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tv   [untitled]    June 3, 2012 11:30pm-12:00am EDT

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>> henry clay was the first, what i'll call, strong speaker of the house. the real leader of the house. when our country was founded and the congress was put together, the first speakers over the first 20 years or so came out of the english parliament system. they were more of a referee. didn't have any real power. but clay was the first real speaker of the house that had some power. you know, there's a lot of things you can say about roles of the speaker. henry clay was clearly a very strong speaker. if you look at the period from 1820 to 1860, there was no one person in the united states more responsible for holding our union together than henry clay. >> by the way, that was from an event that was organized by the folks here at ashland where they invited all living speakers to
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come and talk about the role of speakers. that was held at transylvania university. to both of you, how did henry clay enhance the powers of the speaker? >> through force of his personality. i think no one wanted to debate him. certainly, he had the force to win the argument. so i think that alone had great influence and power. i don't know if any other speaker would be comparative. >> he also understood the power of committee assignments. >> the committees -- i was going to say, the committees, he basically understood the speaker had the power to put the people on the committees. he was known to be a fair man as a speaker. that was very important. both sides of the aisle respected him and respected his opinions. he was never overridden in his
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rulings. he basically was fair in the makeup of the committees. but when he knew there was a certain issue coming up, you can see a slight inclination to put the friends to that issue that he wanted the issue to go a certain way. he understood very early that. he also changed the -- the rules changed with his backseating. he gave the speaker more power, cut off debate to limit debate, things like that. allowed him toeb a much more important powerful figure than anybody before. but she's absolutely correct. it was his force and his will that made it as important as anything else. >> next telephone call is from raymond in michigan. hi, raymond. raymo raymond, we're going to move on. let's take a call from lonnie. >> caller: good evening. lincoln once referred to clay as his ideal of a statesman. i always believed the two men had never met. however, recently i came across a web page, which purported to show a book, i believe, it said
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that had been enscribed by clay to lincoln. could the panel comment on this a bit? what is the thinking now? did clay and lincoln ever meet? >> louisville -- did he meet him in -- >> well, we don't know, basically. there was one person who left a memoir between the turn of the 19th and 20th century that said that person had seen the two in lexington. mary's family was very close with the clays. her family knew the clays. lincoln came to kentucky several times in connection with the family. he certainly heard henry clay speak. whether they met is unknown. can't you imagine what a great time it would have been had they -- you have to think they tried to meet, if nothing else.
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the two of them sit here in the parlor and clay would say, you know, something to and mr. lincoln say and that reminds me of a story. they'd go back and forth. lincoln never said he met clay. so i think that's very possibly he would have said that. he did say clay was his idea of an ideal statesman. when he wrote his inaugural, he took four things with him to write the inaugural with. one of those four items was henry clay's speech in the compromise of 1850. clay's effect on abraham lincoln was important during the douglas debates. lincoln said his views of henry clay were the views of abraham lincoln as well. >> we must spend time talking about the 1844 election. so let's listen to a question from charles. >> caller: hello.
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my question is this. i'm a kentuckian-born, the home of rosemary clooney. i understand from the panel, your two guests, henry clay is considered the favorite son of kentucky. although he and lincoln were members of the wig party, i don't understand how he could be the favorite son and not abraham lincoln. who -- when he met harriet beacher stowe, had you that lady that started this great war and she is never mentioned, nor is uncle tom. neither are mentioned ever as being great in their time. yet, on the times in which they lived, and even today, their influence is greatly fel lly fe especially by many african-americans who are
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historically informed. >> well, abraham lincoln certainly -- kentucky, he may have started off as being a friend of kentucky. certainly when the emancipation proclamation is issued, he becomes a much hated figure here in kentucky. so henry clay, who considered himself a westerner, but many southerners would choose him over abraham lincoln, who's certainly considered a traitor to the kentucky cause. you mention harriet beacher stowe who is a popular kentucky figure. we read and study her. lincoln in that relationship, he is much more popular in the north of new england than he ever becomes in the south. particularly at the end of the civil war. >> lincoln in 1860 running on the ticket received, i think,
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five votes in his home county. even his in-laws didn't vote for him. he received a thousand votes in the entire state of kentucky. to vote for linken in 1860 would be like voting for a communist in the 1950s. he just didn't have any support here. and kentucky -- to begin the war, wanted union and slavery. when he decides the war by the middle of the war is a war against slavery finally, that turns many kentuckians against the administration. the state had been union began the war. so lincoln and his party are on the outs. it is only in the 20th century kentucky starts replay ring abraham lincoln with the building of the memorial in first place and then lincoln commissioned created in the 21st century. so kentucky reclaimed lincoln. he was on the wrong side after the war. >> how far from where we are physically is the lincoln birth place? >> it is probably an hour and 15
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minute drive straight down the interstate. >> in that time period how long would it have taken to cross? >> it took -- it took henry clay to go from lexington, frankfurt, 25 miles all day sometimes in the mud. that's why he was so much in favor of putting better roads and canals through federal government aid. >> by the way, during this discussion of lincoln, we had a brief picture of an artifact that you have here in the collection which has an inscription. tell us what we were looking at. >> yes, this is called "the life and speeches of henry clay." there is an inscription that says to abraham lincoln with constant regard to friendship. ashland, h. clay, 1847. we believe that this book was given to abraham lincoln from clay as sort of a gift to lincoln in exchange for what we believe lincoln would have given a condolence gift to henry clay
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after his son was killed in the mexican-american war. >> we don't know those were delivered personally? >> we don't. we don't know if they ever met. there's no documentation to say that they have. we know at least that henry clay did know abraham lincoln. there must have been some type of a relationship based on this artifact. >> we have a little less than 20 minutes left in our 90 minutes on henry clay. first of our 14 contenders in our look at american history. let's take our next telephone call from louisville. this is rob watching us nearby. hi, rob. >> caller: actually, it's robin. >> robin, i'm sorry. >> caller: i have three questions. i'll try to go really fast. your guest mentioned clay's contradictions. the connection to abolitionists early on. i want to know whether he changed his mind, or was it merely political posturing and a lie. another caller mentioned the two
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cassius clays. i'm curious as to whether it's known whether or not henry clay or any of his household members or immediate family members actually had any known slave descendents like jefferson. third question, politicians often have political or aristocratic lineage. i'm curious to know if it's known if any other prominent politicians share henry clay's lineage. i'm out of your way. >> before you go, have you before here to the house? oh, we lost her. she lives so close, i was wondering with her interest if she had been here. >> i think it would be wrong to call henry clay an abolition is. he was for the idea of emancipation. and no, he never changed his position on that. as we discussed earlier, especially in the election of 1840, it hurts him.
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the fact he doesn't -- he tries to waffle and straddle the fence. no, he never backs away from his idea of emancipation. >> cassuis clays. >> 1799, clay speaks out for the first time publicly in kentucky against slavery in a letter to the local paper. 50 years later, when he does the same thing again, when kentucky's trying to adopt a new constitution and they're trying to get slavery abolished and it doesn't happen, he takes basically the same stance. over a 50-year period, he's pretty consistent. over that 50 years, the world had changed around him and his views were still the same. >> her question about the two cassuis clays. >> i know of no -- was the question about whether or not there were african-american -- no, i'm not aware of that. >> so whether or not he had any descendents who were african-americans. >> there was at least one story that appeared something like 40
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years after henry clay's death. a woman said she had been a mistress of henry clay. i have found nothing to substantiate that story. there are also several henry clays in this area. it may have been she was mixed up with somebody else. there's a list. i mean, you can pretty much compile a list of the clay's sloo slaves. i didn't see her name anywhere. cassui surks clay, probably not either. he had an legitimate offspring, but it was in russia. that offspring showed up at his door one day here in kentucky. the shock of that caused his wife to eventually divorce henry. >> aristocratic lineage. do you remember her exact question? >> i think she said if anybody -- politicians have any connection to clay as far as being related to clay. i'm not sure that i know of anybody else. >> there was no family dynasty
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in politics. >> i don't think so. >> all right. let me move on. we're going to run out of time here. the 1844 election against james polk. this time clay was successful in securing the wig nomination. everything i've read about it said it was one of the dirtiest come pains conducted. what were the issues, or was it real personal politics or both? >> clay goes in as a favorite on this for a change. james k. polk is the first dark horse can dadidate for the presidency. he ends up being the presidential nominee for the democrats. the democrats are scrambling from behind. there sheet music with clay's pictures and names. all kinds of ribbons and buttons and metals you can do. the democrats basically, coming from behind, have to attack. they attack clay pretty heavily on all those issues. 1844 election is a perfect storm of bad things happening to henry
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clay. he writes too many letters and says too many things. causes him to look like he's waffling on the issue of annexation. all these issues of drinking, gambling comes back against him. i think it's more the combination of things that defeat clay. the standard view is the texas annexation issue. polk says we need to annex texas. the northerners oppose that because they think it will bring war with mexico, which is does. clay opposes annexation unless it takes place on a peaceful basis. he's going against the national mood. i don't think that defeats him though. he wins some votes as well as loses some votes. there's a whole slew of issues. then there's issues of fraud and bad luck and things like that, which plague clay in every election he goes through as well. >> you hear a lot about this
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being an example of the politics of personal destruction. was this on both sides? was henry clay a practitioner of those kinds of politics? >> i think he was his on worst enemy. he certainly trusted the wrong people, i think n the 1844 campaign. he doesn't listen to advisors. this is still a problem in 1844. he believes his own press, that he is the favorite and he doesn't see the challengers as serious. so he's not really campaigning. so, yeah, he shoots himself in the foot a couple times. >> now, he opposed texas annexation predicting it would lead to war with mexico. he was correct. the great irony is his son goes to that war. what happened to his son? >> his son killed in the war. he had lost his wife a few years before. he was very depressed. it was almost like he was trying to go off to fight. he's wounded and tells his men
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to retreat. they do and he's killed. some parts of that are sent back to clay from the killing of his son. it hits him very hard. clay makes this anti-war speech. he basically says, i support the troops, but i oppose the war. it's a speech that many people consider very courageous because it was going against a lot of the national mood in the south, particularly, which is one of his constituents' areas. >> let's take another call. this is molly from new jersey. >> caller: hello. i was wondering if your panelists could talk a little bit about the relationship between john quincy adams and henry clay. >> thank you. >> well, molly, clay and adams were a very mismatched cup. adams is the new england puritan background. if you read his diary, he's
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critical of everybody, including himself. i think he can only be happy in some ways talking to himself. even they think, not happy. he's critical. he's a man of great talent. he speaks many foreign languages. he's well-versed, the son of a president. there's a great passage in one of his diaries. adams is getting up at 4:00 in the morning and henry is coming home from a night of card playing. adams looks at this with a frown and says this is the debauchery of henry clay. henry clay, as we've talked about on this program, is a very different kind of person. they constantly tweaked each other and talked to each other and didn't like each other in a lot of ways, but they respected each other. when clay makes john quincy adams president of the united states in 1825, everybody expected they would fight and would break away from each other. clay is a very loyal secretary
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of state. adams gains more respect for clay. clay gains more respect for adams. they may have never been friends, but they were certainly great respectful of each other for the rest of their lives. >> avery, we're reaching back into the later part of henry clay's career. this is the time for a look at the washington goblet. tell us about that. >> we have the washington goblet here. this was the item of greatest patriotic inspiration in henry clay's home. you can see that it's chipped or broken. this is how henry clay received it. he wrote about how he had received this from an elderly lady as a gift and it had belonged to george washington through most of the revolutionary war. he used this like an artifact in his house and really used it to connect us to our early nationhood and as an object to venerate george washington. he felt washington, as many throughout the country did it, was a great inspiration to our
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country and hoped to inspire patriotism in people who visited here at ashland. >> we're quickly running out of time here. since we have you, let me ask you about henry clay and his wife and how often they lived here together. he had such a long political career requiring to be in washington so frequently. did his family move to washington with him, or did they remain behind most of the time? >> his family did go with henry clay to washington early on. around the 1830s was really the last time they would go to washington. there was plenty on the farm to keep them busy. she was never one to really enjoy the limelight. she was not heavily into fashion and attention. so she did enjoy the solace ashland provided here. in the later part of henry clay's life, last half, believed he was gone as much as he was home. and -- some surmised henry clay
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was addicted to travel. which is one thing we probably all like to do more of. but henry was gone quite frequently to campaign, henry was gone working washington. and on trips, for instance to see his daughter in new orleans. >> next call is from kentucky. this is gerald. hi, gerald. >> caller: hi, there. how are y'all doing? really enjoying the program. my last name is watkins. henry clay was my seventh cousin. his grandmother, sarah watkins, was a sister to my fifth great grandfather, john watkins. so i'm real proud of henry clay and that connection. my question is, the three times he won the nomination, it seems like the timing was really not good for his candidacy. they seemed doom. you believe there was a presidential election during his time of prominence that would have been better timing that he could have won the presidency?
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>> i think he could have won in 1840 pretty reasonably. in 1848, zachary taylor is the wig nominee. clay particularly opposed zachary taylor because taylor had done nothing other than be a general. he had never voted before he ran for president. clay very reluctantly tries to get the nomination in 1848 and fails. clay got that nomination, i think he would have won too. the democrats were divided that year. clay is quoted by someone as saying the years he could get the nomination, his friends are basically deserts him. clay saw it almost as a betrayal of all the things he had done. >> since we've fast forwarded to 1848, let's move to 1850. henry clay's last big effort on
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public policy and the compromise of 1850. what was that compromise all about? set the stage for us. >> 1850, this decision about the expansion of how slave states, whether they come in as free or slave holding. the idea of strengthening the fugitive slave law, of course, becomes one of the breaking points. the idea of california, whether or not -- so the decision ends up being california can make its own decision about whether or not slaves can be held in the state. missouri comes in. >> new mexico. >> new mexico and arizona. exactly. so again, we are now truly into the manifest destiny where the united states reaches from coast to coast. for african-americans, the strengthening of the fugitive slave law becomes a major issue
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in american politics leading up to the civil war. >> we only have about four minutes left. on the compromise of 1850, it's so important. henry clay was not successful. he was reaching the end of his strength and health. how did it all turn out? >> i think it says something about henry clay. he comes back to the senate after his defeat in 1844. he had been at home living in this quiet, peace, venty of ashland. he has nothing to gain. he comes out of retirement to in essence save the country in his mind one more time with the compromise. in missouri, he had broken all the pieces up and got them passed one by one. in 1850, they put it all together. it doesn't pass. clay goes off to rhode island to take the waters. the bill does pass under stephen douglas. clay thought and was roundly supported on this, that this would bring peace in his
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lifetime. it did. he dies two years later. within a decade, the civil war begins. >> henry clay dies in 1852. he's buried where? >> in lexington at cemetery. >> right nearby. we have some video of his grave site. his funeral was really quite an event. a thousand-mile train kor taj. tell me more about it. >> this, of course, his trusted servant charles is still at his side to the very end with the funeral. he's viewed -- people come from all over. the trains are coming in. thousands of people in lexington for the funeral. it's national news. >> i think the thing about that monument, you know, there's monuments to clay. i think he's got more images in the nation's capital than any other individual. atlantic magazine in 2006 put him as one of the 100 most influential americans of all
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time. i think the best monument to clay is not any of those things. i think it's the fact that henry clay kept a divided nation together. it's still united, still a working democracy. >> we have time for a very quick call from kentucky. a quick question. >> caller: yes. my question, why do you suppose henry clay was not interested in a woman's perspective on slavery? the reason why i ask that question, european victorian woman traveled to america to kentucky in 1835 -- >> i'm going to interrupt you. we understand the history and have very little time. >> harriet is sent by britain. that's enough for clay not to like her. i would certainly say that just his southern principles about women's place.
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>> yeah, he loved women. had women been able to vote, henry clay would have been president many times. women of america liked henry clay, despite these rumors about him. everybody uniformly says women liked henry clay, would have voted for him. she came to ashland, stayed here. she didn't like the clay children, but she liked henry clay, even though she had problems with him. that was part of the ovation of his time too. >> we heard jim's views of why henry clay was important for our country. would you close with yours? >> he was important for the country because he polarized and made america make a decision on slavery. the 1850 compromise, which did pass, african-americans led to canada. it increased the public awareness of slavery in america. so that was his major contribution, i think. >> we just skimmed the surface of a 49-year political career
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for henry clay, our first of 14 contenders men who didn't achieve their quest for the presidency but changed american history. i want to say thanks to our guests for helping us better understand henry clay's life. also, have a couple other quick thank yous. the henry clay memorial foundation for both preserving ashland and sharing it with all of us around the country tonight. the executive director, the curator. outstanding help to our crew in putting this program together. and their colleagues, both volunteer and staff. and a personal thank you to c-span's former board chairman and his spouse, who traveled all the way to kentucky to be with us. history buffs, that they are, as we kick off the first of our contenders series. thanks for being with us.
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next sundays, we continue our contenders series with former speaker of the house james g. blaine. you can watch the contenders here on american history tv each sunday at 8:30 a.m., 7:30 p.m., and 10:30 p.m. through labor day weekend.
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you are an environmental a historian. what does that mean? >> i would say environmental history is a relatively new kind of history that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, which tries to see the role of non-human nature -- plants, animals, diseases, the landscape -- in american history, or world history. >> not just recent history. >> all the way back to the glaciers or however far you want to go back. i think that the great insight of environmental history and mark's book is really a fulfillment of this vision. we understand the world better. we understand the past better. if we don't treat human beings in isolation. we're in nature. our lives are dependent upon natural systems


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