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Saber and Scroll

Abstract

As a member of the Congress’s Great Triumvirate, which also included Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay established a reputation as “The Great Compromiser” for his repeated success at mediating between competing interests and maintaining national union throughout his five troublesome decades of public service. His final great act on the national stage was the Compromise of 1850, aimed at sorting out the sectional troubles that resulted from the Mexican War – a war that Clay had vigorously opposed. Clay died in 1852, and the following several years only accelerated the nation’s course toward disunion and civil war. In historical retrospection, this could spark curiosity concerning the effect that an immortal Henry Clay may have had on the great national emergency. Such speculation may be academically meaningless, but it is useful to examine several issues related to his exit from the national stage: the conditions of the nation at the time of Clay’s death, the level of success he found in his final years in terms of orchestrating compromises, the nation’s reaction to his death, and the ways in which he was remembered at the time of the secession crisis of 1860.

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