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Henry Clay

Henry Clay

As a young Whig politician in Illinois Abraham Lincoln often referred to Henry Clay as his ideal of a statesman. Like Lincoln, Clay was a Kentuckian. He was also an advocate of internal improvements, like turnpikes and canals, as engines of economic development and enlightened civilization. In negotiating the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which mitigated the emerging controversy over African slavery in America by balancing the admission of slave and free states into the Union, Clay gained a reputation as "the Great Compromiser." Clay served in both the United States House of Representatives and the Senate, and also served as John Quincy Adams' Secretary of State. Originally a candidate for the presidency himself in that year, Clay threw his support to Adams and effectively denied Andrew Jackson election. General Jackson's supporters quickly decried a supposedly "corrupt bargain" between Clay and Adams, in which Clay received the Secretary's position in return for his support. Clay vigorously defended himself against the charges. In the following decades Clay labored in a vain attempt to win election to the presidency, unsuccessfully challenging the sitting Andrew Jackson in 1832, and gaining the Whig nomination in 1844 in a fruitless campaign against James K. Polk of Tennessee.

For more information about politics in the 19th century, please look at Lincoln/Net's Getting the Message Out! National Political Campaign Materials, 1840-1860 Web site.

Permission: University of Chicago.
©Copyright 2002 Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project