Henry Clay

Henry Clay Sr. (April 12, 1777  June 29, 1852) was an American attorney and statesman who represented Kentucky in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. He was the seventh House speaker as well as the ninth secretary of state, also receiving electoral votes for president in the 1824, 1832, and 1844 presidential elections. He helped found both the National Republican Party and the Whig Party. For his role in defusing sectional crises, he earned the appellation of the "Great Compromiser" and was part of the "Great Triumvirate" of Congressmen, alongside fellow Whig Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun.

Henry Clay
Clay photographed in 1848
9th United States Secretary of State
In office
March 4, 1825  March 4, 1829
PresidentJohn Quincy Adams
Preceded byJohn Quincy Adams
Succeeded byMartin Van Buren
United States Senator
from Kentucky
In office
March 4, 1849  June 29, 1852
Preceded byThomas Metcalfe
Succeeded byDavid Meriwether
In office
November 10, 1831  March 31, 1842
Preceded byJohn Rowan
Succeeded byJohn J. Crittenden
In office
January 4, 1810  March 3, 1811
Appointed byCharles Scott
Preceded byBuckner Thruston
Succeeded byGeorge M. Bibb
In office
December 29, 1806  March 3, 1807
Preceded byJohn Adair
Succeeded byJohn Pope
7th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
In office
March 4, 1823  March 3, 1825
Preceded byPhilip P. Barbour
Succeeded byJohn Taylor
In office
March 4, 1815  October 28, 1820
Preceded byLangdon Cheves
Succeeded byJohn Taylor
In office
March 4, 1811  January 19, 1814
Preceded byJoseph Varnum
Succeeded byLangdon Cheves
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky
In office
March 4, 1823  March 6, 1825
Preceded byJohn Johnson
Succeeded byJames Clark
Constituency3rd district
In office
March 4, 1815  March 3, 1821
Preceded byJoseph H. Hawkins
Succeeded bySamuel Woodson
Constituency2nd district
In office
March 4, 1811  January 19, 1814
Preceded byWilliam T. Barry
Succeeded byJoseph H. Hawkins
Constituency2nd district (1813–1814)
5th district (1811–1813)
Personal details
Born(1777-04-12)April 12, 1777
Hanover County, Virginia, U.S.
DiedJune 29, 1852(1852-06-29) (aged 75)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyDemocratic-Republican (1797–1825)
National Republican (1825–1833)
Whig (1833–1852)
Spouse(s)
Lucretia Hart
(m. 1799)
Children11, including Thomas, Henry, James, John
EducationCollege of William & Mary
Signature

Clay was born in Hanover County, Virginia, in 1777, beginning his legal career in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1797. As a member of the Democratic-Republican Party, Clay won election to the Kentucky state legislature in 1803 and to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1810. He was chosen as Speaker of the House in early 1811 and, along with President James Madison, led the United States into the War of 1812 against Great Britain. In 1814, he helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent, which brought an end to the War of 1812, and then after the war, Clay returned to his position as Speaker of the House and developed the American System, which called for federal infrastructure investments, support for the national bank, and high protective tariff rates. In 1820, he helped bring an end to a sectional crisis over slavery by leading the passage of the Missouri Compromise.

Clay finished with the fourth-most electoral votes in the multi-candidate 1824 presidential election, and he helped John Quincy Adams win the contingent election held to select the president. President Adams appointed Clay to the prestigious position of secretary of state; as a result, critics alleged that the two had agreed to a "corrupt bargain". Despite receiving support from Clay and other National Republicans, Adams was defeated by Democrat Andrew Jackson in the 1828 presidential election. Clay won election to the Senate in 1831 and ran as the National Republican nominee in the 1832 presidential election, but he was defeated decisively by President Jackson. After the 1832 election, Clay helped bring an end to the nullification crisis by leading passage of the Tariff of 1833. During Jackson's second term, opponents of the president including Clay, Webster, and William Henry Harrison created the Whig Party, and through the years, Clay became a leading congressional Whig.

Clay sought the presidency in the 1840 election but was passed over at the Whig National Convention by Harrison. When Harrison died and his vice president ascended to office, Clay clashed with Harrison's successor, John Tyler, who broke with Clay and other congressional Whigs after taking office upon Harrison's death in 1841. Clay resigned from the Senate in 1842 and won the 1844 Whig presidential nomination, but he was narrowly defeated in the general election by Democrat James K. Polk, who made the annexation of the Republic of Texas his issue. Clay strongly criticized the subsequent Mexican–American War and sought the Whig presidential nomination in 1848 but was defeated by General Zachary Taylor who went on to win the election. After returning to the Senate in 1849, Clay played a key role in passing the Compromise of 1850, which postponed a crisis over the status of slavery in the territories. Clay is generally regarded as one of the most important and influential political figures of his era.[1]


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