“Whether,” says his best biographer, “he thundered against British tyranny on the seas, or urged the recognition of the South American sister republics, or attacked the high-handed conduct of the military chieftain in the Florida war, or advocated protection and internal improvements, or assailed the one-man power and spoils politics in the person of Andrew Jackson, or entreated for compromise and conciliation regarding the tariff or slavery,—there was always ringing through his words a fervid plea for his country, a zealous appeal in behalf of the honor and the future greatness and glory of the republic, or an anxious warning lest the Union be put in jeopardy.”
One thing is certain, that no man in the country exercised so great an influence, for a generation, in shaping the policy of national legislation as Henry Clay, a policy which, on the whole, has proved enlightened, benignant, and useful. And hence his name and memory will not only be honorably mentioned by historians, but will be fondly cherished so long as American institutions shall endure. He is one of the greater lights in the galaxy of American stars, as he was the advocate of principles which have proved conducive to national prosperity in the first century of the nation’s history. It is a great thing to give shape to the beneficent institutions of a country, and especially to be a source of patriotic inspiration to its people. It is greater glory than to be enrolled in the list of presidents, especially if they are mentioned only as the fortunate occupants of a great office to which they were blindly elected. Of the long succession of the occupants of the Papal Chair, the most august of worldly dignities, not one in twenty has left a mark, or is of any historical importance, while hundreds of churchmen and theologians in comparatively humble positions have left an immortal fame. The glory of Clay is not dimmed because he failed in reaching a worthy object of ambition. It is enough to be embalmed in the hearts of the people as a national benefactor, and to shine as a star of the first magnitude in the political firmament.
Carl Schurz’s Life of Henry Clay is far the ablest and most interesting that I have read. The Life of Clay by Colton is fuller and more pretentious, but is diffuse. Benton’s Thirty Years in Congress should be consulted; also the various Lives of Webster and Calhoun. See also Wilson’s Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America. The writings of the political economists, like Sumner, Walker, Carey, and others, should be consulted in reference to tariffs. The Life of Andrew Jackson sheds light on Clay’s hostility to the hero of New Orleans.
THE AMERICAN UNION.