Biography of Henry Clay
Famous American Biographies

HENRY CLAY. - In writing of this eminent American, Horace Greeley once said: "He was a matchless party chief, an admirable orator, a skillful legislator, wielding unequaled influence, not only over his friends, but even over those of his political antagonists who were subjected to the magic of his conversation and manners." A lawyer, legislator, orator, and statesman, few men in history have wielded greater influence, or occupied so prominent a place in the hearts of the generation, in which they lived.

Henry Clay was born near Richmond, in Hanover county, Virginia, April 12, 1777, the son of a poor Baptist preacher who died when Henry was but five years old. The mother married again about ten years later and moved to Kentucky leaving Henry a clerk in a store at Richmond. Soon afterward Henry Clay secured a position as copyist in the office of the clerk of the high court of chancery, and four years later entered the law office of Robert Brooke, then attorney general and later governor of his native state. In 1797 Henry Clay was licensed as a lawyer and followed his mother to Kentucky, opening an office at Lexington and soon built up a profitable practice. Soon afterward Kentucky, in separating from Virginia, called a state convention for the purpose of framing a constitution, and Clay at that time took a prominent part, publicly urging the adoption of a clause providing for the abolition of slavery, but in this he was overruled as he was fifty years later, when in the height of his fame he again advised the same course when the state constitution was revised in 1850. Young Clay took a very active and conspicuous part in the presidential campaign in 1800, favoring the election of Jefferson; and in 1803 was chosen to represent Fayette county in the state legislature. In 1806 General John Adair, then United States senator from Kentucky, resigned and Henry Clay was elected to fill the vacancy by the legislature and served through one sessidn in which he at once assumed a prominent place. In 1807 he was again a representative in the legislature and was elected speaker of the house. At this time originated his trouble with Humphrey Marshall. Clay proposed that each member clothe himself and family wholly in American fabrics, which Marshall characterized as the "language of a demagogue." This led to a duel in which both parties were slightly injured. In 1809 Henry Clay was again elected to fill a vacancy in the United States senate, and two years later elected representative in the lower house of congress, being chosen speaker of the house. About this time war was declared against Great Britain, and Clay took a prominent public place during this strug gle and was later one of the commissioners sent to Europe by President Madison to negotiate peace, returning in September, 1815, having been re-elected speaker of the house during his absence, and was re-elected unanimously. He was afterward reelected to congress and then became secretary of state under John Quincy Adams. In 1831 be was again elected senator from Kentucky and remained in the senate most of the time until his death.

Henry Clay was three times a candidate for the presidency, and once very nearly elected. He was the unanimous choice of the Whig party in 1844 for the presidency, and a great effort was made to elect him but without success, his opponent, James K. Polk, carrying both Pennsylvania and New York by a very slender margin, while either of them alone would have elected Clay. Henry Clay died at Washington June 29, 1852.

A Biographical Record
Of Schuyler County, New York
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
New York and Chicago 1903.


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