« НазадПродовжити »
meetings of Kentucky, and gave forth, in fervid oratory, the republican principles he had imbibed in Richmond, he won that immediate and intense popularity which an orator always wins who gives powerful expression to the sentiments of his hearers. We cannot wonder that, at the close of an impassioned address upon the Alien and Sedition Laws, the multitude should hare pressed about him, and borne him aloft in triumph upon their shoulders ; nor that Kentucky should have hastened to employ him in her public business as soon as he was of the requisite age. At thirty he was, to use the language of the stump, “ Kentucky's favorite son,” and incomparably the finest orator in the Western country. Kentucky had tried him, and found him perfectly to her mind. He was an easy, comfortable man to associate with, wholly in the Jeffersonian taste. His wit was not of the highest quality, but he had plenty of it; and if he said a good thing, he had such a way of saying it as gave it ten times its natural force. He chewed tobacco and took snuff, - practices which lowered the tone of his health all his life. In familiar conversation he used language of the most Western description; and he had a singularly careless, graceful way with him, that was in strong contrast with the vigor and dignity of his public efforts. He was an honest and brave young man, altogether above lying, hypocrisy, and meanness, full of the idea of Republican America and her great destiny. The splendor of his talents concealed his defects and glorified his foibles; and Kentucky rejoiced in him, loved him, trusted him, and sent him forth to represent her in the national council.
During the first thirteen years of Henry Clay's active life as a politician, - from his twenty-first to his thirty-fourth year, - he appears in politics only as the eloquent champion of the policy of Mr. Jefferson, whom he esteemed the first and best of living men. After defending him on the stump and aiding him in the Kentucky Legislature, he was sent in 1806, when he was scarcely thirty, to fill for one term a seat in the Senate of the United States, made vacant by the resignation of one of the Kentucky Senators. Mr. Jefferson received his affectionate young disciple with cordiality, and admitted him to his confi
dence. Clay had been recently defending Burr before a Ken. tucky court, entirely believing that his designs were lawful and sanctioned. Mr. Jefferson showed him the cipher letters of that mysterious and ill-starred adventurer, which convinced Mr. Clay that Burr was certainly a liar, if he was not a traitor. Mr. Jefferson's perplexity in 1806 was similar to that of Jackson in 1833, — too much money in the treasury. The revenue then was fifteen millions; and, after paying all the expenses of the government and the stipulated portion of the national debt, there was an obstinate and most embarrassing surplus. What to do with this irrepressible surplus was the question then discussed in Mr. Jefferson's Cabinet. The President, being a free-trader, would naturally have said, Reduce the duties.
But the younger men of the party, who had no pet theories, and particularly our young Senator, who had just come in from a six weeks' horseback flounder over bridgeless roads, urged another solution of the difficulty, - Internal Improvements. But the President was a strict-constructionist, denied the authority of Congress to vote money for public works, and was fully committed to that opinion.
Mr. Jefferson yielded. The most beautiful theories will not always endure the wear and tear of practice. The President, it is true, still maintained that an amendment to the Constitution ought to precede appropriations for public works; but he said this very briefly and without emphasis, while he stated at some length, and with force, the desirableness of expending the surplus revenue in improving the country. As time wore on, less and less was said about the amendment, more and more about the importance of internal improvements; until, at last, the Republican party, under Clay, Adams, Calhoun, and Rush, went as far in this business of road-making and canal-digging as Hamilton himself could have desired. Thus it was that Jefferson rendered true his own saying, “ We are all Federalists, we are all Republicans.” Jefferson yielded, also, on the question of free-trade. There is a passage of a few lines in Mr. Jefferson's Message of 1806, the year of Henry Clay's first appearance in Washington, which may be regarded as the text of half the Kentuckiau's
speeches, and the inspiration of his public life. The President is discussing the question, What shall we do with the surplus ?
“Shall we suppress the impost, and give that advantage to foreign over domestic manufactures ? On a few articles of more general and necessary use, the suppression, in due season, will doubtless be right; but the great mass of the articles upon
which impost is paid are foreign luxuries, purchased by those only who are rich enough to afford themselves the use of them. Their patriotism would certainly prefer its continuance, and application to the great purposes of the public education, roads, rivers, capals, and such other objects of public improvement as it may be thought proper to add to the constitutional enumeration of Federal powers. By these operations, new channels of communication will be opened between the States, the lines of separation will disappear, their interests will be identified, and their union cemented by new and indissoluble bonds.”
Upon these hints, the young Senator delayed not to speak and act; nor did he wait for an amendment to the Constitution. His first speech in the Senate was in favor of building a bridge over the Potomac; one of his first acts, to propose an appropriation of lands for a canal round the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville ; and soon he brought forward a resolution directing the Secretary of the Treasury to report a system of roads and canals for the consideration of Congress. The seed of the President's Message had fallen into good ground.
Returning home at the end of the session, and re-entering the Kentucky Legislature, we still find him a strict follower of Mr. Jefferson. In support of the President's non-intercourse policy (which was Franklin's policy of 1775 applied to the circumstances of 1808), Mr. Clay proposed that the members of the Legislature should bind themselves to wear nothing that was not of American manufacture. A Federalist, ignorant of the illus. trious origin of this idea, ignorant that the homespun system had caused the repeal of the Stamp Act, and would have postponed the Revolution but for the accident of Lexington, denounced Mr. Clay's proposition as the act of a shameless demagogue. Clay challenged this ill-informed gentleman, and a duel resulted, in
which two shots were exchanged, and be th antagonists were slightly wounded. Elected again to the Senate for an unexpired term, he reappeared in that body in 1809, and sat during two sessions. Homespun was again the theme of his speeches. His ideas on the subject of protecting and encouraging American manufactures were not derived from books, por expressed in the language of political economy. At his own Kentucky home, Mrs. Clay, assisted by her servants, was spinning and wearing, knitting and sewing, most of the garments required in her little kingdom of six hundred acres, while her husband was away over the mountains serving his country. “Let the nation do what we Kentucky farmers are doing,” said Mr. Clay to the Senate. “Let us manufacture enough to be independent of foreign nations in things essential, no more.” He discoursed on this subject in a very pleasant, humorous manner, without referring to the abstract principle involved, or employing any of the technical language of economists.
His service in the Senate during these two sessions enhanced his reputation greatly, and the galleries were filled when he was expected to speak, little known as he was to the nation at large. We have a glimpse of him in one of Washington Irving's letters of February, 1811 : “ Clay, from Kentucky, spoke against the Bank. He is one of the finest fellows I have seen here, and one of the finest orators in the Senate, though I believe the youngest man in it. The galleries, howerer, were so much crowded with ladies and gentlemen, and such expectations had been expressed concerning his speech, that he was completely frightened, and acquitted himself very little to his own satisfaction. He is a man I have great personal regard for." This was the anti-bank speech which General Jackson used to say had convinced him of the impolicy of a national bank, and which, with ingenious malice, he covertly quoted in making up his Bank Veto Message of 1832.
Mr. Clay's public life proper began in November, 1811, when he appeared in Washington as a member of the House of Representatives, and was immediately elected Speaker by the war party, by the decisive majority of thirty-one. He was then thirty-four years of age. His election to the Speakership on his
first appearance in the House gave him, at once, national stand ing. His master in political doctrine and his partisan chief, Thomas Jefferson, was gone from the scene; and Clay could now be a planet instead of a satellite. Restive as he had been under the arrogant aggressions of England, he had schooled himself to patient waiting, aided by Jefferson's benign sentiments and great example. But his voice was now for war; and such was the temper of the public in those months, that the eloquence of Henry Clay, seconded by the power of the Speaker, rendered the war unavoidable.
It is agreed that to Henry Clay, Speaker of the House of Representatives, more than to any other individual, we owe the war of 1812. When the House hesitated, it was he who, descending from the chair, spoke so as to reassure it. When President Madison faltered, it was the stimulus of Clay's resistless presence that put heart into him again. If the people seemed reluctant, it was Clay's trumpet harangues that fired their minds. And when the war was declared, it was he, more than President or Cabinet or War Committee, that carried it along upon his shoulders. All our wars begin in disaster; it was Clay who restored the country to confidence when it was disheartened by the loss of Detroit and its betrayed garrison. It was Clay alone who could encounter without flinching the acrid sarcasm of John Randolph, and exhibit the nothingness of his telling arguments. It was he alone who could adequately deal with Quincy of Massachusetts, who allud. ed to the Speaker and his friends as "young politicians, with their pin-feathers yet unshed, the shell still sticking upon them, -perfectly unfledged, though they fluttered and cackled on the floor.” Clay it was whose clarion notes rang out over departing regiments, and kindled within them the martial fire; and it was Clay's speeches which the soldiers loved to read by the camp-fire. Fiery Jackson read them, and found them perfectly to his taste. Gentle Harrison read them to his Tippecanoe heroes. When the war was going all wrong in the first year, President Madison wished to appoint Clay Commander-in-Chief of the land forces; but, said Gallatin, “ What shall we do without him in the House of Representatives ?”