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The Family Legacy of Henry Clay

The Family Legacy of Henry Clay: In the Shadow of a Kentucky Patriarch

Lindsey Apple
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 364
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  • Book Info
    The Family Legacy of Henry Clay
    Book Description:

    Known as the Great Compromiser, Henry Clay earned his title by addressing sectional tensions over slavery and forestalling civil war in the United States. Today he is still regarded as one of the most important political figures in American history. As Speaker of the House of Representatives and secretary of state, Clay left an indelible mark on American politics at a time when the country's solidarity was threatened by inner turmoil, and scholars have thoroughly chronicled his political achievements. However, little attention has been paid to his extensive family legacy.

    In The Family Legacy of Henry Clay: In the Shadow of a Kentucky Patriarch, Lindsey Apple explores the personal history of this famed American and examines the impact of his legacy on future generations of Clays. Apple's study delves into the family's struggles with physical and emotional problems such as depression and alcoholism. The book also analyzes the role of financial stress as the family fought to reestablish its fortune in the years after the Civil War. Apple's extensively researched volume illuminates a little-discussed aspect of Clay's life and heritage, and highlights the achievements and contributions of one of Kentucky's most distinguished families.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3411-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-ix)
    (pp. x-xv)
    (pp. xvi-xxii)
    (pp. 1-8)

    In 1957 a senate committee chaired by future president John F. Kennedy chose five senators considered to be the most influential in the nation’s history. Their portraits would hang in the Senate reception room. The first choice was Henry Clay of Kentucky. Studies have suggested that more than a century and a half after his death, Clay remains better known than many of those who served as president during his era. The historian Merrill Petersen included him in the second great triumvirate, along with Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun, worthy successors to Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.¹ Clay created the...

  7. Chapter 1 MARRIAGE
    (pp. 9-23)

    When Henry Clay rode into Lexington, Kentucky, in late November 1797, after what was certainly a long, tiring ride from Virginia, he no doubt urged his mount to a canter and stood tall in the saddle. There is no evidence of this, but from what is known of the future statesman and politician, he would have allowed no less a response. Barely twenty years old, he had been on his own for nearly six years. His mother and stepfather, Captain Henry Watkins, left him in Virginia as an apprentice in a drug store when they moved their new family to...

  8. Chapter 2 PARENTING
    (pp. 24-42)

    If Lucretia has been criticized for not supporting her husband’s career, Henry acquired a reputation as a poor husband and parent. Trying to meet the requirements of a young Kentucky lawyer, and male, Henry earned a reputation for heavy drinking, gambling, salty language, and being quick to defend his honor. A “gamester,” John Quincy Adams called him, and a risk taker, because his personality and the code of male conduct required it.¹ Political opponents added the charge of womanizing when they saw how much he enjoyed the company of attractive and intelligent women and their appreciation of his attention. Modern...

    (pp. 43-63)

    Henry Clay rose quickly in the political life of the nation. John Quincy Adams recognized something special in him when he entered the U.S. Senate. The Kentucky Assembly saw something of talent, because they named him to fill that Senate seat before he had reached the legal age to do so. His charisma carried him literally on the shoulders of his constituents and to political office as a very young man. After filling two unexpired terms in the Senate, Clay returned to Washington, where members of the House of Representatives named him the Speaker. In that position he led an...

    (pp. 64-83)

    If the struggles of his sons frustrated the rising statesman and politician, other events within the family humbled him. Indeed, the tragedies suffered by the first generation of his descendants contributed to that control of his passions noted by Daniel Walker Howe and other biographers.

    Illness and disease plagued the Clay household, and death was too frequently the family’s companion. Lucretia and Henry seemed constantly to be fighting one illness for another. Lucretia’s plight was all too common among nineteenth-century women. Frequent childbirth weakened her, making it difficult for her to fight the illnesses common to the era. Henry also...

  11. Chapter 5 GOING IT ALONE
    (pp. 84-107)

    The nation paid little heed to the tragedies in the Clay family, but the death of the Great Compromiser was lost on few Americans. Henry Clay died in Washington, D.C., on June 29, 1852. The event was neither sudden nor unexpected. He looked like a ghost of his former self. Tuberculosis had taken a horrible toll. He had lost weight, and an incessant cough wracked his body. His family had urged him not to return to Washington, and once there, friends, and even old enemies, realizing his days were numbered, paid their final calls at his hotel. Early in May,...

    (pp. 108-126)

    As the 1850s ended, the nation and the Clay family felt the absence of Henry Clay greater than at any time since his death. Each crisis seemed to make the rhetoric of North and South a little shriller, and the election of Abraham Lincoln gave the fire-eaters of the South the rationalization for secession they had sought for years. They refused to listen to Lincoln. Though elected from Illinois, he had deep Kentucky roots. His wife’s relatives owned slaves, and he had declared Henry Clay his “beau ideal” of a statesman. He stated clearly that the president did not have...

  13. Chapter 7 A NEW IMAGE
    (pp. 127-145)

    The Confederacy suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the Union. The men who had fought as rebels knew it. The women of the South knew it as the men came stumbling home with an arm missing, or a leg, or with spirits broken. Far too many men did not come home at all. The Civil War took more than six hundred thousand lives. The South would later take a morbid pride in the fact that more Union soldiers died than Confederate, but as a percentage of the total population, the losses of the South were significantly larger. Scarcely...

  14. Chapter 8 LEGACY OF FAMILY
    (pp. 146-185)

    The Clay descendants who survived the Civil War needed no new image to embrace Henry Clay’s legacy of loyalty to family. War taught them that family was far more dependable than political parties or principles. Susan, Thomas, Mary, and John had experienced the family loyalty of the patriarch. They had seen the pain Henry and Lucretia suffered from the afflictions that plagued their family. Thomas and John lived on farms Henry Clay had provided. Their collective definition of family would evolve over the years, but it continued to be based on his example and on their memories of him. Henry...

  15. Chapter 9 LEGACY OF RISK
    (pp. 186-209)

    Bill LaBach, a descendant of Henry Clay with four greats to his name, has a PhD in mathematics and a law degree. After age sixty-five, he enrolled at the University of Kentucky as a Donovan scholar and became a published historian. Normally a very reserved man, he has a twinkle to his eye that betrays his heritage. A photographic portrait hangs in his home showing LaBach dressed as a Mississippi riverboat gambler accompanied by his appropriately attired wife. No gambler at cards or horses, he is not slow to wager on his own abilities. “Always a gamester,” John Quincy Adams...

  16. Chapter 10 LEGACY OF SERVICE
    (pp. 210-245)

    “If any man wants the key to my heart,” Henry Clay proclaimed, “let him take the key of the Union.” Contemporaries and historians point to ambition as Clay’s defining force, but no one questions his love of the Union. Clay’s definition of service evolved throughout his career in politics. Going to Washington as a representative of Kentucky, he looked after the interests of the West, but he increasingly played the role of statesman as well as politician. In 1850, battered and bruised by political foes and friends and suffering from the tuberculosis that would take his life, his speeches on...

    (pp. 246-252)

    The legacies of Henry Clay, like so many family legacies, proved to be both blessing and curse to his descendants. Blessed with quick minds and boundless energy, they were taught, and most believed, that they inherited some small portion of his genius. Yet, as Henry Clay Jr. wrote in his diary, it can be difficult for a small tree “to grow in the shade of an aged oak.” For some, a sense of being overshadowed competed with an effort to accomplish.¹ Because of the Civil War, the emphasis on family responsibility grew significantly. Some branches placed tremendous pressure on their...

    (pp. 253-256)
  19. NOTES
    (pp. 257-302)
    (pp. 303-314)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 315-340)