xt7zgm81kp7x https://exploreuk.uky.edu/dips/xt7zgm81kp7x/data/mets.xml Clay, Henry, 1777-1852. 1854  books b92-84-27376103 English U.P. James : Cincinnati : Contact the Special Collections Research Center for information regarding rights and use of this collection. Clay, Henry, 1777-1852 Biography. United States History 1849-1877. Sketch of the life and some of the principal speeches of Henry Clay  / compiled from the latest and best authorities. text Sketch of the life and some of the principal speeches of Henry Clay  / compiled from the latest and best authorities. 1854 2002 true xt7zgm81kp7x section xt7zgm81kp7x 


       S KET C H  OF TH1E LIFE




Implore as the    t  ewg     i   ea      n  stow upn me, tfat If the iireful event of te dissoltion
ot ith   i  inio as t   I h  not survi ta  h   tie sad ad heart-r Ring pactacle-I Cuay

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          AND SOME OP TlE







 "I implore, as the best blessing which Heaven can bestow upon me, that If the direful event of the Mw
solution of this Union is to happen, I shall not survive to behold the sad and heart-rendine spectacle."-

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              LIFE OF HENRY CLAY.

  IT is proposed to present a short Sketch of the Life of Henry
(lay, as a fit accompaniment to this edition of his Speeches.  To
present anything like a full history of the Man, the Lawyer and the
Statesman, who was altogether the most prominent man in America
luring the age in which he lived, would require volumes, and is
wholly beyond the purpose as well as the limits of the present
sketch.  The time indeed is not yet ripe for an impartial and
authoritative commentary on either his own actions and opinions,
or on the political questions with which his name is connected,
either as an advocate or an opponent of them.
  Henry Clay was born of humble and poor parents, in that part
of Hanover County, Virginia, known as the Sla8hes, on the 12th
day of April, in the year 1777. His father died while he was yet
a child, leaving him no other patrimony than an honest name.
Until he attained the age of fourteen, he passed his time amidst
the scenes of lowly, rustic life, receiving occasional instruction in the
rudiments of knowledge beneath the humble root of a log-cabin
school-house, but more generally engaged in the active duties of
plow-boy and mill-boy.  At the age of fourteen, he went into the
employment of Richard Denny, who then kept a small retail store
in the city of Richmond, in which he remained about a year.  He
was next placed under the care of Mr. Peter Tinsley, the Clerk of
the High Court of Chancery, in the city of Richmond, on the bench
of which then sat one of the most accomplished jurists and scholars
of America, the Venerable George Wythe, remarkable, as well for
the unspotted integrity of his character, as for his judicial and clas-
sical learning. In the friendship and daily conversation of Chancel-
lor Wythe, the youthful Clay found at once, no mean substitute for

 Tt has been recently stated, with some appearance of truth, that Mr. Clay was born
in 1775, instead of 1777, as believed by himself. The year of his birth is therefore
at present a matter of some uncertaiwty.


both father and instructor.  He was employed as the amanuensis
of the Chancellor, and thus became familiar not only with the
thoughts and opinions of his distinguished patron, but also with the
choice language with which he never failed to express them.
  "Leaving the office of Mr. Tinsley the latter part of 1796, he went
to reside with the late Robert Brooke, Esq., the Attorney-General,
formerly Governor of Virginia. His only regular study of the law
was during the year 1797, that he lived with Mr. iBrooke; but it
was impossible that he should not, in the daily scenes he witnessed,
and in the presence of the eminent men whom he so often heard
and saw, be in the way of gathering much valuable legal informa-
tion. During his residence of six or seven years in Richmond, he
became acquainted with. all or most of the eminent Virginians of
the period, who lived in that city, or were in the habit of resorting
to it-with Edmund Pendleton, Spencer Roane, Chief Justice Mar-
shall, Bushrod Washington, Wickham, Call, Copeland, c. On two
occasions he had the good fortune to hear Patrick Henry-once
before the Circuit Court of the United States for the Virginia Dis-
trict, on the question of the payment of the British debts; and
again before the House of Delegates of Virginia, on the claim of
the supernumerary officers in the service of the State during the
Revolutionary War. Mr. Clay remembered that remarkable man,
his appearance and his manner distinctly.  The impression of his
eloquent powers remaining on his mind, was that their charm con-
sisted mainly in one of the finest voices ever beard; in his graceful
gesticulation, and the variety and force of expression which he
exhibited in his face."
  In the month of November, 1797, having arrived at manhood, and
received a license to practice the law from the Court of Appeals of
Virginia, and feeling within himself the first throbbings of those
mighty powers Qf mind and soul which were soon to proclaim his
name throughout the civilized world, he determined, on leaving the
metropolis of his native State, to find a home and new friends in
the unsettled but bountiful West; where the forests were yet to be
hewn down and the social fabric erected-where amidst a new order
of things, gen'us and energy were to find their appropriate field as
well as their recompense. He commenced his professional life at
once, in Lexington, Kentucky, his new home, as he himself has said,

Sargent's Life of Clay.





without patrons, without influential friends, and without the means
of paying his weekly board, and immediately rushed into a lucrative
practice. His frankness and gravity, his ardent feelings, his lofty
principles, his brilliant talents, but as much as all else, his manly
courage in advocating the interests and rights of his clients, how-
ever humble, and protecting them against the aggressions of the
wealthy and the influential, conspired to command his success at
the bar, and finally to induct him, through the suffrages of his fel-
low citizens, into those public offices which he so well filled and so
much adorned. Although throughout his life, Mr. Clay, as a law-
yer, stood in the very front rank of his rrofession, yet it is not in
this character that the world is in the habit of regarding him. How-
ever exalted his talents; however extensive and deep his learning;
no mere lawyer can ever have much more than a local repu-
tation, except among his own professional brethren. It is as a
popular Leader and Statesman, as the "GREAT COMMONER," that Mr.
Clay is known, wherever the light of civilization shines, or a pul-
sation of liberty is felt in the human breast.
  Mr. Clay's political life commenced shortly after his removal to
Kentucky, in the advocacy of a gradual emancipation of the slaves
of that State; to effect which, he labored strenuously, but without
success, to have a clause inserted in the New Constitution then
about to be formed. Gradual emancipation was at all times a fa-
vorite doctrine with him; asserted and earnestly maintained by him
on all appropriate occasions, without regard to popular displeasure,
and always with a heavy majority in his own State opposed to his
views on this question. In his speech on the Mexican war, deliv-
ered to a popular assembly at Lexington. on the 13th of November,
1847, he reiterated, as the matured opinions of his old age, the
sentiments on this subject, to which he first gave utterance nearly
fifty years before.
  In the year 1803, without solicitation on his part, and indeed
without his knowledge, while he was absent from home, Mr. Clay
was brought forward as a candidate for the Legislature of his
adopted State, and elected.  He continued a member of the Gen-
eral Assembly of Kentucky until the year 1S06, when on the 29th
of December, in that year, at the age of twenty-nine, he was called
by the body of which he had been a member, to represent the State
of Kentucky in the Snate of the United States, filling the vacancy



Teasioned by the resignation of Hon. John Adair. Although thus
early thrown among men of wisdom, and matured intellect, he was
not there to sit as a listener and admirer of other men; lie at once
realized the responsibilities of his high office, and true to his nature,
fearlessly, and at once, entered upon the active discharge of all his
duties. His first efforts in the Senate, were directed to the subject
of internal improvements. He continued in the Senate only until
the 4th of March, 1807.  In the succeeding summer, his services
were again required by his fellow citizens of Fayette county, as their
representative in the General Assembly of Kentucky; and on the
meeting of that body, he was chosen Speaker of thf Assembly.
During his speakership, he discharged all his official duties with
great satisfaction to the body over which he presided.  He felt it
his duty, however, occasionally to leave the chair for the purpose of
mingling in debate. His peculiar devotion to everything American,
was e7inced at this period, by the offering of a series of resolu-
tions, in approval of the course pursued by Mr. Jefferson in res st-
ing the British orders in Council, and. pledging to his administration
the support of Kentucky, in any measures calculated to oppose the
exactions of Great Britain.  It was about this time also, that M r.
Clay offered a resolution, recommending, for the sake of example,
that each member of the Assembly should clothe himself in ap-
parel of American manufacture, which was the occasion of a hostile
meeting between him and Humphrey Marshall, who opposed the
measure in a very sarcastic and imbittered style of argument, in-
dulging in the grossest personalities toward the mover of it.
  His subsequent duel with the distinguished, but eccentric, if not
insane, John Randolph of Roanoke, taken in connection with his
encounter with Mr. Marshall, would seem to indicate, on the part
of Mr. Clay, a bloodthirsty and quarrelsome disposition.  To those
who knew the warmth and tenderness of his feelings, he needs no
vindication from such a charge. It is proper to say however, that
his participation in duels was in obedience to the insane require-
ments of the society in which he mingled, and always the subject
of the deepest regret to himself.  In a public address to his con-
stituents, in 1825, be avowed his own views of dueling in these
words. "I owe it to the community, to say, that whatever hereto-
fore I may have done, or by inevitable circumstances might be forced
to do, no man holds in deeper abhorrence than I do that pernicious





practice, condemned, as it must be, by the judgment and philosophy,
to say nothing of the religion, of every thinking man; it is an affair
of feeling, about which we cannot, although we should, reason.  Its
true correction will be found, when all shall unite, as all ought to
unite, in its unqualified proscription." Mr. Clay could take to him.
self at least, the consolation that in neither of these duels did he
have to repent too late, the death of a fellow being, although a per.
sonal enemy. In fact, according to the statement of lion. Thos. H.
Benton, who was an eyewitness of the meeting with Randolph, that
conflict furnished an opportunity for the exhibition of some of the
best qualities of Mr. Clay's heart; his chivalry and high-toned honor,
never on any other occasion shone out with more brilliancy.
  In the winter of 1809-10, Mr. Clay was again returned to the
United States Senate, to fill up the unexpired term of the Hon.
Buckner Thurston, one of the Senators from Kentucky, who had
resigned. In 1811, preferring a seat in the House of Representa-
tives, to the more elevated position of Senator, he became a candi-
date for the suffrages of his fellow citizens of the Fayette district,
and being elected, took his seat in that body on the 4th of Novem-
ber, 1811, at a called Session assembled in view of the impending
war with Great Britain.  Qp the first ballot for Speaker, he was
chosen by the handsome vote of 79 to 48. Now for the first time,
Mr. Clay was brought prominently before the country, as a patriot
and statesman, and more especially as the exponent of republican
liberty, and the defender of popular rights against the aggressions
of monarchy. He thovght he saw, in the aggressions upon our com-
merce, and the impressment, of our mariners by Great Britain, a
desire to destroy the seeds of a naval force, which in thirty years
would rival her on her own element; and he bent all his energies,
both as a member and as Speaker, to the preparation of his coun-
try for a conflict, which should vindicate her injured rights, and
secure a just regard for them in the future.  He became at once
the warm advocate of vigorous hostile measures, although he was in
this compelled to encounter in fierce debate, some of the most
powerful speakers of the day, among others, Josiah Quincy of Mas-
sachusetts, and John Randolph of Virginia. His spirit was one,
however, not to be daunted. A member of Congress who was pre-
sent at the debate, says: "On this occasion Mr. Clay was a flame
of fire. He had now brought Congress to the verge, of what he



conceived to be, a war for liberty and honor; and his voice rang
through the Capitol like a trumpet tone sounding for the onset.
On the subject of the policy of the embargo, his eloquence, like a
Roman phalanx, bore down all opposition; and he put to shame
those of his opponents who flouted the Government as being unpre-
pared for war." Both in preparing the country for the war, and in
vigorously prosecuting it to a successful termination, no man in the
nation exerted a greater power and influence than Henry Clay.
Mr. Madison, then President, impressed with the high qualities ex-
hibited by Mr. Clay, and especially with his power of controlling
and leading other men, and his remarkable promptness in finding
expedients to meet all possible exigencies, had determined on send-
ing in his' name to the Senate for the office of Major-General.
This purpose on the part of the President, was abandoned only for
the reason, that Mr. Clay's services were considered indispensable
to the nation in a civil capacity. After the close of the war, he
-was offered by Mr. Madison, the mission to Russia and a cabinet
appointment; and by Mr. Monroe, after he became President, a Sec-
retaryship at home, and a carte blanche of all the foreign mis-
sions; but entertaining a preference for his position in the House of
Representatives, he thought proper to Oecline all executive appoint-
  If we regard Mr. Clay's age, and comparative inexperience in
public affairs at the beginning of the war of 1812, his civic achieve-
ments during that memorable period must be considered one of the
greatest triumphs recorded in the annals of statesmanship. His
efforts and influence in bringing that war to a conclusion, creditable
to himself and his country, naturally suggested his name as one of
the commissioners to arrange and conclude a treaty of peace, his
colleagues in this mission being John Quincy Adams, Albert Gal-
latin, James A. Bayard and Jonathan Russell.    Accordingly, on
the 19th of January, 1814, he resigned the office of Speaker of the
House of Representatives, which he had filled with such distin-
giuished success for three years, receiving an almost unanimous vote
of thanks for the impartiality and ability with which he had pre-
  When the commissioners met at Ghent, Messrs. Adams and Gal
latin, with the assent of Mr. Bayard, proposed to their co-commis-
sioners to insert an article in the project of a treaty to be pro





sented to the British commissioners, securing to American citizens
the right of drying and curing fish on British soil, which they had
enjoyed under Mr. Jay's treaty of 1794, and giving as an equiva-
lent to Great Britain, the free navigation of the Mississippi River
from its source to the ocean; a privilege which British subjects had
formerly enjoyed under a clause of the Jay treaty. Mr. Clay, though
anxious to obtain for his country all the privileges and rights which
had been enjoyed prior to the war, was unwilling to purchase them
"at the expense of putting a foreign and degrading mark upon the
noblest of all our rivers," the O'Father of Waters,"-and at once
declared that he would affix his name to no treaty containing such
a concession to Great Britain. His prompt and firm determina-
tion, at once brought over M r. Bayard,, leaving only Mr. Adams and
Mr. Gallatin in favor of the proposition,. and it was discarded.
  Mr. Clay waited in Paris to hear of the ratification of the treaty
of Ghent, and left for England in M arch, 1815. Here he was re-
ceived by all parties with the most friendly and distinguished con-
sideration. Being present at a dinner-party at Lord Castlereagh's,
a few days after the battle of Waterloo, it is related of him, that
he was asked by Lord Liverpool, whether, if Bonaparte should take
refuge in America, he would not give us a great deal of trouble
"Not the least my Lord," replied M r. Clay with his habitual promp-
titude, "We shall be very glad to receive him; we would treat him
with all hospitality and very soon make of him a good democrat."
The reply produced a very hearty peal of laughter from the whole
  Mr. Clay returned home from Ghent in September, 1815. In anti-
cipation of his return he was re-elected a member of Congress from
the district in which he lived, but some doubts arising as to the
legality of the election, the forms of another election were gone
through with the same result.  He took his seat in the House of
Representatives is December, 1815, and was again elected Speaker
almost without opposition. It was during this session, that Mr.
Clay announced his change of opinion in regard to the United
States Bank. Having opposed the re-chartering of that institution,
on constitutional grounds, in 1811, he now gave his support to a
bill for re-chartering it, reported by John C. Calhoun. His change
of opinion was doubtless entirely honest, founded on reasons which
he satisfactorily stated at the time, and was therefore candidly



acknowledged. He was again elected member and Speaker of the
Fifteenth Congress, commencing on the 20th of December, 1817.
His speech in behalf of South American Independence, made in
March, 1818, is one of his most memorable efforts. It was said
of this speech, by one of his political opponents, that it was read
at the head of South American Armies, to exalt their enthusiasm
in battle, and quicken the consummation of their triumphs.
   It was during this Congress that Mr. Clay made some of his
most brilliant efforts in behalf of a general system of internal
improvements, by the federal government. He succeeded in carry-
ing through the House, by a vote of ninety to seventy-five, a reso-
lution affirming the right of Congress to appropriate money for
constructing military roads, post roads, and canals, against the
combined opinions of Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Madison, and Mr. Mon-
roe, then President. On the Cumberland road, one of the fruits
of Mr. Clay's labors on this subject, stands a monument of stone,
surmounted by the genius of liberty, with the words " HENRY
CLAY," inscribed on it, intended to commemorate his services in
the cause of internal improvements. During the second session of
the Fifteenth Congress, resolutions being offered by committees of
both the Senate and House of Representatives, condemning Gen.
Jackson's conduct in the Seminole War, Mr. Clay felt it his duty
to animadvert on Gen. Jackson's acts with soibe severity; in no
malicious or unkind spirit, but simply as a part of his public duty.
It made a breach between these two distinguished men, which was
never afterward closed. There can be but little doubt, that through-
out his whole life, after this, Gen. Jackson entertained toward Mr.
Clay little other than feelings of the most rancorous hatred.
  In the spring of 1820, the subject of the tariff came before Con-
gress, and furnished the occasion for a most able and impressive
speech from Mr. Clay, on what was, with him, a favorite measure,
throughout his whole political life-the protection and encourage-
ment of home industry. Mr. Clay is justly regarded as the father
of what is known as the American System. It was a subject on
which he never changed his opinion-the views of his old age being
nothing more than the amplification of his youthful sentiments.
Nearly all his distinguished cotemporaries, and particularly Mr
Webster, and Mr. Calhoun, for local or temporary reasons, advo-
cated different doctrines on this subject, at different periods of their




lives, but Mr. Clay was throughout his whole political life, the
steady and unflinching, as well as able advocate of home manufac-
tures. He himself no doubt considered his speeches on this sub-
ject, the chief corner-stone of his political fame. Whether poste-
rity will agree in this opinion, seems at present a matter of some
doubt. None, however, can have the hardihood to deny that intense
love of his country, and a desire to see it free of foreign powers
were at the bottom of all he said and did on this subject  It is
beyond the limits of this sketch to even refer to the numerous
speeches which he delivered on the tariff, in the House of Repre-
sentatives, in the Senate, and before the people, much less to state
his theory or opinions on this intricate branch of political science.
It may be remarked, however, of his celebrated speech in support
of the protective principle in the tariff act of 1824, that in the
extent and variety of facts and illustrations, in force and fervor of
diction, in profundity and force of reason, the annals of the Amer-
ican Congress furnish few equals to it. The measure was carried
against the fiercest opposition, Mr. Webster being one of its most
strenuous opponents. This act was passed by its friends, with the
view of relieving the country from the gloomy and embarrassed con
dition in which it was then admitted to be by all parties. Eight
years after its passage, Mr. Clay described its benign effects in the
following flowing and graphic language:
  " I have now to perfirm the more pleasing task of exhibiting an
imperfect sketch of the existing state-of the unparalleled prospe-
rity of the country. On a general survey we behold cultivation
extending, the arts flourishing, the face of the country improved, our
people fully and profitably employed, and the public countenances
exhibiting tranquillity, contentment, and happiness. And if we
descend into particulars, we have the agreeable contemplation of a
people out of debt; land rising slowly in value, but in a secure and
salutary degree; a ready, though not extravagant market for ail the
surplus productions of our industry; innumerable flocks and herds
browsing and gamboling on ten thousand hills, and plains covered
with rich and verdant grasses; our cities expanded, and whole vil-
lages springing up as it were by enchantment; our exports and
imports increased and increasing; our tonnage, foreign and coast-
wise, swelling and fully occupied; the rivers of our interior, ani.
wated by the thunder and lightning of countless steamboats; the




currency sound and abundant, the public debt of two Wars nearly
redeemed; and to crown all, the public treasury overflowing, embar-
rassing Congress, not to find subjects of taxation, but to select the
objects which shall be relieved from the impost. If the term of
seven years were to be selected, of the greatest prosperity, which this
people have enjoyed since the establishment of their present consti-
tution, it would be exactly that period of seven years which imme-
diately followed the passage of the Tariff of 1824."
  In the year 1820, Mr. Clay's pecuniary affairs having become much
deranged and embarrassed through indorsements for a friend, he
determined for a time to withdraw from public life, and devote his
talents to the more lucrative business of practicing his profession.
With this view, on the 28th of October, 1820, he wrote a letter to the
Clerk of the House of Representatives, resigning the office of
Speaker, though he still retained his seat as a member. He did not
reach Washington until the middle of January, 1821. He found
Congress in the midst of the fierce and threatening controversy which
took place in regard to the admission of Missouri into the Union.
The difficulty about her admission arising in a desire on the part of
members from the Northern States, to perpetually exclude slavery
from her soil, the discussion which ensued was characterized by all
the fierceness and bitterness which usually attend sectional disputes.
Mainly through the efforts and unflagging zeal of Henry Clay, this
vexed question, which had disturbed Congress for more than two
years, and seriously threatened the existence of the Federal Union,
was quietly and peaceably settled.
  During the years 1821, 1822, and 1823, Mr. Clay devoted himself
almost exclusively to his profession, engaging in no public employ-
ment, except a mission to the State of Virginia, in conjunction with
Chancellor Bibb, on behalf of the State of Kentucky, to settle certain
difficult questions in regard to the titles of lands lying in Kentucky,
which had been granted away by the State of Virginia. He returned
to Congress in December, 1823, and was immediately re-elected
Speaker of the House of Representatives, by a majority of more
than three to one over the late incumbent, Mr. Barbour, of Virginia.
On the 19th of January, 1824, a proposition having been submitted
by Mr. Webster, to send a commissioner to Greece, Mr. Clay deliv-
ered a speech in behalf of that bleeding country, which will ever be
read with interest, by the oppressed, throughout all lands, though it




                        .LIFE OF HENRY CLAY.                    17
 prcved insufficient for the purpose which it was meant to ac.
   In the Presidential election of 1824, Mr. Clay was, for the first
 time, brought forward by his friends as a candidate for the office of
 President of the United States. Ile had first been nominated at a
 meeting of the members of the Kentucky Legislature, in 1822. It is
 well known that the people failed to make a choice, and in conse-
 quence, it became the duty of the House of Representatives, to select
 from the three candidates having the highest number of votes, who
 proved to be Gen. Jackson, Mr. Adams, and Mr. Crawford; Mr.
 Clay, though not returned as a candidate to the House, had, in his
 friends and partisans, the power of electing either one of the three
 whom he might choose. Having ascertained that Mr. Crawford's
 state of bodily health unfitted him for properly discharging the duties
 of President, he was compelled to choose between Mr. Adams and
 Gen. Jackson. For giving his vote to Mr. Adams, thereby deter-
 mining the election in his favor, and afterward accepting the office of
 Secretary of State, under his administration, Mr. Clay had heaped
 upon him an amount of obloquy and detraction, unparalleled in
 political history. That there was no such corrupt bargain between
 Messrs. Adams and Clay, as was charged upon them, nor indeed any
 understanding whatever, was proved at the time by all the evidence
 which could be reasonably expected or desired, in reference to such
 a question. In fact, the whole accusation was utterly without foun-