Clay, Henry

Secretary of State, Speaker of the House


Henry Clay was born in "the Slashes," in Hanover County, Virginia. The son of a Baptist preacher, Clay began working in a grist mill, from which he acquired the nickname "mill-boy of the Slashes." At the age of 15, Clay became an assistant clerk in the chancery court of Virginia. At 20, he was licensed to practice law, and moved to Lexington, Kentucky. After acquiring a high reputation, he was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1811, and served as Speaker of the House (1811-1814, 1815-1820). Clay led the Congressional group, known as the "war hawks," which supported the US' going to war against Britain in 1812. Clay was also involved with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812. He was called "the great pacificator" for his attempts to bring about the "Missouri Compromise" of 1820. Clay served as Secretary of State (1825-29) under President John Quincy Adams, and was a US Senator from 1831 to 1842. After running for President unsuccessfully in both 1832 and 1844, Clay attempted to avoid a civil war by bringing about the Compromise of 1850. It was only a matter of a few years, however, before tensions would erupt and the nation would be torn apart by the Civil War. Clay did not live long enough to witness the war, however: he died in 1852.