Henry Clay
by R.D. Monroe, Ph.D.


Henry Clay (1777-1852) was born in Hanover County, Virginia, to an undistinguished family. Clay studied law in Richmond, was admitted to practice, and moved to the burgeoning metropolis of Lexington, Kentucky. He was soon regarded as one of the best lawyers in the state. With a dynamic personality and great ability as a speaker and debater, Clay was drawn willingly into the political world. After brief service in the U.S. Senate, Clay was elected to the U.S. House in 1810, becoming a powerful Speaker and a champion of an aggressive policy toward Great Britain. A proponent of economic nationalism, Clay advocated a protective tariff, national bank, and internal improvements. He served on the commission that negotiated the Treaty of Ghent that concluded the War of 1812. He ran for president in 1824, failed, but helped select John Quincy Adams when the House of Representatives decided the outcome. Adams appointed Clay secretary of state, which led to charges of a "corrupt bargain" by Andrew Jackson's supporters. He ran against Jackson for president in 1832 and was soundly defeated. Clay returned to the Senate and helped create and lead the Whig party. His second run for the presidency in 1844 foundered on his mishandling of the annexation question. Returned to the Senate in 1849, Clay arrived in time to frame a legislative compromise that settled the contentious question of slavery in the new territories acquired in the Mexican War. He died in a Washington hotel of tuberculosis in 1852.

Read the campaign biography:
The Life and Public Services of Henry Clay.