"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with
power to endanger the public liberty." - - - - John Adams

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Henry Clay - Spokesman for the New West

Elected US Senator at age 29.

Book Review
Henry Clay,
Spokesman of the New West
By Bernard Mayo    (1937)

By Gary;

I am blessed with an outstanding and extensive public library in my city with books going back to the 1840s.

Wondering through the stacks I ran across this book.  Checking out a book on Henry Clay was totally the last thing that has ever entered my mind.  Shamefully, I must admit that I knew next to zero about Clay.  But no more.

The book covers only the very early years of Clay's staggeringly long political career.  The author's 570 pages starts with Clay's birth in 1777 Virgina, his rise in Kentucky politics and ends with the 1812 declaration of war.  And Clay's political career went on another 40 years until his death in 1852.

Excruciating Detail  -   This read is not for the faint of heart.  The detail of 200+ year old everyday political events and the vast cast of politicians is off the charts and very hard for anyone but an expert to follow.  But that being said, you are getting unbelievable detail about everyday events by someone who obviously studied the early American Republic on a 24-7 basis for years on end.
Henry Clay at age 34 was elected Speaker
of the House of Representatives on his
first day in office in 1811.

Perhaps most fascinating for me with the author's extensive coverage of the political and cultural war between the more northeastern Federalist Party and Jefferson's Democrat-Republican southern and western supporters.  The author relates how the Jeffersonian mob was burning in effigy Founding Fathers George Washington and John Jay.

The early western frontier of Clay's Kentucky was a hot bed of poor farmer pitchfork style mob Socialism. 

The Jeffersonians whipped up the mob against those "evil" wealthy Federalist businessmen (sounds familiar) while advocating war in all directions against the British and Spanish Empires as well as with the Indians in order to steal land (wealth) that did not belong to them and re-distribute that land to those with "needs".  To the poor western farmers.

Karl Marx had not been born yet, but all the elements of class warfare are here.  And Clay was very good at pandering to the Jeffersonian mob.  For example, in 1809 the well off attorney Henry Clay introduced a resolution to require members of the state legislature to wear homespun suits rather than those made of imported British broadcloth.  Pure pandering to the mob for votes.

Henry Clay and the American System
A brief biography of Henry Clay, the Senator from Kentucky, and his economic plan, the American System.

An interesting chapter of the early Clay was his work as defence counsel for Vice President Aaron Burr in 1806.  The Jeffersonian phony political show trials for Burr were starting up.  Clay saw a chance to make a national name for himself by defending a former Vice President.  He got all charges against Burr dismissed.

The unwashed Jeffersonian mob back home in Kentucky was not happy that Clay had dared to defend an "enemy" of Dear Leader President Tom.  Clay saw the passion of the mob and did the standard political dance of "if I had known then what I know now I would never have defended Burr."  Clay's dance saved his career.

You might say Clay was a transitional figure.  While working the Jeffersonian mob for votes, by 1816 Clay had created a national economic plan called  "The American System" rooted in Federalist Party Alexander Hamilton's American School.  Clay was trying to create a political hybrid of business and rural interests.  He continued along those lines by creating the National Republican and Whig Parties later in his life.

The bulk of the book deals with frontier politics, Clay's rise in national politics and the looming War of 1812 that Clay wanted badly.  While not an easy read you learn a lot about the early Republic.  If you can even find this 75 year old book get it.


Presidential Election of 1832.
Clay ran for President three times:  1824 as a Democrat-Republican, in 1832 on the National Republican Party ticket and 1844 for the Whig Party.

No comments: