by Cameron Strause
Henry Clay was one of the most famous and influential Kentuckians of the 19th century. As a farmer, attorney, statesman and more, Clay left a lasting mark on the Bluegrass state. In fact, despite never meeting him, Abraham Lincoln considered Clay a political role model. Lincoln voted for Clay for the first time in the presidential election of 1832 and enthusiastically campaigned for Clay again in 1844.
So how did Henry Clay gain notoriety? When Clay was 14, he began studying law under the guidance of George Wythe. Wythe also mentored James Monroe, John Marshall, and Thomas Jefferson. In 1797 Clay was admitted to the Virginia Bar. At this point, Clay decided to move to Lexington, KY to open his own law practice. Clay quickly became one of the top attorneys in the Bluegrass state. This catapulted him into a successful political career. This included multiple senate terms, and a term in the House of Representatives as Speaker of the House. In 1812, Henry Clay famously pressured James Madison into declaring war on Great Britain. Two years later, Clay served as a peace commissioner to negotiate a treaty to end the war of 1812. Following the war, Clay served as Speaker for an additional nine years.
Henry Clay unsuccessfully ran for president in 1824, 1832, and 1844. Although he was never elected, the elections were highly contested. Henry Clay is frequently referred to as “The Great Compromiser”. He earned the title through his role in crafting the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850. Both of which addressed slavery in new states and aimed to delay southern secession. Henry Clay is widely considered to be one of the best Senators of all time. However, before a highly successful political career, it was Henry Clay’s skilled work as a Kentucky attorney that thrust him into the spotlight.