Henry Clay

HENRY CLAY was born April 12, 1777, in Hanover county, Virginia. His father was a Baptist clergyman, of small means, who died when his son was only five years of age. He was one of a large family of children, who were left under the care of their mother - a firm-minded and truly excellent woman. Henry's early advantages consisted in the privilege of attending a common country Virginia school; and such were the circumstances of the widow, that thus early, he was obliged to contribute to the support of the family. His work was generally on the farm. At fourteen years of age he was placed in a small retail shop in Richmond, Va. The next year he entered the office of Mr. Tinsley, clerk of the high court of chancery, where among other valuable acquaintances, he attracted the notice and acquired the friendship of the distinguished and beloved Chancellor Wythe - one of the venerated signers of the declaration of independence. With him the poor orphan found a patron and a home. Under the direction of his great benefactor, and for the purpose of studying his profession, he entered the law office of Robert Brooke, attorney general of the State. In 1797 he moved to Lexington, Ky., where before he commenced the practice of the law, he devoted some months to severe study. Such were the youthful trials of this great man. The foundation of his long, eminent, patriotic and glorious career was thus, not family, nor wealth, nor titles, but talents, industry, integrity, and worth. Our space will not permit a full detail of a progress alike honorable to a people who saw and appreciated his value as a man, and to the patriot who devoted himself zealously to the public service. This commenced in 1797, when he took part in the debates relating to the call of a convention to form a constitution for Kentucky, and in 1798, when he zealously entered the field against the celebrated alien and sedition laws. As soon as he was eligible, he was elected to the legislature of Kentucky. He was a leading member until 1806, when he was sent to the senate of the United States, to fill the place occasioned by the resignation of General Adir. This, however, was only a fraction of a term; and at the close of the session, Mr. Clay was again chosen to a seat in the legislature. He was speaker several years. In 1809, he was a second time elected to the United States senate and to fill a fractional part of a term. This expired in 1811, when he was elected a member of the house of representatives. On the first ballot he was elected speaker, which office he filled with distinguished ability. It is no more than justice to remark, that thus far Mr. Clay had proved himself equal, and more than equal, to every place which he had been called upon to fill. Indeed, he was a member of the republican party, and so signal had been his eloquence, his patriotism, his influence and his efficiency, as to have attracted the eyes of the nation. He nobly sustained the administration of Mr. Madison and the war of 1812. After the conclusion of the treaty of Ghent, Mr. Clay, with Mr. Adams and Mr. Gallatin, went to London, where, a commercial convention between this country and Great Britain was concluded. Mr. Clay was again elected to the house of representatives in 1815, and again made speaker. Subsequently, after two years absence from congress, he was reelected in 1823, and again made the speaker, which place he filled until 1825, when he was appointed secretary of state by John Quincy Adams. Mr. Clay was speaker of the house from 1811 to 1825, with the exception of two years, during which time he voluntarily retired from congress.

Mr. Clay continued in the office of secretary of state until 1829. Two years later, in December, 1831, he was again elected to the senate of the United States, and continued a member of that body until March 31,1842, when he resigned. Mr. Clay lived in elegant retirement at Ashland, until he was again (1849) elected to the senate. And here, after a brilliant parliamentary career, he closed his life, as his friend John Quincy Adams did, with his harness on - still serving the country for whose welfare his heart so fervently beat. He died on the 29th of June, 1852.