The only freshman congressman ever elected Speaker of the House, Henry Clay brought an arsenal of rhetorical weapons to subdue feuding members of the House of Representatives and established the Speaker as the most powerful elected official after the President. During fifty years in public service--as congressman, senator, secretary of state, and four-time presidential candidate--Clay constantly battled to save the Union, summoning uncanny negotiating skills to force bitter foes from North and South to compromise on slavery and forego secession. His famous "Missouri Compromise" and four other compromises thwarted civil war "by a power and influence," Lincoln said, "which belonged to no other statesman of his age and times."
Explosive, revealing, and richly illustrated, Henry Clay is the story of one of the most courageous--and powerful--political leaders in American History.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-08-10
- Reviewer: Staff
In this nimble portrayal of “the first true American leader,” prolific biographer Unger (John Marshall) depicts Clay as a consummate politician and a champion of the union. Clay was born in Virginia in 1777. As an ambitious young man, he moved west to Kentucky to set up a law practice. Counseling Aaron Burr through high-profile legal troubles burnished Clay’s reputation; by 1806 the Kentuckian was on his way to the nation’s capital, where over the next few decades he served first in the House, then in the Senate. Unger deftly packs nearly a half-century’s worth of political leadership into this slender volume: Clay’s hawkishness during the War of 1812, his creation of the American System to promote a national economy, his several failed attempts to win the presidency, and his long feud with Andrew Jackson. Clay maintained an unassailable belief in union that enabled him to smooth over sectional differences caused by slavery, engineering the Missouri Compromise in 1820 and then the Compromise of 1850. While Clay lived, the union held. Two years after his death in 1852, Congress repealed the Missouri Compromise; in 1861 the country plunged into the Civil War, which Clay worked so hard to avoid. Unger’s political biography layers a veneer of stability over a tumultuous and divisive time in American history. Illus. (Oct.)