Schurz's Life of Henry Clay

MR. SCHURZ’S Life of Henry Clay1 is by far the best of the biographies which have been brought out in the American Statesmen Series, if it be not the best work of this nature which has ever been produced in this country. The life of Henry Clay forms an exceptionally interesting study. In the first place, it included within the period of its activity the most important part of the formative stage of the nation. Clay was a man of such intense and varied interests that in his time he came in contact with every one in this country who deserved the name of statesman, and his biographer thus has an opportunity of sketching, as he most cleverly does, nearly all those who had an influential place in public affairs in the first half of this century.

The ways in which Clay achieved, before the period of his youth had passed, a place in the foremost rank of American statesmen are very interesting. They show at once the native power of the man and the political conditions which favored the rapid advance of an audacious youth of oratorical power, however slight his training for the duties of the statesman. It seems, therefore, worth while to give a condensed account of the steps by which our author traces the progress of the youth who, in ten years from the time his scanty schooling was ended, when he was but twenty years of age, became a leader in the Senate of the United States.

Clay was born in the second year of the Revolutionary War. It is told that when his father lay dead, at the time when the lad was but four years old, “ Colonel Tarleton, commanding a cavalry force under Lord Cornwallis, passed through Hanover County on a raid, and left a handful of gold and silver on Mrs. Clay’s table as a compensation for some property taken or destroyed by his soldiers ; but that the spirited woman, as soon as Tarleton was gone, swept the money into her apron, and threw it into the fireplace.”

Clay was the fifth of seven children. His widowed mother was poor, and he had but the scantiest schooling. When fourteen years of age he was set to make a living in a retail store in Richmond. He evinced such diligence in his work, and with it so good a humor for reading the books he could secure, that, by the favor of a friend, he found his way into a place in the office of the clerk of the High Court of Chancery. There again his vigorous qualities brought him to the attention of George Wythe, chancellor of the High Court of Virginia, who chose him as an amanuensis. It was fortunate for him that he found favor in this man’s eyes, for George Wythe was one of the ablest men of Virginia ; one who was singularly able to foresee the latent powers of young men, and to help them to great careers. Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall, as well as Henry Clay, were his students. We know little of Wythe save from his public acts and from his effect upon men, but much may be judged of his quality by the fact that he was one of the most determined of the Virginia abolitionists of his day. Before his death he emancipated and provided for his slaves. Through his influence it may have been that Clay came to have that noble prejudice against slavery which abided with him all his days. After four years with George Wythe, Clay was drawn into the great tide of emigration which was setting from Virginia to the West. At twentyone years of age he entered on his new career, and found himself at Lexington, Ky., in one of the most interesting settlements which have ever been made by our race.

Although the settlement of Kentucky had been in progress but twenty-one years, the population of the State now amounted to about two hundred thousand. A great part of these people had known something of the Revolutionary War. At the end of that trying period Virginia was unable to pay her soldiers the numerous debts she owed them save with grants of land. A large portion of her people, with habits unsettled by a long-continued civil war, were glad to find a new field for their activities. Thus it came about that the Kentucky population contained a remarkable proportion of energetic men. In the first two decades of their life in the new colony, they had lived in warfare with savages, conditions likely to develop vigor rather than refinement. At the same time the economic training of the people was great. With singular rapidity, and under very great disadvantages, they created a system of manufactures and of commerce which soon made the community relatively wealthy. In them the commercial and the military instincts were singularly blended.

When Henry Clay came to Lexington he found the tone of life singularly contrasted with that which he had left behind. In Virginia even the Revolutionary War had failed to break up the aristocratic motive which characterized that colony; in Kentucky the life was purely democratic. He was a sensitive youth, who had been on the whole delicately bred, and whose powers, though guessed at, perhaps, by the divining patron Wythe, had been in no wise exhibited. It was fortunate for him that he settled in Lexington, for to that centre the ablest and best educated men who came to the West appear to have turned. They had organized, in 1788, a seminary, which quickly grew into the Transylvania University, with a college and schools of physic and of law. Clay thus found his way into a society which was calculated to develop his peculiar talents. As was often the case with the young lawyers of his day, the first exhibition of his oratorical power was in the defense of men accused of murder. In these appeals he showed not only the mastery of human sympathies, which was the basis of his oratorical celebrity, but the amazing combination of audacity and tact in forensic contests, to which he owed, in subsequent years, his most surprising successes before the bar and Senate. Mr. Schurz cites several of these cases, one of which we may quote : “ A man named Willis was tried for a murder of peculiar atrocity. In the very teeth of the evidence, which seemed to be absolutely conclusive. Clay, defending him, succeeded in dividing the jury as to the nature of the crime committed. The jurors having been unable to agree, the public prosecutor moved for a new trial, which motion Clay did not oppose. But when, at the new trial, his turn came to address the jury, he argued that, whatever opinion the jury might form from the testimony as to the guilt of the accused, they could not now convict him, as he had already been once tried, and it was the law of the land that no man should be put twice in jeopardy of his life for the same offense. The court, having, of course, never heard that doctrine so applied, at once peremptorily forbade Clay to go on with such a line of argument. Whereupon the young attorney solemnly arose, and with an air of indignant astonishment declared that, if the court would not permit him to defend, in such a manner as his duty commanded him to adopt, a man in the awful presence of death, he found himself forced to abandon the case. Then he gathered up his papers, bowed grandly, and stalked out of the room. The bench, whom Clay had impressed with the belief that he was profoundly convinced of being right in the position he had taken, and upon whom he had in such solemn tones thrown the responsibility for denying his rights to a man on trial for his life, was startled and confused. A messenger was dispatched to invite Clay, in the name of the court, to return and continue his argument. Clay graciously came back, and found it easy work to persuade the jury that the result of the first trial was equivalent to an acquittal, and that the prisoner, as under the law he could not be put in peril of life twice for the same offense, was clearly entitled to his discharge. The jury readily agreed upon a verdict of ‘not guilty.’ ”

“ It is said that no murderer defended by Henry Clay was ever sentenced to death. . . . ‘Ah, Willis, poor fellow,’ he said once to the man whose acquittal he had obtained by so audacious a dramatic coup, ‘ I fear I have saved too many like you, who ought to be hanged.’ ” Fortunately, Clay’s career as a criminal lawyer did not long continue ; he was soon trusted in the numerous and important cases of land law which the patent system of apportioning lands developed in Kentucky. He thus obtained the means and the position which opened to him a place in politics.

His first important political work was in the convention which made the first revision of the state constitution. In this convention we find him a devoted and able advocate for the emancipation of the slaves. He failed in his effort, but in it he gave the key to the noblest of his motives. Four years afterwards he was chosen to a seat in the lower house of the state legislature, and in his service he showed once again his oratorical power. In 1806 he was thrown in contact with the notorious Aaron Burr, under circumstances which, though in no way discreditable to Clay, for a time menaced his place among men. Burr, as is well known, was arrested in Kentucky and put on trial for being engaged in treasonable enterprises. Clay was engaged as his attorney. Having doubts as to Burr’s character, Clay sought and obtained an unqualified assurance as to the lawfulness and propriety of his purposes. By this statement Clay was persuaded of Burr’s innocence, and thus to his subsequent great regret he became the defender of a man who at heart was a traitor.

While engaged in the defense of Burr, the post of senator from Kentucky was made vacant by the resignation of General Adair. The place which Clay had won in Kentucky during his ten years of residence is sufficiently indicated by the fact that he was appointed for the unexpired portion of Adair’s term. It is a significant fact, as our author well points out, that Clay still lacked more than three months of being thirty years of age, and therefore was not constitutionally eligible for the position. Mr. Schurz says : “It does not seem to have occurred to any member of that body that the man who stood before them might not be old enough to be a senator. In all probability Clay himself did not think of it. He was sworn in as a matter of course, and, without the bashful hesitation generally expected of young senators, he plunged at once into the current of proceedings, as if he had been there all his life. On the fourth day after he had taken his seat, we find him offering a resolution concerning the circuit courts of the United States ; a few days later, another concerning an appropriation of land for the improvement of the Ohio rapids; then another touching Indian depredations; and another proposing an amendment to the Federal Constitution, concerning the judicial power of the United States. We find the young man on a variety of committees, sometimes as chairman, charged with the consideration of important subjects, and making reports to the Senate. We find him taking part in debate with the utmost freedom, and on one occasion astonishing with a piece of very pungent sarcasm an old senator, who was accustomed to subdue with lofty assumptions of superior wisdom such younger colleagues as ventured to differ from him.”

It is a noteworthy fact that, during his first term in the Senate, his initial speech was in favor of a bill for a canal to facilitate the navigation at the rapids of the Ohio. This shows him at the outset of his national career as an advocate of the system of internal improvements, to which he gave so large a part of his public life.

At the close of his brief term as senator, the people of his district sent him again to the legislature of Kentucky, where he was elected speaker. At this time the discontent with Great Britain, which was to terminate in the unfortunate war of 1812, had begun. The commonwealth of Kentucky had peculiar reasons for contention with the British government, and was much disposed to declare war against that empire on its own account. The peace which brought about the abandonment of the British claim upon the colonies had left the question of the British occupation of the northwestern country in an unsettled state. The mother country still held certain posts, which were afterwards relinquished. It retained, moreover, a certain control, or semblance of it, over the Indians, who had been constantly making depredations in Kentucky. It was the belief of the frontiersmen that this brutal warfare was incited by the British commanders, with the hope that it might serve to restrain the advance of settlements in the West. As soon as the Eastern States came into conflict with Great Britain, in the matter of neutral rights, the Kentuckians thought they saw their opportunity for vengeance.

The first step to this end in the legislature, where Clay was speaker, was to bring in a proposition that in no court of Kentucky should the decisions of the British courts or the English works of law be quoted in trials. A great majority of the legislature was in favor of this monstrous proposition. “Clay,” as our author says, “ was as fiery a patriot as any of them ; but he would not permit his State to make itself ridiculous by a puerile and barbarous demonstration. He was young and ambitious, but he would not seek popularity by joining, or even acquiescing, in a cry which offended his good sense. Without hesitation he left the speaker’s chair, to arrest this absurd clamor. He began by moving, as an amendment, that the exclusion of British decisions and opinions from the courts of Kentucky should apply only to those which had been promulgated after July 4, 1776, as before that date the American colonies were a part of the British dominion, and Americans and English were virtually one nation, living substantially under the same laws. Then he launched into a splendid panegyric upon the English common law, and an impassioned attack upon the barbarous spirit which would ‘ wantonly make a wreck of a system fraught with the intellectual wealth of centuries.’ His speech was not reported, but it was described in the press of the time as one of extraordinary power and beauty, and it succeeded in saving for Kentucky the treasures of English jurisprudence.” 1

The debates on this and other measures directed against Great Britain brought Clay into conflict with Humphrey Marshall, a man of great ability, who marred his life by unending conflicts with his fellows. Clay “ went out ” with Marshall, and both he and his adversary were wounded. This was the second though, unhappily, not the last of his duels; the first, with another distinguished swashbuckler, Colonel Daviess, was bloodless. In 1809 Clay was again chosen to fill the place of another senator who had resigned. He reëntered the American Senate with two purposes firmly in his mind. One was to encourage home industry by protective tariffs, and the other to resist the domination of Great Britain. Both of these motives were doubtless congenial to him, but in adopting them for the basis of his policy he represented the leading impulses of the people of his State. Kentucky, having been the first settled of the Western States, had already become the seat of an extensive manufacturing industry, and the prospects of wealth to be gained through such employments had filled the popular mind with large schemes. Their hatred of Great Britain, as we have before noticed, was as wide and deep as the hatred of their allies, the Indians.

Although these motives led Clay to a large part of his legislative activity, his energy was so great that almost every question which came before that Congress received his attention. In that session the matter of the annexation of West Florida was before the Federal Legislature. That enlargement of the imagination which makes all frontiersmen filibusterish was characteristic of the Kentucky people. They conceived that Great Britain intended to get possession of West Florida ; they heard, indeed, the British lion roaring through all the woods which were about them. Clay fairly represented his constituents in supporting the steps by which the federal government endeavored to possess itself of that province. The debate on this question brought Clay into conflict with the Federalists, who, as our author well says, “ always had a deepseated jealousy of the growing West.” In this controversy he was matched against Pickering of Massachusetts and Horsey of Delaware, who represented the federal party in their opposition to President Madison. In the debate it was asserted that if we bore heavily upon Spain, in our efforts to get possession of this territory, we might have to deal with Great Britain. This gave Clay an opportunity to show the peculiar clarion power of his eloquence, in a blast which rang throughout the land, and did more than any one speech of his to give him a first place in the nation. This place, as Mr. Schurz says, “ he won in his characteristic fashion; that is to say, he straightway seized it, and in deference to his boldness and ability it was conceded to him.” The most effective part of the speech runs as follows : —

“ The gentleman reminds us that Great Britain, the ally of Spain, may be obliged, by her connection with that country, to take part with her against us, and to consider this measure of the President as justifying an appeal to arms. Sir, is the time never to arrive when we may manage our own affairs without the fear of insulting his Britannic majesty ? Is the rod of British power to be forever suspended over our heads ? Does Congress put an embargo to shelter our rightful commerce against the piratical depredations committed upon it on the ocean, we are immediately warned of the indignation of offended England. Is a law of non-intercourse proposed, the whole navy of the haughty mistress of the seas is made to thunder into our ears. Does the President refuse to continue a correspondence with a minister who violates the decorum belonging to his diplomatic character, by giving and repeating a deliberate affront to the whole nation, we are instantly menaced with the chastisement which English pride will not fail to inflict. Whether we assert our rights by sea, or attempt their maintenance by land, whithersoever we turn ourselves, this phantom incessantly pursues us. Already it has too much influence on the councils of the nation. Mr. President, I most sincerely desire peace and amity with England ; I even prefer an adjustment of differences with her before one with any other nation. But if she persists in a denial of justice to us, or if she avails herself of the occupation of West Florida to commence war upon us, I trust and hope that all hearts will unite in a bold and vigorous vindication of our rights.”

His only other important speeches in the two years of the unexpired term which he was to fill expressed his opposition to the re-charter of the National Bank of the United States. This was on some accounts the most unfortunate act of his life, for circumstances as well as the growth of his own mind led him in after years to become the ardent advocate of that institution, when of course he had to meet the often insensate cry which is raised against the man who is not always stubbornly consistent with himself.

In the next Congress, Clay appeared as a member of the Lower House of Congress, and was elected speaker, a singular honor to a youth in his first term of service in that body. It was the Congress which was to declare the War of 1812. It is not too much to say that he went there to declare that war. To all objections that we could gain nothing by war he made one answer: “ What are we not to lose by peace ? Commerce, character, a nation’s best treasure, honor.” Although this contest was perhaps inevitable, for the reason that the Revolutionary War had not been brought to a bitterest end, and Great Britain perhaps still held some notions of re-conquest, it is to Clay more than to any other man that we owe the fact that it came when it did. His experience with legislatures and with the people in popular assemblages had given him a singular power of at once firing men’s hearts, and of coercing them by his ever furious will. The war came: the country was ill prepared for it; the New England States, which had given the backbone to the combats of the Revolution, were but half hearted in the undertaking ; blunder followed blunder, until, save for our successes on the sea and a trifling victory, with no fruits, over the British and Indians at the Thames, it had been disastrous. Clay’s speeches in favor of continuing the war were among the most brilliant pieces of rhetoric which this country produced ; but although he used all the power of his distinguished abilities and his influence as speaker to protract the combat, it was destined speedily to end. He was appointed one of the commissioners for the negotiation of peace.

The record of this negotiation is extremely interesting, especially for the reason that it brought Clay and John Quincy Adams into their first close relations. It is evident that the “ prim New Englander,” as Schurz terms Adams, in no way fancied his arbitrary and combative colleague ; indeed, he was at first his enemy, though in time he became his friend. In this portion of his biography our author makes admirable use of his materials; and although it does not show Clay in a brilliant rôle, it exhibits him in a singularly clear light. Clay’s aim was to make the negotiations fail, though in the end he was influenced by reason, and signed the treaty. He was somewhat consoled by the news of the battle of New Orleans, which, as is well known, took place some time after the treaty was signed. From Ghent, the seat of the negotiations, he went to Paris and there met Madame De Staël. That complaisant woman said to him: “ I have been in England, and have been battling for your cause there. They were so much enraged against you that at one time they thought seriously of sending the Duke of Wellington to lead their armies against you.” “ I am very sorry,” replied Mr. Clay, “ that they did not send the duke.” “ And why ? ” “ Because if he had beaten us, we should but have been in the condition of Europe, without disgrace. But if we had been so fortunate as to defeat him, we should have greatly added to the renown of our arms.”

It is hardly necessary to say that Clay reëntered the next Congress and was again reëlected speaker. We find him at once allied, strangely enough, with Calhoun in the advocacy of internal improvements. There is no question that in his arduous labors in this cause he was true to his own opinions, but he at the same time represented the convictions of the people from whom he came, who were for many years afterwards almost mad in their pursuit of this end. More extraordinary still is the fact that he and Calhoun, the leading representative of the Republican party, were now earnestly combating for a Bank of the United States against the Federalists, who had previously been the supporters of that institution. It is hardly necessary to analyze Clay’s reasons for this apparent inconsistency. The truth is that his national motive, that which came afterwards to be called the Whig spirit, had been greatly intensified during the progress of his career ; he now saw, as he did not before, that a beneficent federalism required the control of public finance by the central government. This period in Clay’s life was of momentous importance to him, for in it, for the first time, he became in his own mind and in the desires of his friends an aspirant for the presidency. Hitherto he had been a free man; henceforth he was often to be the slave of ambition. His first step towards the coveted end was to seek the place of Secretary of State under James Monroe, who had just been elected President; and this for the reason that custom had in a way determined that the Secretary of State should be the candidate of his party in the next presidential campaign. John Quincy Adams was chosen, and this was the first of the many disappointments which were afterwards to beset his life. He continued to urge the measures of public improvement to which he had devoted the energies of his earlier youth, but in all his subsequent acts we find the hateful presence of this unfortunate desire for the presidential office.

The most picturesque incident in this part of Clay’s career is his advocacy of the cause of the South American republics. He sought the recognition of those sham democracies, with the conviction that their people were penetrated by the purest and most patriotic spirit. He had the strange notion that our government should give them, not only recognition, but substantial aid. We see in this, however, as well as in his subsequent advocacy of the Greek cause, an interesting side of Clay’s character ; his was a singularly sympathetic mind. Though he was overbearing in the pursuit of his ends to a degree that frequently embarrassed his endeavors, the cause of a suffering people was always his cause.

In the last session of the fifteenth Congress, Clay entered upon a conflict which was to prove disastrous in his career. General Jackson had been set to watch the Indians on the borders of Florida. Quite out of his own head he resolved to make war not only upon the Indians, but upon the Spaniards as well. He summoned troops by his own call, invaded Florida, captured St. Mark’s, hanged a lot of Indians, tried two Englishmen by drumhead court-martial, and summarily executed them, although in the case of one of them the sentence of the court-martial had been flogging alone.

There was an old grudge between the people of the State of Kentucky and Jackson, on account of the shabby way in which that furious commander had treated the Kentucky troops in his report on the Battle of New Orleans. Clay probably found in the debate which grew up in Congress concerning Jackson’s conduct an opportunity for vengeance, though there was enough to justify his stern arraignment of the general in the illegal nature of his acts. For a man aspiring to the presidency, this assault upon Jackson, though carefully guarded, was ill-advised. As Mr. Schurz says : “ A military ‘ hero ’ has an immense advantage over ordinary mortals, especially in a country where the military hero is a rare character. The achievements of statesmen usually remain subject to differences of opinion. A victory on the field of battle, won for the country, is a title to public gratitude, seldom to be questioned by anybody. ... To many it appears almost sacrilegious to think that a man who has rendered his country service so valuable in the crisis of war should ever be able to act upon any but the most patriotic motives.” Jackson’s conduct was approved by the House of Representatives, and the tide of popularity began to set against Clay. During all his service in Washington he had been somewhat given to amusing himself at the card-table. While his star was in the ascendant nothing was heard of this vice, common enough among public men of his day, but now that his popularity was waning he was denounced as a gambler ; and though in later years he appears to have abandoned the habit, which indeed was probably never more than an unreasonable amusement, he was ever afterwards termed by his enemies a gamester.

It is impossible for us to condense the admirable statement which Mr. Schurz has given of Clay’s legislative work in the meridian of his career. He was a part of all legislation ; not always a wise part, but ever a bold and honest advocate of that which seemed to him right, save where from time to time the spectre of his ambition rose before him. His principal work in this period was connected with the Missouri Compromise. Indeed, with that effort he attained the place of the great pacificator, the man who by his skill and influence could cover up the difficulties which slavery brought upon the country, and postpone what we now know to have been an inevitable conflict. The reader will find a most interesting moral problem in considering this portion of Clay’s history. From the beginning of the Missouri agitation in 1818 to the end of his political career in 1850, the lifetime of a generation, Clay’s vast influence and singular parliamentary skill were devoted to this task. There can be no question that at the outset of his career he was at heart sincerely opposed to the institution of slavery. If he had had his way, the State of his adoption, which he loved with a surpassing love, would have been a free land from the beginning of the century. It is unquestionable that he retained a great dislike of the institution to his last days. Had he dwelt in New England, he would have been in the front rank of the abolitionists, though doubtless his national motive would have saved him from some of the fanatical excesses of those people. As it was, the circumstances of his social surroundings and his desire to be President qualified his sense of the evils of slavery. Clay, owing to the intensity of his sympathies, was most keenly affected by the temper of his people. The only evidence of scanty apprehension of the conditions which determined Clay’s life which we find in Mr. Schurz’s admirable book arises from the fact that he does not perceive the peculiar nature of the political motives which characterized the State of Kentucky from an early stage of its history. He frequently speaks of Clay as the “ fiery Kentuckian.” Now “ fiery ” is not a term which can in any way be applied to the political conduct of that people. A more cautious, conservative, compromising humor than that which prevailed in Kentucky has never been embodied in politics. There was a measure of violence in the early history of the state affairs, but even in the Spanish intrigues we see a political shrewdness of a higher order, joined with what might be called an affectation of desperation. A large part of the Kentucky blood was of Scotch derivation; another considerable part, of Pennsylvanian-German origin. The nature of the folk and their early experiences with misrule made them a singularly careful people in all their political experiments. Early in the century they recognized the fact that slavery would be likely to disrupt the Union. Many circumstances served to make that Union peculiarly dear to the people of Kentucky. Unlike the other States, this commonwealth had almost to fight for admission to it, and its citizens treasured the relation in a remarkable manner. This political conservatism went so far that when the civil war came the State of Kentucky essayed the quixotic task of remaining neutral in the combat, the sole remnant of the old happy state, about which the contending factions might again be gathered in amity. She was in the end driven from the position through the invasion of her territory by the Confederates. It was natural, therefore, that Clay, who was above all a representative of his people, should have labored to postpone the conflict between slavery and freedom, which threatened to destroy the association of the States. As is well known, he was the leading spirit in the scheme of African colonization. His hope was that the slaves might be liberated, and deported to Africa. This project he greatly treasured, and to it he gave a very large share of his great energies.

As the conflict between the motives of slavery and those of freedom was gradually intensified, the people of Kentucky, who in the first place were to a great extent opposed to the institution, naturally became more and more defenders of it, and Clay himself was gradually converted to an apologist for the system, though he was never its defender. His aim was to avoid a conflict, in the hope that the people of the South might join hands with the North in some practicable scheme for the abolition of the institution. Calhoun, on the other hand, who was a more far-seeing and deliberate statesman, perceived the inevitableness of the conflict, and was constantly endeavoring to precipitate a struggle which would bring about some form of separation of North and South. Clay’s peculiar place in the history of this country arises from the fact that to him more than to any other man we owe it that the political struggle between North and South did not lead to war in the first half of this century. He labored to avoid the conflict; in fact he merely postponed it; but by deferring the struggle for some decades he did a beneficent work for American institutions. It is hardly to be conceived that a war between North and South, waged at any time between 1820 and 1850, would have led to the success of the Northern armies. It required long years of debate to educate the North to that readiness for the struggle, which existed in the South as early as 1820. Moreover, the growth of the country in these decades, during which Clay was mainly occupied with schemes of conciliation, was a great advantage to the North. It increased the disproportion between the resources of the two regions, both in population and in wealth. In so far as Clay endeavored to bring about the condition of things which would make an end of slavery, his work was well done, though he did not succeed on the lines of his intent.

We cannot follow our author in his admirable presentation of Clay’s labors as a man of compromises. It is enough to say that his principal work as a statesman, that which will always insure him a place in the history of the country, is due to his prolonged and most skillful efforts to postpone the inevitable conflict between slavery and freedom. His struggle with Jackson, his denunciations of the evils of patronage, his endless effort to secure the development of the country by means of tariffs and of internal improvements, are picturesque and interesting, though on the whole unimportant incidents in his career.

Our author has shown great skill in setting forth a painful aspect of Clay’s talent for compromise, where he did wrong to his own motives in his eagerness to commend himself as a candidate for the presidency. This hunger after kingly power and place has been the curse of American politicians. It has affected nearly every great man of American birth who has attained to much prominence in the state. Probably the only statesmen who ever attained to distinguished positions in federal affairs without being injured by this ambition have been those of foreign birth. Hamilton, Gallatin, and Mr. Schurz himself have been mercifully protected by circumstances of birth from the access of this evil, which has debauched some of the noblest men of the country. It would be a great gain to our system of government if, imitating the Swiss republic, we could get rid of the peculiar power belonging in the head of the federal state ; for as long as it remains the largest prize open to the statesmen of any country, we must expect it to be a menace to the integrity of purpose of our leaders.

Although Mr. Schurz maintains, as the biographer of a statesman should, a somewhat critical attitude towards the life which he is considering, his final judgment as to the character of Clay must command the approval of all who are familiar with the wonderful career of that orator. He fully recognizes the unsullied nature of his political life and the nobility of his conception of the American state.

As a whole, this biography is perhaps most interesting from the fact that it shows us how entirely an able man of foreign birth and education may come to a perfect understanding of American institutions and American men, even if they are of another generation than his own. It indicates that our political motives are indeed cosmopolitan. It is impossible to name any one of American birth who could have written the difficult biography of Henry Clay with such a perfect understanding of the man’s motives, of the political and social conditions in which his career was developed. The greatest admirers of Henry Clay would at most say that Mr. Schurz somewhat undervalued the quality of his oratory. This quality does not sufficiently appear in his printed speeches. It was the good fortune of the present writer, when but a child, to be held in the arms of a strong man, that he might not only hear, but see, “ Old Harry ” speak. It is forty years and more since that time, and yet the recollection of that graceful form and a memory of that marvelous voice remain as treasured memories. They serve to explain the strange love with which he was regarded by his followers, — a love which has never been given to any other American statesman. It may well be the first of Clay’s titles to fame that he won from all sorts of men, from the backwoodsman as well as the most cultivated, a singular and devoted affection.

  1. Life of Henry Clay. By CARL SCHURZ. In two volumes [American Statesmen Series], pages 383 and 424. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.
  2. This opposition to the English common law was but a momentary freak of an annoyed people. That law has remained the foundation of the jurisprudence of the commonwealth. So closely did its jurists adhere even to its absurdities that the last case in which the “benefit of clergy” was claimed and allowed, in a case where a man had been convicted of a capital offense, was in a rural court of Kentucky, in the fifth decade of this century. (See Kentucky, Commonwealth Series, page 407. Houghton, Mifflin & Co.)