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Compromise of 1850
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Resolution introduced by Senator Henry Clay in relation to the adjustment of all existing questions of controversy between the states arising out of the institution of slavery (the resolution later became known as the Compromise of 1850), January, 29, 1850; Senate Simple Resolutions, Motions, and Orders of the 31st Congress, ca. 03/1849-ca. 03/1851; Record Group 46; Records of the United States Senate, 1789-1990; National Archives.


The Compromise was actually a series of bills passed mainly to address issues related to slavery. The bills provided for slavery to be decided by popular sovereignty in the admission of new states, prohibited the slave trade in the District of Columbia, settled a Texas boundary dispute, and established a stricter fugitive slave act. This featured document is Henry Clay's handwritten draft.


By 1850 sectional disagreements centering on slavery were straining the bonds of union between the North and South. These tensions became especially acute when Congress began to consider whether western lands acquired after the Mexican War would permit slavery. In 1849 California requested permission to enter the Union as a free state. Adding more free state senators to Congress would destroy the balance between slave and free states that had existed since the Missouri Compromise of 1820.

Because everyone looked to the Senate to defuse the growing crisis, Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky proposed a series of resolutions designed to "Adjust amicably all existing questions of controversy . . . arising out of the institution of slavery." Clay attempted to frame his compromise so that nationally minded senators would vote for legislation in the interest of the Union.

In one of the most famous congressional debates in American history, the Senate discussed Clay’s solution for 7 months. It initially voted down his legislative package, but Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois stepped forward with substitute bills, which passed both Houses. With the Compromise of 1850, Congress had addressed the immediate crisis created by territorial expansion. But one aspect of the compromise—a strengthened fugitive slave act—soon began to tear at sectional peace.

The Compromise of 1850 is composed of five statues enacted in September of 1850. The acts called for the admission of California as a “free state,” provided for a territorial government for Utah and New Mexico, established a boundary between Texas and the United States, called for the abolition of slave trade in Washington, DC, and amended the Fugitive Slave Act.

The document presented here is Henry Clay’s handwritten copy of the original Resolutions, which were not passed. The transcription includes Clay’s Resolution and the five statutes approved by Congress.

For more information, visit the National Archives’ Treasures of Congress Online Exhibit.

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Henry Clay

CLAY, Henry, statesman, born in Hanover county, Virginia, in a district known as "The Slashes," 12 April, 1777" do in Washington, District of Columbia, 29 June, 1852. His father, a Baptist clergyman, died when Henry was four years old, leaving no fortune. Henry received some elementary instruction in a log school-house, doing farm and house work when not at school. His mother married again and removed to Kentucky. When fourteen years of age he was placed in a small retail store at Richmond, and in 1792 obtained a place in the office of Peter Tinsley, clerk of the high court of chancery. There he attracted the attention of Chancellor Whyte, who employed him as an amanuensis, and directed his course of reading. In 1796 he began to study law with Robert Brooke, attorney general of Virginia, and in 1797, having obtained a license to practice law from the judges of the court of appeals, he removed to Lexington, Kv. During his residence in Richmond he had made the acquaintance of several distinguished men of Virginia, and became a leading member of a debating clubo At Lexington he achieved his first distinction in a similar society. He soon won a lucrative practice as an attorney, being especially successful in criminal eases and in suits growing out of the land laws. His captivating manners and his striking eloquence made him a general favorite. His political career began almost immediately after his arrival at Lexington. A convention was to be elected to revise the constitution of Kentucky, and in the canvass preceding the election Clay strongly advocated a constitutional provision for the gradual emancipation of the slaves in the state; but the movement was not successful. He also participated vigorously in the agitation against the alien and sedition laws, taking position as a member of the Republican Party. Several of his speeches, delivered in Massachusetts meetings, astonished the hearers by their beauty and force. In 1799 he married Lucretia Hart, daughter of a prominent citizen of Kentucky. In 1803 he was elected to a seat in the state legislature, where he excelled as a debater, hi 1806 Aaron Burr passed through Kentucky, where he was arrested on a charge of being engaged in an unlawful enterprise dangerous to the peace of the United States. He engaged Clay's professional services, and Clay, deceived by Burr as to the nature of his schemes, obtained his release.

In the winter of 1806 Clay was appointed to a seat in the United States Senate to serve out an unexpired term. He was at once placed on various committees, and took an active part in the debates, especially in favor of internal improvements. In the summer of 1807 his county sent him again to the legislature, where he was elected speaker of the assembly. He opposed and defeated a bill prohibiting the use of the decisions of British courts and of British works on jurisprudence as authority in the courts of Kentucky. In December, 1808, he introduced resolutions expressing approval of the embargo laid by the general government, denouncing the British orders in council, pledging the general government the active aid of Kentucky in anything determined upon to resist British exactions, and declaring that President Jefferson was entitled to the thanks of the country. He offered another resolution, recommending that the members of the legislature should wear only clothes that were the product of domestic manufacture. This was his first demonstration in favor of the encouragement of home industry. About this resolution he had a quarrel with Humphrey Marshall, which led to a duel, in which both parties were slightly wounded. In the winter of 1809 Clay was again sent to the United States senate to fill an unexpired term of two years. He made a speech in favor of encouraging home industries, taking the ground that the country should be enabled to produce all it might need in time of war, and that, while agriculture would remain the dominant interest, it should be aided by the development of domestic manufactures. He also made a report on a bill granting a right of pre-emption to purchasers of public lands in certain cases, and introduced a bill to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes, and to preserve peace on the frontier, a subject on which he expressed very wise and humane sentiments. During the session of 1810-'1 he defended the administration of Mr. Madison with regard to the occupation of West Florida by the United States by a strong historical argument, at the same time appealing, in glowing language, to the national pride of the American people. He opposed the renewal of the charter of the U. S, bank, notwithstanding Gallatin's recommendation, on the ground of the unconstitutionality of the bank, and contributed much to its defeat.

On the expiration of his term in the senate Clay was sent to the national house of representatives by the Lexington district in Kentucky, and immediately upon taking his seat, 4 November, 1811, was elected speaker by a large majority. Not confining himself to his duties as presiding officer, he took a leading part in debate on almost all important occasions. The difficulties caused by British interference with neutral trade were then approaching a crisis, and Clay put himself at the head of the war party in congress, which was led in the second line by such young statesmen as John C. Calhoun, William Lowndes, Felix Grundy, and Langdon Cheves, and supported by a strong feeling in the south and west. In a series of fiery speeches Clay advocated the calling out of volunteers to serve on land, and the construction of an efficient navy. He expected that the war with Great Britain would be decided by an easy conquest of Canada, and a peace dictated at Quebec. The Madison administration hesitated, but was finally swept along by the war furor created by the young Americans under Clay's lead, and war against Great Britain was declared in June, 1812. Clay spoke at a large number of popular meetings to fill volunteer regiments and to fire the national spirit. In congress, while the events of the war were unfavorable to the United States in consequence of an utter lack of preparation and incompetent leadership, Clay vigorously sustained the administration and the war policy against the attacks of the federalists. Some of his speeches were of a high order of eloquence, and electrified the country. He was re-elected speaker in 1813. On 19 January, 1814, he resigned the speakership, haying been appointed by President Madison a member of a commission, consisting of John Quincy Adams, James A. Bayard, Henry Clay, Jonathan Russell, and Albert Gallatin, to negotiate peace with Great Britain. The American commissioners met the commissioners of Great Britain at Ghent, in the Netherlands, and, after five months of negotiation, during which Mr. Clay stoutly opposed the concession to the British of the right of navigating the Mississippi and of meddling with the Indians on territory of the United States, a treaty of peace was signed, 24 December, 1814. From Ghent Clay went to Paris, and thence with Adams and Gallatin to London, to negotiate a treaty of commerce with Great Britain.

After his return to the United States, Mr. Clay declined the mission to Russia offered by the administration. Having been elected again to the house of representatives, he took his seat on December 4, 1815, and was again chosen speaker. He favored the enactment of the protective tariff of 1816, and also advocated the establishment of a United States bank as the fiscal agent of the government, thus reversing his position with regard to that subject. He now pronounced the bank constitutional because it was necessary in order to carry on the fiscal concerns of the government. During the same session he voted to raise the pay of representatives from $6 a day to $1,500 a year, a measure that proved unpopular, and his vote for it came near costing him his seat. He was, however, re-elected, but then voted to make the pay of representatives a per diem of $8, which it remained for a long period. In the session of 1816-'7 he, together with Calhoun, actively supported an internal improvement bill, which President Madison vetoed. In December, 1817, Clay was re-elected speaker. In opposition to the doctrine laid down by Monroe in his first message, that congress did not possess, under the constitution, the right to construct internal improvements, Clay strongly asserted that right in several speeches. With great vigor he advocated the recognition of the independence of the Spanish American colonies, then in a state of revolution, and severely censured what he considered the procrastinating policy of the administration in that respect. In the session of 1818-'9 he criticised, in an elaborate speech, the conduct of General Jackson in the Florida campaign, especially the execution of Arbuthnot and Ambrister by Jackson's orders. This was the first collision between Clay and Jackson, and the ill feelings that it engendered in Jackson's mind were never extinguished. At the first session of the 16th congress, in December, 1819, Clay was again elected speaker almost without opposition. In the debate on the treaty with Spain, by which Florida was ceded to the United States, he severely censured the administration for having given up Texas, which he held to belong to the United States as a part of the Louisiana purchase. He continued to urge the recognition of the South American colonies as independent republics.

In 1819-'20 he took an important part in the struggle in congress concerning the admission of Missouri as a slave state, which created the first great political slavery excitement throughout the country. He opposed the "restriction" clause making the admission of Missouri dependent upon the exclusion of slavery from the state, but supported the compromise proposed by Senator Thomas, of Illinois, admitting Missouri with slavery, but excluding slavery from all the territory north of 36° 30', acquired by the Louisiana purchase. This was the first part of the Missouri compromise, which is often erroneously attributed to Clay. When Missouri then presented herself with a state constitution, not only recognizing slavery, but also making it the duty of the legislature to pass such laws as would be necessary to prevent free Negroes or mulattoes from coming into the state, the excitement broke out anew, and a majority in the house of representatives refused to admit Missouri as a state with such a constitution. On Clay's motion, the subject was referred to a special committee, of which he was chairman. This committee of the house joined with a senate committee, and the two unitedly reported in both houses a resolution that Missouri be admitted upon the fundamental condition that the state should never make any law to prevent from settling within its boundaries any description of persons who then or thereafter might become citizens of any state of the Union. This resolution was adopted, and the fundamental condition assented to by Missouri. This was Clay's part of the Missouri compromise, and he received general praise as "the great pacificator."

After the adjournment of congress, Clay retired to private life, to devote himself to his legal practice, but was elected to the 18th congress, which met in December. 1823, and was again chosen speaker. He made speeches on internal improvements, advocating a liberal construction of constitutional powers, in favor of sending a commissioner to Greece, and in favor of the tariff law, which became known as the tariff of 1824, giving his policy of protection and internal improvements the name of the "American system."

He was a candidate for the presidency at the election of 1824. His competitors were John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and William H. Crawford, each of whom received a larger number of electoral votes than Clay. But, as none of them had received a majority of the electoral vote, the election devolved upon the house of representatives. Clay, standing fourth in the number of electoral votes received, was excluded from the choice, and he used his influence in the house for John Quincy Adams, who was elected. The friends of Jackson and Crawford charged that there was a corrupt understanding between Adams and Clay, and this accusation received color from the fact that Adams promptly offered Clay the portfolio of secretary of state, and Clay accepted it. This was the origin of the "bargain and corruption" charge, which, constantly repeated, pursued Clay during the best part of his public life, although it was disproved by the well-established fact that Clay, immediately after the result of the presidential election in 1824 became known, had declared his determination to use his influence in the house for Adams and against Jackson. As secretary of state under John Quincy Adams, Clay accepted an invitation, presented by the Mexican and Colombian ministers, to send commissioners of the United States to an international congress of American republics, which was to meet on the Isthmus of Pan-area, to deliberate upon subjects of common interest. The commissioners were appointed, but the Panama congress adjourned before they could reach the appointed place of meeting. In the course of one of the debates on this subject, John Randolph, of Roanoke, denounced the administration, alluding to Adams and Clay as a "combination of the Puritan and the blackleg." Clay thereupon challenged Randolph to a duel, which was fought on 8 April, 1826, without bloodshed. He negotiated and concluded treaties with Prussia, the Hanseatic republics, Denmark, Colombia, Central America, and Austria. His negotiations with Great Britain concerning the colonial trade resulted only in keeping in force the conventions of 1815 and 1818. He made another treaty with Great Britain, extending the joint occupation of the Oregon country provided for in the treaty of 1818 : another referring the differences concerning the northeastern boundary to some friendly sovereign or state for arbitration; and still another concerning the indemnity to be paid by Great Britain for slaves carried off by British forces in the war of 1812. As to his commercial policy, Clay followed the accepted ideas of the times, to establish between the United States and foreign countries fair reciprocity as to trade and navigation, He was made president of the American colonization society, whose object it was to colonize free Negroes in Liberia on the coast of Africa.

In 1828 Andrew Jackson was elected president, and after his inauguration Clay retired to his farm of Ashland, near Lexington, Kentucky But, although in private life, he was generally recognized as the leader of the party opposing Jackson, who called themselves "national republicans," and later "Whigs," Clay, during the years 1829-'31, visited several places in the south as well as in the state of Ohio, was everywhere received with great honors, and made speeches attacking Jackson's administration, mainly on account of the sweeping removals from office for personal and partisan reasons, and denouncing the nullification movement, which in the mean time had been set on foot in South Carolina. Yielding to the urgent solicitation of his friends throughout the country, he consented in 1831 to be a candidate for the United States senate, and was elected. In December, 1831, he was nominated as the candidate of the national republicans for the presidency, with John Sergeant, of Pennsylvania, for the vice-presidency. As the impending extinguishment of the public debt rendered a reduction of the revenue necessary, Clay introduced in the senate a tariff bill reducing duties on unprotected articles, but keeping them on protected articles, so as to preserve intact the "American system." The reduction of the revenue thus effected was inadequate, and the anti-tariff excitement in the south grew more intense. The subject of public lands having, for the purpose of embarrassing' him as a presidential candidate, been referred to the committee on manufactures, of which he was the leading spirit, he reported against reducing the price of public lands and in favor of distributing the proceeds of the lands' sales, after certain deductions, among the several states for a limited period. The bill passed the senate, but failed to pass the house. As President Jackson, in his several messages, had attacked the United States bank, Clay induced the bank, whose charter was to expire in 1836, to apply for a renewal of the charter during the session of 1831-'2, so as to force the issue before the presidential election. The bill renewing the charter passed both houses, but Jackson vetoed it, denouncing the bank in his message as a dangerous monopoly. In the presidential election Clay was disastrously defeated, Jackson receiving 219 electoral votes, and Clay only 49.

On 19 November, 1832, a state convention in South Carolina passed an ordinance nullifying the tariff laws of 1828 and 1832. On 10 December, President Jackson issued a proclamation against the nulli-tiers, which the governor of South Carolina answered with a counter-proclamation. On 12 February, 1833, Clay introduced, in behalf of union and peace, a compromise bill providing for a gradual reduction of the tariff until 1842, when it should be reduced to a horizontal rate of 20 per cent. This bill was accepted by the nullifiers, and became a law, known as the compromise of 1833. South Carolina rescinded the nullification ordinance, and Clay was again praised as the "great pacificator." In the autumn of 1833, President Jackson, through the secretary of the treasury, ordered the removal of the public deposits from the United States bank. Clay, in December, 1833, introduced resolutions in the senate censuring the president for having "assumed upon himself authority and power not conferred by the constitution and laws." The resolutions were adopted, and President Jackson sent to the senate an earnest protest against them, which was severely denounced by Clay. During the session of 1834-'5 Clay successfully opposed Jackson's recommendation that authority be conferred on him for making reprisals upon French property on account of the non-payment by the French government of an indemnity due to the United States. He also advocated the enactment of a law enabling Indians to defend their rights to their lands in the courts of the United States ; also the restriction of the president's power to make removals from office, and the repeal of the four-years act. The slavery question having come to the front again, in consequence of the agitation carried on by the abolitionists, Clay, in the session of 1835-'6, pronounced himself in favor of the reception by the senate of anti-slavery petitions, and against the exclusion of anti-slavery literature from the mails. He declared, however, his opposition to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. With regard to the recognition of Texas as an independent state, he maintained a somewhat cold and reserved attitude. In the session of 1836-'7 he reintroduced his land bill without success, and advocated international copyright. His resolutions censuring Jackson for the removal of the deposits, passed in 1834, were, on the motion of Thomas H. Benton. expunged from the records of the senate, against solemn protests from the Whig minority in that body.

Martin Van Buren was elected president in 1836, and immediately after his inauguration the great financial crisis of 1837 broke out. At an extra ses- i CLAY CLAY 643 sion of congress, in the summer of 1837, he recommended the introduction of the sub-treasury system. This was earnestly opposed by Clay, who denounced it as a scheme to "unite the power of the purse with the power of the sword." He and his friends insisted upon the restoration of the United States bank. After a struggle of three sessions, the sub-treasury bill succeeded, and the long existence of the system has amply proved the groundlessness of the fears expressed by those who opposed it. Clay strongly desired to be the Whig candidate for the presidency in 1840, but failed. The Whig national convention, in December, 1839, nominated Harrison and Tyler. Clay was very much incensed at his defeat, but supported Harrison with great energy, making many speeches, in the famous "log-cabin and hard-eider" campaign. After the triumphant election of Harrison and Tyler, Clay declined the office of secretary of state offered to him. Harrison died soon after his inauguration. At the extra session of congress in the summer of 1841, Clay was the recognized leader of the Whig majority. He moved the repeal of the sub-treasury act, and drove it through both houses. He then brought in a bill providing for the incorporation of a new bank of the United States, which also passed, but was vetoed by President Tyler, 16 August, 1841. Another bank bill, framed to meet what were supposed to be the president's objections, was also vetoed. Clay denounced Tyler instantly for what he called his faithlessness to Whig principles, and the Whig party rallied under Clay's leadership in opposition to the president. At the same session Clay put through his land bill, containing the distribution clause, which, however, could not go into operation because the revenues of the government fell short of the necessary expenditures. At the next session Clay offered an amendment to the constitution limiting the veto power, which during Jackson's and Tyler's administrations had become very obnoxious to him; and also an amendment to the constitution providing that the secretary of the treasury and the treasurer should be appointed by congress; and a third forbidding the appointment of members of congress, while in office, to executive positions. None of them passed. On 31 March, 1842, Clay took leave of the senate and retired to private life, as he said in his farewell speech, never to return to the senate.

During his retirement he visited different parts of the country, and was everywhere received with great enthusiasm, delivering speeches, in some of which he pronounced himself in favor not of a "high tariff," but of a revenue tariff with incidental protection repeatedly affirming that the protective system had been originally designed only as a temporary arrangement to be maintained until the infant industries should have gained sufficient strength to sustain competition with foreign manufactures. It was generally looked upon as certain that he would be the Whig candidate for the presidency in 1844. In the mean time the administration had concluded a treaty of annexation with Texas. In an elaborate letter, dated 17 April, 1844, known as the "Raleigh letter," Clay declared himself against annexation, mainly because it would bring on a war with Mexico, because it met with serious objection in a large part of the Union, and because it would compromise the national character oVan Buren, who expected to be the democratic candidate for the presidency, also wrote a letter unfavorable to annexation. On 1 May, 1844, the Whig national convention nominated Clay by acclamation. The democratic national convention nominated not Van Buren, but James K, Polk for the presidency, with George M. Dallas for the vice-presidency, and adopted a resolution recommending the annexation of Texas. A convention of antislavery men was held at Buffalo, New York, which put forward as a candidate for the presidency James G. Birney. The senate rejected the annexation treaty, and the Texas question became the main issue in the presidential canvass. As to the tariff and the currency question, the platforms of the democrats and Whigs differed very little. Polk, who had the reputation of being a free-trader, wrote a letter apparently favoring a protective tariff, to propitiate Pennsylvania, where the cry was raised, "Polk, Dallas, and the tariff of 1842)' Clay, yielding to the entreaties of southern Whigs, who feared that his declaration against the annexation of Texas might injure his prospects in the south, wrote another letter, in which he said that, far from having any personal objection to the annexation of Texas, he would be "glad to see it without dishonor, without war, with the common consent of the Union, and upon fair terms." This turned against him many anti-slavery men in the north, and greatly strengthened the Birney movement. It is believed that it cost him the vote of the state of New York, and with it the election It was charged, apparently upon strong grounds that extensive election frauds were committed by the Democrats in the City of New York and in the state of Louisiana, the latter becoming famous as the Plaquemines frauds; but had Clay kept the anti-slavery element on his side, as it was at the beginning of the canvass, these frauds could not have decided the election. His defeat cast the Whig party into the deepest gloom, and was lamely.ted by his supporters like a personal misfortune.

Texas was annexed by a joint resolution which passed the two houses of congress in the session of 1844-'5, and the Mexican war followed. In 1846, Wilmot, of Pennsylvania, moved, as an amendment to a bill appropriating money for purposes connected with the war, a proviso that in all territories to be acquired from Mexico slavery should be forever prohibited, which, however, failed in the senate. This became known as the "Wilmot proviso." One of Clay's sons was killed in the battle of Buena Vista. In the autumn of 1847, when the Mexican army was completely defeated, Clay made a speech at Lexington, Kentucky, warning the American people of the dangers that would follow if they gave themselves up to the ambition of conquest, and declaring that there should be a generous peace, requiring no dismemberment of the Mexican republic, but "only a just and proper fixation of the limits of Texas." and that any desire to acquire any foreign territory whatever for the purpose of propagating slavery should be "positively and emphatically" disclaimed. In February and March, 1848, Clay was honored with great popular receptions in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, and his name was again brought forward for the presidential nomination. But the Whig national convention, which met on 7 June, 1848, preferred General Zachary Taylor as a more available man, with Millard Fillmore for the vice-presidency. His defeat in the convention was a bitter disappointment to Clay. He declined to come forward to the sup: port of Taylor, and maintained during the canvass an attitude of neutrality. The principal reason he gave was that Taylor had refused to pledge him= self to the support of Whig principles and measures, and that Taylor had announced his purpose to remain in the field as a candidate, whoever might be nominated by the Whig convention. He declined, on the other hand, to permit his name be used by the dissatisfied Whigs. Taylor was elected, the free-soilers, whose candidate was Martin Van Buren, having assured the defeat of the democratic candidate, General Cass, in the state of New York. In the spring of 1849 a convention was to be elected in Kentucky to revise the state constitution, and Clay published a letter recommending gradual emancipation of the slaves. By a unanimous vote of the legislature assembled in December, 1848, Clay was again elected a United States senator, and he took his seat in December. 1849.

By the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, New Mexico and California, including Utah, had been acquired by the United States. The discovery of gold had attracted a large immigration to California. Without waiting for an enabling act, the inhabitants of California, in convention, had framed a constitution by which slavery was prohibited, and applied to congress for admission as a state. The question of the admission of California as a free state, and the other question whether slavery should be admitted into or excluded from New Mexico and Utah, created the intensest excitement in congress and among the people. Leading southern men threatened a dissolution of the Union unless slavery were admitted into the territories acquired from Mexico. On 29 January, 1850, Clay, who was at heart in favor of the Wilmot proviso, brought forward in the senate a " comprehensive scheme of compromise," which included (1) the speedy admission of California as a state; (2) the establishment of territorial governments in New Mexico and Utah without any restriction as to slavery; (3) a settlement of the boundary-line between Texas and New Mexico substantially as it now stands; (4) an indemnity to be paid to Texas for the relinquishment of her claims to a large portion of New Mexico; (5) a declaration that slavery should not be abolished in the District of Columbia; (6) the prohibition of the slave-trade in the district; and (7) a more effective fugitive-slave law. These propositions were, on 18 April, 1850, referred to a special committee, of which Clay was elected chairman. He reported three bills embodying these different subjects, one of which, on account of its comprehensiveness, was called the "omnibus bill." After a long struggle, the omnibus bill was defeated; but then its different parts were taken up singly, and passed, covering substantially Clay's original propositions. This was the compromise of 1850. In the debate Clay declared in the strongest terms his allegiance to the Union as superior to his allegiance to his state, and denounced secession as treason. The compromise of 1850 added greatly to his renown ; but, although it was followed by a short period of quiet, it satisfied neither the south nor the north. To the north the fugitive-slave law was especially distasteful. In January, 1851, forty-four senators and representatives, Clay's name leading, published a manifesto declaring that they would not support for any office any man not known to be opposed to any disturbance of the matters settled by the compromise. In February, 1851, a recaptured fugitive slave having been liberated in Boston, Clay pronounced himself in favor of conferring upon the president extraordinary powers for the enforcement of the fugitive-slave law, his main object being to satisfy the south, and thus to disarm the disunion spirit.

After the adjournment of congress, on 4 March, 1851, his health being much impaired, he went to Cuba for relief, and thence to Ashland. He peremptorily enjoined his friends not to bring forward his name again as that of a candidate for the presidency. To a committee of Whigs in New York he addressed a public letter containing an urgent and eloquent plea for the maintenance of the Union. He went to Washington to take his seat in the senate in December, 1851, but, owing to failing health, he appeared there only once during" the winter. His last public utterance was a short speech addressed to Louis Kossuth, who visited him in his room, deprecating the entanglement of the United States in the complications of European affairs. He favored the nomination of Fillmore for the presidency by the Whig national convention, which met on 16 June, a few days before his death. Clay was unquestionably one of the greatest orators that America ever produced; a man of incorruptible personal integrity ; of very great natural ability, but little study; of free and convivial habits ; of singularly winning address and manners; not a cautious and safe political leader, but a splendid party chief, idolized by his followers. He was actuated by a lofty national spirit, proud of his country, and ardently devoted to the Union. It was mainly his anxiety to keep the Union intact that inspired his disposition to compromise contested questions. He had in his last hours the satisfaction of seeing his last great work, the compromise of 1850, accepted as a final settlement of the slavery question by the national conventions of both political parties. But only two years after his death it became evident that the compromise had settled nothing. The struggle about slavery broke out anew, and brought forth a civil war, the calamity that Clay had been most anxious to prevent, leading to general emancipation, which Clay would have been glad to see peaceably accomplished. He was buried in the cemetery at Lexington, Kentucky, and a monument consisting of a tall column surmounted by a statue was erected over his tomb. The accompanying illustrations show his birthplace and tomb. See "Life of Henry Clay," by George died Prentice (Hartford, Connecticut, 1831); "Speeches," collected by R. Chambers (Cincinnati, 1842); "Life and Speeches of Henry Clay," by J. born Swaim (New York, 1843); "Life of Henry Clay," by Epes Sargent (1844, edited and completed by Horace Greeley, 1852); "Life and Speeches of Henry Clay," by died Mallory (1844; new ed., 1857); "Life and Times of Henry Clay," by Rev. Calvin Colton (6 vols., containing speeches and correspondence, 1846-'57 ; revised ed., 1864); and "Henry Clay," by Carl Schurz (2 vols., Boston, 1887).--His brother, Porter, clergyman, born in Virginia in March, 1779; died in 1850. He removed to Kentucky in early life, where he studied law, and was for a while auditor of public accounts. In 1815 he was converted and gave himself to the Baptist ministry, in which he was popular and useful.--Henry's son, Henry, lawyer, born in Ashland, Kentucky, 10 April, 1811 ; killed in action at Buena Vista, Mexico, 23 February, 1847, was graduated at Transylvania University in 1828, and at the United States military academy in 1831. He resigned from the army and studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1833, and was a member of the Kentucky legislature in 1835-'7. He went to the Mexican war in June, 1846, as lieutenant colonel of the 2d Kentucky volunteers, became extra aide-de-camp to General Taylor, 5 October, 1846, and was killed with a lance while gallantly leading a charge of his regiment.--Another son, James Brown, born in Washington, District of Columbia, 9 November, 1817; died in Montreal, Canada, 26 January, 1864, was educated at Transylvania University, was two years in a counting-house in Boston, 1835-'6, immigrated to St. Louis, Maine, which then contained only 8,000 inhabitants, settled on a farm, then engaged in manufacturing for two years in Kentucky, and afterward studied law in the Lexington law-school, and practiced in partnership with his father till 1849, when he was appointed charge 4'affaires at Lisbon by President Taylor. In 1851-'3 he resided in Missouri, but returned to Kentucky upon becoming the proprietor of Ashland, after his father's death. In 1857 he was elected to represent his father's old district in congress. He was a member of the peace convention of 1861, but afterward embraced the secessionist cause, and died in exile


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Title Resolution introduced by Senator Henry Clay in relation to the adjustment of all existing questions of controversy between the states arising out of the institution of slavery (the resolution later became known as the Compromise of 1850)
Dates 01/29/1850
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The Congressional Evolution of the United States Henry Middleton

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Please join us in our mission to incorporate The Congressional Evolution of the United States of America discovery-based curriculum into the classroom of every primary and secondary school in the United States of America by July 2, 2026, the nation’s 250th birthday. , the United States of America: We The People Click Here


Historic Documents

Articles of Association

Articles of Confederation 1775

Articles of Confederation

Article the First

Coin Act

Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence

Emancipation Proclamation

Gettysburg Address

Monroe Doctrine

Northwest Ordinance

No Taxation Without Representation

Thanksgiving Proclamations

Mayflower Compact

Treaty of Paris 1763

Treaty of Paris 1783

Treaty of Versailles

United Nations Charter

United States In Congress Assembled

US Bill of Rights

United States Constitution

US Continental Congress

US Constitution of 1777

US Constitution of 1787

Virginia Declaration of Rights


Historic Events

Battle of New Orleans

Battle of Yorktown

Cabinet Room

Civil Rights Movement

Federalist Papers

Fort Duquesne

Fort Necessity

Fort Pitt

French and Indian War

Jumonville Glen

Manhattan Project

Stamp Act Congress

Underground Railroad

US Hospitality

US Presidency

Vietnam War

War of 1812

West Virginia Statehood

Woman Suffrage

World War I

World War II


Is it Real?

Declaration of

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America’s Four Republics
The More or Less United States

Continental Congress
U.C. Presidents

Peyton Randolph

Henry Middleton

Peyton Randolph

John Hancock


Continental Congress
U.S. Presidents

John Hancock

Henry Laurens

John Jay

Samuel Huntington


Constitution of 1777
U.S. Presidents

Samuel Huntington

Samuel Johnston
Elected but declined the office

Thomas McKean

John Hanson

Elias Boudinot

Thomas Mifflin

Richard Henry Lee

John Hancock
Chairman David Ramsay]

Nathaniel Gorham

Arthur St. Clair

Cyrus Griffin


Constitution of 1787
U.S. Presidents

George Washington 

John Adams
Federalist Party

Thomas Jefferson
Republican* Party

James Madison 
Republican* Party

James Monroe
Republican* Party

John Quincy Adams
Republican* Party
Whig Party

Andrew Jackson
Republican* Party
Democratic Party

Martin Van Buren
Democratic Party

William H. Harrison
Whig Party

John Tyler
Whig Party

James K. Polk
Democratic Party

David Atchison**
Democratic Party

Zachary Taylor
Whig Party

Millard Fillmore
Whig Party

Franklin Pierce
Democratic Party

James Buchanan
Democratic Party

Abraham Lincoln 
Republican Party

Jefferson Davis***
Democratic Party

Andrew Johnson
Republican Party

Ulysses S. Grant 
Republican Party

Rutherford B. Hayes
Republican Party

James A. Garfield
Republican Party

Chester Arthur 
Republican Party

Grover Cleveland
Democratic Party

Benjamin Harrison
Republican Party

Grover Cleveland 
Democratic Party

William McKinley
Republican Party

Theodore Roosevelt
Republican Party

William H. Taft 
Republican Party

Woodrow Wilson
Democratic Party

Warren G. Harding 
Republican Party

Calvin Coolidge
Republican Party

Herbert C. Hoover
Republican Party

Franklin D. Roosevelt
Democratic Party

Harry S. Truman
Democratic Party

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Republican Party

John F. Kennedy
Democratic Party

Lyndon B. Johnson 
Democratic Party 

Richard M. Nixon 
Republican Party

Gerald R. Ford 
Republican Party

James Earl Carter, Jr. 
Democratic Party

Ronald Wilson Reagan 
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George H. W. Bush
Republican Party 

William Jefferson Clinton
Democratic Party

George W. Bush 
Republican Party

Barack H. Obama
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