Ashland, Henry Clay's Home
Ashland is the historic plantation of Henry Clay, one of the most influential political leaders of the early 19th century. Clay earned a reputation as both a skillful orator and a diplomatic negotiator in Congress and served as Secretary of State under John Quincy Adams. Clay is best known for his willingness to confront the most controversial issue of the early 19th century-the extension of slavery in the West. Clay was the architect of the Compromise of 1850 and several other laws that facilitated Western expansion and allowed for the creation of free states while appeasing the slaveowners of the South.
Backstory and Context
Henry Clay entered the political scene when his widowed mother's second husband, Henry Watkins, was able to secure a clerkship in Peter Tinsley's chancery office. Clay obtained a license to practice law in the state of Virginia in his early twenties. In November 1797, Henry Clay set forth to establish his practice in Kentucky. After producing his Virginia law license in Lexington, Clay was awarded a license to practice law in the state of Kentucky.
Within the first decade that he was in Kentucky, Clay established himself as a notable trial lawyer. As an attorney Henry Clay was one of the most successful of his era, winning a majority of his cases and defending people like Aaron Burr. (1)
Clay served as Speaker of the House of Representatives six times and became an important figure who helped improve American-British relations at a critical time. Clay would later serve as commissioner to the peace negotiations in Ghent, Belgium in 1814. While he served as a Speaker of the House, Clay changed the role into the influential position that it is today.
Clay nearly became President of the United States. He ran three different campaigns, the final campaign of 1844 proved to be the most disappointing loss. Despite never becoming the head of the Executive Branch, he was the leading figure in the Legislative Branch in the decades leading up to the Civil War. He is best known for his compromises related to the extension of slavery--agreements he believed balanced states' rights and the interests of the national government. After his death historians have credited Henry Clay with being one of the greatest senators in United States history.(1)
Baxter, Maurice G. Henry Clay and the American System. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1995.