Many Americans do not know this extraordinary person, which is a pity. Many years ago, a conference gave us the opportunity to visit his grave and his home. A friend accompanied us to the cemetery where we stood before the large vault with its imposing column topped by a statue of Clay, his right arm partially extended, entreating during one of his famous orations. The day was raw, and a dirty cotton sky sent down a misty drizzle that glossed the marble with a wet patina. In the back portion of the vault, a marble slab held one of Clay’s most famous quotes: “I had rather be right than be President.” Our friend, who inclines to the acerbic, muttered, “Nothing about a corrupt bargain?” We laughed.
Yet later as we walked through the house named Ashland, we paused over the twin legacies of Clay’s fateful decision in 1825 and of his unstinting labor to improve and sustain his country. His behavior in 1825 fastened upon him--presumably forever, if our companion’s remark was any evidence--the infamy of the “Corrupt Bargain.” His work for the country revealed the great poignancy of his generation, the futility of practical politics clashing with grave moral imperatives. He sought the presidency and was labeled a schemer; he compromised for the Union and was lauded as a statesman. Which one was the real Henry Clay? In this book we try to answer that question.
His personal life, for instance, presents intriguing clues. Clay married what many described as an ugly girl, possibly only for the status and influence her family imparted, but there is no evidence that he ever strayed from her bed and considerable proof (they had eleven children) that he found it congenial. He early found slavery morally troubling and ultimately regarded it as incompatible with American ideals of liberty. But he died owning slaves. He gained fame as the master of political compromise, which by definition is the bending of principles to achieve functional agreements. But in 1825, he was reviled as crooked, even though he did not violate a single personal scruple or run counter to his own conscience.
All lives are marked by such inconsistencies. We strive to reveal Clay to a new generation of readers by showing how he was both exemplary and unique, how he was both mired in the customs of his time and a prophet for ideas that would not gain acceptance until our own. He believed in ideas with passion, but he leavened everything with humor, a novelty among public figures of his time and obviously one of the facets that Abraham Lincoln found appealing enough to imitate. Most of all, we found that there has never been anyone like Clay in American political history. He transformed the post of Speaker of the House into its modern role, he proposed and doggedly advocated a plan to expand American prosperity, and he was a crucial leader in every matter great and small bearing upon American politics for almost fifty years.
When our friend made that crack about the “Corrupt Bargain,” we all laughed, but we shouldn’t have. In a way, this book is our penance for having done so, because Henry Clay was a patriot, a statesman, and a gentleman. Not without flaws, he was nevertheless about as good as it gets in public life, and we hope that readers will find him as fascinating as we have.
He was a man who, despite many great tragedies with his family, ultimately persevered.
So it's no surprise that "Henry Clay: The Essential American" is one more great book to add to their collection of history books on early 19th century America.
Points like this make the book an interesting, critical read; since the authors are actively evaluating the extant sources, the reader gets to do the same.
This book is excellently written and researched by the Heidler couple. In spite of its length and obssessive preoccupation with, what to some may appear to be minor details, this... Read morePublished 25 days ago by Arnon Aviner
Henry Clay's biography represents one of the political movers and shakers that fully passed through three key phases of American political history: (1) Jeffersonian America... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Stephen T.
I loved this book about Henry Clay, by reading this book, you will get to know the great man that he was, and who never gave up, by reading this book you will learn a lot, and it... Read morePublished 3 months ago by derbyboyjr1
I learned a ton about the man and oh country during the long span of his life leading up to the civil war. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Lou Kerner
Henry Clay: The Essential American Hardcover - Deckle Edge - By David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler
The epic life and times of one of the most important political... Read more
Finally finished reading this biography - I started reading around the time the flood hit Middle TN and for some reason, got distracted. Read morePublished 8 months ago by skeeterbug
Towards the end of his life, the Heidlers tell us in Henry Clay: The Essential American, a well-known portrait painter came to his estate at Ashland to create a final portrait of... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Michael Austin
I'm certainly not a specialist in the ante-bellum period, but I have read quite a few books in the area. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Amazon Customer
Henry Clay wanted to be President so bad he could taste it. He ran for President five times and lost. Read morePublished 12 months ago by hawkeye