HENRY CLAY: Statesman for the Union by Robert V. Remint
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HENRY CLAY: Statesman for the Union

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From Remini (History/Chicago; The Life of Andrew Jackson, 1988, etc.)--a definitive, magisterial biography of the great statesman who dominated the public life of the early American republic but who could never attain its highest office. Clay emerges here as a man of paradoxes--a lifelong slaveholder who hated slavery and campaigned for its abolition; a politician who helped destroy the First Bank of the United States but who later made the Second Bank the cornerstone of his ""American System"" and fought bitterly, and vainly, with Andrew Jackson for its recharter; a statesman who won the love of his contemporaries but who failed to win the presidency in three attempts; a successful politician who suffered a sad and miserable personal life. Relying on primary sources, Remini details Clay's familiar roles as the Great Compromiser, the founder of the Whig party, the opponent of the Mexican War, and the champion of tariffs, internal improvements, and a strong Union. The author also describes some aspects of Clay's public life that may be unfamiliar to most readers (for instance, as Speaker of the House, that Clay was an eminent ""War Hawk"" who goaded a timid President Madison into the nearly disastrous War of 1812, and was also a member, with John Quincy Adams, of the American delegation that ended the war). As a man, Clay appears pompous, caustic (his trenchant humor frequently got him into duels), vain, and arrogant, but also sincerely devoted to his duty as he saw it. Remini's moving description of Clay's personal sorrows (of eleven children, only four survived him, and two went insane), his troubled marriage, and the great unhappiness occasioned by his multiple failures to achieve the presidency rounds out this superior portrait. A fine, absorbing biography that does justice to its great subject.

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1991
Page count: 832pp
Publisher: Norton