Appointed by President John Quincy Adams
Henry Clay is best known as a perennial contender for the presidency between 1824 and 1850 and as a giant in the House of Representatives and the Senate between 1808 and 1852. His chief claims to fame stem from his advocacy of the “American System, ” an elaborate nationalistic program that included protectionism, federal support for internal improvements, and a national bank; his instrumental role in ending bitter sectional controversies in 1833 over Southern nullification of the Tariff of 1828 and in 1850 over the admission of California and organization of territories acquired from Mexico; and his powerful championship of Western interests.
Clay's prominence in domestic affairs has all but obscured his important involvement in debates on U.S. foreign policy before he became secretary of state and has shrouded his activities as secretary. Before the War of 1812, Clay was a vehement advocate of war with Britain. Between 1815 and 1824, he was an eloquent champion of the recognition of the new states of Latin America. He also joined Daniel Webster in calling for active support for the Greeks in their struggle against Ottoman rule. Although his involvement in actual diplomacy had been restricted to service as a peace negotiator with Albert Gallatin and John Quincy Adams at Ghent, during these years Clay developed a sophisticated and innovative foreign policy program. His prominent position in Congress and leading role in foreign policy debates made his selection to head the Department of State both plausible and legitimate.
Clay's appointment aroused bitter partisan controversy, and his decision to accept the appointment in the Adams administration was a serious political mistake from which he never fully recovered. Clay hoped both to make a major contribution to U.S. foreign policy and to advance his chances for the presidency. He accomplished neither, and his years at the Department of Sate were, perhaps, the most unhappy and unsuccessful period of his political career.
Clay was born on April 12, 1777, near Richmond in Hanover County, Virginia. His formal education was scanty, but with the encouragement of the brilliant legal