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Henry Clay: The Great Compromiser

Primary Source Set

Just how great was “the great compromiser”? Henry Clay seems to be involved in everything in American history from 1810 until 1850. Clay was a member of the House of Representatives, Speaker of the House, Senator, Secretary of State, and repeated presidential candidate. He was involved in the War of 1812, the Treaty of Ghent, The Missouri Compromise, the American System, the “Corrupt Bargain,” the Nullification Crisis, multiple presidential elections, and the Compromise of 1850. Along with John C. Calhoun and Daniel Webster, Henry Clay did more to impact nineteenth-century American history than almost any non-president. The compromises he helped author, together with his leadership of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, House of Representatives, Senate, and political parties, make him a fascinating character to investigate. But his long career reveals several views and stances that are not “great.” Use the items in this set, together with your understanding of early-nineteenth-century American history, to create a more complete understanding of this influential actor in US history.

Additional resources for research

  1. Henry Clay: A Resource Guide, Library of Congress.
  2. Henry Clay’s 10 Most Significant Accomplishments, Ashland: The Henry Clay Estate.
  3. Biographies of the Secretaries of State: Henry Clay, U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian.

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