Henry Clay: A Rising Nation: At the Center of It All Strati Young History 2010 Dr Dixon 10 Nov 2010 Many great men have been credited with helping America transform from a fledgling group of colonies, trying to assert the independence won from the British, to a “real” nation capable of holding its own on stage in the changing world of the 19th century. For most non-historians, the names of the Presidents during that era like Jefferson, Madison, Quincy-Adams and Jackson would almost be synonymous with that change. However, there is one who history has largely forgotten; Henry Clay.
Henry Clay failed to win bids for the presidency five times and was often said of him, that he was always acting for his own self-interest. The fact remains that for almost fifty years, he managed to be at the center of every major issue facing the American nation, thus securing his position as one of the great American patriots as serving one of two terms as a President never could. Who was Henry Clay? Henry Clay was born on April 12, 1777, in Hanover County, Virginia. From 1793 to 1797, he served as secretary to George Wythe, chancellor of the High Court of Chancery.
Henry had little regular education, but he read in Wythe’s library and learned to make the most of scanty information. He moved to Lexington, Ky. , in November 1797 and made a reputation as a lawyer. In 1803 Clay was elected to the Kentucky Legislature. In 1806 and again in 1810 he was sent to the U. S. Senate to fill out short terms. In 1811 he was elected to the House of Representatives. He was immediately chosen Speaker and was elected six times to that office, making it a position of party leadership.
Clay was a candidate for the presidency in 1824, but three others received more votes, so that his name did not go to the House for election. In 1831 he was elected to the Senate and remained in that office until 1842. Clay was the Whig presidential candidate in 1844, but his equivocation on the expansionist issue of the annexation of Texas cost him the election. He made an abortive effort for the 1848 nomination, which went to the Mexican War general Zachary Taylor. 1 Clay, known as “the Great Compromiser”, for his ability to get people to compromise was also known by many other names. Clay’s vast charm, beguiling to the humble and the mighty alike, the evident delight taken in a man of so many nicknames-“Gallant Harry of the West,” “the Cock of Kentucky,” “The Western Hotspur,” “The Western Candidate,” “The Western Star,” “The Mill-Boy of the Slashes,” “The Old Prince,” “The Sage of Ashland,”-unhappily, “The Judas of the West,”- and, as he tenderly referred to himself, the “Old Coon. ”2 How was He able to Do it? As a public servant, Mr. Clay was known as a skilled orator and pacificator. He was also thought of by some as one who would do whatever it took to further his own agenda.
In 1825, Andrew Jackson lost the presidential election in the Electoral College after winning the popular vote. It was believed that Clay has an unjust influence on the election in favor of John Quincy Adams because he was subsequently named Secretary of State afterwards. Andrew Jackson was the one who referred to Clay as the “Judas of the West” who would “receive his thirty pieces of silver. ”3 Inspite of this, he was able to accomplish so much through his eloquence. In a series of books written by Calvin Colton entitled the life and Times of Henry Clay, he was described in the following manner; “The voice of Mr.
Clay has been one of great melody, compass and power… His person, tall, erect, commanding; his countenance, as well as his voice, capable of expressing every feeling and passion of the human soul… Mr. Clay’s eloquence, and appertain to that accumulation and concentration of influences, which have given his popular harangues, his forensic efforts, his various public addresses, and his parliamentary speeches, so much power over the minds, the hearts, and the actions of his countrymen. ”4 Henry Clay and the War of 1812 Henry Clay had become a master of finding affective ways to inject his opinions into every important conversation.
That of the events leading to the War of 1812 was no different. In the run up to the war, Mr. Clay had just taken a seat in the House after his term in the Senate had expired (1811). We are told that the House, in that day is akin to that of the Senate today. In the House, there was more room for open, honest debate on issues, in which frankly, fit perfectly with the personally and eloquence of Clay. Subsequently, he was named Speaker of the House. Under President Jefferson, the size of the Army and Navy was drastically reduced.
However by this time, James Madison was President and concluded in a speech that, America must be put “into an armor and attitude demanded by the crisis, and corresponding with the national spirit and expectations. ” To Clay and others, this sounded like a declaration for war. They believed that, if the American Republic was to maintain anything like the dignity of an independent power, and to preserve, or rather regain, the respect of mankind in any degree, — ay, its self-respect, — it must cease to submit to humiliation and contemptuous treatment; it must fight, — fight somebody who had wronged or insulted it. The ever clever Henry Clay seized the opportunity. He spoke of war not as an uncertain event, but as something sure to come. ” Was the question asked: “What are we to gain by war? ” With ringing emphasis he replied: “What are we not to lose by peace? Commerce, character, a nation’s best treasure, honor! ” With such words of fire he stirred the House and the people. 5 not only the regular army was increased, but the President was authorized to accept and employ 50,000 volunteers.
Then a bill was introduced providing for the building of ten new frigates, which gave Clay an opportunity for expressing his views as to what the American navy should be… He easily disposed of the assertion that a navy was as dangerous to free institutions as a standing army… It should not be such “a force as would be capable of contending with that which any other nation is able to bring on the ocean, — a force that, boldly scouring every sea, would challenge to combat the fleets of other powers, however great. … “Without adventuring into distant seas, and keeping generally on our coasts, would be competent to beat off any squadron which might be attempted to be permanently stationed in our waters. ” He enlisted also the sympathies of the Western members in behalf of the navy, by showing them the importance of protecting the mouth of the Mississippi, the only outlet for the products of the Western country. 5 The warrior spirit in the country was alive!
Soon after, the American Republic was at war with Great Britain. At wars end in 1814, Mr. Clay was present at the treaty signing in Ghent as a peace commissioner. The American System: Perhaps His Greatest Contribution The can be little argument made again the fact that Henry Clay was the driving force behind the “American system”. The only thing that remains in question is his personal motives behind his vigorous push.
The official website for the United States Senate reads as follows: “Henry Clay’s “American System,” devised in the burst of nationalism that followed the War of 1812, remains one of the most historically significant examples of a government-sponsored program to harmonize and balance the nation’s agriculture, commerce, and industry… Clay argued that a vigorously maintained system of sectional economic interdependence would eliminate the chance of renewed subservience to the free-trade, laissez-faire “British System. 6 Missouri Compromise Clay has been widely credited with being the “father” of the Missouri Compromise. As to the main features of the measure this credit he did not deserve. So far he had taken a prominent but not an originating part in the transaction. His leadership in disposing of the Missouri question belonged to a later stage of the proceeding. . . It was generally admitted that this final accommodation was mainly due to Clay’s zeal, perseverance, skill, and the moving warmth of his personal appeals.
He did not confine himself to speeches addressed to the House, but he went from man to man, expostulating, beseeching, persuading, in his most winning way. Even his opponents in debate acknowledged, involuntarily sometimes, the impressive sincerity of his anxious entreaties. . . His success added greatly to his reputation and gave new strength to his influence. Adams wrote in his journal that one of “the greatest results of this conflict of three sessions” was “to bring into full display the talents and resources and influence of Mr.
Clay. ” 5 Jackson-Hate, Clay-Secretary of State Earlier, I established that the relationship between Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay was less than congeal. When Jackson lost the presidential election of 1824 in the House after winning the majority of the popular vote, he promptly suspected fowl play on the part of Henry Clay in favor of John Quincy Adams. Clay was named Secretary of State by President Adams. One can argue that the history between these men lend to the Jackson’s assertion. Mr.
Clay has been a stanch supporter of a motion to censor then General Jackson, for his inappropriate actions and conduct during the Seminole Wars of 1818. It was said that Gen Jackson acted as a, “victorious general with absolute power in a conquered country, like a Roman proconsul in a subjugated province. ”5 By Jackson, the election was seem as pay back since Jackson had emerged the victor from Clay’s attempt at censor. Jackson dislike for Clay is evident by this alleged quote, “After eight years as president I have only two regrets. That I have not shot Henry Clay or hanged John C.
Calhoun. ” At it Again; This Time in the Senate The Nullification Crisis came about during the presidency of Andrew Jackson as a result of the Tariff of 1828 or the “tariff of abominations” as it was referred to, which raised tariffs considerably. South Carolina declared its right to nullify federal tariff legislation and stopped enforcing the tariff and threatened to secede. When President Jackson threatened to lead an army to South Carolina and personally enforce the law, Henry Clay, now back in the Senate, stepped to the front to broker a deal. On February 12, 1833 only twenty days before the final adjournment of the twenty-second Congress, he offered in the Senate a tariff bill of his own, avowedly as a compromise measure. 5 Compromise of 1850: Clay’s final Act The Compromise of 1850 was passed in September of that year defusing an argument that spanned four years, between the slave and free states of the South and North. This followed the Mexican-American War and attempted to settle controversy over the conditions the newly acquired Mexican territories should be admitted into the union.
Once again, the eloquence of Clay had managed to help keep peace in the nation and stifle controversy for at least another few years. In 1861, a senator from Mississippi was alleged to say, “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. ” The political career of Henry Clay spans that of 12 presidents of the country he loved and helped to build. Although he was never able to obtain that position of supremacy that he coveted, I content that the nation was better served because he had not.