Henry Clay: The Great Compromiser
The theme of this year’s Teaching American History Saturday webinars is American Minds. Prominent scholars will discuss individuals who made significant social, cultural, or political contributions to the American identity. On 2 November 2019, join panelists Chris Burkett (Ashland University), Eric Sands (Berry College), and Dan Monroe (Millikin University), to explore Henry Clay’s historical role as a congressional compromiser during the ever-heated debates of the antebellum period.
Below, you’ll find selected passages from each of the readings to be discussed — we hope these will inspire you to read more in each text in order to better understand Hamilton’s complex beliefs about the connection between stability, commerce, and energy in governments.
Speech on the Tariff, Henry Clay, 25 February 1832
No nation can exist, no nation perhaps ever existed, without protection in some form, and to some extent, being applied to its own industry. The direct and necessary consequence of abandoning the protection of its own industry, would be to subject it to the restrictions and prohibitions of foreign powers; and no nation, for any length of time, can endure an alien legislation, in which it has no will. The discontents which prevail, and the safety of the republic, may require the modification of a specific mode of protection, but it must be preserved in some other more acceptable shape.
Speech on President Jackson’s Veto of the Bank Bill in the Senate, Henry Clay, 10 July 1832
The veto is hardly reconcilable with the genius of representative government. It is totally irreconcilable with it, if it is to be frequently employed in respect to the expediency of measures, as well as their constitutionality. It is a feature of our government, borrowed from a prerogative of the British king. And it is remarkable, that in England it has grown obsolete, not having been used for upward of a century.
Speech on the Mexican-American War, Henry Clay, 1847
How did we unhappily get involved in this war? It was predicted as the consequence of the annexation of Texas to the United States. If we had not Texas, we should have no war. The people were told that if that event happened, war would ensue. They were told that the war between Texas and Mexico had not been terminated by a treaty of peace; that Mexico still claimed Texas as a revolted province: and that, if we received Texas in our Union, we took along with her, the war existing between her and Mexico. And the Minister of Mexico [Juan N. Almonte] formally announced to the Government at Washington, that his nation would consider the annexation of Texas to the United States as producing a state of war. But all this was denied by the partisans of annexation. They insisted we should have no war, and even imputed to those who foretold it, sinister motives for their groundless prediction.
Eulogy of Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, 6 July 1852
All his efforts were made for practical effect. He never spoke merely to be heard. He never delivered a Fourth of July oration, or a eulogy on an occasion like this. As a politician or statesman, no one was so habitually careful to avoid all sectional ground. Whatever he did, he did for the whole country. In the construction of his measures he ever carefully surveyed every part of the field, and duly weighed every conflicting interest. Feeling as he did, and as the truth surely is, that the world’s best hope depended on the continued Union of these States, he was ever jealous of, and watchful for, whatever might have the slightest tendency to separate them.