Sunday, January 28, 2007

Henry Clay... our Greatest Senator.


Henry Clay, like the Buffalo Bills was at the doorstep of greatness several times, and each time the result was undesirable. Henry Clay ran for president on 5 separate occasions. He won his party's nomination several times making to the 'big dance' only to be outdone by another party's candidate.

Though he never officially led our country, Henry Clay did great things representing Kentucky in both the House and Senate. Clay was known as The Great Compromiser, because of success brokering the issue of slavery several times.

First, was the Compromise of 1820, more commonly referred to as the Missouri Compromise. At this time, the balane between Free and Slave states was even at eleven a piece. Missouri wanted to come in as a free state, but the northern statesmen weren't going to have it. In a nutshell, the Missouri Compromise brought in Maine as a free state and Missouri as a slave state, maintaining the balance in the Senate. Additionally, slavery was now forbidden north of the 36-30 latitude line, which is essentially the northern border of Arkansas.

This negotiation staved off the inevitable Civil War for the time being.

Thirty years later, Clay would be called on again, this time coerced out of a short retirement to debate the issue of slavery once more. A similar situation had occurred. Senate wanted to keep the balance of Slave vs. Free state, but wasn't sure what to do with the newly acquired land which came as a result of the Mexican
American War. The Compromise of 1850 was born. This plan allowed slavery in the New Mexico and Utah territories while admitting California to the Union as a free state. It also included a new Fugitive Slave Act and banned the slave trade (but not slavery itself) in the District of Columbia. Many thought the banning of the slave trade in DC would lead others to follow suit. Banning the slave trade, and not slavery itself would allow the current slave owners to continue using slaves, but leaving them to rely on their current slaves' offspring to carry on the work.

The Compromise of 1850, again, helped to delay the Civil War for an additional eleven years.

Obviously, Henry Clay has some influence in the political arena and was highly respected. If her were alive today, might he be a moderate democrat, willing to cross party lines to get things done?

He was forward thinking enough to start the Whig Party, essentially the first 'second party'.

The American System kind of falls under the realm of 'crossing party lines'. The Amrerican System was Henry Clay's economic plan to make the United States self sufficient. In order for this to work, the North would have to cooperate with the South and vice-versa. It was an effort to rely less on British manufacturers and more on the industry located on the eastern seaboard. It called for improvements in roads and canals, to aid in shipping goods to the newly developing western states. It also suggested a national bank, something Alexander Hamilton had been advocating for many years. However, increased tension between the North and South, eventually led to the demise of this plan.

But again, it shows the strategic mind of Henry Clay who wanted nothing more than a peaceful and cooperative united states. Clay passed away in 1852 unaware that despite all his efforts, the slavery issue became too much and the strife between the states came to a head with the inevitable Civil War.

Even so, Henry Clay deserves more credit for his efforts.

PS - A Senate committee, headed by John F. Kennedy in 1957, was assigned the task of assessing and honoring his past members. This committee declared that Henry Clay was the greatest Senator in the history of this body.

And finally, here's an article comparing Clay to John McCain.

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2 comments:

The Laughing Man said...
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Bruce said...

You write, referring to the banning of the slave trade in Washington, D.C.:
"Banning the slave trade and not slavery itself would allow the current slave owners to continue using slaves, but leaving them to rely on their current slaves' offspring to carry on the work."

This misunderstands what was happening. The "slave trade" banned here was the DOMESTIC market -- the selling of slaves already in the country. The IMPORTATION of slaves from foreign countries had been banned back in 1808 (as soon as the Constitution allowed for it)... though that law, sadly, was often not well-enforced.

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