Henry Clay

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Henry Clay, American statesman and orator

Henry Clay (1777-04-12 - 1852-06-29) was a leading American statesman and orator who served in both the House of Representatives and Senate. Known as "The Great Compromiser" and "The Great Pacifier" for his ability to bring others to agreement, he was the founder and leader of the Whig Party and a leading advocate of programs for modernizing the economy, especially tariffs to protect industry, a national bank and internal improvements to promote canals, ports and railroads.


  • How often are we forced to charge fortune with partiality towards the unjust!
    • Letter (December 4, 1801)
  • If you wish to avoid foreign collision, you had better abandon the ocean.
    • Speech, House of Representatives (January 22, 1812)
  • The gentleman cannot have forgotten his own sentiment, uttered even on the floor of this House, "Peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must."
    • Speech on the New Army Bill, House of Representatives, (January 8, 1813), quoting Josiah Quincy III; The Life and Speeches of the Hon. Henry Clay, vol. I (1857), ed. Daniel Mallory
  • All religions united with government are more or less inimical to liberty. All, separated from government, are compatible with liberty.
    • Speech on the Emancipation of South America], House of Representatives (1818-03-24); The Life and Speeches of the Hon. Henry Clay, vol. I (1857), ed. Daniel Mallory
  • Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees; and both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.
    • Speech, Ashland, KY (March 1829)
  • The arts of power and its minions are the same in all countries and in all ages. It marks its victim; denounces it; and excites the public odium and the public hatred, to conceal its own abuses and encroachments.
    • Speech, Senate (March 14, 1834)
  • Precedents deliberately established by wise men are entitled to great weight. They are evidence of truth, but only evidence...But a solitary precedent...which has never been reexamined, cannot be conclusive.
    • Speech, Senate (February 18, 1835).
  • My friends are not worth the powder and shot it would take to kill them!... If there were two Henry Clays, one of them would make the other President of the United States!... It is a diabolical intrigue, I know now, which has betrayed me. I am the most unfortunate man in the history of parties: always run by my friends when sure to be defeated, and now betrayed for a nomination when I, or any one, would be sure of an election.
    • Upon hearing (in December 1839) that he had been rejected in favor of William Henry Harrison as the Whig Party nominee for President in the election of 1840.
    • Quoted by Henry A. Wise, who claimed to have heard it firsthand, in Seven Decades of the Union (1872), ch. VI.
  • I have heard something said about allegiance to the South. I know no South, no North, no East, no West, to which I owe any allegiance... The Union, sir, is my country.
    • Speech, Senate (1848)
  • The Constitution of the United States was made not merely for the generation that then existed, but for posterity—unlimited, undefined, endless, perpetual posterity.
    • Speech, Senate (January 29, 1850)
  • I would rather be right than be President.
    • Speech, Senate (1850), referring to the Compromise Measures


  • Statistics are no substitute for judgment.

Quotes related to Henry Clay

  • You're unhappy. I'm unhappy too. Have you heard of Henry Clay? He was the Great Compromiser. A good compromise is when both parties are dissatisfied, and I think that's what we have here.

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