Henry Clay, Sr. (April 12, 1777 – June 29, 1852), was a lawyer,
politician and skilled orator who represented Kentucky separately in
both the Senate and in the House of Representatives. He served three
different terms as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
and was also Secretary of State from 1825 to 1829.
Clay 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. Later he was
involved in the "Corrupt Bargain" of 1824, after which he was appointed
Secretary of State by newly elected President John Quincy Adams. He was
the foremost proponent 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. He opposed the annexation of Texas, fearing it would inject the
slavery issue into politics. Clay also opposed the Mexican-American War
and the "Manifest Destiny" policy of Democrats, which cost him votes in
the close 1844 election.
the "Great Compromiser," Clay brokered important compromises during the
Nullification Crisis and on the slavery issue. As part of the "Great
Triumvirate" or "Immortal Trio," along with his colleagues Daniel
Webster and John C. Calhoun, he was instrumental in formulating the
Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850. 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." A plantation
owner, Clay held slaves during his lifetime but freed them in his Will.
Abraham Lincoln, the Whig leader in Illinois, was a great admirer of
Clay, saying he was "my ideal of a great man." Lincoln wholeheartedly
supported Clay's economic programs. In 1957, a Senate Committee selected
Clay as one of the five greatest U.S. Senators, along with Daniel
Webster, John C. Calhoun, Robert La Follette, and Robert Taft.