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Henry Clay: The Essential American by David…
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Henry Clay: The Essential American (2010)

by David S. Heidler, Jeanne T. Heidler (Author)

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
The Great Compromiser is well-served by this biography. I know there are others on him but this is the only one I have read. From his great success as Speaker of the House in 1810 to his five failed attempts at the presidency Harry of the West was a dominant player in politics for 40 years. He dealt with slavery, the War with Mexico, the War of 1812, the tariffs, the Bank of the United States, etc. He was the head of the Whig Party for many years. He was Abraham Lincoln's hero. He was a major player in the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1833, and the Compromise of 1850. Tragically, he had to bury seven children. Perhaps, the authors spend too much time on these deaths. When he died, there was an enormous outpouring of grief which the country would not see again until the death of Lincoln. ( )
  jerry-book | Jan 26, 2016 |
Henry Clay was involved in politics from the time of President John Adams (#2) until President Millard Fillmore (#13). He served in the Senate (even before he was legally old enough), the House of Representatives (most of the time as Speaker), and as Secretary of State to John Quincy Adams (despite holding differing political views). He cast such a long shadow of influence over the nation that Abraham Lincoln later cited him as one of his greatest influences and heroes. He was the heart and soul of the Whig party and renowned for his speaking prowess - frequently packing the galleries with people eager for the chance to hear him speak. And yet he ran unsuccessfully for president 4 times, being undermined by those in his own party who thought him unelectable. He was "an otherwise good and decent man" with "a fundamental flaw" (pg 448) - he was a slave owner (which troubled abolitionists) who favored gradual emancipation (which troubled Southerners).

This lengthy biography (almost 500 pages) on a little-remembered but highly influential politician is surprisingly readable. The focus is almost completely on his political career, and details on his personal and family life are few and usually only included as they bear upon his career. With that emphasis comes a sometimes uncomfortable unveiling of the ugliness of politics, and this heavy focus on politics was the only negative for me; I generally prefer biographies with a more personal note. But for Henry Clay, politics was personal and it was his life. And the Heidlers have done an excellent job of pulling together massive amounts of information and sorting out the myths and legends. While the book may not have broad appeal, it will certainly appeal to those seeking to understand the early history of the US and into the Jacksonian era as the country plunged toward Civil War. ( )
1 vote J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
Henry Clay was involved in politics from the time of President John Adams (#2) until President Millard Fillmore (#13). He served in the Senate (even before he was legally old enough), the House of Representatives (most of the time as Speaker), and as Secretary of State to John Quincy Adams (despite holding differing political views). He cast such a long shadow of influence over the nation that Abraham Lincoln later cited him as one of his greatest influences and heroes. He was the heart and soul of the Whig party and renowned for his speaking prowess - frequently packing the galleries with people eager for the chance to hear him speak. And yet he ran unsuccessfully for president 4 times, being undermined by those in his own party who thought him unelectable. He was "an otherwise good and decent man" with "a fundamental flaw" (pg 448) - he was a slave owner (which troubled abolitionists) who favored gradual emancipation (which troubled Southerners).

This lengthy biography (almost 500 pages) on a little-remembered but highly influential politician is surprisingly readable. The focus is almost completely on his political career, and details on his personal and family life are few and usually only included as they bear upon his career. With that emphasis comes a sometimes uncomfortable unveiling of the ugliness of politics, and this heavy focus on politics was the only negative for me; I generally prefer biographies with a more personal note. But for Henry Clay, politics was personal and it was his life. And the Heidlers have done an excellent job of pulling together massive amounts of information and sorting out the myths and legends. While the book may not have broad appeal, it will certainly appeal to those seeking to understand the early history of the US and into the Jacksonian era as the country plunged toward Civil War. ( )
  J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
Henry Clay was involved in politics from the time of President John Adams (#2) until President Millard Fillmore (#13). He served in the Senate (even before he was legally old enough), the House of Representatives (most of the time as Speaker), and as Secretary of State to John Quincy Adams (despite holding differing political views). He cast such a long shadow of influence over the nation that Abraham Lincoln later cited him as one of his greatest influences and heroes. He was the heart and soul of the Whig party and renowned for his speaking prowess - frequently packing the galleries with people eager for the chance to hear him speak. And yet he ran unsuccessfully for president 4 times, being undermined by those in his own party who thought him unelectable. He was "an otherwise good and decent man" with "a fundamental flaw" (pg 448) - he was a slave owner (which troubled abolitionists) who favored gradual emancipation (which troubled Southerners).

This lengthy biography (almost 500 pages) on a little-remembered but highly influential politician is surprisingly readable. The focus is almost completely on his political career, and details on his personal and family life are few and usually only included as they bear upon his career. With that emphasis comes a sometimes uncomfortable unveiling of the ugliness of politics, and this heavy focus on politics was the only negative for me; I generally prefer biographies with a more personal note. But for Henry Clay, politics was personal and it was his life. And the Heidlers have done an excellent job of pulling together massive amounts of information and sorting out the myths and legends. While the book may not have broad appeal, it will certainly appeal to those seeking to understand the early history of the US and into the Jacksonian era as the country plunged toward Civil War. ( )
  J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
It isn't that Henry Clay is a bad book. But I quickly realized that I simply didn't have enough interest in the subject to sustain me through nearly 500 pages. So unfortunately this book goes in my short pile of started but never finished. Since I read so little of it I can't give it a fair rating. Usually if I can't get through a book I only give it one star. But I think that this book is better than that, so I'm giving it two stars. I readily admit that it might well deserve an even higher rating then that. So if your an enthusist of 19th century politicians this book might be up your alley. ( )
1 vote queencersei | Feb 9, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
"The problem with these informative books runs deeper than the criticism that they concentrate on dead white men. The stress on individuals, especially on whether they were likable or not, and the emphasis on compromise as an unqualified good, assumes that issues can — and should — be resolved politically."
 
"A comprehensive biography of Lincoln’s political idol, the man said to have declared, 'I had rather be right than be President.'"
added by bookfitz | editKirkus Reviews (Feb 15, 2010)
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David S. Heidlerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Heidler, Jeanne T.Authormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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For Sarah Daniel Twiggs, mother to us, friend to all, in calm laughter and gentle grace, like Lucretia
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(Prologue) Before the clocks struck noon, Washington's church bells began to toll, a signal to the capital that it was over.
In the year 1777 the United States was less than a year old and at war.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 140006726X, Hardcover)

Why Henry Clay? An Essay by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler

Many Americans do not know this extraordinary person, which is a pity. Many years ago, a conference gave us the opportunity to visit his grave and his home. A friend accompanied us to the cemetery where we stood before the large vault with its imposing column topped by a statue of Clay, his right arm partially extended, entreating during one of his famous orations. The day was raw, and a dirty cotton sky sent down a misty drizzle that glossed the marble with a wet patina. In the back portion of the vault, a marble slab held one of Clay’s most famous quotes: “I had rather be right than be President.” Our friend, who inclines to the acerbic, muttered, “Nothing about a corrupt bargain?” We laughed.

Yet later as we walked through the house named Ashland, we paused over the twin legacies of Clay’s fateful decision in 1825 and of his unstinting labor to improve and sustain his country. His behavior in 1825 fastened upon him--presumably forever, if our companion’s remark was any evidence--the infamy of the “Corrupt Bargain.” His work for the country revealed the great poignancy of his generation, the futility of practical politics clashing with grave moral imperatives. He sought the presidency and was labeled a schemer; he compromised for the Union and was lauded as a statesman. Which one was the real Henry Clay? In this book we try to answer that question.

His personal life, for instance, presents intriguing clues. Clay married what many described as an ugly girl, possibly only for the status and influence her family imparted, but there is no evidence that he ever strayed from her bed and considerable proof (they had eleven children) that he found it congenial. He early found slavery morally troubling and ultimately regarded it as incompatible with American ideals of liberty. But he died owning slaves. He gained fame as the master of political compromise, which by definition is the bending of principles to achieve functional agreements. But in 1825, he was reviled as crooked, even though he did not violate a single personal scruple or run counter to his own conscience.

All lives are marked by such inconsistencies. We strive to reveal Clay to a new generation of readers by showing how he was both exemplary and unique, how he was both mired in the customs of his time and a prophet for ideas that would not gain acceptance until our own. He believed in ideas with passion, but he leavened everything with humor, a novelty among public figures of his time and obviously one of the facets that Abraham Lincoln found appealing enough to imitate. Most of all, we found that there has never been anyone like Clay in American political history. He transformed the post of Speaker of the House into its modern role, he proposed and doggedly advocated a plan to expand American prosperity, and he was a crucial leader in every matter great and small bearing upon American politics for almost fifty years.

When our friend made that crack about the “Corrupt Bargain,” we all laughed, but we shouldn’t have. In a way, this book is our penance for having done so, because Henry Clay was a patriot, a statesman, and a gentleman. Not without flaws, he was nevertheless about as good as it gets in public life, and we hope that readers will find him as fascinating as we have.


(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:51 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Speaker of the House, senator, secretary of state, five-time presidential candidate, and idol to the young Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay is captured in full in this rich and sweeping biography that vividly portrays all the drama of his times.

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