Famous Americans of Recent Times
James Parton

Part 1 out of 9




Author of "Life of Andrew Jackson," "Life and Times of Aaron Burr,"
"Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin," etc.


[Illustration: J.C. Calhoun]














The papers contained in this volume were originally published in the
_North American Review_, with four exceptions. Those upon THEODOSIA
BURR and JOHN JACOB ASTOR first appeared in _Harper's Magazine_; that
upon COMMODORE VANDERBILT, in the _New York Ledger_; and that upon
HENRY WARD BEECHER AND HIS CHURCH, in the _Atlantic Monthly_.


The close of the war removes the period preceding it to a great
distance from us, so that we can judge its public men as though we
were the "posterity" to whom they sometimes appealed. James Buchanan
still haunts the neighborhood of Lancaster, a living man, giving and
receiving dinners, paying his taxes, and taking his accustomed
exercise; but as an historical figure he is as complete as Bolingbroke
or Walpole. It is not merely that his work is done, nor that the
results of his work are apparent; but the thing upon which he wrought,
by their relation to which he and his contemporaries are to be
estimated, has perished. The statesmen of his day, we can all now
plainly see, inherited from the founders of the Republic a problem
impossible of solution, with which some of them wrestled manfully,
others meanly, some wisely, others foolishly. If the workmen have not
all passed away, the work is at once finished and destroyed, like the
Russian ice-palace, laboriously built, then melted in the sun. We can
now have the requisite sympathy with those late doctors of the body
politic, who came to the consultation pledged not to attempt to
_remove_ the thorn from its flesh, and trained to regard it as the
spear-head in the side of Epaminondas,--extract it, and the patient
dies. In the writhings of the sufferer the barb has fallen out, and
lo! he lives and is getting well. We can now forgive most of those
blind healers, and even admire such of them as were honest and not
cowards; for, in truth, it _was_ an impossibility with which they had
to grapple, and it was not one of their creating.

Of our public men of the sixty years preceding the war, Henry Clay was
certainly the most shining figure. Was there ever a public man, not at
the head of a state, so beloved as he? Who ever heard such cheers, so
hearty, distinct, and ringing, as those which his name evoked? Men
shed tears at his defeat, and women went to bed sick from pure
sympathy with his disappointment. He could not travel during the last
thirty years of his life, but only make progresses. When he left his
home the public seized him and bore him along over the land, the
committee of one State passing him on to the committee of another, and
the hurrahs of one town dying away as those of the next caught his
ear. The country seemed to place all its resources at his disposal;
all commodities sought his acceptance. Passing through Newark once, he
thoughtlessly ordered a carriage of a certain pattern: the same
evening the carriage was at the door of his hotel in New York, the
gift of a few Newark friends. It was so everywhere and with
everything. His house became at last a museum of curious gifts. There
was the counterpane made for him by a lady ninety-three years of age,
and Washington's camp-goblet given him by a lady of eighty; there were
pistols, rifles, and fowling-pieces enough to defend a citadel; and,
among a bundle of walking-sticks, was one cut for him from a tree that
shaded Cicero's grave. There were gorgeous prayer-books, and Bibles of
exceeding magnitude and splendor, and silver-ware in great profusion.
On one occasion there arrived at Ashland the substantial present of
twenty-three barrels of salt. In his old age, when his fine estate,
through the misfortunes of his sons, was burdened with mortgages to
the amount of thirty thousand dollars, and other large debts weighed
heavily upon his soul, and he feared to be compelled to sell the home
of fifty years and seek a strange abode, a few old friends secretly
raised the needful sum, secretly paid the mortgages and discharged the
debts, and then caused the aged orator to be informed of what had been
done, but not of the names of the donors. "Could my life insure the
success of Henry Clay, I would freely lay it down this day," exclaimed
an old Rhode Island sea-captain on the morning of the Presidential
election of 1844. Who has forgotten the passion of disappointment, the
amazement and despair, at the result of that day's fatal work? Fatal
we thought it then, little dreaming that, while it precipitated evil,
it brought nearer the day of deliverance.

Our readers do not need to be reminded that popularity the most
intense is not a proof of merit. The two most mischievous men this
country has ever produced were extremely popular,--one in a State, the
other in every State,--and both for long periods of time. There are
certain men and women and children who are natural heart-winners, and
their gift of winning hearts seems something apart from their general
character. We have known this sweet power over the affections of
others to be possessed by very worthy and by very barren natures.
There are good men who repel, and bad men who attract. We cannot,
therefore, assent to the opinion held by many, that popularity is an
evidence of shallowness or ill-desert. As there are pictures expressly
designed to be looked at from a distance by great numbers of people at
once,--the scenery of a theatre, for example,--so there are men who
appear formed by Nature to stand forth before multitudes, captivating
every eye, and gathering in great harvests of love with little effort.
If, upon looking closely at these pictures and these men, we find them
less admirable than they seemed at a distance, it is but fair to
remember that they were not meant to be looked at closely, and that
"scenery" has as much right to exist as a Dutch painting which bears
the test of the microscope.

It must be confessed, however, that Henry Clay, who was for
twenty-eight years a candidate for the Presidency, cultivated his
popularity. Without ever being a hypocrite, he was habitually an
actor; but the part which he enacted was Henry Clay exaggerated. He
was naturally a most courteous man; but the consciousness of his
position made him more elaborately and universally courteous than any
man ever was from mere good-nature. A man on the stage must overdo his
part, in order not to seem to underdo it. There was a time when almost
every visitor to the city of Washington desired, above all things, to
be presented to three men there, Clay, Webster, and Calhoun, whom to
have seen was a distinction. When the country member brought forward
his agitated constituent on the floor of the Senate-chamber, and
introduced him to Daniel Webster, the Expounder was likely enough to
thrust a hand at him without so much as turning his head or
discontinuing his occupation, and the stranger shrunk away painfully
conscious of his insignificance. Calhoun, on the contrary, besides
receiving him with civility, would converse with him, if opportunity
favored, and treat him to a disquisition on the nature of government
and the "beauty" of nullification, striving to make a lasting
impression on his intellect. Clay would rise, extend his hand with
that winning grace of his, and instantly captivate him by his
all-conquering courtesy. He would call him by name, inquire respecting
his health, the town whence he came, how long he had been in
Washington, and send him away pleased with himself and enchanted with
Henry Clay. And what was his delight to receive a few weeks after, in
his distant village, a copy of the Kentuckian's last speech, bearing
on the cover the frank of "H. Clay"! It was almost enough to make a
man think of "running for Congress"! And, what was still more
intoxicating, Mr. Clay, who had a surprising memory, would be likely,
on meeting this individual two years after the introduction, to
address him by name.

There was a gamy flavor, in those days, about Southern men, which was
very pleasing to the people of the North. Reason teaches us that the
barn-yard fowl is a more meritorious bird than the game-cock; but the
imagination does not assent to the proposition. Clay was at once
game-cock and domestic fowl. His gestures called to mind the
magnificently branching trees of his Kentucky forests, and his
handwriting had the neatness and delicacy of a female copyist. There
was a careless, graceful ease in his movements and attitudes, like
those of an Indian, chief; but he was an exact man of business, who
docketed his letters, and could send from Washington to Ashland for a
document, telling in what pigeon-hole it could be found. Naturally
impetuous, he acquired early in life an habitual moderation of
statement, an habitual consideration for other men's self-love, which
made him the pacificator of his time. The great compromiser was
himself a compromise. The ideal of education is to tame men without
lessening their vivacity,--to unite in them the freedom, the dignity,
the prowess of a Tecumseh, with the serviceable qualities of the
civilized man. This happy union is said to be sometimes produced in
the pupils of the great public schools of England, who are savages on
the play-ground and gentlemen in the school-room. In no man of our
knowledge has there been combined so much of the best of the forest
chief with so much of the good of the trained man of business as in
Henry Clay. This was one secret of his power over classes of men so
diverse as the hunters of Kentucky and the manufacturers of New

It used to be accounted a merit in a man to rise to high station from
humble beginnings; but we now perceive that humble beginnings are
favorable to the development of that force of character which wins the
world's great prizes. Let us never again commend any one for "rising"
from obscurity to eminence, but reserve our special homage for those
who have become respectable human beings in spite of having had every
advantage procured for them by rich fathers. Henry Clay found an Eton,
and an Oxford in Old Virginia that were better for _him_ than those of
Old England. Few men have been more truly fortunate in their education
than he. It was said of a certain lady, that to know her was a liberal
education; and there really have been, and are, women of whom that
could be truly averred. But perhaps the greatest good fortune that can
befall an intelligent and noble-minded youth is to come into intimate,
confidential relations with a wise, learned, and good old man, one who
has been greatly trusted and found worthy of trust, who knows the
world by having long taken a leading part in its affairs, and has
outlived illusions only to get a firmer footing in realities. This,
indeed, is a liberal education; and this was the happiness of Henry
Clay. Nothing in biography is so strange as the certainty with which a
superior youth, in the most improbable circumstances, finds the mental
nourishment he needs. Here, in the swampy region of Hanover County,
Virginia, was a barefooted, ungainly urchin, a poor widow's son,
without one influential relative on earth; and there, in Richmond, sat
on the chancellor's bench George Wythe, venerable with years and
honors, one of the grand old men of Old Virginia, the preceptor of
Jefferson, signer of the Declaration of Independence, the most learned
man in his profession, and one of the best men of any profession. Who
could have foreseen that this friendless orphan, a Baptist preacher's
son, in a State where to be a "dissenter" was social inferiority,
should have found in this eminent judge a friend, a mentor, a patron,
a father?

Yet it came about in the most natural way. We catch our first glimpse
of the boy when he sat in a little log school-house, without windows
or floor, one of a humming score of shoeless boys, where a
good-natured, irritable, drinking English schoolmaster taught him to
read, write, and cipher as far as Practice. This was the only school
he ever attended, and that was all he learned at it. His widowed
mother, with her seven young children, her little farm, and two or
three slaves, could do no more for him. Next, we see him a tall,
awkward, slender stripling of thirteen, still barefoot, clad in
homespun butternut of his mother's making, tilling her fields, and
going to mill with his bag of corn strapped upon the family pony. At
fourteen, in the year 1791, a place was found for him in a Richmond
drug-store, where he served as errand-boy and youngest clerk for one

Then occurred the event which decided his career. His mother having
married again, her husband had influence enough to procure for the lad
the place of copying clerk in the office of the Court of Chancery. The
young gentlemen then employed in the office of that court long
remembered the entrance among them of their new comrade. He was
fifteen at the time, but very tall for his age, very slender, very
awkward, and far from handsome. His good mother had arrayed him in a
full suit of pepper-and-salt "figginy," an old Virginia fabric of silk
and cotton. His shirt and shirt-collar were stiffly starched, and his
coat-tail stood out boldly behind him. The dandy law clerks of
metropolitan Richmond exchanged glances as this gawky figure entered,
and took his place at a desk to begin his work. There was something in
his manner which prevented their indulgence in the jests that usually
greet the arrival of a country youth among city blades; and they
afterwards congratulated one another that they had waited a little
before beginning to tease him, for they soon found that he had brought
with him from the country an exceedingly sharp tongue. Of his first
service little is known, except the immense fact that he was a most
diligent reader. It rests on better authority than "Campaign Lives,"
that, while his fellow-clerks went abroad in the evening in search of
pleasure, this lad stayed at home with his books. It is a pleasure
also to know that he had not a taste for the low vices. He came of
sound English stock, of a family who would not have regarded
drunkenness and debauchery as "sowing wild oats," but recoiled from
the thought of them with horror. Clay was far from being a saint; but
it is our privilege to believe of him that he was a clean, temperate,
and studious young man.

Richmond, the town of the young Republic that had most in it of the
metropolitan, proved to this aspiring youth as true a University as
the printing-office in old Boston was to Benjamin Franklin; for he
found in it the culture best suited to him and his circumstances.
Chancellor Wythe, then sixty-seven years of age, overflowing with
knowledge and good nature, was the president of that university. Its
professors were the cluster of able men who had gone along with
Washington and Jefferson in the measures which resulted in the
independence of the country. Patrick Henry was there to teach him the
arts of oratory. There was a flourishing and famous debating society,
the pride of the young men of Richmond, in which to try his
half-fledged powers. The impulse given to thought by the American
Revolution was quickened and prolonged by the thrilling news which
every vessel brought from France of the revolution there. There was an
atmosphere in Virginia favorable to the growth of a sympathetic mind.
Young Clay's excellent handwriting brought him gradually into the most
affectionate relations with Chancellor Wythe, whose aged hand trembled
to such a degree that he was glad to borrow a copyist from the clerk's
office. For nearly four years it was the young man's principal duty to
copy the decisions of the venerable Chancellor, which were curiously
learned and elaborate; for it was the bent of the Chancellor's mind to
trace the law to its sources in the ancient world, and fortify his
positions by citations from Greek and Latin authors. The Greek
passages were a plague to the copyist, who knew not the alphabet of
that language, but copied it, so to speak, by rote.

Here we have another proof that, no matter what a man's opportunities
are, he only learns what is congenial with his nature and
circumstances. Living under the influence of this learned judge, Henry
Clay might have become a man of learning. George Wythe was a "scholar"
in the ancient acceptation of the word. The whole education of his
youth consisted in his acquiring the Latin language, which his mother
taught him. Early inheriting a considerable fortune, he squandered it
in dissipation, and sat down at thirty, a reformed man, to the study
of the law. To his youthful Latin he now added Greek, which he studied
assiduously for many years, becoming, probably, the best Greek scholar
in Virginia. His mind would have wholly lived in the ancient world,
and been exclusively nourished from the ancient literatures, but for
the necessities of his profession and the stirring political events of
his later life. The Stamp Act and the Revolution varied and completed
his education. His young copyist was not attracted by him to the study
of Greek and Latin, nor did he catch from him the habit of probing a
subject to the bottom, and ascending from the questions of the moment
to universal principles. Henry Clay probed nothing to the bottom,
except, perhaps, the game of whist; and though his instincts and
tendencies were high and noble, he had no grasp of general truths.
Under Wythe, he became a staunch Republican of the Jeffersonian
school. Under Wythe, who emancipated his slaves before his death, and
set apart a portion of his estate for their maintenance, he acquired a
repugnance to slavery which he never lost. The Chancellor's learning
and philosophy were not for him, and so he passed them by.

The tranquil wisdom of the judge was counteracted, in some degree, by
the excitements of the debating society. As he grew older, the raw and
awkward stripling became a young man whose every movement had a
winning or a commanding grace. Handsome he never was; but his ruddy
face and abundant light hair, the grandeur of his forehead and the
speaking intelligence of his countenance, more than atoned for the
irregularity of his features. His face, too, was a compromise. With
all its vivacity of expression, there was always something that spoke
of the Baptist preacher's son,--just as Andrew Jackson's face had the
set expression of a Presbyterian elder. But of all the bodily gifts
bestowed by Nature upon this favored child, the most unique and
admirable was his voice. Who ever heard one more melodious? There was
a depth of tone in it, a volume, a compass, a rich and tender harmony,
which invested all he said with majesty. We heard it last when he was
an old man past seventy; and all he said was a few words of
acknowledgment to a group of ladies in the largest hall in
Philadelphia. He spoke only in the ordinary tone of conversation; but
his voice filled the room as the organ fills a great cathedral, and
the ladies stood spellbound as the swelling cadences rolled about the
vast apartment. We have heard much of Whitefield's piercing voice and
Patrick Henry's silvery tones, but we cannot believe that either of
those natural orators possessed an organ superior to Clay's majestic
bass. No one who ever heard him speak will find it difficult to
believe what tradition reports, that he was the peerless star of the
Richmond Debating Society in 1795.

Oratory was then in the highest vogue. Young Virginians did not need
to look beyond the sea in order to learn that the orator was the man
most in request in the dawn of freedom. Chatham, Burke, Fox, Sheridan,
and Pitt were inconceivably imposing names at that day; but was not
Patrick Henry the foremost man in Virginia, only because he could
speak and entertain an audience? And what made John Adams President
but his fiery utterances in favor of the Declaration of Independence?
There were other speakers then in Virginia who would have had to this
day a world-wide fame if they had spoken where the world could hear
them. The tendency now is to undervalue oratory, and we regret it. We
believe that, in a free country, every citizen should be able to stand
undaunted before his fellow-citizens, and give an account of the faith
that is in him. It is no argument against oratory to point to the
Disraelis of both countries, and say that a gift possessed by such men
cannot be a valuable one. It is the unmanly timidity and
shamefacedness of the rest of us that give to such men their
preposterous importance. It were a calamity to America if, in the
present rage for ball-playing and boat-rowing, which we heartily
rejoice in, the debating society should be forgotten. Let us rather
end the sway of oratory by all becoming orators. Most men who can talk
well seated in a chair can _learn_ to talk well standing on their
legs; and a man who can move or instruct five persons in a small room
can learn to move or instruct two thousand in a large one.

That Henry Clay cultivated his oratorical talent in Richmond, we have
his own explicit testimony. He told a class of law students once that
he owed his success in life to a habit early formed, and for some
years continued, of reading daily in a book of history or science, and
declaiming the substance of what he had read in some solitary
place,--a cornfield, the forest, a barn, with only oxen and horses for
auditors. "It is," said he,

"to this early practice of the art of all arts that I am
indebted for the primary and leading impulses that
stimulated my progress, and have shaped and moulded my
entire destiny."

We should be glad to know more of this self-training; but Mr. Clay's
"campaign" biographers have stuffed their volumes too full of eulogy
to leave room for such instructive details. We do not even know the
books from which he declaimed. Plutarch's Lives were favorite reading
with him, we accidentally learn; and his speeches contain evidence
that he was powerfully influenced by the writings of Dr. Franklin. We
believe it was from Franklin that he learned very much of the art of
managing men. Franklin, we think, aided this impetuous and
exaggerating spirit to acquire his habitual moderation of statement,
and that sleepless courtesy which, in his keenest encounters,
generally kept him within parliamentary bounds, and enabled him to
live pleasantly with men from whom he differed in opinion. Obsolete as
many of his speeches are, from the transient nature of the topics of
which they treat, they may still be studied with profit by young
orators and old politicians as examples of parliamentary politeness.
It was the good-natured and wise Franklin that helped him to this. It
is certain, too, that at some part of his earlier life he read
translations of Demosthenes; for of all modern orators Henry Clay was
the most Demosthenian. Calhoun purposely and consciously imitated the
Athenian orator; but Clay was a kindred spirit with Demosthenes. We
could select passages from both these orators, and no man could tell
which was American and which was Greek, unless he chanced to remember
the passage. Tell us, gentle reader, were the sentences following
spoken by Henry Clay after the war of 1812 _at_ the Federalists who
had opposed that war, or by Demosthenes against the degenerate Greeks
who favored the designs of Philip?

"From first to last I have uniformly pursued the just and
virtuous course,--asserter of the honors, of the
prerogatives, of the glory of my country. Studious to
support them, zealous to advance them, my whole being is
devoted to this glorious cause. I was never known to walk
abroad with a face of joy and exultation at the success of
the enemy, embracing and announcing the joyous tidings to
those who I supposed would transmit it to the proper place.
I was never known to receive the successes of my own country
with trembling, with sighs, with my eyes bent to the earth,
like those impious men who are the defamers of their
country, as if by such conduct they were not defamers of

Is it Clay, or is it Demosthenes? Or have we made a mistake, and
copied a passage from the speech of a Unionist of 1865?

After serving four years as clerk and amanuensis, barely earning a
subsistence, Clay was advised by his venerable friend, the Chancellor,
to study law; and a place was procured for him in the office of the
Attorney-General of the State. In less than a year after formally
beginning his studies he was admitted to the bar. This seems a short
preparation; but the whole period of his connection with Chancellor
Wythe was a study of the law. The Chancellor was what a certain other
chancellor styles "a full man," and Henry Clay was a receptive youth.

When he had obtained his license to practise he was twenty years of
age. Debating-society fame and drawing-room popularity do not, in an
old commonwealth like Virginia, bring practice to a lawyer of twenty.
But, as a distinguished French author has recently remarked of Julius
Caesar, "In him was united the elegance of manner which wins, to the
energy of character which commands." He sought, therefore, a new
sphere of exertion far from the refinements of Richmond. Kentucky,
which Boone explored in 1770, was a part of Virginia when Clay was a
child, and only became a State in 1792, when first he began to copy
Chancellor Wythe's decisions. The first white family settled in it in
1775; but when our young barrister obtained his license, twenty-two
years after, it contained a white population of nearly two hundred
thousand. His mother, with five of her children and a second husband,
had gone thither five years before. In 1797 Henry Clay removed to
Lexington, the new State's oldest town and capital, though then
containing, it is said, but fifty houses. He was a stranger there, and
almost penniless. He took board, not knowing where the money was to
come from to pay for it. There were already several lawyers of repute
in the place. "I remember," said Mr. Clay, forty-five years after,

"how comfortable I thought I should be if I could make one
hundred pounds a year, Virginia money; and with what delight
I received my first fifteen-shilling fee. My hopes were more
than realized. I immediately rushed into a successful and
lucrative practice."

In a year and a half he was in a position to marry the daughter of one
of the first men of the State, Colonel Thomas Hart, a man exceedingly
beloved in Lexington.

It is surprising how addicted to litigation were the early settlers of
the Western States. The imperfect surveys of land, the universal habit
of getting goods on credit at the store, and "difficulties" between
individuals ending in bloodshed, filled the court calendars with land
disputes, suits for debt, and exciting murder cases, which gave to
lawyers more importance and better chances of advancement than they
possessed in the older States. Mr. Clay had two strings to his bow.
Besides being a man of red tape and pigeon-holes, exact, methodical,
and strictly attentive to business, he had a power over a Kentucky
jury such as no other man has ever wielded. To this day nothing
pleases aged Kentuckians better than to tell stories which they heard
their fathers tell, of Clay's happy repartees to opposing counsel, his
ingenious cross-questioning of witnesses, his sweeping torrents of
invective, his captivating courtesy, his melting pathos. Single
gestures, attitudes, tones, have come down to us through two or three
memories, and still please the curious guest at Kentucky firesides.
But when we turn to the cold records of this part of his life, we find
little to justify his traditional celebrity. It appears that the
principal use to which his talents were applied during the first years
of his practice at the bar was in defending murderers. He seems to
have shared the feeling which then prevailed in the Western country,
that to defend a prisoner at the bar is a nobler thing than to assist
in defending the public against his further depredations; and he threw
all his force into the defence of some men who would have been "none
the worse for a hanging." One day, in the streets of Lexington, a
drunken fellow whom he had rescued from the murderer's doom cried out,
"Here comes Mr. Clay, who saved my life." "Ah! my poor fellow,"
replied the advocate, "I fear I have saved too many like you, who
ought to be hanged." The anecdotes printed of his exploits in cheating
the gallows of its due are of a quality which shows that the power of
this man over a jury lay much in his manner. His delivery, which
"bears absolute sway in oratory," was bewitching and irresistible, and
gave to quite commonplace wit and very questionable sentiment an
amazing power to please and subdue.

We are far from thinking that he was not a very able lawyer. Judge
Story, we remember, before whom he argued a cause later in life, was
of opinion that he would have won a high position at the bar of the
Supreme Court, if he had not been early drawn away to public life. In
Kentucky he was a brilliant, successful practitioner, such as Kentucky
wanted and could appreciate. In a very few years he was the possessor
of a fine estate near Lexington, and to the single slave who came to
him as his share of his father's property were added several others.
His wife being a skilful and vigorous manager, he was in independent
circumstances, and ready to serve the public, if the public wished
him, when he had been but ten years in his Western home. Thus he had a
basis for a public career, without which few men can long serve the
public with honor and success. And this was a principal reason of the
former supremacy of Southern men in Washington; nearly all of them
being men who owned land, which slaves tilled for them, whether they
were present or absent.

The young lawyer took to politics very naturally. Posterity, which
will judge the public men of that period chiefly by their course with
regard to slavery, will note with pleasure that Clay's first public
act was an attempt to deliver the infant State of Kentucky from that
curse. The State Constitution was to be remodelled in 1799. Fresh from
the society of Chancellor Wythe, an abolitionist who had set free his
own slaves,--fresh from Richmond, where every man of note, from
Jefferson and Patrick Henry downwards, was an abolitionist,--Henry
Clay began in 1798, being then twenty-one years of age, to write a
series of articles for a newspaper, advocating the gradual abolition
of slavery in Kentucky. He afterwards spoke on that side at public
meetings. Young as he was, he took the lead of the public-spirited
young men who strove to purge the State from this iniquity; but in the
Convention the proposition was voted down by a majority so decisive as
to banish the subject from politics for fifty years. Still more
honorable was it in Mr. Clay, that, in 1829, when Calhoun was maturing
nullification, he could publicly say that among the acts of his life
which he reflected upon with most satisfaction was his youthful effort
to secure emancipation in Kentucky.

The chapter of our history most abounding in all the elements of
interest will be that one which will relate the rise and first
national triumph of the Democratic party. Young Clay came to the
Kentucky stump just when the country was at the crisis of the struggle
between the Old and the New. But in Kentucky it was not a struggle;
for the people there, mostly of Virginian birth, had been personally
benefited by Jefferson's equalizing measures, and were in the fullest
sympathy with his political doctrines. When, therefore, this brilliant
and commanding youth, with that magnificent voice of his, and large
gesticulation, mounted the wagon that usually served as platform in
the open-air meetings of Kentucky, and gave forth, in fervid oratory,
the republican principles he had imbibed in Richmond, he won that
immediate and intense popularity which an orator always wins who gives
powerful expression to the sentiments of his hearers. We cannot wonder
that, at the close of an impassioned address upon the Alien and
Sedition Laws, the multitude should have pressed about him, and borne
him aloft in triumph upon their shoulders; nor that Kentucky should
have hastened to employ him in her public business as soon as he was
of the requisite age. At thirty he was, to use the language of the
stump, "Kentucky's favorite son," and incomparably the finest orator
in the Western country. Kentucky had tried him, and found him
perfectly to her mind. He was an easy, comfortable man to associate
with, wholly in the Jeffersonian taste. His wit was not of the highest
quality, but he had plenty of it; and if he said a good thing, he had
such a way of saying it as gave it ten times its natural force. He
chewed tobacco and took snuff,--practices which lowered the tone of
his health all his life. In familiar conversation he used language of
the most Western description; and he had a singularly careless,
graceful way with him, that was in strong contrast with the vigor and
dignity of his public efforts. He was an honest and brave young man,
altogether above lying, hypocrisy, and meanness,--full of the idea of
Republican America and her great destiny. The splendor of his talents
concealed his defects and glorified his foibles; and Kentucky rejoiced
in him, loved him, trusted him, and sent him forth to represent her in
the national council.

During the first thirteen years of Henry Clay's active life as a
politician,--from his twenty-first to his thirty-fourth year,--he
appears in politics only as the eloquent champion of the policy of Mr.
Jefferson, whom he esteemed the first and best of living men. After
defending him on the stump and aiding him in the Kentucky Legislature,
he was sent in 1806, when he was scarcely thirty, to fill for one term
a seat in the Senate of the United States, made vacant by the
resignation of one of the Kentucky Senators. Mr. Jefferson received
his affectionate young disciple with cordiality, and admitted him to
his confidence. Clay had been recently defending Burr before a
Kentucky court, entirely believing that his designs were lawful and
sanctioned. Mr. Jefferson showed him the cipher letters of that
mysterious and ill-starred adventurer, which convinced Mr. Clay that
Burr was certainly a liar, if he was not a traitor. Mr. Jefferson's
perplexity in 1806 was similar to that of Jackson in 1833,--too much
money in the treasury. The revenue then was fifteen millions; and,
after paying all the expenses of the government and the stipulated
portion of the national debt, there was an obstinate and most
embarrassing surplus. What to do with this irrepressible surplus was
the question then discussed in Mr. Jefferson's Cabinet. The President,
being a free-trader, would naturally have said, Reduce the duties. But
the younger men of the party, who had no pet theories, and
particularly our young Senator, who had just come in from a six weeks'
horseback flounder over bridgeless roads, urged another solution of
the difficulty,--Internal Improvements. But the President was a
strict-constructionist, denied the authority of Congress to vote money
for public works, and was fully committed to that opinion.

Mr. Jefferson yielded. The most beautiful theories will not always
endure the wear and tear of practice. The President, it is true, still
maintained that an amendment to the Constitution ought to precede
appropriations for public works; but he said this very briefly and
without emphasis, while he stated at some length, and with force, the
desirableness of expending the surplus revenue in improving the
country. As time wore on, less and less was said about the amendment,
more and more about the importance of internal improvements; until, at
last, the Republican party, under Clay, Adams, Calhoun, and Rush, went
as far in this business of road-making and canal-digging as Hamilton
himself could have desired. Thus it was that Jefferson rendered true
his own saying, "We are all Federalists, we are all Republicans."
Jefferson yielded, also, on the question of free-trade. There is a
passage of a few lines in Mr. Jefferson's Message of 1806, the year of
Henry Clay's first appearance in Washington, which may be regarded as
the text of half the Kentuckian's speeches, and the inspiration of his
public life. The President is discussing the question, What shall we
do with the surplus?

"Shall we suppress the impost, and give that advantage to
foreign over domestic manufactures? On a few articles of
more general and necessary use, the suppression, in due
season, will doubtless be right; but the great mass of the
articles upon which impost is paid are foreign luxuries,
purchased by those only who are rich enough to afford
themselves the use of them. Their patriotism would certainly
prefer its continuance, and application to the great
purposes of the public education, roads, rivers, canals, and
such other objects of public improvement as it may be
thought proper to add to the constitutional enumeration of
Federal powers. By these operations, new channels of
communication will be opened between the States, the lines
of separation will disappear, their interests will be
identified, and their union cemented by new and indissoluble

Upon these hints, the young Senator delayed not to speak and act; nor
did he wait for an amendment to the Constitution. His first speech in
the Senate was in favor of building a bridge over the Potomac; one of
his first acts, to propose an appropriation of lands for a canal round
the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville; and soon he brought forward a
resolution directing the Secretary of the Treasury to report a system
of roads and canals for the consideration of Congress. The seed of the
President's Message had fallen into good ground.

Returning home at the end of the session, and reentering the Kentucky
Legislature, we still find him a strict follower of Mr. Jefferson. In
support of the President's non-intercourse policy (which was
Franklin's policy of 1775 applied to the circumstances of 1808), Mr.
Clay proposed that the members of the Legislature should bind
themselves to wear nothing that was not of American manufacture. A
Federalist, ignorant of the illustrious origin of this idea, ignorant
that the homespun system had caused the repeal of the Stamp Act, and
_would_ have postponed the Revolution but for the accident of
Lexington, denounced Mr. Clay's proposition as the act of a shameless
demagogue. Clay challenged this ill-informed gentleman, and a duel
resulted, in which two shots were exchanged, and both antagonists were
slightly wounded. Elected again to the Senate for an unexpired term,
he reappeared in that body in 1809, and sat during two sessions.
Homespun was again the theme of his speeches. His ideas on the subject
of protecting and encouraging American manufactures were not derived
from books, nor expressed in the language of political economy. At his
own Kentucky home, Mrs. Clay, assisted by her servants, was spinning
and weaving, knitting and sewing, most of the garments required in her
little kingdom of six hundred acres, while her husband was away over
the mountains serving his country. "Let the nation do what we Kentucky
farmers are doing," said Mr. Clay to the Senate. "Let us manufacture
enough to be independent of foreign nations in things essential,--no
more." He discoursed on this subject in a very pleasant, humorous
manner, without referring to the abstract principle involved, or
employing any of the technical language of economists.

His service in the Senate during these two sessions enhanced his
reputation greatly, and the galleries were filled when he was expected
to speak, little known as he was to the nation at large. We have a
glimpse of him in one of Washington Irving's letters of February,

"Clay, from Kentucky, spoke against the Bank. He is one of
the finest fellows I have seen here, and one of the finest
orators in the Senate, though I believe the youngest man in
it. The galleries, however, were so much crowded with ladies
and gentlemen, and such expectations had been expressed
concerning his speech, that he was completely frightened,
and acquitted himself very little to his own satisfaction.
He is a man I have great personal regard for."

This was the anti-bank speech which General Jackson used to say had
convinced him of the impolicy of a national bank, and which, with
ingenious malice, he covertly quoted in making up his Bank Veto
Message of 1832.

Mr. Clay's public life proper began in November, 1811, when he
appeared in Washington as a member of the House of Representatives,
and was immediately elected Speaker by the war party, by the decisive
majority of thirty-one. He was then thirty-four years of age. His
election to the Speakership on his first appearance in the House gave
him, at once, national standing. His master in political doctrine and
his partisan chief, Thomas Jefferson, was gone from the scene; and
Clay could now be a planet instead of a satellite. Restive as he had
been under the arrogant aggressions of England, he had schooled
himself to patient waiting, aided by Jefferson's benign sentiments and
great example. But his voice was now for war; and such was the temper
of the public in those months, that the eloquence of Henry Clay,
seconded by the power of the Speaker, rendered the war unavoidable.

It is agreed that to Henry Clay, Speaker of the House of
Representatives, more than to any other individual, we owe the war of
1812. When the House hesitated, it was he who, descending from the
chair, spoke so as to reassure it. When President Madison faltered, it
was the stimulus of Clay's resistless presence that put heart into him
again. If the people seemed reluctant, it was Clay's trumpet harangues
that fired their minds. And when the war was declared, it was he, more
than President or Cabinet or War Committee, that carried it along upon
his shoulders. All our wars begin in disaster; it was Clay who
restored the country to confidence when it was disheartened by the
loss of Detroit and its betrayed garrison. It was Clay alone who could
encounter without flinching the acrid sarcasm of John Randolph, and
exhibit the nothingness of his telling arguments. It was he alone who
could adequately deal with Quincy of Massachusetts, who alluded to the
Speaker and his friends as "young politicians, with their pin-feathers
yet unshed, the shell still sticking upon them,--perfectly unfledged,
though they fluttered and cackled on the floor." Clay it was whose
clarion notes rang out over departing regiments, and kindled within
them the martial fire; and it was Clay's speeches which the soldiers
loved to read by the camp-fire. Fiery Jackson read them, and found
them perfectly to his taste. Gentle Harrison read them to his
Tippecanoe heroes. When the war was going all wrong in the first year,
President Madison wished to appoint Clay Commander-in-Chief of the
land forces; but, said Gallatin, "What shall we do without him in the
House of Representatives?"

Henry Clay was not a man of blood. On the contrary, he was eminently
pacific, both in his disposition and in his politics. Yet he believed
in the war of 1812, and his whole heart was in it. The question
occurs, then, Was it right and best for the United States to declare
war against Great Britain in 1812? The proper answer to this question
depends upon another: What ought we to think of Napoleon Bonaparte? If
Napoleon _was_, what English Tories and American Federalists said he
was, the enemy of mankind,--and if England, in warring upon him, _was_
fighting the battle of mankind,--then the injuries received by neutral
nations might have been borne without dishonor. When those giant
belligerents were hurling continents at one another, the damage done
to bystanders from the flying off of fragments was a thing to be
expected, and submitted to as their share of the general ruin,--to be
compensated by the final suppression of the common foe. To have
endured this, and even to have submitted, for a time, to the searching
of ships, so that not one Englishman should be allowed to skulk from
such a fight, had not been pusillanimity, but magnanimity. But if, as
English Whigs and American Democrats contended, Napoleon Bonaparte was
the armed soldier of democracy, the rightful heir of the Revolution,
the sole alternative to anarchy, the _legitimate_ ruler of France; if
the responsibility of those enormous desolating wars does not lie at
his door, but belongs to George III. and the Tory party of England; if
it is a fact that Napoleon always stood ready to make a just peace,
which George III. and William Pitt refused, _not_ in the interest of
mankind and civilization, but in that of the Tory party and the allied
dynasties,--then America was right in resenting the searching and
seizure of her ships, and right, after exhausting every peaceful
expedient, in declaring war.

That this was really the point in dispute between our two parties is
shown in the debates, newspapers, and pamphlets of the time. The
Federalists, as Mr. Clay observed in one of his speeches, compared
Napoleon to "every monster and beast, from that mentioned in the
Revelation down to the most insignificant quadruped." The Republicans,
on the contrary, spoke of him always with moderation and decency,
sometimes with commendation, and occasionally he was toasted at their
public dinners with enthusiasm. Mr. Clay himself, while lamenting his
enormous power and the suspension of ancient nationalities, always had
a lurking sympathy with him. "Bonaparte," said he in his great war
speech of 1813,

"has been called the scourge of mankind, the destroyer of
Europe, the great robber, the infidel, the modern Attila,
and Heaven knows by what other names. Really, gentlemen
remind me of an obscure lady, in a city not very far off,
who also took it into her head, in conversation with an
accomplished French gentleman, to talk of the affairs of
Europe. She, too, spoke of the destruction of the balance of
power; stormed and raged about the insatiable ambition of
the Emperor; called him the curse of mankind, the destroyer
of Europe. The Frenchman listened to her with perfect
patience, and when she had ceased said to her, with
ineffable politeness, 'Madam, it would give my master, the
Emperor, infinite pain if he knew how hardly you thought of

This brief passage suffices to show the prevailing tone of the two
parties when Napoleon was the theme of discourse.

It is, of course, impossible for us to enter into this question of
Napoleon's moral position. Intelligent opinion, ever since the means
of forming an opinion were accessible, has been constantly judging
Napoleon more leniently, and the Tory party more severely. We can only
say, that, in our opinion, the war of 1812 was just and necessary; and
that Henry Clay, both in supporting Mr. Jefferson's policy of
non-intercourse and in supporting President Madison's policy of war,
deserved well of his country. Postponed that war might have been. But,
human nature being what it is, and the English government being what
it was, we do not believe that the United States could ever have been
distinctly recognized as one of the powers of the earth without
another fight for it.

The war being ended and the Federal party extinct, upon the young
Republicans, who had carried on the war, devolved the task of
"reconstruction." Before they had made much progress in it, they came
within an ace of being consigned to private life,--Clay himself having
as narrow an escape as any of them. And here we may note one point of
superiority of the American government over others. In other countries
it can sometimes be the interest of politicians to foment and declare
war. A war strengthens a tottering dynasty, an imperial _parvenu_, an
odious tyrant, a feeble ministry; and the glory won in battle on land
and sea redounds to the credit of government, without raising up
competitors for its high places. But let American politicians take
note. It is never _their_ interest to bring on a war; because a war is
certain to generate a host of popular heroes to outshine them and push
them from their places. It may sometimes be their duty to advocate
war, but it is never their interest. At this moment we see both
parties striving which shall present to the people the most attractive
list of military candidates; and when a busy ward politician seeks his
reward in custom-house or department, he finds a dozen lame soldiers
competing for the place; one of whom gets it,--as he ought. What city
has presented Mr. Stanton with a house, or Mr. Welles with fifty
thousand dollars' worth of government bonds? Calhoun precipitated the
country into a war with Mexico; but what did he gain by it but new
bitterness of disappointment, while the winner of three little battles
was elected President? Henry Clay was the animating soul of the war of
1812, and we honor him for it; but while Jackson, Brown, Scott, Perry,
and Decatur came out of that war the idols of the nation, Clay was
promptly notified that _his_ footing in the public councils, _his_
hold of the public favor, was by no means stable.

His offence was that he voted for the compensation bill of 1816, which
merely changed the pay of members of Congress from the pittance of six
dollars a day to the pittance of fifteen hundred dollars a year. He
who before was lord paramount in Kentucky saved his seat only by
prodigious efforts on the stump, and by exerting all the magic of his
presence in the canvass.

No one ever bore cutting disappointment with an airier grace than this
high-spirited thorough-bred; but he evidently felt this apparent
injustice. Some years later, when it was proposed in Congress to
pension Commodore Perry's mother, Mr. Clay, in a speech of five
minutes, totally extinguished the proposition. Pointing to the vast
rewards bestowed upon such successful soldiers as Marlborough,
Napoleon, and Wellington, he said, with thrilling effect:

"How different is the fate of the statesman! In his quiet
and less brilliant career, after having advanced, by the
wisdom of his measures, the national prosperity to the
highest point of elevation, and after having sacrificed his
fortune, his time, and perhaps his health, in the public
service, what, too often, are the rewards that await him?
Who thinks of _his_ family, impoverished by the devotion of
his attention to his country, instead of their advancement?
Who proposes to pension him,--much less his _mother_?"

He spoke the more feelingly, because he, who could have earned more
than the President's income by the practice of his profession, was
often pinched for money, and was once obliged to leave Congress for
the sole purpose of taking care of his shattered fortune. He felt the
importance of this subject in a national point of view. He wrote in
1817 to a friend:

"Short as has been my service in the public councils, I have
seen some of the most valuable members quitting the body
from their inability to sustain the weight of these
sacrifices. And in process of time, I apprehend, this
mischief will be more and more felt. Even now there are few,
if any, instances of members dedicating their lives to the
duties of legislation. Members stay a year or two; curiosity
is satisfied; the novelty wears off; expensive habits are
brought or acquired; their affairs at home are neglected;
their fortunes are wasting away; and they are compelled to

The eight years of Mr. Monroe's administration--from 1817 to
1825--were the most brilliant period of Henry Clay's career. His
position as Speaker of the House of Representatives would naturally
have excluded him from leadership; but the House was as fond of
hearing him speak as he could be of speaking, and opportunities were
continually furnished him by going into Committee of the Whole. In a
certain sense he was in opposition to the administration. When one
party has so frequently and decidedly beaten the party opposed to it,
that the defeated party goes out of existence, the conquering party
soon divides. The triumphant Republicans of 1816 obeyed this law of
their position;--one wing of the party, under Mr. Monroe, being
reluctant to depart from the old Jeffersonian policy; the other wing,
under Henry Clay, being inclined to go very far in internal
improvements and a protective tariff. Mr. Clay now appears as the
great champion of what he proudly styled the American System. He
departed farther and farther from the simple doctrines of the earlier
Democrats. Before the war, he had opposed a national bank; now he
advocated the establishment of one, and handsomely acknowledged the
change of opinion. Before the war, he proposed only such a tariff as
would render America independent of foreign nations in articles of the
first necessity; now he contemplated the establishment of a great
manufacturing system, which should attract from Europe skilful
workmen, and supply the people with everything they consumed, even to
jewelry and silver-ware. Such success had he with his American System,
that, before many years rolled away, we see the rival wings of the
Republican party striving which could concede most to the
manufacturers in the way of an increased tariff. Every four years,
when a President was to be elected, there was an inevitable revision
of the tariff, each faction outbidding the other in conciliating the
manufacturing interest; until at length the near discharge of the
national debt suddenly threw into politics a prospective
surplus,---one of twelve millions a year,--which came near crushing
the American System, and gave Mr. Calhoun his pretext for

At present, with such a debt as we have, the tariff is no longer a
question with us. The government must have its million a day; and as
no tax is less offensive to the people than a duty on imported
commodities, we seem compelled to a practically protective system for
many years to come. But, of all men, a citizen of the United States
should be the very last to accept the protective system as final; for
when he looks abroad over the great assemblage of sovereignties which
he calls the United States, and asks himself the reason of their rapid
and uniform prosperity for the last eighty years, what answer can he
give but this?--_There is free trade among them_. And if he extends
his survey over the whole earth, he can scarcely avoid the conclusion
that free trade among all nations would be as advantageous to all
nations as it is to the thirty-seven States of the American Union. But
nations are not governed by theories and theorists, but by
circumstances and politicians. The most perfect theory must sometimes
give way to exceptional fact. We find, accordingly, Mr. Mill, the
great English champion of free trade, fully sustaining Henry Clay's
moderate tariff of 1816, but sustaining it only as a temporary
measure. The paragraph of Mr. Mill's Political Economy which touches
this subject seems to us to express so exactly the true policy of the
United States with regard to the tariff, that we will take the liberty
of quoting it.

"The only case in which, on mere principles of political
economy, protecting duties can be defensible, is when they
are imposed temporarily, (especially in a young and rising
nation,) in hopes of naturalizing a foreign industry, in
itself perfectly suitable to the circumstances of the
country. The superiority of one country over another in a
branch of production often arises only from having begun it
sooner. There may be no inherent advantage on one part, or
disadvantage on the other, but only a present superiority of
acquired skill and experience. A country which has this
skill and experience yet to acquire may, in other respects,
be better adapted to the production than those which were
earlier in the field; and, besides, it is a just remark of
Mr. Rae, that nothing has a greater tendency to promote
improvement in any branch of production, than its trial
under a new set of conditions. But it cannot be expected
that individuals should, at their own risk, or rather to
their certain loss, introduce a new manufacture, and bear
the burden of carrying it on, until the producers have been
educated up to the level of those with whom the processes
are traditional. A protecting duty, continued for a
reasonable time, will sometimes be the least inconvenient
mode in which the nation can tax itself for the support of
such an experiment. But the protection should be confined to
cases in which there is good ground of assurance that the
industry which it fosters will after a time be able to
dispense with it; nor should the domestic producers ever be
allowed to expect that it will be continued to them beyond
the time necessary for a fair trial of what they are capable
of accomplishing."[1]

In the quiet of his library at Ashland, Mr. Clay, we believe, would,
at any period of his public life, have assented to the doctrines of
this passage. But at Washington he was a party leader and an orator.
Having set the ball in motion, he could not stop it; nor does he
appear to have felt the necessity of stopping it, until, in 1831, he
was suddenly confronted by three Gorgons at once,--a coming Surplus, a
President that vetoed internal improvements, and an ambitious Calhoun,
resolved on using the surplus either as a stepping-stone to the
Presidency or a wedge with which to split the Union. The time to have
put down the brakes was in 1828, when the national debt was within
seven years of being paid off; but precisely _then_ it was that both
divisions of the Democratic party---one under Mr. Van Buren, the other
under Mr. Clay--were running a kind of tariff race, neck and neck, in
which Van Buren won. Mr. Clay, it is true, was not in Congress
then,--he was Secretary of State; but he was the soul of his party,
and his voice was the voice of a master. In all his letters and
speeches there is not a word to show that he then anticipated the
surplus, or the embarrassments to which it gave rise; though he could
not have forgotten that a very trifling surplus was one of the chief
anxieties of Mr. Jefferson's administration. Mr. Clay's error, we
think, arose from his not perceiving clearly that a protective tariff,
though justifiable sometimes, is always in itself an evil, and is
never to be accepted as the permanent policy of any country; and that,
being an evil, it must be reduced to the minimum that will answer the
temporary purpose.

In estimating Henry Clay, we are always to remember that he was an
orator. He had a genius for oratory. There is, we believe, no example
of a man endowed with a genius for oratory who also possessed an
understanding of the first order. Mr. Clay's oratory was vivified by a
good heart and a genuine love of country; and on occasions which
required only a good heart, patriotic feeling, and an eloquent tongue,
he served his country well. But as a party leader he had sometimes to
deal with matters which demanded a radical and far-seeing intellect;
and then, perhaps, he failed to guide his followers aright. At
Washington, during the thirteen years of his Speakership, he led the
gay life of a popular hero and drawing-room favorite; and his position
was supposed to compel him to entertain much company. As a young
lawyer in Kentucky, he was addicted to playing those games of mere
chance which alone at that day were styled gambling. He played high
and often, as was the custom then all over the world. It was his
boast, even in those wild days, that he never played at home, and
never had a pack of cards in his house; but when the lawyers and
judges were assembled during court sessions, there was much high play
among them at the tavern after the day's work was done. In 1806, when
Mr. Clay was elected to the Senate, he resolved to gamble no
more,--that is, to play at hazard and "brag" no more,--and he kept his
resolution. Whist, being a game depending partly on skill, was not
included in this resolution; and whist was thenceforth a very favorite
game with him, and he greatly excelled in it. It was said of him, as
it was of Charles James Fox, that, at any moment of a hand, he could
name all the cards that remained to be played. He discountenanced high
stakes; and we believe he never, after 1806, played for more than five
dollars "a corner." These, we know, were the stakes at Ghent, where he
played whist for many months with the British Commissioners during the
negotiations for peace in 1815. We mention his whist-playing only as
part of the evidence that he was a gay, pleasant, easy man of the
world,--not a student, not a thinker, not a philosopher. Often, in
reading over his speeches of this period, we are ready to exclaim,
"Ah! Mr. Clay, if you had played whist a little less, and studied
history and statesmanship a great deal more, you would have avoided
some errors!" A trifling anecdote related by Mr. Colton lets us into
the Speaker's way of life. "How can you preside over that House
to-day?" asked a friend, as he set Mr. Clay down at his own door,
_after sunrise_, from a party. "Come up, and you shall see how I will
throw the reins over their necks," replied the Speaker, as he stepped
from the carriage.[2]

But when noble feeling and a gifted tongue sufficed for the occasion,
how grandly sometimes he acquitted himself in those brilliant years,
when, descending from the Speaker's lofty seat, he held the House and
the crowded galleries spellbound by his magnificent oratory! His
speech of 1818, for example, favoring the recognition of the South
American republics, was almost as wise as it was eloquent; for,
although the provinces of South America are still far from being what
we could wish them to be, yet it is certain that no single step of
progress was possible for them until their connection with Spain was
severed. Cuba, today, proves Mr. Clay's position. The amiable and
intelligent Creoles of that beautiful island are nearly ready for the
abolition of slavery and for regulated freedom; but they lie
languishing under the hated incubus of Spanish rule, and dare not risk
a war of independence, outnumbered as they are by untamed or
half-tamed Africans. Mr. Clay's speeches in behalf of the young
republics of South America were read by Bolivar at the head of his
troops, and justly rendered his name dear to the struggling patriots.
He had a clear conviction, like his master, Thomas Jefferson, that the
interests of the United States lie chiefly _in America_, not Europe;
and it was a favorite dream of his to see the Western Continent
occupied by flourishing republics, independent, but closely allied,--a
genuine Holy Alliance.

The supreme effort of Mr. Clay's Congressional life was in connection
with the Missouri Compromise of 1821. He did not originate the plan of
compromise, but it was certainly his influence and tact which caused
the plan to prevail. Fortunately, he had been absent from Congress
during some of the earlier attempts to admit Missouri; and thus he
arrived in Washington in January, 1821, calm, uncommitted, and welcome
to both parties. Fierce debate had wrought up the minds of members to
that point where useful discussion ceases to be possible. Almost every
man had given personal offence and taken personal offence; the two
sides seemed reduced to the most hopeless incompatibility; and the
affair was at a dead lock. No matter what the subject of debate,
Missouri was sure, in some way, to get involved in it; and the mere
mention of the name was like a spark upon loose gunpowder. In
February, for example, the House had to go through the ceremony of
counting the votes for President of the United States,--a mere
ceremony, since Mr. Monroe had been re-elected almost unanimously, and
the votes of Missouri were of no importance. The tellers, to avoid
giving cause of contention, announced that Mr. Monroe had received two
hundred and thirty-one votes, including those of Missouri, and two
hundred and twenty-eight if they were excluded. At this announcement
members sprang to their feet, and such a scene of confusion arose that
no man could make himself heard. After a long struggle with the riot,
the Speaker declared the House adjourned.

For six weeks Mr. Clay exerted his eloquence, his arts of
pacification, and all the might of his personality, to bring members
to their senses. He even had a long conference with his ancient foe,
John Randolph. He threw himself into this work with such ardor, and
labored at it so continuously, day and night, that, when the final
triumph was won, he declared that, if Missouri had been kept out of
the Union two weeks longer, he should have been a dead man.
Thirty-four years after these events Mr. S.G. Goodrich wrote:

"I was in the House of Representatives but a single hour.
While I was present there was no direct discussion of the
agitating subject which already filled everybody's mind, but
still the excitement flared out occasionally in incidental
allusions to it, like puffs of smoke and jets of flame which
issue from a house that is on fire within. I recollect that
Clay made a brief speech, thrilling the House by a single
passage, in which he spoke of '_poor, unheard Missouri_' she
being then without a representative in Congress. His tall,
tossing form, his long, sweeping gestures, and, above all,
his musical yet thrilling tones, made an impression upon me
which I can never forget."

Mr. Clay, at length, had completed his preparations. He moved for a
committee of the House to confer with a committee of the Senate. He
himself wrote out the list of members whom he desired should be
elected, and they were elected. At the last conference of the joint
committees, which was held on a Sunday, Mr. Clay insisted that their
report, to have the requisite effect upon Congress and the country,
must be unanimous; and unanimous it was. Both Houses, with a
surprising approach to unanimity, adopted the compromise proposed; and
thus was again postponed the bloody arbitrament to which the
irrepressible controversy has since been submitted.

Clay's masterly conduct on this occasion added his name to the long
list of gentlemen who were mentioned for the succession to Mr. Monroe
in 1825. If the city of Washington had been the United States, if the
House of Representatives had possessed the right to elect a President,
Henry Clay might have been its choice. During the thirteen years of
his Speakership not one of his decisions had been reversed; and he had
presided over the turbulent and restive House with that perfect
blending of courtesy and firmness which at once restrains and charms.
The debates just before the war, during the war, and after the war,
had been violent and acrimonious; but he had kept his own temper, and
compelled the House to observe an approach to decorum. On one occasion
he came into such sharp collision with the excitable Randolph, that
the dispute was transferred to the newspapers, and narrowly escaped
degenerating from a war of "cards" to a conflict with pistols. But the
Speaker triumphed; the House and the country sustained him. On
occasions of ceremony the Speaker enchanted every beholder by the
superb dignity of his bearing, the fitness of his words, and the
tranquil depth of his tones. What could be more eloquent, more
appropriate, than the Speaker's address of welcome to Lafayette, when
the guest of the nation was conducted to the floor of the House of
Representatives? The House and the galleries were proud of the Speaker
that day. No one who never heard this captivator of hearts can form
the slightest conception of the penetrating effect of the closing
sentences, though they were spoken only in the tone of conversation.

"The vain wish has been sometimes indulged, that Providence
would allow the patriot, after death, to return to his
country, and to contemplate the intermediate changes which
had taken place; to view the forests felled, the cities
built, the mountains levelled, the canals cut, the highways
constructed, the progress of the arts, the advancement of
learning, and the increase of population. General, your
present visit to the United States is a realization of the
consoling object of that wish. You are in the midst of
posterity. Everywhere you must have been struck with the
great changes, physical and moral, which have occurred since
you left us. Even this very city, bearing a venerated name,
alike endeared to you and to us, has since emerged from the
forest which then covered its site. In one respect you
behold us unaltered, and this is in the sentiment of
continued devotion to liberty, and of ardent affection and
profound gratitude to your departed friend, the father of
his country, and to you, and to your illustrious associates
in the field and in the cabinet, for the multiplied
blessings which surround us, and for the very privilege of
addressing you which I now exercise. This sentiment, now
fondly cherished by more than ten millions of people, will
be transmitted with unabated vigor down the tide of time,
through the countless millions who are destined to inhabit
this continent, to the latest posterity."

The appropriateness of these sentiments to the occasion and to the man
is evident to every one who remembers that Lafayette's love of George
Washington was a Frenchman's romantic passion. Nor, indeed, did he
need to have a sensitive French heart to be moved to tears by such
words and such a welcome.

From 1822 to 1848, a period of twenty-six years, Henry Clay lived the
strange life of a candidate for the Presidency. It was enough to ruin
any man, body and soul. To live always in the gaze of millions; to be
the object of eulogy the most extravagant and incessant from one half
of the newspapers, and of vituperation still more preposterous from
the other half; to be surrounded by flatterers interested and
disinterested, and to be confronted by another body intent on
misrepresenting every act and word; to have to stop and consider the
effect of every utterance, public and private, upon the next
"campaign"; not to be able to stir abroad without having to harangue a
deputation of political friends, and stand to be kissed by ladies and
pump-handled by men, and hide the enormous bore of it beneath a fixed
smile till the very muscles of the face are rigid; to receive by every
mail letters enough for a large town; to have your life written
several times a year; to be obliged continually to refute calumnies
and "define your position"; to live under a horrid necessity to be
pointedly civil to all the world; to find your most casual remarks and
most private conversations getting distorted in print,--this, and more
than this, it was to be a candidate for the Presidency. The most
wonderful thing that we have to say of Henry Clay is, that, such were
his native sincerity and healthfulness of mind, he came out of this
fiery trial still a patriot and a man of honor. We believe it was a
weakness in him, as it is in any man, to set his heart upon living
four years in the White House; but we can most confidently say, that,
having entered the game, he played it fairly, and bore his repeated
disappointments with genuine, high-bred composure. The closest
scrutiny into the life of this man still permits us to believe that,
when he said, "I would rather be right than be President," he spoke
the real sentiments of his heart; and that, when he said to one of his
political opponents, "Tell General Jackson that, if he will sign my
Land Bill, I will pledge myself to retire from public life and never
to re-enter it," he meant what he said, and would have stood to it. It
is our privilege to believe this of Henry Clay; nor do we think that
there was ever anything morbidly excessive in his desire for the
Presidency. He was the head and choice of a great political party; in
the principles of that party he fully believed; and we think he did
truly desire an election to the Presidency more from conviction than
ambition. This may not have been the case in 1824, but we believe it
was in 1832 and in 1844.

The history of Henry Clay's Presidential aspirations and defeats is
little more than the history of a personal feud. In the year 1819, it
was his fortune to incur the hatred of the best hater then
living,--Andrew Jackson. They met for the first time in November,
1815, when the hero of New Orleans came to Washington to consult with
the administration respecting the Indian and military affairs of his
department. Each of these eminent men truly admired the other. Jackson
saw in Clay the civil hero of the war, whose fiery eloquence had
powerfully seconded its military heroes. Clay beheld in Jackson the
man whose gallantry and skill had done most to justify the war in the
sight of the people. They became immediately and cordially intimate.
Jackson engaged to visit Ashland in the course of the next summer, and
spend a week there. On every occasion when Mr. Clay spoke of the
heroes of the war, he bestowed on Jackson the warmest praise.

In 1818 General Jackson invaded Florida, put to death two Indian
chiefs in cold blood, and executed two British subjects, Arbuthnot and
Armbrister.[3] During the twenty-seven days' debate upon these
proceedings, in 1819, the Speaker sided with those who disapproved
them, and he delivered a set speech against Jackson. This speech,
though it did full justice to General Jackson's motives, and contained
a fine eulogium upon his previous services, gave the General deadly
offence. Such was Jackson's self-love that he could not believe in the
honesty of any opposition to him, but invariably attributed such
opposition to low personal motives. Now it was a fact well known to
Jackson, that Henry Clay had expected the appointment of Secretary of
State under Mr. Monroe; and it was part of the gossip of the time that
Mr. Monroe's preference of Mr. Adams was the reason of Clay's
occasional opposition to measures favored by the administration. We do
not believe this, because the measures which Mr. Clay opposed were
such as he _must_ have disapproved, and which well-informed posterity
will forever disapprove. After much debate in the Cabinet, Mr. Monroe,
who was peculiarly bound to Jackson, and who had reasons of his own
for not offending him, determined to sustain him _in toto_, both at
home and in the courts of Spain and England. Hence, in condemning
General Jackson, Mr. Clay was again in opposition to the
administration; and the General of course concluded, that the Speaker
designed, in ruining him, merely to further his own political schemes.
How he boiled with fury against Mr. Clay, his published letters
amusingly attest. "The hypocrisy and baseness of Clay," wrote the
General, "in pretending friendship to me, and endeavoring to crush the
Executive through me, makes me despise the villain."

Jackson, as we all know, was triumphantly sustained by the House. In
fact, Mr. Clay's speech was totally unworthy of the occasion. Instead
of argument and fact, he gave the House and the galleries beautiful
declamation. The evidence was before him; he had it in his hands; but,
instead of getting up his case with patient assiduity, and exhibiting
the damning proofs of Jackson's misconduct, he merely glanced over the
mass of papers, fell into some enormous blunders, passed over some
most material points, and then endeavored to supply all deficiencies
by an imposing eloquence. He even acknowledges that he had not
examined the testimony. "It is _possible_," said he, "that a critical
examination of the evidence _would_ show" that Arbuthnot was an
innocent trader. We have had occasion to examine that evidence since,
and we can testify that this conjecture was correct. But why was it a
_conjecture_? Why did Mr. Clay neglect to convert the conjecture into
certainty? It fell to him, as representing the civilization and
humanity of the United States, to vindicate the memory of an honorable
old man, who had done all that was possible to prevent the war, and
who had been ruthlessly murdered by men wearing the uniform of
American soldiers. It fell to him to bar the further advancement of a
man most unfit for civil rule. To this duty he was imperatively
called, but he only half did it, and thus exasperated the tiger
without disabling him.

Four years passed. In December, 1823, General Jackson reappeared in
Washington to take his seat in the Senate, to which he had been
elected by his wire-pullers for the purpose of promoting his interests
as a candidate for the Presidency. Before he left home two or three of
his friends had besought him to assume a mild and conciliatory
demeanor at the capitol. It would never do, they told him, for a
candidate for the Presidency to threaten to cut off the ears of
gentlemen who disapproved his public conduct; he must restrain himself
and make friends. This advice he followed. He was reconciled with
General Winfield Scott, whom, in 1817, he had styled an "assassin," a
"hectoring bully," and an "intermeddling pimp and spy of the War
Office." He made friends with Colonel Thomas H. Benton, with whom he
had fought in the streets of Nashville, while he still carried in his
body a bullet received in that bloody affray. With Henry Clay, too, he
resumed friendly intercourse, met him twice at dinner-parties, rode
and exchanged visits with him, and attended one of the Speaker's
Congressional dinners.

When next these party chieftains met, in the spring of 1825, it was
about to devolve upon the House of Representatives to decide which of
three men should be the next President,--Jackson, Adams, or Crawford.
They exchanged visits as before; Mr. Clay being desirous, as he said,
to show General Jackson that, in the vote which he had determined to
give, he was influenced only by public considerations. No reader needs
to be informed that Mr. Clay and his friends were able to decide the
election, and that they decided it in favor of Mr. Adams. We believe
that Mr. Clay was wrong in so doing. As a Democrat he ought, we think,
to have been willing to gratify the plurality of his fellow-citizens,
who had voted for General Jackson. His motives we fully believe to
have been disinterested. Indeed, it was plainly intimated to him that,
if he gave the Presidency to General Jackson, General Jackson would
make him his heir apparent, or, in other words, his Secretary of

The anger of General Jackson at his disappointment was not the blind
and wild fury of his earlier days; it was a deeper, a deadlier wrath,
which he governed and concealed in order to wreak a feller vengeance.
On the evening of the day on which the election in the House occurred
there was a levee at the Presidential mansion, which General Jackson
attended. Who, that saw him dart forward and grasp Mr. Adams cordially
by the hand, could have supposed that he then entirely believed that
Mr. Adams had stolen the Presidency from him by a corrupt bargain with
Mr. Clay? Who could have supposed that he and his friends had been,
for fourteen days, hatching a plot to blast the good name of Mr. Adams
and Mr. Clay, by spreading abroad the base insinuation that Clay had
been bought over to the support of Adams by the promise of the first
place in the Cabinet? Who could have supposed that, on his way home to
Tennessee, while the newspapers were paragraphing his magnanimity in
defeat, as shown by his behavior at the levee, he would denounce Adams
and Clay, in bar-rooms and public places, as guilty of a foul compact
to frustrate the wishes of the people?

It was calumny's masterpiece. It was a rare stroke of art to get an
old dotard of a member of Congress to publish, twelve days _before_
the election, that Mr. Clay had agreed to vote for Mr. Adams, and that
Mr. Adams had agreed to reward him by the office of Secretary of
State. When the vote had been given and the office conferred, how
plausible, how convincing, the charge of bargain!

It is common to censure Mr. Clay for accepting office under Mr. Adams.
We honor him for his courage in doing so. Having made Mr. Adams
President, it had been unlike the gallant Kentuckian to shrink from
the possible odium of the act by refusing his proper place in the
administration. The calumny which anticipated his acceptance of office
was a defiance: _Take office if you dare_! It was simply worthy of
Henry Clay to accept the challenge, and brave all the consequences of
what he had deliberately and conscientiously done.

In the office of Secretary of State Mr. Clay exhibited an admirable
talent for the despatch of business. He negotiated an unusual number
of useful treaties. He exerted himself to secure a recognition of the
principles, that, in time of war, private property should enjoy on the
ocean the same protection as on land, and that paper blockades are not
to be regarded. He seconded Mr. Adams in his determination not to
remove from office any man on account of his previous or present
opposition to the administration; and he carried this policy so far,
that, in selecting the newspapers for the publication of the laws, he
refused to consider their political character. This was in strict
accordance with the practice of all previous administrations; but it
is so pleasant to recur to the times when that honorable policy
prevailed, that we cannot help alluding to it. In his intercourse with
foreign ministers, Mr. Clay had an opportunity to display all the
charms of an unequalled courtesy: they remained his friends long after
he had retired. His Wednesday dinners and his pleasant evening
receptions were remembered for many years. How far he sympathized with
Mr. Adams's extravagant dreams of a system of national works that
should rival the magnificent structures of ancient Rome, or with the
extreme opinions of his colleague, Mr. Rush, as to the power and
importance of government, we do not know. He worked twelve hours a day
in his office, he tells us, and was content therewith. He was the last
high officer of the government to fight a duel. That bloodless contest
between the Secretary of State and John Randolph was as romantic and
absurd as a duel could well be. Colonel Benton's narrative of it is at
once the most amusing and the most affecting piece of gossip which our
political annals contain. Randolph, as the most unmanageable of
members of Congress, had been for fifteen years a thorn in Mr. Clay's
side, and Clay's later politics had been most exasperating to Mr.
Randolph; but the two men loved one another in their hearts, after
all. Nothing has ever exceeded the thorough-bred courtesy and tender
consideration with which they set about the work of putting one
another to death; and their joy was unbounded when, after the second
fire, each discovered that the other was unharmed. If all duels could
have such a result, duelling would be the prettiest thing in the

The election of 1828 swept the administration from power. No man has
ever bowed more gracefully to the decision of the people than Henry
Clay. His remarks at the public dinner given him in Washington, on his
leaving for home, were entirely admirable. Andrew Jackson, he said,
had wronged him, but he was now the Chief Magistrate of his country,
and, as such, he should be treated with decorum, and his public acts
judged with candor. His journey to Ashland was more like the progress
of a victor than the return homeward of a rejected statesman.

He now entered largely into his favorite branch of rural business, the
raising of superior animals. Fifty merino sheep were driven over the
mountains from Pennsylvania to his farm, and he imported from England
some Durham and Hertford cattle. He had an Arabian horse in his
stable. For the improvement of the breed of mules, he imported an ass
from Malta, and another from Spain. Pigs, goats, and dogs he also
raised, and endeavored to improve. His slaves being about fifty in
number, he was able to carry on the raising of hemp and corn, as well
as the breeding of stock, and both on a considerable scale. Mrs. Clay
sent every morning to the principal hotel of Lexington thirty gallons
of milk, and her husband had large consignments to make to his factor
in New Orleans. His letters of this period show how he delighted in
his animals and his growing crops, and how thoughtfully he considered
the most trifling details of management. His health improved. He told
his old friend, Washington Irving, that he found it was as good for
men as for beasts to be turned out to grass occasionally. Though not
without domestic afflictions, he was very happy in his home. One of
his sons graduated second at West Point, and two of his daughters were
happily married. He was, perhaps, a too indulgent father; but his
children loved him most tenderly, and were guided by his opinion. It
is pleasing to read in the letters of his sons to him such passages as

"You tell me that you wish me to receive your opinions, not
as commands, but as advice. Yet I must consider them as
commands, doubly binding; for they proceed from, one so
vastly my superior in all respects, and to whom I am under
such great obligations, that the mere intimation of an
opinion will be sufficient to govern my conduct."

The President, meanwhile, was paying such homage to the farmer of
Ashland as no President of the United States had ever paid to a
private individual. General Jackson's principal object--the object
nearest his heart--appears to have been to wound and injure Henry
Clay. His appointments, his measures, and his vetoes seem to have been
chiefly inspired by resentment against him. Ingham of Pennsylvania,
who had taken the lead in that State in giving currency to the
"bargain" calumny, was appointed Secretary of the Treasury. Eaton, who
had aided in the original concoction of that foul slander, was
appointed Secretary of War. Branch, who received the appointment of
Secretary of the Navy, was one of the few Senators who had voted and
spoken against the confirmation of Henry Clay to the office of
Secretary of State in 1825; and Berrien, Attorney-General, was
another. Barry, appointed Postmaster-General, was the Kentuckian who
had done most to inflict upon Mr. Clay the mortification of seeing his
own Kentucky siding against him. John Randolph, Clay's recent
antagonist in a duel, and the most unfit man in the world for a
diplomatic mission, was sent Minister to Russia. Pope, an old Kentucky
Federalist, Clay's opponent and competitor for half a lifetime,
received the appointment of Governor of the Territory of Arkansas.
General Harrison, who had generously defended Clay against the charge
of bargain and corruption, was recalled from a foreign mission on the
fourth day after General Jackson's accession to power, though he had
scarcely reached the country to which he was accredited. In the place
of General Harrison was sent a Kentuckian peculiarly obnoxious to Mr.
Clay. In Kentucky itself there was a clean sweep from office of Mr.
Clay's friends; not one man of them was left. His brother-in-law,
James Brown, was instantly recalled from a diplomatic post in Europe.
Kendall, the chief of the Kitchen Cabinet, had once been tutor to Mr.
Clay's children, and had won the favor of Jackson by lending a
dexterous hand in carrying Kentucky against his benefactor. Francis
Blair, editor of the Globe, had also been the particular friend and
correspondent of Mr. Clay, but had turned against him. From the
Departments in Washington, all of Mr. Clay's known friends were
immediately removed, except a few who had made themselves
indispensable, and a few others whom Mr. Van Buren contrived to spare.
In nearly every instance, the men who succeeded to the best places had
made themselves conspicuous by their vituperation of Mr. Clay. He was
strictly correct when he said, "Every movement of the President is
dictated by personal hostility toward me"; but he was deceived when he
added that it all conduced to his benefit. Every mind that was both
just and well-informed warmed toward the object of such pitiless and
demoniac wrath; but in what land are minds just and well-informed a

It was not only the appointments and removals that were aimed at Mr.
Clay. The sudden expulsion of gray hairs from the offices they had
honored, the precipitation of hundreds of families into poverty,--this
did not satisfy the President's vengeance. He assailed Henry Clay in
his first Message. In recommending a change in the mode of electing
the President, he said that, when the election devolves upon the House
of Representatives, circumstances may give the power of deciding the
election to one man. "May he not be tempted," added the President, "to
name his reward?" He vetoed appropriations for the Cumberland Road,
because the name and the honor of Henry Clay were peculiarly
identified with that work. He destroyed the Bank of the United States,
because he believed its power and influence were to be used in favor
of Mr. Clay's elevation to the Presidency. He took care, in his
Message vetoing the recharter of the Bank, to employ some of the
arguments which Clay had used in opposing the recharter of the United
States Bank in 1811. Miserably sick and infirm as he was, he consented
to stand for reelection, because there was no other candidate strong
enough to defeat Henry Clay; and he employed all his art, and the
whole power of the administration, during his second term, to smooth
Mr. Van Buren's path to the Presidency, to the exclusion of Henry
Clay. Plans were formed, too, and engagements made, the grand object
of which was to keep Clay from the Presidency, even after Mr. Van
Buren should have served his anticipated eight years. General Jackson
left Washington in 1837, expecting that Martin Van Buren would be
President until 1845, and that he would then be succeeded by Thomas H.
Benton. Nothing prevented the fulfilment of this programme but the
financial collapse of 1837, the effects of which continued during the
whole of Mr. Van Buren's term, and caused his defeat in 1840.

Mr. Clay accepted the defiance implied in General Jackson's conduct.
He reappeared in Washington in 1831, in the character of Senator and
candidate for the Presidency. His journey to Washington was again a
triumphal progress, and again the galleries were crowded to hear him
speak. A great and brilliant party gathered round him, strong in
talents, character, property, and supposed to be strong in numbers. He
at once proved himself to be a most unskilful party leader. Every
movement of his in _that_ character was a mistake. He was precipitate
when he ought to have been cautious, and cautious when nothing but
audacity could have availed. The first subject upon which he was
called upon to act was the tariff. The national debt being within two
or three years of liquidation, Calhoun threatening nullification, and
Jackson vetoing all internal improvement bills, it was necessary to
provide against an enormous surplus. Clay maintained that the
_protective_ duties should remain intact, and that only those duties
should be reduced which protected no American interest. This was done;
the revenue was reduced three millions; and the surplus was as
threatening as before. It was _impossible_ to save the protective
duties entire without raising too much revenue. Mr. Clay, as it seems
to us, should have plainly said this to the manufacturers, and
compelled his party in Congress to warn and save them by making a
judicious cut at the protective duties in 1832. This would have
deprived Calhoun of his pretext, and prepared the way for a safe and
gradual reduction of duties in the years following. Such was the
prosperity of the country in 1832, that the three millions lost to the
revenue by Mr. Clay's bill were likely to be made up to it in three
years by the mere increase in the imports and land sales.

Mr. Clay's next misstep was one of precipitation. General Jackson,
after a three years' war upon the Bank, was alarmed at the outcry of
its friends, and sincerely desired to make peace with it. We know,
from the avowals of the men who stood nearest his person at the time,
that he not only wished to keep the Bank question out of the
Presidential campaign of 1832, but that he was willing to consent, on
very easy conditions, to a recharter. It was Mr. Clay's commanding
influence that induced the directors of the Bank to press for a
recharter in 1832, and force the President to retraction or a veto. So
ignorant was this able and high-minded man of human nature and of the
American people, that he supposed a popular enthusiasm could be
kindled in behalf of a _bank_! Such was the infatuation of some of his
friends, that they went to the expense of circulating copies of the
veto message gratis, for the purpose of lessening the vote for its
author! Mr. Clay was ludicrously deceived as to his strength with the
masses of the people,--the _dumb_ masses,--those who have no eloquent
orators, no leading newspapers, no brilliant pamphleteers, to speak
for them, but who assert themselves with decisive effect on election

It was another capital error in Mr. Clay, as the leader of a party, to
run at all against General Jackson. He should have hoarded his
prestige for 1836, when the magical name of Jackson would no longer
captivate the ignorant voter. Mr. Clay's defeat in 1832, so
unexpected, so overwhelming, lamed him for life as a candidate for the
Presidency. He lost faith in his star. In 1836, when there _was_ a
chance of success,--just a chance,--he would not suffer his name to
appear in the canvass. The vote of the opposition was divided among
three candidates,--General Harrison, Hugh L. White, and Daniel
Webster; and Mr. Van Buren, of course, had an easy victory.
Fortunately for his own happiness, Mr. Clay's desire for the
Presidency diminished as his chances of reaching it diminished. That
desire had never been morbid, it now became exceedingly moderate; nor
do we believe that, after his crushing defeat of 1832, he ever had
much expectation of winning the prize. He knew too well the arts by
which success is assured, to believe that an honorable man could be
elected to the Presidency by honorable means only.

Three other attempts were made to raise him to the highest office, and
it was always Andrew Jackson who struck him down. In 1840, he was set
aside by his party, and General Harrison nominated in his stead. This
was Jackson's doing; for it was the great defeat of 1832 which had
robbed Clay of prestige, and it was General Jackson's uniform success
that suggested the selection of a military candidate. Again, in 1844,
when the Texas issue was presented to the people, it was by the adroit
use of General Jackson's name that the question of annexation was
precipitated upon the country. In 1848, a military man was again
nominated, to the exclusion of Henry Clay.

Mr. Clay used to boast of his consistency, averring that he had never
changed his opinion upon a public question but once. We think he was
much too consistent. A notable example of an excessive consistency was
his adhering to the project of a United States Bank, when there was
scarcely a possibility of establishing one, and his too steadfast
opposition to the harmless expedient of the Sub-treasury. The
Sub-treasury system has now been in operation for a quarter of a
century. Call it a bungling and antiquated system, if you will; it has
nevertheless answered its purpose. The public money is taken out of
politics. If the few millions lying idle in the "Strong Box" do no
good, they at least do no harm; and we have no overshadowing national
bank to compete with private capital, and to furnish, every few years;
a theme for demagogues. Mr. Clay saw in the Sub-treasury the ruin of
the Republic. In his great speech of 1838, in opposition to it, he
uttered, in his most solemn and impressive manner, the following

"Mr. President, a great, novel, and untried measure is
perseveringly urged upon the acceptance of Congress. That it
is pregnant with tremendous consequences, for good or evil,
is undeniable, and admitted by all. We firmly believe that
it will be _fatal to the best interests of this country, and
ultimately subversive of its liberties_."

No one acquainted with Mr. Clay, and no man, himself sincere, who
reads this eloquent and most labored speech, can doubt Mr. Clay's
sincerity. Observe the awful solemnity of his first sentences:--

"I have seen some public service, passed through many
troubled times, and often addressed public assemblies, in
this Capitol and elsewhere; but never before have I risen in
a deliberative body under more oppressed feelings, or with a
deeper sense of awful responsibility. Never before have I
risen to express my opinions upon any public measure fraught
with such tremendous consequences to the welfare and
prosperity of the country, and so perilous to the liberties
of the people, as I solemnly believe the bill under
consideration will be. If you knew, sir, what sleepless
hours reflection upon it has cost me, if you knew with what
fervor and sincerity I have implored Divine assistance to
strengthen and sustain me in my opposition to it, I should
have credit with you, at least, for the sincerity of my
convictions, if I shall be so unfortunate as not to have
your concurrence as to the dangerous character of the
measure. And I have thanked my God that he has prolonged my
life until the present time, to enable me to exert myself,
in the service of my country, against a project far
transcending in pernicious tendency any that I have ever had
occasion to consider. I thank him for the health I am
permitted to enjoy; I thank him for the soft and sweet
repose which I experienced last night; I thank him for the
bright and glorious sun which shines upon us this day."

And what _was_ the question at issue? It was whether Nicholas Biddle
should have the custody of the public money at Philadelphia, and use
the average balance in discounting notes; or whether Mr. Cisco should
keep it at New York in an exceedingly strong vault, and not use any of
it in discounting notes.

As the leader of a national party Mr. Clay failed utterly; for he was
neither bad enough to succeed by foul means, nor skilful enough to
succeed by fair means. But in his character of patriot, orator, or
statesman, he had some brilliant successes in his later years. When
Jackson was ready to concede _all_ to the Nullifiers, and that
suddenly, to the total ruin of the protected manufacturers, it was
Clay's tact, parliamentary experience, and personal power that
interposed the compromise tariff, which reduced duties gradually
instead of suddenly. The Compromise of 1850, also, which postponed the
Rebellion ten years, was chiefly his work. That Compromise was the
best then attainable; and we think that the country owes gratitude to
the man who deferred the Rebellion to a time when the United States
was strong enough to subdue it.

Posterity, however, will read the speeches of Mr. Clay upon the
various slavery questions agitated from 1835 to 1850 with mingled
feelings of admiration and regret. A man compelled to live in the
midst of slavery must hate it and actively oppose it, or else be, in
some degree, corrupted by it. As Thomas Jefferson came at length to
acquiesce in slavery, and live contentedly with it, so did Henry Clay
lose some of his early horror of the system, and accept it as a
necessity. True, he never lapsed into the imbecility of pretending to
think slavery right or best, but he saw no way of escaping from it;
and when asked his opinion as to the final solution of the problem, he
could only throw it upon Providence. Providence, he said, would remove
the evil in its own good time, and nothing remained for men but to
cease the agitation of the subject. His first efforts, as his last,
were directed to the silencing of both parties, but most especially
the Abolitionists, whose character and aims he misconceived. With John
C. Calhoun sitting near him in the Senate-chamber, and with
fire-eaters swarming at the other end of the Capitol, he could, as
late as 1843, cast the whole blame of the slavery excitement upon the
few individuals at the North who were beginning to discern the
ulterior designs of the Nullifiers. Among his letters of 1843 there is
one addressed to a friend who was about to write a pamphlet against
the Abolitionists. Mr. Clay gave him an outline of what he thought the
pamphlet ought to be.

"The great aim and object of your tract should be to arouse
the laboring classes in the Free States against abolition.
Depict the consequences to them of immediate abolition. The
slaves, being free, would be dispersed throughout the Union;
they would enter into competition with the free laborer,
with the American, the Irish, the German; reduce his wages;
be confounded with him, and affect his moral and social
standing. And as the ultras go for both abolition and
amalgamation, show that their object is to unite in marriage
the laboring white man and the laboring black man, and to
reduce the white laboring man to the despised and degraded
condition of the black man.

"I would show their opposition to colonization. Show its
humane, religious, and patriotic aims; that they are to
separate those whom God has separated. Why do the
Abolitionists oppose colonization? To keep and amalgamate
together the two races, in violation of God's will, and to
keep the blacks here, that they may interfere with, degrade,
and debase the laboring whites. Show that the British nation
is co-operating with the Abolitionists, for the purpose of
dissolving the Union, etc."

This is so very absurd, that, if we did not know it to express Mr.
Clay's habitual feeling at that time, we should be compelled to see in
it, not Henry Clay, but the candidate for the Presidency.

He really thought so in 1843. He was perfectly convinced that the
white race and the black could not exist together on equal terms. One
of his last acts was to propose emancipation in Kentucky; but it was
an essential feature of his plan to transport the emancipated blacks
to Africa. When we look over Mr. Clay's letters and speeches of those
years, we meet with so much that is short-sighted and grossly
erroneous, that we are obliged to confess that this man, gifted as he
was, and dear as his memory is to us, shared the judicial blindness of
his order. Its baseness and arrogance he did not share. His head was
often wrong, but his heart was generally right. It atones for all his
mere errors of abstract opinion, that he was never admitted to the
confidence of the Nullifiers, and that he uniformly voted against the
measures inspired by them. He was against the untimely annexation of
Texas; he opposed the rejection of the anti-slavery petitions; and he
declared that no earthly power should ever induce him to consent to
the addition of one acre of slave territory to the possessions of the
United States.

It is proof positive of a man's essential soundness, if he improves as
he grows old. Henry Clay's last years were his best; he ripened to the
very end. His friends remarked the moderation of his later opinions,
and his charity for those who had injured him most. During the last
ten years of his life no one ever heard him utter a harsh judgment of
an opponent. Domestic afflictions, frequent and severe, had chastened
his heart; his six affectionate and happy daughters were dead; one son
was a hopeless lunatic in an asylum; another was not what such a
father had a right to expect; and, at length, his favorite and most
promising son, Henry, in the year 1847, fell at the battle of Buena
Vista. It was just after this last crushing loss, and probably in
consequence of it, that he was baptized and confirmed a member of the
Episcopal Church.

When, in 1849, he reappeared in the Senate, to assist, if possible, in
removing the slavery question from politics, he was an infirm and
serious, but not sad, old man of seventy-two. He never lost his
cheerfulness or his faith, but he felt deeply for his distracted
country. During that memorable session of Congress he spoke seventy
times. Often extremely sick and feeble, scarcely able, with the
assistance of a friend's arm, to climb the steps of the Capitol, he
was never absent on the days when the Compromise was to be debated. It
appears to be well attested, that his last great speech on the
Compromise was the immediate cause of his death. On the morning on
which he began his speech, he was accompanied by a clerical friend, to
whom he said, on reaching the long flight of steps leading to the
Capitol, "Will you lend me your arm, my friend? for I find myself
quite weak and exhausted this morning." Every few steps he was obliged
to stop and take breath. "Had you not better defer your speech?" asked
the clergyman. "My dear friend," said the dying orator, "I consider
our country in danger; and if I can be the means, in any measure, of
averting that danger, my health or life is of little consequence."
When he rose to speak, it was but too evident that he was unfit for
the task he had undertaken. But, as he kindled with his subject, his
cough left him, and his bent form resumed all its wonted erectness and
majesty. He may, in the prime of his strength, have spoken with more
energy, but never with so much pathos and grandeur. His speech lasted
two days, and, though he lived two years longer, he never recovered
from the effects of the effort. Toward the close of the second day,
his friends repeatedly proposed an adjournment; but he would not
desist until he had given complete utterance to his feelings. He said
afterwards that he was not sure, if he gave way to an adjournment,
that he should ever be able to resume.

In the course of this long debate, Mr. Clay said some things to which
the late war has given a new interest. He knew, at last, what the
fire-eaters meant. He perceived now that it was not the few abhorred
Abolitionists of the Northern States from whom danger to the Union was
to be apprehended. On one occasion allusion was made to a South
Carolina hot-head, who had publicly proposed to raise the flag of
disunion. Thunders of applause broke from the galleries when Mr. Clay
retorted by saying, that, if Mr. Rhett had really made that
proposition, and should follow it up by corresponding acts, he would
be a TRAITOR; "and," added Mr. Clay, "I hope he will meet a traitor's
fate." When the chairman had succeeded in restoring silence, Mr. Clay
made that celebrated declaration which was so frequently quoted in

"If Kentucky to-morrow should unfurl the banner of
resistance unjustly, I will never fight under that banner. I
owe a paramount allegiance to the whole Union,--a
subordinate one to my own State."

He said also:

"If any one State, or a portion of the people of any State,
choose to place themselves in military array against the
government of the Union, I am for trying the strength of the
government. I am for ascertaining whether we have a
government or not."


"The Senator speaks of Virginia being my country. This
UNION, sir, is my country; the thirty States are my country;
Kentucky is my country, and Virginia no more than any State
in the Union."

And yet again:

"There are those who think that the Union must be preserved
by an exclusive reliance upon love and reason. That is not
my opinion. I have some confidence in this instrumentality;
but, depend upon it that no human government can exist
without the power of applying force, and the actual
application of it in extreme cases."

Who can estimate the influence of these clear and emphatic utterances
ten years after? The crowded galleries, the numberless newspaper
reports, the quickly succeeding death of the great orator,--all aided
to give them currency and effect. We shall never know how many
wavering minds they aided to decide in 1861. Not that Mr. Clay really
believed the conflict would occur: he was mercifully permitted to die
in the conviction that the Compromise of 1850 had removed all
immediate danger, and greatly lessened that of the future. Far indeed
was he from foreseeing that the ambition of a man born in New England,
calling himself a disciple of Andrew Jackson, would, within five
years, destroy all compromises, and render all future compromise
impossible, by procuring the repeal of the first,--the Missouri
Compromise of 1821.

Henry Clay was formed by nature to please, to move, and to impress his
countrymen. Never was there a more captivating presence. We remember
hearing Horace Greeley say that, if a man only saw Henry Clay's back,
he would know that it was the back of a distinguished man. How his
presence filled a drawing-room! With what an easy sway he held captive
ten acres of mass-meeting! And, in the Senate, how skilfully he showed
himself respectfully conscious of the galleries, without appearing to
address them! Take him for all in all, we must regard him as the first
of American orators; but posterity will not assign him that rank,
because posterity will not hear that matchless voice, will not see
those large gestures, those striking attitudes, that grand manner,
which gave to second-rate composition first-rate effect. He could not
have been a great statesman, if he had been ever so greatly endowed.
While slavery existed no statesmanship was possible, except that which
was temporary and temporizing. The thorn, we repeat, was in the flesh;
and the doctors were all pledged to try and cure the patient without
extracting it. They could do nothing but dress the wound, put on this
salve and that, give the sufferer a little respite from anguish, and,
after a brief interval, repeat the operation. Of all these physicians
Henry Clay was the most skilful and effective. He both handled the
sore place with consummate dexterity, and kept up the constitution of
the patient by stimulants, which enabled him, at last, to live through
the appalling operation which removed the cause of his agony.

Henry Clay was a man of honor and a gentleman. He kept his word. He
was true to his friends, his party, and his convictions. He paid his
debts and his son's debts. The instinct of solvency was very strong in
him. He had a religion, of which the main component parts were
self-respect and love of country. These were supremely authoritative
with him; he would not do anything which he felt to be beneath Henry
Clay, or which he thought would be injurious to the United States.
Five times a candidate for the Presidency, no man can say that he ever
purchased support by the promise of an office, or by any other
engagement savoring of dishonor. Great talents and a great
understanding are seldom bestowed on the same individual. Mr. Clay's
usefulness as a statesman was limited by his talent as an orator. He
relied too much on his oratory; he was never such a student as a man
intrusted with public business ought to be. Hence he originated
nothing and established nothing. His speeches will long be interesting
as the relics of a magnificent and dazzling personality, and for the
light they cast upon the history of parties; but they add scarcely
anything to the intellectual property of the nation. Of American
orators he was the first whose speeches were ever collected in a
volume. Millions read them with admiration in his lifetime; but
already they have sunk to the level of the works "without which no
gentleman's library is complete,"--works which every one possesses and
no one reads.

Henry Clay, regarded as a subject for biography, is still untouched.
Campaign Lives of him can be collected by the score; and the Rev.
Calvin Colton wrote three volumes purporting to be the Life of Henry
Clay. Mr. Colton was a very honest gentleman, and not wanting in
ability; but writing, as he did, in Mr. Clay's own house, he became,
as it were, enchanted by his subject. He was enamored of Mr. Clay to
such a degree that his pen ran into eulogy by an impulse which was
irresistible, and which he never attempted to resist. In point of
arrangement, too, his work is chaos come again. A proper biography of
Mr. Clay would be one of the most entertaining and instructive of
works. It would embrace the ever-memorable rise and first triumphs of
the Democratic party; the wild and picturesque life of the early
settlers of Kentucky; the war of 1812; Congress from 1806 to 1852; the
fury and corruption of Jackson's reign; and the three great
compromises which postponed the Rebellion. All the leading men and all
the striking events of our history would contribute something to the
interest and value of the work. Why go to antiquity or to the Old
World for subjects, when such a subject as this remains unwritten?

[Footnote 1: Mill's Principles of Political Economy, Book V. Ch. X.
sec. 1.]

[Footnote 2: Daniel Webster once said of him in conversation: "Mr.
Clay is a great man; beyond all question a true patriot. He has done
much for his country. He ought long ago to have been elected
President. I think, however, he was never a man of books, a hard
student; but he has displayed remarkable genius. I never could imagine
him sitting comfortably in his library, and reading quietly out of the
great books of the past. He has been too fond of the world to enjoy
anything like that. He has been too fond of excitement,--he has lived
upon it; he has been too fond of company, not enough alone; and has
had few resources within himself. Now a man who cannot, to some
extent, depend upon himself for happiness, is to my mind one of the
unfortunate. But Clay is a great man; and if he ever had animosities
against me, I forgive him and forget them."

These words were uttered at Marshfield when the news reached there
that Mr. Clay was dying.]

[Footnote 3: This is the correct spelling of the name, as we learn
from a living relative of the unfortunate man. It has been hitherto
spelled Ambrister.]


Of words spoken in recent times, few have touched so many hearts as
those uttered by Sir Walter Scott on his deathbed. There has seldom
been so much of mere enjoyment crowded into the compass of one
lifetime as there was into his. Even his work--all of his best
work--was only more elaborate and keenly relished play; for
story-telling, the occupation of his maturity, had first been the
delight of his childhood, and remained always his favorite recreation.
Triumph rewarded his early efforts, and admiration followed him to the
grave. Into no human face could this man look, nor into any crowd of
faces, which did not return his glance with a gaze of admiring love.
He lived precisely where and how it was happiest for him to live; and
he had above most men of his time that disposition of mind which makes
the best of bad fortune and the most of good. But when his work and
his play were all done, and he came calmly to review his life, and the
life of man on earth, this was the sum of his reflections, this was
what he had to say to the man to whom he had confided his daughter's

"Lockhart, I may have but a minute to speak to you. My dear,
be a good man,--be virtuous,--be religious,--be a good man.
Nothing else will give you any comfort when you come to lie

So do we all feel in view of the open coffin, much as we may differ as
to what it _is_ to be good, virtuous, and religious. Was this man, who
lies dead here before us, faithful to his trust? Was he sincere, pure,
just, and benevolent? Did he help civilization, or was he an obstacle
in its way? Did he ripen and improve to the end, or did he degenerate
and go astray? These are the questions which are silently considered
when we look upon the still countenance of death, and especially when
the departed was a person who influenced his generation long and
powerfully. Usually it is only the last of these questions which
mortals can answer with any certainty; but from the answer to that one
we infer the answers to all the others. As it is only the wise who
learn, so it is only the good who improve. When we see a man gaining
upon his faults as he advances in life, when we find him more
self-contained and cheerful, more learned and inquisitive, more just
and considerate, more single-eyed and noble in his aims, at fifty than
he was at forty, and at seventy than he was at fifty, we have the best
reason perceptible by human eyes for concluding that he has been
governed by right principles and good feelings. We have a right to
pronounce such a person _good_, and he is justified in believing us.

The three men most distinguished in public life during the last forty
years in the United States were Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and
Daniel Webster. Henry Clay improved as he grew old. He was a
venerable, serene, and virtuous old man. The impetuosity,
restlessness, ambition, and love of display, and the detrimental
habits of his earlier years, gave place to tranquillity, temperance,
moderation, and a patriotism without the alloy of personal objects.
Disappointment had chastened, not soured him. Public life enlarged,
not narrowed him. The city of Washington purified, not corrupted him.
He came there a gambler, a drinker, a profuse consumer of tobacco, and
a turner of night into day. He overcame the worst of those habits very
early in his residence at the capital. He came to Washington to
exhibit his talents, he remained there to serve his country; nor of
his country did he ever think the less, or serve her less zealously,
because she denied him the honor he coveted for thirty years. We
cannot say this of Calhoun. He degenerated frightfully during the last
twenty years of his life. His energy degenerated into intensity, and
his patriotism narrowed into sectionalism. He became unteachable,
incapable of considering an opinion opposite to his own, or even a
fact that did not favor it. Exempt by his bodily constitution from all
temptation to physical excesses, his body was worn out by the intense,
unhealthy working of his mind. False opinions falsely held and
intolerantly maintained were the debauchery that sharpened the lines
of his face, and converted his voice into a bark. Peace, health, and
growth early became impossible to him, for there was a canker in the
heart of the man. His once not dishonorable desire of the Presidency
became at last an infuriate lust after it, which his natural sincerity
compelled him to reveal even while wrathfully denying it. He
considered that he had been defrauded of the prize, and he had some
reason for thinking so. Some men avenge their wrongs by the pistol,


Back to Full Books