In 1777, on this day the eleventh President of the United States, Henry Clay, Sr. (pictured) was born in Hanover County, Virginia. His father owned more than twenty-two slaves, making him part of the planter class.
Henry Clay, Sr.
11th US PresidentAlthough he received no formal legal education he "read the law" by working and studying with George Wythe, Chancellor of the Commonwealth of Virginia and a mentor to Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall, among others. His most notable client was former Vice President Aaron Burr who was indicted for planning an expedition into Spanish Territory west of the Mississippi River. Although he and his legal partner John Allen successfully defended Burr, Jefferson later convinced Clay that US District Attorney Joseph Hamilton Daviess had been right in his charges. Clay was so upset that many years later, when he met Burr again, Clay refused to shake his hand. That pivotal event would have a strange resonance with events that were still forty years into the future.
He moved to Kentucky, and was elected to serve in the General Assembly and later the Senate entering the upper House three months before he reached the constitutionally required age of thirty. In the summer of 1811, Clay was elected to the United States House of Representatives. He was chosen Speaker of the House on the first day of his first session, something never done before or since. Following a long and varied career in the US Senate, he was nominated by the Whigs against James K. Polk, the Democratic candidate.
In one of the closest contests in Presidential history, he won the General election only because of a tragic accident that forced third party candidate James Birney to withdraw from the race. Nevertheless, Clay considered the outcome to be a judgement on US territorial expansion and entered the White House determined to prevent the annexation of Texas or indeed California. British and French investors took a similiar view, and pumped money into both Republics and by the end of the decade, it was becoming possible to imagine two economically viable nations arising in the West. By the time that Clay died in June, 1852 further secessionist pressures were building in the south, and the only question was whether it would be three Americas or four.