155. The Rise of Henry Clay. Henry Clay was born in Virginia in the year of Burgoyne's surrender (1777). His father was a Baptist preacher, with a fine voice and a graceful way of speaking. He died when Henry was four years old.
Little Henry lived near the "Slashes," a low, flat region, and went to school in a log cabin. When not at school he worked in support of the family. He could be seen walking barefooted behind the plow, or riding the horse with a rope bridle to mill. From this he was called the "Mill boy of the Slashes."
Henry was a raw-boned and awkward lad. The other boys laughed at him, but he read books when not at work, and soon could speak better than the boys who made fun of him.
At fourteen he was a clerk in a store. But he seemed made for other things. He was put in the office of a famous lawyer who was clerk in one of Virginia's courts.
The Chancellor of Virginia, a great judge, liked him and took him to be his private secretary. For four years Clay wrote down the judge's law decisions. The great man often talked with Clay on important subjects and advised him about the kind of books to read.
p304 After studying law for a year, Clay began to practice in Richmond. He had plenty of time, so he formed a debating club, in which he was easily the leader.
Finally he made up his mind to go to Lexington, Kentucky, and try his fortune in the West. There his rise in the law was rapid. His fame grew, and he became known as the lawyer who seldom lost a case.
He married a well-to‑do young lady and lived near Lexington on a beautiful estate called Ashland.
Henry Clay's first work in politics was to favor the gradual abolition of slavery in Kentucky. Although beaten, he was always proud of his stand on this question.
When too young, according to the Constitution, to take his seat, he was made a Senator of the United States. But nobody called the attention of the Senate to his age. After his term as a Senator was out he was elected to the legislature of Kentucky, and was immediately made Speaker.
Born during the revolution, Henry Clay like most Americans of his time grew up with hatred toward England in his heart. He was sent to Congress in 1811, and was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. As Speaker, he did much to bring on a declaration of war with Great Britain, in 1812.
Clay made speeches in Congress and over the country, stirring p305 up the war spirit. "On to Canada!" was his cry. But the capture of Canada was not so easy. Many generals failed and only Harrison and Perry made much headway in defeating the British in Canada.
When the time for peace came President Madison sent Henry Clay and other noted Americans to Ghent, in Belgium, to meet the British agents. After many months of talking and disputing, they finally agreed on a treaty. This treaty has since been called the "Treaty of Ghent." Great Britain and America were both glad that peace had come.
From 1819 to 1821 Congress was debating over the admission of Missouri as a slave state. The North opposed, and the South favored, the admission of Missouri. The excitement spread to the state legislatures and to the people. Many meetings were held. Resolutions strongly favoring, or strongly opposing, the admission of Missouri as a slave state, were drawn up and voted upon.
Wise men thought the Union was in danger and Henry Clay, by his eloquence, succeeded in getting Congress to pass the famous Missouri Compromise. This resolution provided that Missouri should be admitted as a slave state, but that no other slave state north of the line of 36 degrees 30 minutes should ever be admitted. Both sides were pleased and the excitement died out.
We have seen how South Carolina threatened to refuse to pay the tariff in 1832, and how President Jackson hurried the army and the navy there to make her people pay it, as the people of the other states were obliged to do.
Henry Clay came forward again and introduced the Compromise Tariff Law. It was called a compromise because it gave each side a part of what it wished. Calhoun and other Carolinians favored it, p306 because by this law the tariff was reduced very greatly. It was carried through Congress. The law made unnecessary the warlike preparations of both the President and South Carolina, and again Henry Clay was hailed by the people as "pacificator" or peacemaker.
156. Henry Clay the Founder of the Whig Party. But Henry Clay was not only a peacemaker. He was now a great statesman, and like Hamilton and Jefferson he led in forming a part of the people into a political party. It was called the Whig party.
In 1824, before there was a Whig party, Clay ran for President, but was beaten. Again in 1832, just as the new party was formed, he ran a second time. Although he was beaten for the Presidency by Andrew Jackson, he was the life and soul of his party. It was his eloquence, the music of his words, that made men Whigs.
On one occasion, Clay spoke on the question of the Abolition of Slavery. Some one said that this might hurt his chances of being President. Clay replied: "I had rather be right than be President."
Finally, in 1844, he was again the Whig candidate, but he was defeated for the third time. When the Whig party had a good chance of electing a President, they nominated somebody else. When they had a poor chance they nominated Henry Clay!
War with Mexico had come, and with it a great victory for the American army. The treaty of peace with Mexico, in 1848, gave the United States all the territory then known as Alta (Upper) California p307 and New Mexico. But the North and South disputed over this territory. The North said it must be free. The south said it must be open to slavery. The quarrel grew so bitter that many men thought the Union would be destroyed.
Henry Clay was now an old man. He had left the Senate, and had gone home to his beloved Ashland for a few years of rest before the final summons.
157. The Aged Peacemaker Returns to the Senate. Kentucky was greatly excited by the threats of disunion. Her legislature sent him back to the United States Senate by a unanimous call, Democrats as well as Whigs joining in the vote. It was a proud moment for the old man.
Now in the Senate, he offered the Compromise of 1850. This bill contained a number of points in favor of the slave states, and a number in favor of the free states.
One day, Clay made a great speech in favor of his Compromise. He had to walk to the capitol that day on the arm of a friend. He was too weak to climb the steps alone.
When he arose to speak, he saw before him an audience that had come from distant parts of the nation to hear his thrilling words once more. The people filled the Senate to overflowing. Outside they crowded the corridors. When Clay arose the audience broke into applause, a strange thing for the Senate to do. The people were not disappointed. For two days the ringing words flowed on. Under the excitement he was young again.
He plead with the North to give up some things for the love of the Union. He plead with the South for peace. He told them that all the territory that the United States had purchased had been purchased for all of them. "War and the dissolution of the Union are identical."
p308 On the second day, some one suggested that he rest, and the Senate adjourn. But he refused; he might not be able to go on the next day. After he had finished his speech, a great crowd rushed forward to congratulate him. No such scene ever had been witnessed before in the Senate.
The debate went on. Now and then Clay took part in it. On one occasion he said: "I believe from the bottom of my soul that this measure is the reunion of the Union."
On another occasion he said: "The honorable Senator speaks of Virginia being my country. This Union is my country. But even if . . . My own state . . . Should raise the standard of disunion . . . I would go against her. I would go against Kentucky much as I love her."
Congress finally passed the Compromise. Both political parties pledged themselves to obey it. Public meetings in all parts of the nation resolved to abide by it and the country rested for a time from the slavery question.
Henry Clay's work was done. His body was worn out, but his mind still clung to the Union. On June 29, 1852, Henry Clay died in Washington, the place of so many of his triumphs.
A great monument at Lexington, Kentucky, testifies the people's love for "Harry" Clay.
158. A College Boy and a Young Lawyer. Daniel Webster was born of good Puritan stock, in 1782, in New Hampshire. He was a very weakly child. No one dreamed that one day he would have an iron-like body. Daniel spent much of his time playing in the woods and fields. He loved the birds and beasts that he found there. He went to school, but the schoolmasters were not very learned, and Daniel could read better than most of them. The teamsters, stopping to water their horses, were glad to hear him read. He went to work in an old-fashioned sawmill, but he read books even there in odd moments of time.
One day in spring, his father took him to Exeter Academy to prepare for college. The boys laughed at his rustic dress and manners. The timid little fellow was greatly hurt by their scorn.
He finally entered Dartmouth College at the age of fifteen. He was simple, natural, and full of affection.
Webster was the best student at Dartmouth. He still kept the reading habit. The students liked him. They had a feeling that he would amount to something one day. At this time he was tall and thin, with high cheek bones. His eyes were deep set, and his voice and musical in its tones. He loved to speak, even then.
At the age of eighteen Webster gave the Fourth of July oration in his college town. The speech was full of the love of country and of the Union, then in its first days of trial.
p310 He never forgot his father's sacrifice in sending him to college. After he had finished at Dartmouth, Webster taught school in order that he might help his parents send his elder brother to college. He afterwards studied law. But he longed to finish his law studies in Boston. Finally good fortune put him in the office of Christopher Gore, a wise man, a great lawyer, and a statesman. In his office he studied until he was given the right to practice law.
Within a few years, he was earning enough to enable him to take a life partner, the beautiful and accomplished Grace Fletcher, the daughter of a minister. She made a delightful home for him and their children.
Webster was gaining name and fame as a lawyer, but the approach of the War of 1812 drew him into politics. He was elected to Congress, and took his seat in 1813. Henry Clay was Speaker of the House of Representatives. Webster's most important speech was in favor of a war carried on by the navy: "If the war must be continued, go to the ocean. There the united wishes and exertions of the nation will go with you. Even our party divisions cease at the water's edge."
After the war, Webster left Congress for a number of years. He was now a great man. When he entered a room by his mere look and presence he drew all p311 eyes toward him, and all conversation hushed. In size, he looked larger and broader than he really was. His forehead was broad and massive. It towered above his large, dark, deep-set eyes. His hair was black and glossy as a raven's wing. He looked thus in 1830 in the Senate, when he made his famous speech in reply to Senator Hayne of South Carolina.
159. The Greatest Statesman of his Time. Hayne had spoken against a protective tariff and in favor of nullification. Webster felt called upon to reply. He denied the right of a state to nullify a law of Congress, and said that nullification was another name for secession. He closed his great speech with these words: "When my eyes shall be turned to behold, for the last time, the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union . . . But may I see our flag with not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured . . . p312 but everywhere spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land . . . That sentiment, dear to every American heart — Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!"
This speech made Daniel Webster immortal. It did more; it fired the heart of every lover of his country.
We saw how South Carolina went on towards nullification, and how Clay's Compromise Tariff settled the difficulty. Webster strongly opposed this Compromise, and said that South Carolina should get out of the difficulty the best way she could.
President Jackson was delighted and praised Webster in public and in private.
When Harrison captured the Presidency, after the greatest campaign ever seen up to that time, he wanted the best men in the Whig party to advise him, so he made Daniel Webster Secretary of State.
It was a sad day when President Harrison died, after being in office just one month. John Tyler, of Virginia, the Vice-president, became the President. But he would not accept measures which Congress had passed. Daniel Webster left the cabinet after a time because he disliked the way Tyler was doing. He went back to the United States Senate, where he joined Clay, supporting the great Compromise of 1850.
On March 7, Webster made his speech on the Compromise, p313 entitled "For the Union and the Constitution." It was an appeal to all persons to stand by the Constitution and the Union. In blaming both the North and the South, much to the surprise of everybody, he blamed the North more than the South.
Because he did this, many of his supporters in the North, especially in New England, turned their backs upon him. Webster was an old man now. Ever since 1832 he had wanted to be nominated for the Presidency, but his party always took some other man. His last days were made bitter by the thought that some old friends had forsaken him.
One bright spot for Webster lay in the fact that President Fillmore invited him to be Secretary of State again. After two years of service, he went back to Boston. He was received with joy by some of his friends and neighbors, and was hailed with shouts by p314 the multitude. This must have made his heart leap with gratitude for the praise of friends is pleasant. But men saw he was not like his former self. He went to his home at Marshfield, where he died, October 24, 1852, the greatest figure in American politics in his day.
160. The Champion of the War of 1812. John C. Calhoun was born in the same year as Webster (1782) in South Carolina. His parents were Scotch-Irish. His father, Revolutionary patriot, died soon after John was born. John spent his early years roaming in the fields and woods. He learned more then than from books and he learned to think before the thoughts of other people filled his memory.
At eighteen he began to prepare for college, under the care of his brother-in‑law, a Presbyterian minister. In two years he entered Yale College. When in college he studied hard, and was graduated with high honors.
Calhoun studied law diligently for three years, a year and a half of the time in his native state, and a year and a half in Connecticut. He began to practice law in South Carolina, but did not have great success. Perhaps it was because the law was too dry for him, or perhaps because he was soon elected to the legislature of his state.
In 1811 he was married, and was elected to Congress — two great events in his life. Henry Clay, as Speaker, immediately put p315 Calhoun on an important committee. He quickly sounded a bugle call to war, declaring that it was the duty of "congress to call forth the patriotism and resources of the country."
During the War of 1812 he worked hard in Congress for the success of the American army. After the war he favored a tariff to keep English goods out of the country.
President Monroe made him Secretary of War. He found the office in the utmost confusion, but, by hard and careful work, he left the war office a model for future secretaries.
161. Calhoun Favors Nullification. He was elected Vice-president in 1824, and again in 1828. In the last-named year, he wrote a paper called the "South Carolina Exposition." In this letter, and in others that he wrote, he told the people of South Carolina there would always be differences between the North and the South. He said the Southern people, using slave labor, would raise more tobacco than they needed, and that the tariff was hurtful to the South. That the Northern people, using free labor, would manufacture all kinds of things, and that the tariff would be helpful to them. This document took the ground that between the North and the South there always would be a conflict of interests. The South was devoted to agriculture, and the North to manufacturing. The South had slave and the North free labor.
Therefore, Calhoun concluded that to protect the South from the North, a south has the right to nullify a law of Congress. A state has this right, because the state is above the nation. The states made the Constitution. He believed that nullification was a means of saving the country from secession.
South Carolina took the fatal step, and nullified the tariffs. This decision was to take effect February 1, 1833, provided the United States did not do something before that time to lower the tariff.
p316 President Jackson warned the citizens of South Carolina against the men who had led them to take this step. He hinted that the tariff would be collected by the use of force, if necessary.
We have seen how Henry Clay rushed his Compromise Tariff through Congress. At the same time another bill was passed by Congress, which gave President Jackson the right to use the army and navy in forcing a collection of the tariff. South Carolina stopped her nullification, and the excitement passed away.
162. Opposed to the Abolitionists. The people who wished to do away with slavery entirely were called Abolitionists. The Abolitionists stirred Calhoun deeply by petitions in favor of abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia. He declared that "the petitions are a foul slander on nearly one-half of the states of the Union . . . The object is to humble and debase us in our own estimation . . . To blast our reputation. This is the (manner) in which they are (trying) abolition . . . And now is the time for all opposed to them to meet the attack."
p317 "We love and cherish the Union. We remember with kindest feelings our common origin . . . But origin (is) to us as nothing compared with this question.
"The relation which now exists between the two races in the slave-holding states has existed for two centuries . . . We will not, we cannot, permit it to be destroyed . . . Should it cost every drop of blood and every cent of property, we must defend ourselves . . . It is not we, but the Union which is danger."
Not many in the Senate agreed with Calhoun then. In 1837, Calhoun went much further in the defense of slavery than any of the other slaveholders would go. He declared in a speech in the Senate, that "slavery is a good, a positive good."
This was not the belief of the majority of even the slaveholders in Congress or in the nation. Much less had it been the view of the men who had fought out the Revolution, and who had made our Constitution.
The majority of slaveholders still looked upon slavery, at best, as a necessary evil and one to be gotten rid of sometime and somehow. Calhoun's view that "slavery is a good, a positive good," was an entirely new view of slavery.
Calhoun was made Secretary of State under President Tyler, and succeeded in annexing Texas to the United States. For this reason Mexico made war with the United States.
The result of the war with Mexico was the gaining of territory p318 in the West and in the Southwest. Over this territory arose the great dispute that sent the aged Henry Clay back to the Senate with the Compromise of 1850.
Calhoun opposed that Compromise. He was too ill to speak, and a friend read his address to a hushed and listening Senate. He declared that the Union was in danger because the Abolitionists had stirred up strife. He wanted all agitation against slavery stopped. In the second place, he wanted an equal division of territory between the North and South. "If you of the North will not do this, then let our Southern states separate, and depart in peace."
"Having faithfully done my duty to the best of my ability, both to the Union and my section . . . I shall have the consolation . . . that I am free from all responsibility."
On March 31, 1850, he breathed his last words: "The South! The poor South! God knows what will become of her!"
The Leading Facts. 1. Clay's father was a Baptist preacher. Young Henry went to school in a log cabin, and rode his horse to mill with a rope bridle. 2. He studied law, and went to Lexington, Kentucky, to practice. 3. Clay won his way to the hearts of the people; was elected to the House of Representatives for a great many years. 4. He favored the War of 1812; induced Congress to pass the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise tariff of 1833. 5. Clay ran three times for President. He was author of the great Compromise of 1850. 6. Webster was a weakly child, played in the woods, and read books. 7. He was graduated at Dartmouth, taught school, studied law, and was opposed to the War of 1812. 8. Webster replied to Hayne, opposed the nullification of South Carolina, and was made Secretary of State by Harrison. 9. Supported Clay's Compromise of 1850, and was made Secretary of State by Fillmore. 10. John C. Calhoun was born in South Carolina, and studied law. 11. He went to Congress, favored the War of 1812, and was afterwards made Secretary of War. 12. Calhoun thought that a state had the right to nullify an act of Congress. 13. He opposed Abolitionists and the Compromise of 1850.
p319 Study Questions. 1. Who was "the mill boy of the slashes"? 2. Name some of our great men besides Clay who loved books. 3. What could Clay do better than the other boys? 4. What help did he get from the Chancellor of Virginia? 5. Why did Henry Clay form a debating club? 6 Where was Ashland? 7. What was his first great work in Kentucky? 8. What is a Speaker of the House of Representatives? 9. What did Clay do in stirring up the war spirit? 10. Why did Clay speak for the Missouri Compromise? 11. What was the Compromise Tariff? 12. Why call Clay a peacemaker? 13. How many times did Henry Clay run for President? 14. Why was Clay sent back to the United States Senate in 1850? 15. Picture the scene when Clay made his last great speech.
16. Who was Webster? 17. Why did he play in the woods? 18. What proof that he loved books too? 19. Why were Daniel Webster's feelings hurt at Exeter? 20. Why did students like Webster? 21. How did he reward his parents for sending him to college? 22. What was Webster's view of the War of 1812? 23. Picture Webster in 1830. 24. Quoted something from his speech in reply to Hayne. 25. Who praised Webster for his speech against nullification? 26. Do you think Harrison selected the best man for Secretary of State? 27. Why did his friends in the North blame Webster for the Seventh of March speech? 28. How were Webster's last days affected by public opinion?
29. Who was Calhoun and what did roaming in the woods and fields do for him? 30. Where did he go to college and when did he reach Congress? 31. What position did he take in the War of 1812? 32. Why did he favor the Tariff and later favor the nullification of the Tariff? 33. What office did President Monroe give him? 34. What effect had the "South Carolina Exposition"? 35. What did South Carolina do? 36. How was a clash averted? 37. What did Calhoun say of the Abolitionists? 38. What did he say of the Union? 39. What did he say of slavery? 40. What was Calhoun's position on the Compromise of 1850? 41. His last words?
Suggested Readings. Henry Clay: Wright, Children's Stories of American Progress, 159‑178; Brooks, Century Book of Famous Americans, 145‑155; Anderson, United States Reader, 281‑285; Frost, The Mill Boy of the Slashes.
Daniel Webster: Baldwin, Four Great Americans, 125‑186; Brooks, Century Book of Famous Americans, 37‑48; Hart, How Our Grandfathers Lived, 341‑344; Bolton, Famous American Statesmen, 177‑229.
John C. Calhoun: Brooks, Century Book of Famous Americans, 140‑144; Rogers, The True Henry Clay, 248‑254.
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