Henry Clay and the Missouri Compromise 1820

Missouri Compromise

“I’d rather be right . . . “

Henry Clay was the promoter of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Compromise of 1850, and twice an unsuccessful Whig candidate for the Presidency.

Clay was born in Kentucky, studied under George Wythe, and was a successful lawyer in both civil and criminal cases. He served as counsel for Aaron Burr in 1806, during a grand jury investigation of Burr’s plans to establish an independent empire in the Southwest. In 1811, Clay was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and was a leader in pushing the country into the War of 1812. While in Congress, he became one of the most powerful, legislators in U.S. history. He served as Speaker of the House longer than anyone in 19th Century America, and transformed the office to one of enormous power and influence.

In 1957, a Senate committee headed by John F. Kennedy, named Clay the greatest Senator in the country’s history.

Clay’s most notable legacy comes from his role as the “Great Pacificator” – – the man who worked out compromises which helped keep the Union intact during the turbulent times in the two decades before the Civil War.

Interestingly, although Clay often spoke against slavery, he, at one time, owned over 60 slaves, and in fact felt they should be sent back to Africa. Had Clay lived longer, it’s believed he would have fought to the very end to avoid the Civil War. “If any man wants the key to my heart,” he said “let him take the key of the Union.”

During a speech in 1846, Clay spoke one of his most memorable lines. “I’d rather be right than President.”



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It's thought that if Henry Clay had lived, the Civil War may not have happened. He played a major role in the Missouri Compromise of 1820.

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