Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union

Overview

"Great biography leaves an indelible view of the subject. After Remini's masterful portrait, Clay is unforgettable." —Donald B. Cole, Newsday
Among the nineteenth-century Americans, few commanded the reverence and respect accorded to Henry Clay of Kentucky. As orator and as Speaker of the House for longer than any man in the century, he wielded great power, a compelling presence in Congress who helped preserve the Union in the antebellum period. Remini portrays both the statesman and the private man, a man whose ...

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Overview

"Great biography leaves an indelible view of the subject. After Remini's masterful portrait, Clay is unforgettable." —Donald B. Cole, Newsday
Among the nineteenth-century Americans, few commanded the reverence and respect accorded to Henry Clay of Kentucky. As orator and as Speaker of the House for longer than any man in the century, he wielded great power, a compelling presence in Congress who helped preserve the Union in the antebellum period. Remini portrays both the statesman and the private man, a man whose family life was painfully torn and who burned with ambition for the office he could not reach, the presidency.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael F. Holt - Chicago Sun-Times
“Splendidly researched, vividly written, and generally compelling. . . . Remini recounts with verve and surprisingly fresh insight the familiar events of Clay's long career.”
Brian Richard Boyland - Los Angeles Times
“[A] powerful, long overdue biography. . . . A lucid, dramatic revelation of a forgotten giant of American history.”
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
By the distinguished biographer of Andrew Jackson, this is the first major study of the ``great compromiser'' in half a century. Henry Clay's prolonged feud with Jackson and his failed quest for the White House are traced in detail, with Remini showing how the unfounded charge of political collusion when Clay was appointed secretary of State contributed significantly to that failure. The author explains Clay's role in the Missouri Compromise of 1820; and later, when the country faced the slavery question over territory acquired in the Mexican War, his role in shaping the Compromise of 1850. Thus tension between North and South was eased and civil war delayed for a decade. Remini points out that many historians have argued that had secession and war occurred in 1850 the South ``undoubtedly'' would have won its independence. This majestic work brings into sharp focus the private and public Henry Clay (1777-1852): gambler, drinker, duelist, as well as brilliant orator, a man with a ``gift for the outrageous,'' and savior of the Union. Photos. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Award-winning historian Remini has written the definitive biography on controversial 19th-century politician Clay of Kentucky. Remini's work, which uses a rich array of primary sources, especially letters uncovered by the Henry Clay Papers publication project, surpasses earlier studies of Clay by Glyndon Van Deusen ( The Life of Henry Clay , Greenwood, 1979) and Clement Eaton ( Henry Clay & the Art of American Politics , 1962). All facets of Clay's life are examined, especially much new information about his private life and how it influenced his public political career. Remini analyzes why an accomplished political leader such as Clay could never be elected president, though he ran for the office five times. Clay's political success came from his extraordinary talents as the engineer who directed three major compromises between 1820 and 1850 through Congress, thus averting civil strife and keeping the Union together. This is an excellently written, superbly crafted, and long-needed biography that is suitable for academic and large public libraries.-- Charles C. Hay III, Eastern Kentucky Univ. Archives, Richmond
Michael Hope
Splendidly researched, vividly written, and generally compelling... Remini recounts with verve and surprisingly fresh insights the familiar events of Clay's long career.
— University of Virginia, in Chicago Sun Times
Brian Richard Boyland
[A] powerful, long overdue biography.... A lucid, dramatic revelation of a forgotten giant of American history.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
From Remini (History/Chicago; The Life of Andrew Jackson, 1988, etc.)—a definitive, magisterial biography of the great statesman who dominated the public life of the early American republic but who could never attain its highest office. Clay emerges here as a man of paradoxes—a lifelong slaveholder who hated slavery and campaigned for its abolition; a politician who helped destroy the First Bank of the United States but who later made the Second Bank the cornerstone of his "American System" and fought bitterly, and vainly, with Andrew Jackson for its recharter; a statesman who won the love of his contemporaries but who failed to win the presidency in three attempts; a successful politician who suffered a sad and miserable personal life. Relying on primary sources, Remini details Clay's familiar roles as the Great Compromiser, the founder of the Whig party, the opponent of the Mexican War, and the champion of tariffs, internal improvements, and a strong Union. The author also describes some aspects of Clay's public life that may be unfamiliar to most readers (for instance, as Speaker of the House, that Clay was an eminent "War Hawk" who goaded a timid President Madison into the nearly disastrous War of 1812, and was also a member, with John Quincy Adams, of the American delegation that ended the war). As a man, Clay appears pompous, caustic (his trenchant humor frequently got him into duels), vain, and arrogant, but also sincerely devoted to his duty as he saw it. Remini's moving description of Clay's personal sorrows (of eleven children, only four survived him, and two went insane), his troubled marriage, and the great unhappiness occasioned by his multiple failures toachieve the presidency rounds out this superior portrait. A fine, absorbing biography that does justice to its great subject. (Photos—not seen.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393310887
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/28/1993
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 882
  • Sales rank: 850,575
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert V. Remini is professor of history and research professor of humanities at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 30, 2011

    Once upon a time, statesmen walked the land.

    Great book. Anyone considering a career in politics should read this book. Mr. Remini is renowned for his scholarship on Andrew Jackson and his times, but he gives a thorough and fair treatment of Jackson's nemesis Henry Clay. Mr. Clay was a man of principles to which he adhered his entire life, but also recognized that compromise was sometimes necessary to advance the agenda, accepting some distasteful features of a bill to bring about a greater good. He believed it was the primary role of politicians to govern (based on defined principles) rather than get re-elected (based on pandering and popularity). Though he strove several times to become President, he never succeeded. On his death, however, a contemporary politician made the observation that Clay accomplished more good for America in Congress than he ever could have as President. Clay's oratorical skills are repeatedly highlighted in this book, frequently 2-3 hour marathons of detailed and thorough discussions of the topic at hand, commonly on tariffs, the banking system, the role of government in infrastructure improvements, the justness and conduct of the Mexican War, and the spread of slavery. One longs for such eloquence and statesmanship when watching live coverage of the U.S. House and Senate on C-SPAN nowadays. Mr. Remini notes that while Clay's Compromise of 1850 did not prevent the Civil War, it probably changed the outcome as in 1850, the Southern Confederacy likely would have prevailed in war. The decade of the 1850's after the Compromise allowed time for the Union's industrial growth, increase in population via immigration, and improvements in telegraphic communication and railroad transportation to allow the Union to achieve victory when the war did come in 1861. We should all know more about Mr. Clay. We still struggle with divisive politics and questions on the role of government in our lives that Clay would find very familiar. Learn more about him.

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    Posted April 16, 2011

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