Henry Clay, an American statesman, born in Hanover co., near Richmond, Virginia, April 12, 1777, died in Washington, June 29, 1852. His father, who was a Baptist preacher, died in 1782, leaving a small and encumbered property to his widow, with their seven children, of whom Henry was the fifth. His mother, a woman of decided mental force as well as of fervent piety and high moral worth, married again and emigrated to Kentucky in 1792; but Henry, having received a very limited education, remained in Richmond, and entered the office of Peter Tinsley, clerk of the high court of chancery, where he continued four years, when he began to study law under Robert Brooke, then attorney general, afterward governor of Virginia. During his clerkship he had attracted the special regard of Chancellor Wythe, who employed him as an amanuensis and directed his studies. In November, 1797, having been admitted to the bar, he removed to Lexington, Ky., where he opened an office, and soon achieved decided success, which was due in part to his winning address, and to the frank, gallant, cordial manner which was so marked in after life. Ho soon took part in public affairs, and in 1799, when the people of Kentucky were about to adopt a state constitution, he advocated the gradual abolition of slavery.
In 1804 he was elected to the legislature, and in 1806 was chosen to fill a vacancy in the United States senate caused by the resignation of Gen. John Adair. His first speech in that body was made to urge the erection of a bridge over the Potomac, opposite Washington; and he soon after submitted a resolution contemplating an appropriation of public lands to aid the construction of a canal around the falls of the Ohio at Louisville. He also urged upon the government the importance of promoting internal public improvements, and submitted to the senate a proposition, which was carried with but three dissenting votes, directing "the secretary of the treasury to prepare and report to the senate at their next session a plan for the application of such means as are within the power of congress to the purposes of opening roads and making canals; together with a statement of undertakings of that nature which, as objects of public improvement, may require and deserve the aid of government." Mr. Clay's fragment of a term expired with his first session; and he was again chosen in 1807 to the legislature, of which he was made speaker the next year.
In December, 1808, ho made a report approving the leading features of Mr. Jefferson's foreign policy, denouncing the British orders in council, and pledging to the president the enthusiastic support of Kentucky in any probable contingency. Having been stigmatized as a demagogue by Humphrey Marshall, Mr. Clay challenged his assailant. They met and fired twice, Marshall being slightly wounded at the former fire, and Clay at the latter. Their seconds then interfered, and terminated the combat. At the session of 1809-'10 Mr. Clay again appeared in the United States senate, having been elected to fill a vacancy for two years, created by the resignation of Mr. Thurston. His first speech at this session was in favor of the policy of protection. He afterward introduced a bill to enable the territory of Orleans to form a state constitution and government, and be admitted into the Union as the state of Louisiana. When the question of rechartering the first bank of the United States came up, he voted with the great mass of the younger members of his party in favor of its overthrow, and made a speech of remarkable vigor and energy against the recharter, which was frequently quoted against him after his change of views evinced in 1816. In August, 1811, ho was elected a representative in congress; and on the day of his first appearance in the representatives' hall as a member, at the called session in November, he was chosen speaker by a large majority, a distinction without parallel since the meeting of the first congress.
To this house the dominant party had sent, also for the first time, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, William II. Crawford of Georgia, and Felix Grundy of Tennessee, all young, ardent, ambitious, inspired with hostility to Great Britain, and dissatisfied with the dilatory policy which the administrations of Jefferson and Madison had pursued with regard to her. Mr. Clay constituted the committees of the house with express reference to an early declaration of war. He was one of the most zealous advocates of the bill proposing the immediate enlistment of 25,000 men, and urged the immediate construction of 10 new frigates. War having been declared, congress adjourned, July 6, 1812. During the winter session, which began Nov. 2, Mr. Clay made a speech in reply to Josiah Quincy which attracted great attention by its force and bitterness, by the vehemence of its denunciation of the federal party, its glowing eulogium on Jefferson, and its personal insolence to Quincy, whom he stigmatized as soiling the carpet on which he stood. The 13th congress was convened by the president May 24, 1813, more than six months in advance of its regular day. The war party was predominant in congress, and Mr. Clay was reelected speaker by a large majority.
No effort was omitted on his part to insure and provide for a vigorous prosecution of the war. The British ministry having offered to open negotiations for peace with the United States, the proposition was readily embraced by President Madison, who designated Albert Gallatin, secretary of the treasury, and James A. Bavard, a leading federalist, as asso-ciates with John Quincy Adams in the proposed negotiations. Mr. Clay and Jonathan Russell were added after the negotiations had been formally agreed on. On Jan. 10, 1814, Mr. Clay resigned the speakership and his seat in order to sail for Europe as a peacemaker. Notwithstanding the intensity of party feeling in congress, but nine votes were recorded against the resolution of thanks for his ability and impartiality as speaker, which was now proposed and adopted. After signing the treaty at Ghent, Mr. Clay spent some months in Paris and London, and on his return to the United States in September, 1815, was warmly welcomed. During his absence he had been unanimously reelected to congress, and on the meeting of that body in December, 1815, he was once more chosen speaker without serious competition.
Excepting one term (1821 - '3), he continued a member of the house and its speaker till 1825. During this period his influence was exerted in behalf of the protection of domestic industry through the encouragement of American manufactures, and the development of the national resources by means of internal improvements. But on a single question, that of a national bank, he now frankly avowed that his views had been changed by the disastrous financial experiences of the late war; that he was now as decidedly favorable to such an establishment as he had formerly been hostile to it. The bill chartering the second United States bank became a law in April, 1816. Many who concurred with Mr. ('lay in his change of views on this subject afterward changed back again, but he remained an advocate of a national bank to the last. When the condition of Spanish America attracted public attention, Mr. Clay, in opposition to the policy of President Monroe and his cabinet, urged the recognition of the revolted Spanish colonies as independent states.
His speeches in vindication of the South American patriots, and in advocacy of their immediate recognition as free and independent, are among his noblest congressional efforts, and contributed largely to the recognition by the government, in 1822, of the independence of the Spanish American states. He took a leading part in the discussion (1819--'21) relating to the admission of Missouri into the Union, and vehemently opposed any restrictions as to slavery in the proposed constitution of that state. On Feb. 2, 1821, he moved a reference of the subject to a select committee of 13, of which he became chairman; and on Feb. 10 he reported from a majority of that committee a compromise, which provided for the admission of Missouri under her slave constitution, on condition that she should never prohibit the migration to or settlement within her borders of any persons "who now are, or may hereafter become, citizens of any of the states of this Union." This proposition being rejected, Mr. Clay proposed a joint committee of conference from both houses. This committee reported the measure, known as the Missouri compromise, which was adopted.
This provided that, in consideration of the admission of Missouri as a slave state, slavery should in all the remaining territories of the United States, N. of lat. 36° 30' (the southern boundary of Missouri), be for ever prohibited. Mr. Clay declined to be reelected for the following congress, but was again elected in 1823, and again chosen speaker. He now warmly seconded the efforts of Mr. Webster and others in favor of the recognition of insurgent Greece as an independent nation, which prevailed. In 1824 Mr. Clay was one of the four candidates for the presidency of the United States, and received 37 electoral votes. The electoral college having failed to give any one a majority, the election devolved upon the house, whose choice was limited to the three highest candidates, Adams, Jackson, and Crawford. Mr. Clay cast his vote in favor of John Quincy Adams. This action was denounced by his enemies as "bargain and corruption," and John Randolph stigmatized it as a "coalition of puritan with blackleg,'1 for which language he was challenged by Mr. Clay. The parties met April 8, 1820, and exchanged two shots without effect, when, Randolph having declared that he would not fire at Clay, the duel was terminated by the seconds.
Upon the accession of President Adams, March 4, 1825, Mr. Clay was appointed secretary of state The acceptance of this position, under the circumstances, was regarded by some of his friends as injudicious, and was afterward publicly acknowledged by Mr. Clay to have been an error. Mr. Adams's reelection having been defeated, Mr. Clay retired with him, March 4, 1829. He was again elected to the senate in 1831, and in 1832 was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency against Andrew Jackson, receiving the votes only of six states. When a collision between federal authority and South Carolina seemed imminent on the tariff question, Mr. Clay proposed, early in the session of 1832-'3, his tariff' compromise. Its leading features were: 1, submission to the necessity of a radical reduction of the tariff; and 2, to have the change effected so slowly and gradually that manufacturers might adapt themselves to and bear up against it. To this end, the bill provided for an ultimate reduction of all duties then ranging above 20 per cent, to that uniform rate, but only one tenth of the excess was to be deducted annually, so that the last instalment would only take effect in 1842. This proposition was generally acceptable, and, though opposed by Mr. Webster and not favored by President Jackson, passed both houses by large majorities.
During the session of 1834-'5 the difficulty growing out of former French spoliations on American commerce assumed a threatening aspect. Upon the failure of the government of France to make the reparation which had been agreed upon, President Jackson, in his message of December, 1834, proposed that congress should authorize him to secure the required indemnity by reprisals on French property. The proposition was referred by the senate to its committee on foreign affairs, of which Mr. Clay was chairman; and he (Jan. 6, 1835) made a report maintaining that the failure to pay had been unintentional on the part of the French ministry, and that the government would not be justified in resorting to the forcible reprisals recommended by the president. It was unanimously resolved by congress that any legislation at this time with respect to our relations with France was inexpedient; and thus the friendly relations with that country continued uninterrupted. In June, 1830, Mr. Clay, from the committee on foreign affairs, reported in favor of recognizing the independence of Texas, whenever satisfactory evidence should be received that she had a civil government in successful Operation. The proposition, somewhat modified, passed both houses without opposition.
In the autumn of that year he was chosen president of the American colonization society, in place of President Madison, recently deceased. During the winter following he was reelected to the senate, receiving 76 votes to 54 for James Guthrie, the administration candidate. When the financial stringency caused by the great commercial revulsion of 1837 demanded congressional legislation, Mr. Clay led the opposition in the senate to the administration project of an independent treasury, and indicated his preference for a modified national bank. In February, 1839, he delivered a carefully prepared speech on the subject of slavery, taking decided ground against the idea of immediate abolition as visionary and impracticable. In December of that year the opposition, or whig party, held a national convention to nominate candidates for president and vice president, when the names of Mr. Clay, Gen. Harrison, and Gen. Scott were submitted. A decided plurality of the delegates were in favor of Mr. Clay's nomination, but no one got a majority until, after three days' balloting, Gen. Harrison received the nomination, and after an animated canvass was elected by a great majority over Mr. Van Buren. Much feeling was evinced by the more ardent friends of Mr. Clay, not only in the convention but throughout the country; but he promptly signified his acquiescence in the choice.
He remained in the senate, and was recognized in congress as the leader of the now dominant party there. Under his guidance the two houses rapidly matured and passed bills repealing the independent treasury system, incorporating instead a new bank of the United States, distributing prospectively the proceeds of the public lands among the states, and enacting a national bankrupt law. President Harrison died a month after his inauguration, and was succeeded by the vice president, John Tyler of Virginia, who vetoed the second of these measures, but indicated to his friends the outlines of a bank which would meet his approval. Such a bank was immediately chartered, but this was in turn vetoed. This second veto caused an immediate and irreparable breach between President Tyler with his supporters and the great body of the whigs who sympathized with Mr. Clay. The members of Tyler's cabinet, Mr. Webster excepted, resigned their posts. The chasm between the "Tyler men" and the "Clay whigs" grew daily wider and deeper, and the consequent reversion of power to the party so lately overwhelmed at the polls was inevitable. - In March, 1842, Mr. Clay resigned his seat in the senate, with the intention of retiring from public life; but in May, 1844, he was nominated with great unanimity for the presidency by the whig national convention.
On the leading issue of the campaign, the annexation of Texas, Mr. Clay declared that he did not object to annexation per se, nor yet on account of slavery, but was opposed to any absorption of Texas while she should remain at war with Mexico, and her soil should continue to be claimed by that nation as a part of her territory. These sentiments were shared by a very large portion of the American people; but Mr. Polk, who was the democratic candidate for the presidency, and an avowed annexationist, was elected, receiving 170 electoral votes to 105 for Mr. Clay. Mr. Clay's name was one of the most prominent before the whig national convention which assembled in Philadelphia, June 7,1848, but Gen. Zachary Taylor finally received the nomination. During the year 1849, the people of Kentucky having resolved to remodel their state constitution, Mr. Clay urged them to embody therein the principle of gradual emancipation; but they overruled this suggestion by a very' decided vote, as they had done half a century before. - Mr. Clay was once more chosen in December, 1848, to the United States senate, for a full term of six years from the 4th of March ensuing, and took his seat Dec. 3, 1840, 43 years after his first appearance in that body.
On Jan. 29, 1850, he submitted to the senate a proposition for "an amicable arrangement of all questions in controversy between the free and the slave states growing out of the subject of slavery." The resolutions, while maintaining the non-existence by law of slavery in the territory acquired by the United States from Mexico, declared that in establishing territorial governments in such territory congress should impose no restriction or condition on the subject of slavery. They further provided for the admission of California to the Union, without any restriction by congress as to slavery; opposed the abolition of slavery and the prohibition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia; and declared that congress had no power to prohibit or obstruct trade in slaves between the several slaveholding states, and that more effectual provision should be made for the rendition of fugitive slaves. The memorable discussion upon these questions was followed by the passage of the fugitive slave law, and of bills admitting California to the Union, organizing the territories of New Mexico and Utah without restriction as to slavery, and prohibiting the slave trade in the District of Columbia. Mr. Clay's last efforts in the senate were in favor of a revision of the tariff of 1846, with a view to additional protection, and of appropriations for internal improvements.
During the session of 1851-'2, owing to feeble health, he was in his seat but a few days. He was visited in his room by Louis Kossuth, to whom ho expressed sympathy for the struggles and sufferings of Hungary, but aversion to any intervention by the United States government in the sanguinary strifes of Europe. This was his last formal avowal of his sentiments on any public question. He continued to sink gradually till June 29, 1852, when he died. Congress assembled the same day, and each house immediately adjourned, after listening to an announcement of his death. The next day the event was the subject of orations by the leading members of both houses. - The bank question is often cited as the only important topic on which Mr. Clay's early impressions with regard to a true national policy were essentially changed. It should be noted that he, though among the earliest, most vehement, and persistent advocates of the war of 1812, was never during his 40 years of subsequent public service the adviser of any war whatever, but earnestly resisted every incitement to hostilities, and counselled the preservation of peace. "As a leader in a deliberative body," said a political opponent in the senate, "Mr. Clay had no equal in America. In him, intellect, person, reason, eloquence, and courage united to form a character fit to command.
He fired with his own enthusiasm, and controlled by his amazing will, individuals and masses." - Mr. Clay married in 1709 Lu-crctia Hart, who died April 6, 1864, at the age of 83 years. To them were born six daughters, of whom the last died in 1835, and five sons. Of the latter, Henry, born in 1811, was killed at the battle of Bucna Vista, Feb. 23, 1847. James B., born in 1817, was a representative in congress in 1857-9 from the district formerly represented by his father, and died in Montreal, Jan. 26, 1864. THOMAS Hart, born in 1803, was appointed by President Lincoln minister to Nicaragua, and afterward to Honduras; he died at Lexington, Ky., March 18, 1871. - The speeches and writings of Mr. Clay have been published in several collections, but the most complete edition with a biography is by the Rev. Calvin Colton (6 vols., New York, 1857; revised ed., 1864).