Henry Clay and Daniel Webster

December 16, 2011

Henry Clay and Daniel Webster on the Constitution and Union

“…A rope of sand or an effective capable government competent to enforce the powers therein vested by the Constitution of the United States?”

Daniel Webster and Henry ClayDavid Wilmot introduced his celebrated proviso that excluded slavery from any territory acquired as an indemnity from Mexico in August 1846. Wilmot, a Pennsylvania Democrat, confessed that he wanted to strike a blow against the “Slave Power,” a sentiment that reflected growing Northern resentment and concern over perceived Southern dominance and control of the federal government. Additional territory in which slavery was permitted might in time become slave states and forever solidify Southern preeminence and slavery’s perpetuation. Wilmot’s proviso passed the House and was duly blocked in the Senate and so the adjudication of the territories, which arrived with the treaty that ended the Mexican War in 1848, remained in legislative deadlock for nearly four years. Tempers were short, congressmen took to carrying pistols and Bowie knives, and Southern secession threats, often in bloody language, were spouted by men whose intemperate language earned them the nickname “fire-eaters.”

Into the political maelstrom strode the Great Compromiser, Henry Clay, now wizened and increasingly infirm, already plagued by the wracking cough that was a harbinger of the tuberculosis that would soon kill him. Clay had twice earlier in his career fashioned political compromises to stave off sectional crises that threatened the Union. Now he set to work again, fashioning a grand “omnibus” bill that contained elements that drew sober-minded men of both sections. He was joined in the endeavor by Daniel Webster, the “God-like Daniel,” perhaps the greatest orator of his generation. In ringing tones, Webster condemned secession as unthinkable and simply impossible, and more importantly, he sang the virtues, as only he could, of the Union. Together, Clay and Webster performed a final service to the Union they had loved and ably served for three decades. Within two years of these speeches, both were dead.

Dan Monroe, John C. Griswold Distinguished Professor of History, Millikin University

Read the documents:

Henry Clay, excerpt from Speech on Preserving the Union, 1850
Daniel Webster, The Constitution and the Union Speech, 1850

An Ashbrook Lesson Plan on EDSITEment

The Growing Crisis of Sectionalism in Antebellum America: A House Dividing

In this unit, students will trace the development of sectionalism in the United States as it was driven by the growing dependence upon, and defense of, black slavery in the southern states. Although seen by most Founders as contrary to American principles, slavery was tolerated to achieve the compromise agreement to adopt the U.S. Constitution. But by the 1830s the “peculiar institution” was promoted as a “positive good” by its southern defenders, and the country’s westward expansion into new territory had led to an expansion of slavery as well. Hence arose the question, as phrased by Abraham Lincoln, “Can we, as a nation, continue together permanentlyforever–half slave, and half free?”

In this lesson, students consider legislative attempts, such as the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, to manage this sectional conflict, as well as events such as the Nullification Crisis which pointed to an “irrepressible conflict.” Students who complete all four of the lessons will have examined the opposed arguments of abolitionists versus defenders of slavery, considered Stephen Douglas’ idea of popular sovereignty, and studied Lincoln’s anti-slavery politics. The unit helps teachers prioritize the major issues at stake in the sectional crisis and suggests ways of adapting the lesson according to the time available.

2012 National History Teacher of the Year Award

The Ashbrook Center at Ashland University is proud to announce the 2012 National History Teacher of the Year award. Sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, HISTORY, and Preserve America, the 2012 National History Teacher of the Year award program recognizes outstanding teachers of American history in secondary schools. One finalist will be chosen from each state. Each finalist will be recognized with a $1000 award, a certificate of recognition, the opportunity to attend a Gilder Lehrman summer seminar, and the presentation of a collection of historical and educational materials for the winner’s school. From these finalists, a panel of historians and educators will select the National History Teacher of the Year.

This year’s award is for teachers of grades 7 through 12. Nominees should be full-time middle, junior high, or senior high educators who teach American history (including state and local history) as one of the subjects they are responsible for in the classroom. Nominees should have at least three years of classroom experience teaching American history in a secondary classroom. Nominees may be from public or private schools.

To choose the winner, each state selection committee will consider the following criteria:

  • Evidence of creativity and imagination in the classroom that addresses literacy and content beyond state standards.
  • A demonstrated commitment to teach American history (including state and local history).
  • Effective use of primary documents, artifacts, historic sites, oral histories, and other primary resources to engage students with American history.
  • Thoughtful assessment of student achievement and progress.

The 2012 award is for middle and high school teachers ONLY. The 2013 award will be open to teachers of grades K through 6.

Nominations must be received by Wednesday, February 1, 2012. Nominations may be made by a department or division head, social studies curriculum director, principal, superintendent, student, parent, colleague, or another education professional familiar with the teacher’s work. Self-nominations will not be accepted.

Nominations MUST be made online at the website of the Gilder Lehrman Institute. The nomination should include the name and contact information for the nominee and a short statement indicating why the nominee is an outstanding teacher of American history. Please DO NOT send written nominations to the Ashbrook Center office.

Nominees will be contacted by email and will be invited to submit supporting materials to the Gilder Lehrman office to be considered for the Ohio award.

Master of American History and Government at Ashland University

Ashland University’s master’s program in American History and Government is designed with high school teachers in mind. Courses are offered only during the summers, and you may earn the degree in as few as three summers of intensive coursework. You may also attend individual courses for continuing education graduate credit. Uniquely, the program engages in the substantive study of history and government, with no courses limited to teaching methodology. All courses emphasize the use of primary historical documents. Learn more about the program.

New for 2012! There’s no better way to discover if MAHG is right for you than to experience it first-hand. Students new to the degree program may take their first course at the Ashland campus tuition-free. There is no obligation or risk.

Learn more about the program and view this summer’s schedule.

Independence Hall and the Philadelphia skyline

A new feature of the MAHG program: Courses held in historic Philadelphia

Topics in American History and Government: The Ratification DebateFour courses will be held this summer in historic Philadelphia: between June 17 and June 22, core courses on the American Revolution and the American Founding; between June 24 and 29, the core course on the Founding and an elective covering the debate in 1787-88 over the Ratification of the US Constitution described below:

This course, to be held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, will examine the debate that began immediately after the adjournment of the convention that was held in that city in the summer of 1787, the summer-long sealed convention that determined the provisions of the US Constitution. Once the finished document was forwarded to the states, an intense national discussion, lasting more than a year, was conducted in the press and, ultimately, in the state ratifying conventions. This class will examine the arguments developed for and against the Constitution by its advocates and critics, trace the patterns and the process of ratification, and consider the historical, theoretical and philosophical backgrounds to those debates. Jeremy D. Bailey, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Houston, will co-instruct with Todd Estes, Associate Professor of history at Oakland University.

Visit Our Interactive Website on the Ratification Debate

This online, encyclopedic history of the Ratification process was designed by Gordon Lloyd, Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, coauthor of three books on the American Founding, and Instructor in the Master of American History and Government program at Ashland University. Lloyd analyses both what he calls the “out-of-doors” debate carried on in the press and the “in-doors” debate that occurred at the state conventions, and he offers extensive analysis of the ratification debate in three critical states: Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York. He offers a large collection of original documents from the federalist and antifederalist debate along with biographies of key players. He also designed a companion website on the Constitutional Convention.

Constitution Booklets Available

A pocket-sized booklet that holds key texts of the American founding, including the Declaration of Independence and the entire text of the US Constitution and its amendments, as well as key primary texts interpreting these. Copies of the booklet are available for $2.00 each. Discounted rates are available for those that buy in larger lots (10 booklets for $14.00, 25 for $30.00, and 100 for $100.00).

To order, call (877) 289-5411 or visit

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