Henry Clay

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Henry Clay
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Henry Clay (1777–1852)[1] was a United States politician and three time Presidential Candidate from the state of Kentucky.[2] Clay was unsuccessful in all three bids for presidency in the 1824, 1832 and 1844 elections.

1824 and the corrupt bargain[edit]

1824 Presidential Election results

The 1824 Presidential Election was a race between four people; Clay, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and William H. Crawford, all of whom ran under the Democratic-Republican Party.[3] Clay had expected that nobody would get a majority,[4] which would result in the election going to the House of Representatives with the top three candidates being eligible for the presidency.[5] Clay was also the Speaker of the House at the time, meaning he had a large amount of power over who the House would choose.[6]

From this, it is obvious what Clay assumed would happen next: Nobody would get enough Electoral Votes to become President, and as long as Clay remained in the top three he could use his power in such a way as to come out on top. However, that is not what occurred because, as David Stephen Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler noted in his biography on Clay:

The 7 votes Clay should have received from New York with the 5 from Louisiana would have pushed Crawford to a relatively distant fourth, and Clay could have worked his magic in the House, the plan he had long envisioned as the only way to become president in the 1824 election.[7]:176

Realizing he was not going to become President, Clay lobbied the House to vote for Adams, although exactly why is up for debate. Jackson alleged Clay offered to do the same with him if he was made Secretary of State, a position Adams later nominated him for. Clay denied these charges, and instead said that he merely did not feel that Jackson was qualified enough for the position of President, albeit primarily because Adams more closely aligned with his ideology as opposed to anything objective. Jackson and his supporters, who felt that Clay had overturned the will of the electorate and instead handed the White House to one of his political buddies, began to call this deal the "corrupt bargain" and campaigned heavily on it in 1828.[8]

American system[edit]

Another one of Clay's most famous achievements is his creation of what he called the "American System." Basically, it was a highly nationalist program that included support for a national bank and high tariffs in hopes of allowing the nation to exist in peace.[9] This notion that the industrial and agrarian systems of the United States could exist together was actually rather radical at the time, especially given one of the first debates among the Founding Fathers was if the United States was going to be industrial or agricultural.[10]