The Family Legacy of Henry Clay: In the Shadow of a Kentucky Patriarch

The Family Legacy of Henry Clay: In the Shadow of a Kentucky Patriarch

The Family Legacy of Henry Clay: In the Shadow of a Kentucky Patriarch

The Family Legacy of Henry Clay: In the Shadow of a Kentucky Patriarch

Synopsis

Known as the Great Compromiser, Henry Clay earned his title by addressing sectional tensions over slavery and forestalling civil war in the United States. Today he is still regarded as one of the most important political figures in American history. As Speaker of the House of Representatives and secretary of state, Clay left an indelible mark on American politics at a time when the country's solidarity was threatened by inner turmoil, and scholars have thoroughly chronicled his political achievements. However, little attention has been paid to his extensive family legacy.

In The Family Legacy of Henry Clay: In the Shadow of a Kentucky Patriarch, Lindsey Apple explores the personal history of this famed American and examines the impact of his legacy on future generations of Clays. Apple's study delves into the family's struggles with physical and emotional problems such as depression and alcoholism. The book also analyzes the role of financial stress as the family fought to reestablish its fortune in the years after the Civil War. Apple's extensively researched volume illuminates a little-discussed aspect of Clay's life and heritage, and highlights the achievements and contributions of one of Kentucky's most distinguished families.

Excerpt

In 1957 a sena te committee chaired by future president John F. Kennedy chose five senators considered to be the most influential in the nation’s history. Their portraits would hang in the Senate reception room. The first choice was Henry Clay of Kentucky. Studies have suggested that more than a century and a half after his death, Clay remains better known than many of those who served as president during his era. The historian Merrill Petersen included him in the second great triumvirate, along with Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun, worthy successors to Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. Clay created the position of Speaker of the House as one of consequence in American government. An ardent nationalist, he first provoked a war in 1812, then helped create a peace at Ghent that established a working relationship between the United States and Great Britain. He encouraged the growth of democracy not only in the United States but also in South America, Greece, and other areas struggling against tyranny. Daniel Walker Howe, historian of the Whig Party in American history, claims Clay was the only man in the antebellum era with a comprehensive vision for the nation. Urging an “American System,” he wanted to unite the country through commerce, industry, and transportation. Standing on the porch of his beloved estate, Ashland, in Lexington, Kentucky, Clay would today look toward the intersection of two interstate highways linking his community to the four regions of the country. One suspects he might be inclined to gloat. That was a part of his nature.

But Clay is best remembered as the Great Compromiser. Believing strongly that in a democracy, compromise had to be raised to the level of principle, he fashioned a series of compromises—largely over the slavery issue—that held the Union together during a critical period. Although Henry . . .

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