Early Life and EducationEdit
Henry Clay was born in Hanover County, Virginia, on April 12, 1777, the son of a planter who at his death owned 22 slaves. His father, Reverend John Clay, died when he was four years old, and his mother, Elizabeth Hudson Clay, married Captain Henry Watkins. Watkins was known as an affectionate stepfather, and the family moved to Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the state.
In Richmond, Clay worked as a shop assistant and secretary. While in these positions, he showed a great aptitude for the law, and began reading it often. Although he never officially had legal schooling, Clay studied the law for over a year before being admitted to the bar in Virginia in 1797. Many friends said he should join the military and participate in the Panama Campaign that was just beginning; Clay refused to listen, and proclaimed he would start a career in the law immediately, and not be a soldier.
Originally Clay had wanted to leave Virginia and start a career in a new territory, but he was forced to remain in the state because of a lack of options; the northern-western states were still uncivilized, and Clay had no interest in moving so far north.
Legal Career Edit
Opening a new law firm in the capital of Richmond, Clay immediately made a name for himself as one of the best lawyers in the city. His courtroom oratory became well known, and it wasn't uncommon for people to travel to the courthouse just to hear him speak. Usually paid quite handsomely, Clay began to earn great wealth in the city, and purchased a plantation several miles outside the city, covering 200 acres. This would become known as Ashland.
Although a vast majority of his cases dealt with land ownership, it was in defense cases that Henry Clay earned his fame. He was known to defend even the most vile of people, obviously guilty, and save their lives; records show not a single person he defended was sent to the gallows. He said later he regretted some of these cases, knowing very well some of the men were in fact guilty of murder, but he had done his duty as a lawyer.
And a great lawyer he had become; one of the most famous in Virginia within a matter of years. And a famous lawyer he would have remained, if not for the intervention of politics. Since Andrew Jackson seized power on November 4, 1799, Clay had become a vocal critic of the old Republican system. He said the violence of the Reign of Horror was medieval, and belonged in Europe, not America. He praised General Jackson for coming to power and restoring at least the basics of law and order in the country. When the Second Seven Years War began in 1802, Clay once again didn't join, although he did give sizable donations to the military and the government. When in 1804 Jackson announced his plans for a monarchy, Clay supported him fully. He said such a thing would finally restore balance and order in the country, and that there should be "an American King for an American continent."
Minister of Congress and Political RiseEdit
As one of the leading Virginians at the time, Clay was asked to become an interim Minister of Congress in 1806; he graciously accepted the position at the young age of 29 (In 1806, Andrew appointed six Ministers of Congress and ten congressman representing each state, until proper elections could be held, which would happen in 1808). That year he joined the Crown Party, a burgoning political party at the time devoted to the simple tenets of obeying the King, expansionism, and free trade. In his first speech before the interim Congress, he said the country should stay the course, and fight the war till its finish. Calling for continued expansion, he said "The Kingdom of the States was not merely for the generation that now exists, but for posterity- unlimited, undefinied, endless, perpetual posterity." He immediately became one of the more dominating of the six Ministers because of his personality and ruling style, and because of this he often clashed with Minister Alexander Hamilton of New York, who was twenty years his senior. Although they were the same politically (although Hamilton drifted more towards absolutism), and personable towards eachother, they were political rivals, each trying to get ahead.In 1808, Clay had placed his name into consideration for the position of Prime Minister; in this, he was going up against Alexander Hamilton, General Anthony Wayne, interim Prime Minister William Henry Harrison, and countless others. Harrison was chosen to become the first Prime Minister, although its been said that Andrew sent a letter to Clay saying the single statement, "You will have your time." The legitimacy of this claim has come under serious fire. In 1808, Clay attended the official inaugurational ceremony of Harrison, having been elected a Congressman from Virginia in his own right.
In early 1809, Viceroy Henry Dearborn was tragically killed in a hunting accident, meaning someone new would have to be appointed in his place. Hamilton was the obvious choice, having already served as Andrew's Foreign Secretary for six years before the monarchy. But most were shocked when Andrew chose the 32 year old Henry Clay instead, despite his having no foreign policy experience. Despite his lack of qualifications, Clay proved very adept at diplomatic talks, and was one of the key figures in negotiating the Treaty of London, which ended the Second Seven Years War on October 1, 1809. It was his actions in London that earned Clay a knighthood when he returned home.After the end of the war, it was up to Clay to establish the peaceful relations to follow. During his tenure as Viceroy, Clay worked to keep up the same alliances as during the war. He made several trips to Louisiana to keep relations strong, and largely ignored the southern "republics." Georgia and South Carolina had been decimated by the war, and largely looked into themselves to rebuild. Clay also worked to keep up a firm alliance with France, while keeping relations cordial between the URAS, Prussia, and the Holy Roman Empire. A large part of his time was spent dealing with the British, with which he wanted to improve relations. By the end of his term in office he had succeeded to an extent, turning vile hatred into icy respect.
Harrison was easily appointed to an official second term in 1812, and Clay was reappointed as Viceroy. Few things occured during Harrison's second tem in foreign policy (and even domestically as well), leaving Clay to twiddle his thumbs and wait until 1816.
1816 and CompromiseEdit
In 1816, by law, William Henry Harrison had to leave the office of Prime Minister, having served for two terms. This meant his successor would have to be chosen. In Clay's mind, he was the only choice; he had been awaiting this moment for a decade. But in reality, there were many who were gunning for the 1816 Crown Nomination. They included Clay's old enemy Lord Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton I, Lord Secretary of the Navy and former Admiral Oliver Hazard Perry, Minister of Congress Andrew Franklin Adams, and Minister of Congress George Rogers Clark.
After all of these contenders had meetings with King Andrew and had spoken their peace, the King made his decision as to who should be on the ticket, as he had done for the last two appointments. Henry Clay was chosen for the nominee for Prime Minister, and George Rogers Clark was given the nomination for Viceroy. Clay had foreign policy and congressional experience, youth, and a good speaking voice. Clark had a long military career, a friendship with Harrison, and age. In any other year, this ticket would probably have taken the country by landslide. But 1816 would be an exception.That year, the Whig Party actually nominated a popular ticket. At the head was Hunter DeRensis, Duke of Winterfell. DeRensis was a general during the Second Seven Years War, and was just finishing a term as the Governor of Pennsylvania. He was very well-liked among all strata of society, and had many new ideas he wanted to implement. For Viceroy, Rufus King was chosen; King was a well known and congenial Congressman from New York. Clay didn't fear the Whig ticket, believing the Crown Party to be so dominent, his chances were guaranteed.
Clay ran a frontporch campaign, confident of an easy victory like Harrison had had the last two appointments. The Duke, on the other hand, stooped across the country, making speeches in every continental state, and every major city. He called for protectionism, internal improvements, limits on the monarchy, and a "Royal Bill of Rights" to protect the people from possible tyranny. Whig support increased all across the country, and it looked like for the first time there might actually be a close decision for the appointment.
It was so close in fact, that the King made a historic decision that would forever change American politics; Clay would be chosen as Prime Minister, while DeRensis would be chosen as Viceroy. Clay easily agree to this decision, as long as he got the appointment. The Duke also agreed to this, as it would further legitimize the Whig Party in the public eye. Since there was no accurate polling system in place at the time, its unknown what percentage of the country supported each candidate. Some historians have stated there was a gap as big as 56% Clay and 36% DeRensis, while others have said the race was as close as 49% Clay and 47% DeRensis.
The Clay AdministrationEdit
Coming into office, Clay wanted to set his mark on the office. He wanted to be known as a great founding father of the country, and leave the state of affairs better then he found them. That would of course be hard to do; Harrison had left a good economy, balanced foreign policy, and growing government. Despite this, Clay would make sure his name would go down on the books. Andrew supported him, and the Crown Party had a fullproof majority in Congress; the sky was the limit.
Since it's creation, the URAS had functioned on a system of bimetalism, where the currency, the American dollar, was backed by both gold and silver. Starting in 1811, a terrible recession was caused by the inflation of the currency during the Second Seven Years' War to help the government pay for it. This inflation was caused by a purposeful increase in silver. In 1811, that inflation stopped and there was a contraction in the market. The Harrison administration did nothing during the economic downturn, which many say led to the movement in the Northeast to institute a national bank which could properly regulate the currency. By 1813, the economy had recovered although the last two years had only brought hardship to the country. Upon entering office, Clay had Congress pass the Gold Standard Act of 1816. This law put the URAS completely on the gold standard, and took silver out of the equation. Following this action, the economy boomed for the rest of Clay's time in office, directly because of the gold standard. It also earned Clay the nickname, the "Golden Boy."
The next year, Congress passed the Royal Army Act of 1817. This made it legal for the states to have individual armies, paid for by the state, and answerable only to the Governor. In 1816, as Governor of Pennsylvania, Hunter DeRensis had ushered in this practice. It had been highly controversial at the time, and at first he was forced to pay for the army out of his own pocket. But with new state taxes, the army was soon functioning on its own. Now as Viceroy, DeRensis was able to swing enough influence to have the law passed giving all states the power, and making his action legal. Clay disagreed with this course of action, although since the Crown majority in Congress passed it, he allowed it to take effect.
The rest of Clay's first term remained roughly uneventful. Few laws were passed by Congress, and the economy boomed; there were few jobs for Clay to complete. In 1820, Clay was renominated by the Crown Party for a second term, and he made sure DeRensis was nominated as well for Viceroy. He defeated Governor of New York and Whig nominee DeWitt Clinton in an absolute landslide. Congressional elections were that year as well, and the people kept the firm Crown majority in power.
Once safely in a second term, in 1821, Clay saw the adoption of two new cabinet level offices; the Lord Secretary of Diplomacy and International Law, and the Lord Secretary of the Post. The Lord Secretary of Dip. and Int. Law would act as an assistant to the Viceroy, handling daily actions and paperwork. The Viceroy would remain the foremost diplomat and in charge of laying out the foreign policy. Up till 1821, the mail service had been run individually by the states. This was a slow process, and most agreed the job should be nationalized. The Lord Secretary of the Post would now be in charge of overseeing and regulating the mail service between states and across the country.
By the end of his administration, Clay could look back on two successful terms in office. He had avoided several wars, and because of his actions in favor of the gold standard the economy only continued to grow. Many believed the government was more efficiently run because of the new cabinet positions, and the states now had more power and military might.
As a political concession, Clay delegated most of his foreign policy powers to Hunter DeRensis. DeRensis was a Whig of course, and had his own ideas on foreign policy. But Clay and DeRensis agreed to an extent on where the country should go, and they worked with this as a base.
Just a few months into his term, the First Mexican War broke out. The Kingdom of Rio Grande had invaded the Confederate States of Mexico, and now the countries of North America turned their heads to see how the war would go. Clay declared American neutrality, while DeRensis publically attacked both nations for starting a terrible and unnecessary war. The war ended later that year in a draw with nearly 20,000 casualties. The war had been kept short because no other nations joined, although Russia did send the Confederate States of Mexico several thousand troops.
The 1810s were a time of contention in Central Europe. Following the Second Seven Years War, much of the continent had been divided up between the victorious powers of France, Prussia, and Russia. From 1812-1817, Prussia had absorbed all of the German-speaking states except Bavaria, Wurttemburg, Baden, Saxony, and a few minor provinces. This led to a dispute between Prussia and France over the Rhineland. This led to a break down of relations, and in February, 1818 Prussia (with Saxony as an ally) declared war on France. Two weeks later, following a French-backed revolution in Belgium, the Netherlands entered the war on the side of Prussia. The French sent an army of soldiers into the Rhineland under Marshal Jean Baptiste Louis-Francois de Pouey, a veteran general from the Day of Misery. In the Rhineland, they met a combined Germanic force under Prussian Generalfeldmarschall Gerhard von Scharnhorst at the Battle of Niederaussem. The French met a catastrophic defeat in this now famous battle, and over the next few months the Prussian passed through the Rhineland unmolested. By early 1819, the Dutch had crushed the rebellion in the Low countries, and the Prussians were poised to invade France itself. But Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm I wasn't interested in continuing the war, and France under Prime Minister Marquis de Lafayette had been against the war from the start. The Treaty of Stockholm brought the war to a close on August 3, 1819, with status quo ante bellum except for the Prussian annexation of the Rhineland. Throughout this entire period, Clay watched from a far biting his nails; if France requested assistance, the URAS would have to get involved. But Lafayette didn't request any kind of help, with most credit going to Viceroy DeRensis who kept an open correspondence with the Prime Minister. But it was rumored at the time, and now proven, that during the war DeRensis favored the Prussians. After the war, DeRensis proposed to Clay that the URAS purchase the island of Newfoundland from a now cash-poor France. Clay vetoed this idea in its infancy, seeing it as too expensive and untenable. The purchase of Newfoundland would take place in 1827 under DeRensis' administration as Prime Minister.
Three years after the first one, the Second Mexican War broke out when relations between the Yucatan and the Central States Republic fizzled out. The Kingdom of the Rio Grande and the Confederate States of Mexico both took sides, with the former taking the side of the Yucatan and the latter that of the Central States Republic. This war was much larger than the last, and proved to be much more conclusive. In December that year, the alliance between the Rio Grande and the Yucatan fell through, and both countries declared war on eachother. Like the last war, Clay declared neutrality while DeRensis attacked all participants for worthless bloodshed. Gran Colombia nearly entered the conflict (which would have increased the war's size, bringing the URAS into the fight), but was dissuaded by an American delegation headed by DeRensis himself. In early 1820, the Yucatan and Rio Grande signed a peace treaty, agreeing to both attack the Confederate States. The attack was a success, and by the end of the year the Second Mexican War was over. Yucatan and the Rio Grande were seen as the victors, with the Rio Grande annexing part of the Confederate States, the Yucatan annexing Guatemala from the Central States Republic, and the emerging dominence of the Yucatanese Navy over it's neighbors.
In regards to the natives, Clay essentially turned his head for most of his term. He left the policies implemented completely up to DeRensis, Andrew, or the military. It was under these conditions that thousands of natives were killed in what can only be called genocide by General Anthony Wayne. While DeRensis stopped this practice upon taking office and spoke out against these actions later in life, Clay would never openly speak on the issue. But by the end of his term, most Native Americans had been brought into American society or disposed of.
As one of his last acts of office in 1824, Clay sent American troops to support a royalist revolution in Gran Columbia. Financial support was also sent, and the revolution was successful in placing Elpidio Miguel Marquez on the thrown as Elpidio I. Few American troops died, and the operation was largely considered a success. Clay did this behind the back of Viceroy DeRensis, who had opposed the intervention as unnessary since Gran Columbia had always been an ally.
|Lord Secretary of the Treasury||Richard Rush||1816-1824||Crown|
|Lord Secretary of the Army||Richard Mentor Johnson||1816-1824||Crown|
|Lord Secretary of the Navy||Charles Stewart||1816-1824||Crown|
|Lord Secretary of Education||Noah Webster||1816-1824||Crown|
|Lord Secretary of Dip. and Inter. Law||Daniel D. Tompkins||1821-1824||Crown|
|Lord Secretary of the Post||1821-1824||Crown|
As previously agreed, Clay endorsed his Viceroy Hunter DeRensis for Prime Minister in 1824, despite the fact that DeRensis was running as a Whig. DeRensis went on to defeat Crown nominee and Clay's Lord Secretary of the Navy Charles Stewart. Clay announced his retirement from politics, and he returned to Virginia to continue his law practice. He was 47 years old. As expected, his career followed him wherever he went, and he instantly became one of the most famous lawyers in the country. He only did high profile cases, mostly of a constitutional basis.Politicially, Clay remained quiet for the rest of the 1820s and the 1830s. When he said he had retired from party politics, he had meant it. During the Crown split of the 1830s between Absolutists and Constitutionalists, Clay refused to take a side, saying he was simply a Crown and always would be. Historians have had trouble classifying Clay on the spectrum between the two beliefs, with his contemporaries saying he was neither; he didn't believe in constitutionalism, but he was only absolutist in the sense that he should have complete power. During these decades, there was talk of nominating Clay for a third term, talks that he immediately crushed.
The former Prime Minister came out of the woodwork in 1844 to endorse Crown nominee William R. King, the first unified Crown candidate for Prime Minister in over a decade. But he also refused to lend his endorsement of 1848 Crown nominee Stephen A. Douglas. That was the same year Clay quit his law practice, and went into full retirement. The next year, his autobiography The Golden Boy was published and became a best seller. After a year of ill health, Henry Clay finally passed away at his home on June 29, 1852. He was 75 years old.
Historians have looked kindly on Clay's legacy. As the second Prime Minister of the URAS, he was an important precedent setter and founding icon. His foreign policy kept the country at peace, and he showed his bipartisanship with having a Whig as his Viceroy, and his party loyalty by not taking sides in it's time of crisis. His crowning achievement, the Gold Standard Act of 1816, is given credit for ushering in a decade of economic expansion. Despite this legacy, Clay is usually ranked in the middle of Prime Ministers. This is because of his relatively short and uneventful political career (18 years), and his generally peaceful administration; there were no wars to fight, nor crisis' to avert. Still, Henry Clay remains a popular and universally liked figure in American history.
A quick list of career choices and periods in the life of Henry Clay (1777-1852)
|Minister of Congress||1806-1809|
|Congressman from Virginia||1808-1809|
|Viceroy of the Union of Royal American States||1809-1816|
|Prime Minister of the Union of Royal American States||1816-1824|