Teaching Guide: Exploring the Life and Work of Henry Clay

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Henry Clay: The Great Compromiser, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. What do we learn about Henry Clay’s character and politics from Thomas Ritchie’s letter?
  2. Use the map of the Missouri Compromise, the speech excerpts on the tariff compromise, and the painting of Henry Clay speaking to the Senate, together with your prior knowledge of these compromises, to explain how Henry Clay attempted to prevent the Civil War.
  3. Using the charts, graphs, and excerpts in the appendices, create a chart of reasons Henry Clay argued for the “American System.”
  4. Using the excerpts of John White’s and Lynn Boyd’s speeches, outline the evidence for and against the accusations of a “corrupt bargain” in the election of 1824.
  5. Several items outline Henry Clay’s political viewpoints. Would you, like the “professed christian,” have voted for Henry Clay in the election of 1844? Why?
  6. Use the two sections excerpted from the pamphlet by John Hill, “Negro Equality” and “Abolitionism Generally,” to explain how the views of Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln compare and contrast.
  7. Use the images of the funeral remembrances and five of the letters to explain how Henry Clay was perceived by the American public and his fellow politicians at the time of his death.

Classroom activities

Ask the class to gather information on Andrew Jackson. Divide the class into three groups and have them debate who would have been better for the US as president: the man who was president, Andrew Jackson, the man who tried and failed, Henry Clay, or neither? Each student should provide a piece of evidence for their group to use in the debate.

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