and present-day Transylvania University.

Henry Clay is credited with introducing the mint julep drink to Washington, D.C., at the Willard Hotel during his residence as a senator in the city.[30]

Monuments and memorials

Tomb in Lexington, KY

References in popular culture


  1. ^ a b Eaton, Clement (1957). Henry Clay and the Art of American Politics. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 25. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Clay Biography: The Great Compromiser
  3. ^ Eaton, Clement (1957). Henry Clay and the Art of American Politics. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 22, 26. 
  4. ^ "The "Famous Five"". Retrieved 2007-01-29. 
  5. ^ See for example the first Lincoln-Douglas debate, where Lincoln referred to "Mr. Clay — my beau ideal of a great man." [Holzer ed., Harold (2004). The Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Fordham University Press. pp. 76. ]
  6. ^ a b Eaton, Clement (1957). Henry Clay and the Art of American Politics. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 5. 
  7. ^ Van Deusen, 4
  8. ^ a b Eaton, Clement (1957). Henry Clay and the Art of American Politics. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 6. 
  9. ^ a b c Encyclopedia of World Biography on Henry Clay
  10. ^ a b c Eaton, Clement (1957). Henry Clay and the Art of American Politics. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 7. 
  11. ^ a b Eaton, Clement (1957). Henry Clay and the Art of American Politics. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 12. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Death of Henry Clay: Sketch of His Life and Public Career", New York Times. June 30, 1852, p. 1
  14. ^ Eaton, Clement (1957). Henry Clay and the Art of American Politics. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 15. 
  15. ^ Eaton, Clement (1957). Henry Clay and the Art of American Politics. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 14. 
  16. ^ Clay - Famous American Biographies
  17. ^ Eaton, Clement (1957). Henry Clay and the Art of American Politics. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 17. 
  18. ^ Eaton, Clement (1957). Henry Clay and the Art of American Politics. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 23. 
  19. ^ Eaton, Clement (1957). Henry Clay and the Art of American Politics. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 24. 
  20. ^ Eaton (1957) p. 133.
  21. ^ a b "Charlotte Dupuy", 'The Half Had Not Been Told Me': African American History of Lafayette Square (1795-1965), accessed 21 Apr 2009
  22. ^ a b "First Page of a Letter from Henry Clay to his agent in Washington, Philip Fendall, Regarding Charlotte Dupuy's Petition for Freedom, 10 Sept 1830", Transcription and Digital Image at Decatur House on Lafayette Square, "The Half Had not Been Told Me": African Americans on Lafayette Square (1795-1965), accessed 21 Apr 2009
  23. ^ Infoplease Encyclopedia: Henry Clay - Senator
  24. ^ a b c d e f [| Infoplease: Compromise of 1850
  25. ^ Eaton (1957) pp. 188-192. Remini (1991) pp. 732-750
  26. ^ Eaton (1957) p. 192-193. Remini (1991) pp. 756-759
  27. ^ Remini (1991) pp. 761- 762
  28. ^ "Henry Clay. Eulogy Delivered by Hon. Theodore Frelinghuysen, at Newark, on the 13th of July.". New York Times. July 15, 1852. 
  29. ^
  30. ^ Round Robin Bar: Willard InterContinental Washington
  31. ^ Historical Society of Schuylkill County :: The Henry Clay Monument in Pottsville
  32. ^


  • Baxter, Maurice G. Henry Clay and the American System (1995)
  • Baxter, Maurice G. Henry Clay the Lawyer U. Press of Kentucky, 2000.
  • Brown, Thomas. Politics and Statesmanship: Essays on the American Whig Party (1985) ch 5
  • Clay, Henry. The Papers of Henry Clay, 1797-1852. Edited by James Hopkins, Mary Hargreaves, Robert Seager II, Melba Porter Hay et al. 11 vols. University Press of Kentucky, 1959-1992. vol 1 online, 1797-1814
  • Clay, Henry. Works of Henry Clay, 7 vols. (1897)
  • Eaton, Clement. Henry Clay and the Art of American Politics (1957)
  • Gammon, Samuel R. The Presidential Campaign of 1832 (1922)
  • Holt, Michael F. The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (1999)
  • Holzer, Harold ed. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates (2004) ISBN 0-8232-2342-6
  • Knupfer, Peter B. "Compromise and Statesmanship: Henry Clay’s Union." in Knupfer, The Union As It Is: Constitutional Unionism and Sectional Compromise, 1787-1861 (1991), pp. 119–57.
  • Mayo, Bernard. Henry Clay, Spokesman of the West (1937)
  • Peterson, Merrill D. The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun (1987)
  • Poage, George Rawlings. Henry Clay and the Whig Party (1936)
  • Remini, Robert. Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union (1991)
  • Schurz, Carl. Life of Henry Clay, 2 vol. (1899; from the American Statesmen series)
  • Wikisource-logo.svg Carl Schurz (1911). "Clay, Henry". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 
  • Strahan, Randall. Leading Representatives: The Agency of Leaders in the Politics of the U.S. House. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007
  • Strahan, Randall; Moscardelli, Vincent G.; Haspel, Moshe; and Wike, Richard S. "The Clay Speakership Revisited" Polity 2000 32(4): 561-593. ISSN 0032-3497
  • Van Deusen, Glyndon G. The Life of Henry Clay (1937)
  • Watson, Harry L. ed. Andrew Jackson vs. Henry Clay: Democracy and Development in Antebellum America (1998)
  • Zarefsky, David. "Henry Clay and the Election of 1844: the Limits of a Rhetoric of Compromise" Rhetoric & Public Affairs 2003 6(1): 79-96. ISSN 1094-8392

External links

United States Senate
Preceded by
John Adair
United States Senator (Class 3) from Kentucky
November 19, 1806–March 4, 1807
Served alongside: Buckner Thruston
Succeeded by
John Pope
Preceded by
Buckner Thruston
United States Senator (Class 2) from Kentucky
January 4, 1810–March 4, 1811
Served alongside: John Pope
Succeeded by
George M. Bibb
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William T. Barry
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 5th congressional district

March 4, 1811– March 3, 1813
Succeeded by
William P. Duval
Preceded by
Samuel McKee
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 2nd congressional district

March 4, 1813–January 19, 1814
Succeeded by
Joseph H. Hawkins
Preceded by
Joseph H. Hawkins
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 2nd congressional district

March 4, 1815–March 4, 1821
Succeeded by
Samuel Hughes Woodson
Preceded by
John Telemachus Johnson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 3rd congressional district

March 4, 1823–March 6, 1825
Succeeded by
James Clark
Political offices
Preceded by
John Quincy Adams
United States Secretary of State
Served under: John Quincy Adams

March 7, 1825–March 4, 1829
Succeeded by
Martin Van Buren
United States Senate
Preceded by
John Rowan
United States Senator (Class 3) from Kentucky
November 10, 1831–March 31, 1842
Served alongside: George M. Bibb, John J. Crittenden, James Turner Morehead
Succeeded by
John J. Crittenden
Preceded by
Thomas Metcalfe
United States Senator (Class 3) from Kentucky
March 4, 1849–June 29, 1852
Served alongside: Joseph R. Underwood
Succeeded by
David Meriwether
Political offices
Preceded by
Joseph B. Varnum
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
November 4, 1811–March 4, 1813;
May 24, 1813–January 19, 1814
Succeeded by
Langdon Cheves
Preceded by
Langdon Cheves
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
December 4, 1815–March 4, 1817;
December 1, 1817–March 4, 1819;
December 6, 1819–October 28, 1820
Succeeded by
John W. Taylor
Preceded by
Philip P. Barbour
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
December 1, 1823–March 4, 1825
Succeeded by
John W. Taylor
Preceded by
Silas Wright
New York
Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance
Succeeded by
George Evans
Party political offices
Preceded by
James Monroe
Democratic-Republican Party presidential candidate(1)
1824 (lost)
Succeeded by
Preceded by
John Quincy Adams
National Republican Party presidential nominee
1832 (lost)
Succeeded by
Preceded by
William Henry Harrison
Whig Party presidential candidate
1844 (lost)
Succeeded by
Zachary Taylor
Honorary titles
Preceded by
William Plumer
Most Senior Living U.S. Senator
(Sitting or Former)

December 22, 1850-June 29, 1852
Succeeded by
Elisha Mathewson
Preceded by
Persons who have lain in state or honor
in the United States Capitol rotunda

July 1, 1852
Succeeded by
Abraham Lincoln
Notes and references
1. The Democratic-Republican Party split in 1824, fielding four separate candidates: Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and William Harris Crawford.


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Henry Clay, American statesman and orator

Henry Clay (1777-04-12 - 1852-06-29) was a leading American statesman and orator who served in both the House of Representatives and Senate. Known as "The Great Compromiser" and "The Great Pacifier" for his ability to bring others to agreement, he was the founder and leader of the Whig Party and a leading advocate of programs for modernizing the economy, especially tariffs to protect industry, a national bank and internal improvements to promote canals, ports and railroads.



  • How often are we forced to charge fortune with partiality towards the unjust!
    • Letter (December 4, 1801)
  • If you wish to avoid foreign collision, you had better abandon the ocean.
    • Speech, House of Representatives (January 22, 1812)
  • The gentleman cannot have forgotten his own sentiment, uttered even on the floor of this House, "Peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must."
    • Speech on the New Army Bill, House of Representatives, (January 8, 1813), quoting Josiah Quincy III; The Life and Speeches of the Hon. Henry Clay, vol. I (1857), ed. Daniel Mallory
  • All religions united with government are more or less inimical to liberty. All, separated from government, are compatible with liberty.
    • Speech on the Emancipation of South America], House of Representatives (1818-03-24); The Life and Speeches of the Hon. Henry Clay, vol. I (1857), ed. Daniel Mallory
  • Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees; and both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.
    • Speech, Ashland, KY (March 1829)
  • The arts of power and its minions are the same in all countries and in all ages. It marks its victim; denounces it; and excites the public odium and the public hatred, to conceal its own abuses and encroachments.
    • Speech, Senate (March 14, 1834)
  • Precedents deliberately established by wise men are entitled to great weight. They are evidence of truth, but only evidence...But a solitary precedent...which has never been reexamined, cannot be conclusive.
    • Speech, Senate (February 18, 1835).
  • My friends are not worth the powder and shot it would take to kill them!... If there were two Henry Clays, one of them would make the other President of the United States!... It is a diabolical intrigue, I know now, which has betrayed me. I am the most unfortunate man in the history of parties: always run by my friends when sure to be defeated, and now betrayed for a nomination when I, or any one, would be sure of an election.
    • Upon hearing (in December 1839) that he had been rejected in favor of William Henry Harrison as the Whig Party nominee for President in the election of 1840.
    • Quoted by Henry A. Wise, who claimed to have heard it firsthand, in Seven Decades of the Union (1872), ch. VI.
  • I have heard something said about allegiance to the South. I know no South, no North, no East, no West, to which I owe any allegiance... The Union, sir, is my country.
    • Speech, Senate (1848)
  • The Constitution of the United States was made not merely for the generation that then existed, but for posterity—unlimited, undefined, endless, perpetual posterity.
    • Speech, Senate (January 29, 1850)
  • I would rather be right than be President.
    • Speech, Senate (1850), referring to the Compromise Measures


  • Statistics are no substitute for judgment.

Quotes related to Henry Clay

  • You're unhappy. I'm unhappy too. Have you heard of Henry Clay? He was the Great Compromiser. A good compromise is when both parties are dissatisfied, and I think that's what we have here.

External links

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

HENRY CLAY (1777-1852), American statesman and orator, was born in Hanover county, Virginia, on the 12th of April 1777, and died in Washington on the 29th of June 1852. Few public characters in the United States have been the subject of more heated controversy. His enemies denounced him as a pretender, a selfish intriguer, and an abandoned profligate; his supporters placed him among the sages and sometimes even among the saints. He was an arranger of measures and leader of political forces, not an originator of ideas and systems. His public life covered nearly half a century, and his name and fame rest entirely upon his own merits. He achieved his success despite serious obstacles. He was tail, rawboned and awkward; his early instruction was scant; but he "read books," talked well, and so, after his admission to the bar at Richmond, Virginia, in 1797, and his removal next year to Lexington, Kentucky, he quickly acquired a reputation and a lucrative income from his law practice.

Thereafter, until the end of life, and in a field where he met, as either friend or foe, John Quincy Adams, Gallatin, Madison, Monroe, Webster, Jackson, Calhoun, Randolph and Benton, his political activity was wellnigh ceaseless. At the age of twenty-two (1799), he was elected to a constitutional convention in Kentucky; at twenty-six, to the Kentucky legislature; at twenty-nine, while yet under the age limit of the United States constitution, he was appointed to an unexpired term (1806-1807) in the United States Senate, where, contrary to custom, he at once plunged into business, as though he had been there all his life. He again served in the Kentucky legislature (1808-1809), was chosen speaker of its lower house, and achieved distinction by preventing an intense and widespread anti-British feeling from excluding the common law from the Kentucky code. A year later he was elected to another unexpired term in the United States Senate, serving in 1810-1811. At thirty-four (1811) he was elected to the United States House of Representatives and chosen speaker on the first day of the session. One of the chief sources of his popularity was his activity in Congress in promoting the war with Great Britain in 1812, while as one of the peace commissioners he reluctantly signed the treaty of Ghent on the 24th of December 1814. During the fourteen years following his first election, he was re-elected five times to the House and to the speakership; retiring for one term (1821-1823) to resume his law practice and retrieve his fortunes. He thus served as speaker in 1811-1814, in 1815-1820 and in 1823-1825. Once he was unanimously elected by his constituents, and once nearly defeated for having at the previous session voted to increase congressional salaries. He was a warm friend of the SpanishAmerican revolutionists (1818) and of the Greek insurgents (1824). From 1825 to 1829 he served as secretary of state in President John Quincy Adams's cabinet, and in 1831 he was elected to the United States Senate, where he served until 1842, and again from 1849 until his death.

From the beginning of his career he was in favour of internal improvements as a means of opening up the fertile but inaccessible West, and was opposed to the abuse of official patronage known as "the spoils system." The most important of the national questions with which Clay was associated, however, were the various phases of slavery politics and protection to home industries. The most prominent characteristics of his public life were his predisposition to "compromises" and "pacifications" which generally failed of their object, and his passionate patriotic devotion to the Union.

His earliest championship of protection was a resolution introduced by him in the Kentucky legislature (1808) which favoured the wearing by its members of home-made clothes; and one in the United States Senate (April 1810), on behalf of home-grown and home-made supplies for the United States navy, but only to the point of making the nation independent of foreign supply. In 1816 he advocated the Dallas tariff, in which the duties ranged up to 35% on articles of home production, the supply of which could satisfy the home demand; the avowed purpose being to build up certain industries for safety in time of war. In 1824 he advocated high duties to relieve the prevailing distress, which he pictured in a brilliant and effective speech. Although the distress was caused by the reactionary effect of a disordered currency and the inflated prices of the war of 1812, he ascribed it to the country's dependence on foreign supply and foreign markets. Great Britain, he said, was a shining example of the wisdom of a high tariff. No nation ever flourished without one. He closed his principal speech on the subject in the House of Representatives with a glowing appeal in behalf of what he called "The American System." In spite of the opposition of Webster and other prominent statesmen, Clay succeeded in enacting a tariff which the people of the Southern states denounced as a "tariff of abominations." As it overswelled the revenue, in 1832 he vigorously favoured reducing tariff rates on all articles not competing with American products. His speech in behalf of the measure was for years a protection text-book; but the measure itself reduced the revenue so little and provoked such serious threats of nullification and secession in South Carolina, that, to prevent bloodshed and to forestall a free trade measure from the next Congress, Clay brought forward in 1833 a compromise gradually reducing the tariff rates to an average of 20%. To the Protectionists this was "like a crash of thunder in winter"; but it was received with such favour by the country generally, that its author was hailed as "The Great Pacificator," as he had been thirteen years before at the time of the Missouri Compromise (see below). As, however, the discontent with the tariff in the South was only a symptom of the real trouble there - the sensitiveness of the slave-power, - Clay subsequently confessed his serious doubts of the policy of his interference.

He was only twenty-two, when, as an opponent of slavery, he vainly urged an emancipation clause for the new constitution of Kentucky, and he never ceased regretting that its failure put his state, in improvements and progress, behind its free neighbours. In 1820 he congratulated the new South American republics on having abolished slavery, but the same year the threats of the Southern states to destroy the Union led him to advocate the "Missouri Compromise," which, while keeping slavery out of all the rest of the territory acquired by the "Louisiana Purchase" north of Missouri's southern boundary line, permitted it in that state. Then, greeted with the title of "The Great Pacificator" as a reward for his success, he retired temporarily to private life, with a larger stock of popularity than he had ever had before. Although at various times he had helped to strengthen the law for the recovery of fugitive slaves, declining as secretary of state to aid Great Britain in the further suppression of the slave trade, and demanding the return of fugitives from Canada, yet he heartily supported the colonizing of the slaves in Africa, because slavery was the "deepest stain upon the character of the country," opposition to which could not be repressed except by "blowing out the moral lights around," and "eradicating from the human soul the light of reason and the law of liberty." When the slave power became more aggressive, in and after the year 1831, Clay defended the right of petition for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, and opposed Calhoun's bill forbidding the use of the mails to "abolition" newspapers and documents. He was lukewarm toward recognizing the independence of Texas, lest it should aid the increase of slave territory, and generally favoured the freedom of speech and press as regards the question of slavery; yet his various concessions and compromises resulted, as he himself declared, in the abolitionists denouncing him as a slaveholder, and the slaveholders as an abolitionist. In 1839, only twelve months after opposing the pro-slavery demands, he prepared an elaborate speech, in order "to set himself right with the South," which, before its delivery, received pro-slavery approval. While affirming that he was "no friend of slavery" he held abolition and the abolitionists responsible for the hatred, strife, disruption and carnage that menaced the nation. In response, Calhoun extended to him a most hearty welcome, and assigned him to a place on the bench of the penitents. Being a candidate for the presidency Clay had to take the insult without wincing. It was in reference to this speech that he made the oft-quoted remark that he "would rather be right than be president." While a candidate for president in 1844, he opposed in the "Raleigh letter" the annexation of Texas on many grounds except that of its increasing the slave power, thus displeasing both the men of anti-slavery and those of pro-slavery sentiments. In 1847, after the conquest of Mexico, he made a speech against the annexation of that country or the acquiring of any foreign territory for the spread of slavery. Although in 1849 he again vainly proposed emancipation in Kentucky, he was unanimously elected to the United States Senate, where in 1850 he temporarily pacified both sections of the country by successfully offering, for the sake of the "peace, concord and harmony of these states," a measure or series of measures that became known as the "Compromiseof 1850." It admitted California as a free state, organized Utah and New Mexico as Territories without reference to slavery, and enacted a more efficient fugitive slave law. In spite of great physical weakness he made several earnest speeches in behalf of these measures to save the Union.

Another conspicuous feature of Clay's public career was his absorbing and rightful, but constantly ungratified, ambition to be president of the United States. His name in connexion therewith was mentioned comparatively early, and in 1824, with W. H. Crawford, Andrew Jackson, and John Quincy Adams, he was a candidate for that office. There being no choice by the people, and the House of Representatives having elected Adams, Clay was accused by Jackson and his friends of making a corrupt bargain whereby, in payment of his vote and influence Ifis career as a Protectionist. for Adams, he was appointed secretary of state. This made Jackson Clay's lifelong enemy, and ever after kept Clay busy explaining and denying the allegation. In 1832 Clay was unanimously nominated for the presidency by the National Republicans; Jackson, by the Democrats. The main issue was the policy of continuing the United States Bank, which in 1811 Clay had opposed, but in 1816 and always subsequently warmly favoured. A majority of the voters approved of Jackson's fight against what Clay had once denounced as a dangerous and unconstitutional monopoly. Clay made the mistake of supposing that he could arouse popular enthusiasm for a moneyed corporation in its contest with the great military "hero of New Orleans." In 1839 he was a candidate for the Whig nomination, but by a secret ballot his enemies defeated him in the party convention, held in December of that year, and nominated William Henry, Harrison. The result threw Clay into paroxysms of rage, and he violently complained that his friends always used him as their candidate when he was sure to be defeated, and betrayed him when he or any one could have been elected. In 1844 he was nominated by the Whigs against James K. Polk, the Democratic candidate. By an audacious fraud that represented him as an enemy, and Polk as a friend of protection, Clay lost the vote of Pennsylvania; and he lost the vote of New York by his own letter abating the force of his previous opposition to the annexation of Texas. Even his enemies felt that his defeat by Polk was almost a national calamity. In 1848, Zachary Taylor, a Mexican War hero, and hardly even a convert to the Whig party, defeated Clay for the nomination, Kentucky herself deserting her "favourite son." Clay's quick intelligence and sympathy, and his irreproachable conduct in youth, explain his precocious prominence in public affairs. In his persuasiveness as an orator and his charming personality lay the secret of his power. He had early trained himself in the art of speech-making, in the forest, the field and even the barn, with horse and ox for audience. By contemporaries his voice was declared to be the finest musical instrument that they ever heard. His eloquence was in turn majestic, fierce, playful, insinuating; his gesticulation natural, vivid, large, powerful. In public he was of magnificent bearing, possessing the true oratorical temperament, the nervous exaltation that makes the orator feel and appear a superior being, transfusing his thought, passion and will into the mind and heart of the listener; but his imagination frequently ran away with his understanding, while his imperious temper and ardent combativeness hurried him and his party into disadvantageous positions. The ease, too, with which he outshone men of vastly greater learning lured him from the task of intense and arduous study. His speeches were characterized by skill of statement, ingenious grouping of facts, fervent diction, and ardent patriotism; sometimes by biting sarcasm, but also by superficial research, half-knowledge and an unwillingness to reason a proposition to its logical results. In private, his never-failing courtesy, his agreeable manners and a noble and generous heart for all who needed protection against the powerful or the lawless, endeared him to hosts of friends. His popularity was as great and as inexhaustible among his neighbours as among his fellow-citizens generally. He pronounced upon himself a just judgment when he wrote: "If any one desires to know the leading and paramount object of my public life, the preservation of this Union will furnish him the key." See Calvin Colton, The Works of Henry Clay (6 vols., New York, 1857; new ed., 7 vols., New York, 1898), the first three volumes of which are an account of Clay's "Life and Times"; and Carl Schurz, Henry Clay (2 vols., Boston, 1887), in the "American Statesmen" series. (C. S.)

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