Henry Clay

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Henry Clay
Oil canvas portrait of Henry Clay by Henry F. Darby, ca.1858[1]
United States Senator
from Kentucky
In office
March 5, 1849 – June 29, 1852
Preceded by Thomas Metcalfe
Succeeded by David Meriwether
In office
November 10, 1831 – March 31, 1842
Preceded by John Rowan
Succeeded by John J. Crittenden
In office
January 4, 1810 – March 4, 1811
Preceded by Buckner Thruston
Succeeded by George M. Bibb
In office
December 29, 1806 – March 4, 1807
Preceded by John Adair
Succeeded by John Pope
9th United States Secretary of State
In office
March 4, 1825 – March 4, 1829
President John Quincy Adams
Preceded by John Quincy Adams
Succeeded by Martin Van Buren
8th, 10th and 13th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
In office
March 4, 1823 – March 4, 1825
Preceded by Philip Pendleton Barbour
Succeeded by John W. Taylor
In office
March 4, 1815 – October 28, 1820
Preceded by Langdon Cheves
Succeeded by John W. Taylor
In office
March 4, 1811 – January 19, 1814
Preceded by Joseph Bradley Varnum
Succeeded by Langdon Cheves
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 3rd district
In office
March 4, 1823 – March 4, 1825
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1815 – March 4, 1821
In office
March 4, 1813 – January 19, 1814
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 5th district
In office
March 4, 1811 – March 3, 1813
Personal details
Born April 12, 1777(1777-04-12)
Hanover County, Virginia
Died June 29, 1852(1852-06-29) (aged 75)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic-Republican
National Republican
Whig
Spouse(s) Lucretia Hart Clay
Children Henrietta, Theodore, Thomas, Susan, Anne, Lucretia, Henry, Jr., Eliza, Laura, James Brown Clay, John Morrison Clay
Profession Law
Religion Episcopalian
Signature

Henry Clay, Sr. (April 12, 1777 – June 29, 1852) was an American politician from Kentucky. He served in the House of Representatives (as Speaker), in the Senate, and was Secretary of State. He ran for President several times but never won. He started the Whig Party to oppose Andrew Jackson. He wanted the United States to fight the British in the War of 1812. He helped pass the famous compromises over slavery leading up the Civil War, including the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850. He is considered to be one of the greatest Senators in United States history.

Early life and education[change | change source]

Childhood[change | change source]

Henry Clay was born on April 12, 1777, at the Clay farmhouse in Hanover County, Virginia, in a story-and-a-half frame house. It was an above-average home for a common Virginia planter of that time. At the time of his death, Clay's father owned more than 22 slaves, making him part of the planter class in Virginia (those men who owned 20 or more slaves).[2]

Henry was the seventh of nine children of the Reverend John Clay and Elizabeth Hudson Clay.[3] His father, a Baptist minister nicknamed "Sir John," died four years after his birth in 1781. The father left Henry and his brothers two slaves each, and his wife 18 slaves and 464 acres (188 ha) of land.[4] Henry Clay was a second cousin of Cassius Marcellus Clay, who became an abolitionist in Kentucky.

The widow Elizabeth Clay married Capt. Henry Watkins, who was a loving stepfather.[4] Henry Watkins then moved the family to Richmond, Virginia.[5] Elizabeth had seven more children with Watkins, having sixteen.[4]

Education[change | change source]

His stepfather secured Clay employment in the office of the Virginia Court of Chancery, where he showed a skill for law. There he became friends with George Wythe. Wythe chose Clay as his secretary.[6] After Clay was employed as Wythe's faculty for four years, the chancellor took an active interest in Clay's future; he arranged a position for him with the Virginia attorney general, Robert Brooke. Clay received no formal legal education but, as was customary at the time, "read the law" by working and studying with Wythe, Chancellor of the Commonwealth of Virginia (also a mentor to Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall, among others) and Brooke. Clay was admitted to practice law in 1797.[7]

Marriage and family[change | change source]

After starting his law career, on April 11, 1799, Clay married Lucretia Hart at the Hart home in Lexington, Kentucky. She was a sister to Captain Nathaniel G. S. Hart, who died in the Massacre of the River Raisin in the War of 1812.

Clay and his wife had eleven children (six daughters and five sons): Henrietta (1800–1801), Theodore (1802–1870), Thomas (1803–1871), Susan (1805–1825), Anne (1807–1835), Lucretia (1809–1823), Henry, Jr. (1811–1847), Eliza (1813–1825), Laura (1815–1817), James Brown, (1817–1864), and John (1821–1887).

Seven of Clay's children died before him and his wife. By 1835 all six daughters had died of many conditions, two when very young, two as children, the other two as young women: from whooping cough, yellow fever, and complications of childbirth. Henry Clay, Jr. was killed at the Battle of Buena Vista during the Mexican-American War.

Lucretia Hart Clay died in 1864 at the age of 83. She is buried with her husband in Lexington Cemetery. Henry and Lucretia Clay were great-grandparents of the suffragette Madeline McDowell Breckinridge[8], a family member of John C. Breckinridge, who was Vice President of the United States during James Buchanan's presidency.

References[change | change source]

  1. "Henry Clay". United States Senate. http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/art/artifact/Painting_32_00002.htm. Retrieved April 3, 2013.
  2. Eaton, Clement (1957). Henry Clay and the Art of American Politics. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. p. 5.
  3. Van Deusen, 4.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Eaton, Clement (1957). Henry Clay and the Art of American Politics. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. p. 6.
  5. "Henry Clay", Encyclopedia of World Biography.
  6. Eaton, Clement (1957). Henry Clay and the Art of American Politics. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. p. 7.
  7. Schurz, Carl (1915). Henry Clay, Volume 1. Houghton Mifflin. pp. 8–9. http://books.google.com/books?id=cYVLAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA7#v=onepage&q&f=false.
  8. "Madeline McDowell Breckenridge (Women in Kentucky – Reform)". Kentucky Commission on Women. http://www.womeninkentucky.com/site/reform/m_breckinridge.html. Retrieved 2013-04-03.