Skip to main content

Mitch McConnell
  U.S. Senator Mitch Mc Connell on Henry Clay  CSPAN  August 1, 2016 9:50pm-10:53pm EDT

9:50 pm
henry clay? i think the answer to that is probably not. clay kept the nation together, kept it moving forward at a critical time in its development. he's instrumental in moving the country from its birth to the development. he's instrumental in moving the country from its birth to the ultimate forge which will allow it to emerge into full maturity. on saturday c-span's issues spotlight looks at police and race relations. we'll show president obama at the memorial service for five police officers shot and killed in dallas. >> when the bullets started flying, the men and women of the dallas police, they did not flinch and they did not react recklessly. >> and south carolina republican senator tim scott giving a speech on the senate floor about his own interactions with police. >> but the vast majority of the time i was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or
9:51 pm
some other reason just as trivial. >> our program also includes one family's story about an encounter with police in washington, d.c., followed by a panel with the city's police chief, kathy lanier. >> most people get defensive if they feel like you're being offensive. so you know, being very respectful in encounters and requests if it's not a crisis, if it's not a dangerous situation, requests versus demands, those things chait dynamics a little bit. >> watch our issues spotlight on police and race relations saturday at 8:00 eastern on c-span and coming up next, senate majority leader mitch mcconnell speaks about the legacy of henry clay. as a member of both the u.s. house of representatives and the senate for over four decades henry clay was very influential on american politics and earned the title the great compromiser.
9:52 pm
the university of kentucky hosted the event. it's an hour. >> thank you very much, dr. capaluto. i'm graltful for the opportunity to be here at u.k. again and to talk about one of my favorite kentuckians. i must confess here at the beginning i have an addiction. i've had a long-standing addiction to american history and in particular american political history. and i hope some of you in the office -- in the audience share that addiction because i find it very useful in my work but beyond being useful in my work to look at leaders we've had in the past in our country and how they've dealt with challenges. no one has been more consequential than the subject
9:53 pm
of my talk tonight. i particularly want to thank ambassador patterson of the cavanaugh school and eric brooks and the staff of the henry clay estate at ashland. i'd also like to recognize professors jim clotter, john cleber, gary gregg and tom appleton. and finally i want to acknowledge steven ren of the university of cannot ken press. tonight's speech as dr. capaluto indicated, will continue a series of talks i have begun on past u.s. senators from our state. our commonwealth his a rich heritage, and has contributed much to the nation's development. as such i hope to convey a bit of that political history to the lives of some of the most distinguished individuals who
9:54 pm
have served as u.s. senators from our state. the house of representatives and the senate are two profoundly different institutions. the size of the membership of the two bodies is different. the house having almost 4 1/2 times more lawmakers than the senate. the term of office as we all know is different. house members are up for election every two years. senators every six. the rules are different. the house is a majorityian institution. the senate gives much more deference to the rights of the minority. the history and mores of each chamber are distinct. as a result success in each body requires different skills and take place in quite different context.
9:55 pm
lyndon johnson, for example, after several years as a fairly pedestrian member of the house, decided the lower chamber was simply not for him. in part there were too many members and the culture of the institution was frankly not to his liking. he decided he would either become a senator or he would leave public life altogether. he ran and he was elected. just barely, i might add, after a considerable recount dispute down along the border of texas. and later went on to become a powerful senate majority leader. in fact i just finished caro's most recent book. in his lifetime he spent writing biographies of lbj, which i strongly recommend to you. so in his case the senate was for him and the house was not. now imagine for a moment an
9:56 pm
individual who's elected as a congressman and becomes speaker of the house of representatives, the highest-ranking officer in the lower chamber. now imagine this same individual is so successful in this capacity he reshapes the office forer and comes to be viewed as one of the nation's preeminent speakers. then imagine further this very same individual later decides to join the senate and becomes perhaps the most accomplished senator ever. arguably the greatest house speaker and arguably the greatest senator all in one person. it's like combining the careers of sam raburn and robert taft. or the careers of tip o'neill and ted kennedy. yet this hypothetical super legislator is not imaginary.
9:57 pm
he was real. and his name was henry clay. and this is his story. henry clay was born in virginia in 1777 amidst the clash of arms in the american revolution. in fact, one of clay's first recollections was a british soldiers ransacking his childhood home. his father was a minister who passed away when the future senator was but 4 years old. his mother remarried when clay was still a young boy and shortly thereafter she and clay's stepfather moved to kentucky without him. with their departure it was determined that the boy would stay behind to learn a trade. thus at the age of 14 clay was largely left on his own in the virginia state capital of richmond. the boy took a job in a store
9:58 pm
and not long afterwards impressed george with. often credited as the nation's first law professor. with brought klay under his tutelage. this provided an opportunity for the lad as with had taught law to the likes of thomas jefferson, john marshall, james monroe, and another important kentucky senator, john breckenridge. of with clay later said "no man was i more indebted by his instructions, his advice, and his example." after five years studying under with in virginia clay became an attorney in his own right and decided it was time to make his way in the world. he departed in 1797 for the new state that had just entered the union just five years previous, one with which he would forever be associated, the commonwealth
9:59 pm
of kentucky. clay settled near his family in lexington, where he soon established himself. in short order he married into the prominent hart family. clay's wife lucretia would be his spouse for half a century. over the course of their long marriage the couple would be no stranger to tragedy. they would have 11 children, 7 of whom predeceased henry clay. upon his arrival in lexington, clay began his law practice in earnest and proved a highly capable attorney. he was handsomely paid for his efforts, prompting clay to quip, "i'm not at all unwilling to receive liberal fees." despite his gratification at receiving liberal fees, clay would from time to time represent clients without pay.
10:00 pm
one such instance involved serving as a pro bono defense counsel for aaron burr during the initial proceedings of the former vice president's treason trial. clay's legal acumen extended to his performance before appellate courts as well. he won 9 of the 11 cases he argued before what is now the kentucky supreme court and 13 of 23 cases he argued before the u.s. supreme court. clay 5er7bd such a reputation as a lawyer that in later years president john quincy adams even proposed to nominate him to the supreme court. clay politely declined, as he had other plans. politics was his true calling. even in his early 20s clay was a man of towering ambition, and he quickly began a meteoric rise in
10:01 pm
american politics. but besides marrying into a prominent family, what permitted this young man to rise to such heights? in large part it was because he possessed a rare combination of talents. for one, he was a spellbinding orator. of his speaking voice a contemporary said, "whoever heard one more melodious?" there was a depth of tone in it, a volume, a compass, a rich and tender harmony which invested all he said with majesty. it was not just the timbre of his voice but his manner, his delivery that made his speeches truly memorable. his gestures, his facial expressions and the modulation of his delivery all contributed to his ability to literally captivate an audience.
10:02 pm
watching clay give a speech was like attending a theatrical production. an observer at the time described how his arms, harngsds fingers, feet, and even his spectacles, his snuff box and his pocket handkerchief aided him in debate. a second, closely related trait was clay's great skill as an advocate in marshaling arguments. one contemporary said of the kentuckian's abilities, "hundreds, perhaps thousands of men in the united states exceed henry clay in information on all subjects, but his superiority consists in the power and adroitness with which he brings his information to bear." third, clay had a powerful intellect. the cousin of one senator asserted that of all the people she had ever encountered clay
10:03 pm
was the most brilliant. and this woman had known both thomas jefferson and james madison. clay also, as we shall see, had a wonderfully creative and imaginative mind. he could, in today's parlance, think outside the box. yet despite his brain power, clay was less a reader of books than a reader of men. fourth, clay had a great sense of humor. this was a trait that often charmed his listeners and could either disarm his foes or literally cut them to ribbons. on one occasion a long-winded colleague, alexander smithe of virginia, in the midst of an endless oration, pivoted and looked to clay and remarked disdainfully, "you, sir, speak for the president generation. but i speak for posterity."
10:04 pm
without batting an eye, clay retorted, "yes, and you seem to be resolved to speak until the arrival of your audience." [ laughter ] fifth, clay was extraordinarily affable. both one on one and in small groups. he had great personal magnetism and irresistible charm. even one of his long-time rivals, john c. calhoun, said of him, "i don't like henry clay. he's a bad man, an impostor, a creator of wicked schemes. i wouldn't speak to him. but by god, i love him." [ laughter ] now, i would note parenthetically that clay's personal warmth and effervescence stood in marked contrast with the coldly logical calhoun. of the south carolinian it was
10:05 pm
once remarked, "he could not write a love poem since he started every line with whereas." six, clay developed over time a political philosophy regarding the direction of where he wanted to take the nation. it became known as the american system. it was a nationalist vision. protective tariffs to encourage fledgling u.s. industry and economic development internal improvements such as improved roads and canals to facilitate trade and more closely bind together the union. a reliable financial system guided by the bank of the united states. reaffirmation of the priems of the legislative branch. and above all, above all maintenance of the union.
10:06 pm
finally, clay understood how to exercise the power available to him often in novel ways. many politicians have come and go gone. henry clay's rare combination of gifts left an impression. abraham lincoln's law partner said in his years together with lincoln he had remembered the future president speaking favorably of only two historical figures. one is thomas jefferson. the other henry clay. yet as we shall see, despite his impressive array of talents clay had a penchant for making
10:07 pm
stunningly bad political decisions. in part this is because clay was a gambler. that was his basic nature. as one newspaper observed, mr. clay is a gamester in politics but not a cool one. this poor judgment ultimately cost him the great ambition of his life, which was the presidency. after several successful years at the bar clay decided to embark upon his political career. he was elected to the kentucky general assembly in 1803 and quickly rose in the political ranks, becoming speaker of the kentucky house. 1806 marked a particularly important year for clay. he purchased ashland, his nearby kentucky home, which is today a famed historical site. it was also the year he was first elected to the u.s. senate by the state legislature and made his arrival on the
10:08 pm
washington scene. clay just short of the required age of 30 thus launched a senate career that with a good many interruptions would not end for more than 45 years. now, at the time a seat in the senate was in many ways thought to be less desirable than a seat in the house. today the usual career path has to go from the house to the senate, not the other way around. but in the first few decades under our constitution the house was where the action was. and clay always wanted to be where the action was. the turbulence of the house of representatives clay commented was more to his liking than the solemn stillness of the senate chamber. clay's first two senate terms
10:09 pm
were short-lived, just a few months each. then in 1810 clay was elected to the u.s. house of representatives. he would not return to the senate for more than two decades. clay arrived in the house with a policy agenda of his own. like many in what was then known as the west, he was angered at the indignities visited upon america bit british. allegations of british support for indian raids along the western frontier, for example, were quite common. and the boarding of american ships by the royal navy and the seizing of u.s. sailors, a practice called impressment, was unacceptable to clay and to many in the united states. he believed that american pride and sovereignty demanded an aggressive posture against the british. before his swearing in clay moved into a boarding house in washington which included several other newly elected lawmakers, one of them being
10:10 pm
john c. calhoun. clay quickly won over his fellow boarders which helped him take charge of this large, boisterous and nationalistic freshman class known as the war hawks. on the opening day of the house, his first day in the chamber and with the help of the freshman class, clay was elected speaker. now, typically, becoming speaker takes literally decades to achieve. it took sam rayburn, who i mentioned earlier, 27 years in the house before his promotion to the speakership. with his elevation clay would become the first of four kentuckyns to serve as house speaker, the others being john white, lynn boyd and john g. carlisle, all of whom served in the 19th century. now, at the time the speakership was a position of little
10:11 pm
influence. it was more akin to the office of speaker in the british house of commons than a position of institutional leadership. the fact that the modern speakership today is a significant office is in large part due to the work of henry clay. the kentuckian changed the position from that of an officer who merely maintains order to one who leads the majority party and sets the legislative agenda. with his energy, creativity, charisma, and oratorical brilliant clay took the reins of the house, literally took the reins, and drove the chamber. in this position he saw the opportunity to exercise power that others had not seen. or perhaps dared not try. at the time there was no seniority system in the house. prior to clay speakers had enjoyed the authority to choose committee members. but this had been done in a
10:12 pm
non-partisan, non-ideological way. not clay. he immediately filled the key committees with freshman war hawks who shared his views. he was also not afraid to interpret the rules liberally if it helped his cause. in a departure from earlier practice clay would leap into the middle of debate with relish. even today this is an infrequent occurrence. clay's dramatic speaking style and effectiveness as a debater coupled with his novel uses of power all raise the profile of the office of speaker. in these ways clay directed the flow of legislative business in the house for almost a decade. mary follett, author of an early treatise on the subject, termed clay the boldest, the boldest of speakers. during this time in u.s. history members of congress also participated in congressional caucuses, which helped select
10:13 pm
presidential candidates for their party. with his enhanced power and support from his fellow war hawks, clay played a significant role in persuading president james madison, who was desirous of a second term, to pursue war against the british, a conflict the bicentennial of which we're celebrating this year, the war of 1812. it may be of particular interest to some of the patterson school graduates here today that two years into the conflict clay stepped down as speaker to serve as one of five u.s. ministers sent to europe to negotiate a peace treaty with great britain to end the war that helped -- that he had helped bring about. other negotiators included john quincy adams and former treasury secretary albert gal tin. now, once they arrived in gendt in what today is belgium the
10:14 pm
american diplomats all lived in the same place. they all lived together. which quickly developed something reminiscent of an episode of "the odd couple." as a lawmaker clay was never averse to kicking up his heels a bit. once a fellow senator said of him clay was a great favorite with the ladies. he attended all parties of pleasure, out almost every night, gambles much here, reads but little. clay was no different as a diplomat. on the one hand adams was a serious-minded man who followed a highly disciplined daily regimen. adams often woke at 4:30 a.m. to begin an intense day of work and study. the start of adams day off occurred just as clay and others were going to bed.
10:15 pm
in his diary adams sniffed, "i hear mr. clay's company retiring from his chamber." clay's group was playing cards, and they parted as i was about to rise. despite these personal tensions, on christmas eve 1814 the negotiators and the british agreed to the treaty of gendt which ended the war which has been called the second war of independence. clay then returned to the house and was elected speaker again. it was his return to the house, in his return to the house, that clay secured the first of a trio of major legislative feats that helped preserve the union and bring himself national acclaim. with the expansion of the united states following the louisiana purchase, new territories began to join the union. this led to the question of whether they would join as slave states or free states. as the north gained greater
10:16 pm
population, concern began to develop in the south that slave states were losing influence in the house where representation was based on population. this in turn led slave states to look to the senate, where each state had equal representation, to preserve what was euphemistically called the peculiar institution. in 1818 missouri became the first territory west of the mississippi to apply for statehood. the question of how missouri would enter the union led to one of our momentous national debates. many in the south spoke openly of disunion in order to preserve slavery. this was because it was widely thought that the question of admission of new states would dictate the future of this noxious practice. clay confided to adams that he was afraid that within five years from this time the union would be divided into three distinct confederacies.
10:17 pm
throughout the controversy president james monroe exercised little leadership. representative john randolph, no friend of clay's to be sure, recognized where the hopes of the nation lay. this is what randolph said. there is one man and only one man who can save the union, and that man is henry clay. clay was only partly responsible for what is today called the first missouri compromise. many of the pieces were already in place without his involvement, but he did help to pull some of these disparate elements together. he proposed linking the introduction of maine as a free state. to the introduction of missouri as a slave state. the other key element, the prohibition against slavery above the 3630 parallel, was the work of another lawmaker. all the same, clay's novel use
10:18 pm
of the chairs power helped to ensure the agreement was not unraveled by opponents. this compromise eventually calmed frayed nerves, at least temporarily. by following this grand legislative effort, there remained a question the next year of whether missouri was in fact a state. the u.s. congress still had to approve missouri's proposed constitution. and this led to more problems. some northern congressmen were upset over a clause in the missouri charter that restricted the entrance of free african-americans and people of mixed race into the state. now, in response clay spearheaded the the drafting of the legislative language that would eventually be agreed upon, stating that missouri would gain statehood under the condition that the controversial clause could never be interpreted in a way to deny privileges and immunities to any citizen. the final language made no
10:19 pm
reference whatsoever to any racial category. often in legislative drafting purposeful ambiguity in which both sides can claim victory or at least not feel they have been defeated can be important to achieving success. so it was in the case of the second missouri compromise. this wording by avoiding reference to free african-americans helped paper over the cracks of sectional discord and ultimately allowed missouri to join the union in august of 1821. due to the widespread recognition of his efforts to resolve the missouri crisis, the presidential election of 1854 was soon at the forefront of clay's thinking. yet despite his best efforts, the kentuckian ended up finishing fourth in the balloting behind andrew jackson, john quincy adams, and william crawford. since no candidate received a majority of electoral votes, for
10:20 pm
only the second time in u.s. history the presidential race was thrown into the house of representatives for a decision. clay was well positioned to be a kingmaker. yet he had never given any serious thought to supporting jackson, despite the former general having won the popular vote. clay viewed jackson as erratic and heedless of the constitut n constitution. the kentuckian also had previously denounced jackson on the house floor in the early 1820s, ensuring the lifelong enmity of old hickory. that was an enemy you didn't want to make. near the end of his life a friend asked jackson if he had any regrets. the former general was said to have had only two. one of them was that he didn't shoot henry clay. [ laughter ] in the presidential contest of 1824 clay ultimately threw his support to adams and the massachusetts man was duly
10:21 pm
elected president by the house. jackson, despite having led in electoral votes, was defeated. within 72 hours of adams' election, the president-elect approached clay about becoming secretary of state. after thinking it over for a few days, clay accepted. now, undoubtedly clay calculated that becoming secretary of state would advance his efforts to become president. after all, the previous four presidents, the four previous presidents, jefferson, madison, monroe, and john quincy adams, had all held the position of secretary of state. the last three elected while they were secretary of state. yet clay's decision to accept adams' offer would prove to be one of the major strategic blunders of his political career. predictably, clay's elevation to secretary of state led to howls
10:22 pm
of protest from the jacksonians, who dubbed his appointment the corrupt bargain, in which clay cast aside the will of the people, made adams president, and he in turn was made secretary of state. although there's little evidence of an explicit quid pro quo, clay could not escape the corrupt bargain charge, and it placed a cloud over his tenure as secretary and indeed over his future presidential aspirations. during the quadrennial election of 1828 jackson was not to be denied the white house. he routed adams in a rematch for the president and clay's term as chief diplomat drew to a close. in 1831 clay returned to the senate after an absence of 20 years. i had noted earlier how the house by and large was where the action was during the first few decades under the constitution.
10:23 pm
that began to change in the 1820s. during this period as slave states began to lose representation in the house the senate assumed a more prominent role since slave and free states existed in equal numbers in the upper chamber and hence enjoyed equal representation. as such the senate came to assume greater importance in national affairs and consequently began to attract the major political figures of the day including john c. calhoun, daniel webster, and thomas hart benton. now, clay tried to use the senate as a platform to pursue the presidency in 1832. not an easy thing to do considering only three men have ever succeeded in this task going straight from the senate to the white house. clay ran against the inxwenlt,
10:24 pm
his arch rival andrew jackson. the kentuckian however, profoundly misread the national climate, and old hickory thrashed him handily. despite his poor showing in the race clay decided to remain in the senate where important work remained to be done. it had taken less than a decade for the wounds clay had sutured in the two missouri compromises to begin to reopen. once again, the nation needed a deal to be brokered or face potential ruin. the issue this time involved the tariff, which emerged as a political flash-point in the late 1820s. congress had increased the tariff in 1828, and again in 1832 and it highlighted once again the growing differences between north and south. the north wanted protection for its fledgling industries, and the south wanted free trade for
10:25 pm
its crops, especially cotton. the state of south carolina under the sway of calhoun went so far as to declare its right to nullify federal laws, including the recent tariff measures. once again, talk of disunion became commonplace. president jackson vigorously opposed the notion that a state could simply nullify laws it didn't agree with. and it threatened to use the military to force state compliance with the statute. federal action against south carolina could of course have inflamed the rest of the south as federal troops would have had to have been crossed through southern territory and to reach the palmetto state, upsetting notions of states' rights and of sovereignty. one south carolinian observed to reach us the dagger must pass through others. while the rest of the body politic seemed stuck in a rut,
10:26 pm
clay stepped into the breach and formulated a creative solution. in lawmaking unless you believe the political winds are in your favor and will eventually cower your opposition the best way to pass a measure is to make them believe it's in the best interests of their constituencies and it's consistent with the members' political and policy goals. so clay's eventual bargain which culminated in the adoption of the compromise tariff of 1853, took the latter approach. it provided a gradual reduction of the protectionist tariff as advocated by the south. in this way northern enterprises could still benefit from the tariff and have a date certain on which to plan for the eventual phase out. south carolina on the other hand could see that the end of the high tariff was in sight and that it did not need to rebel over the issue.
10:27 pm
clay called this legislative effort his most proud and triumphant. even as the controversy over the tariff was being resolved, jackson, emboldened by his overwhelming re-election victory, started another controversy by dismantling the bank of the united states, a pilar of clay's american system. now, clay fiercely opposed jackson's actions on the bank. this led him to spearhead a successful and unprecedented senate effort to censure the president. once again clay was making creative use of the tools available to him. yet when jackson's allies regained control of the senate three years later the censure was expunged. that was also an unprecedented act. in response to jackson's assertive executive actions clay branded the president's opposition, himself included, as
10:28 pm
patriotic bhipgz likening his followers to the british party that had opposed excessive royal power. clay not only popularized the name of the whig party but soon became its unofficial leader in congress. i say unofficial since the offices of majority and minority leader in the senate did not come into being until world war i in the next century. despite his stature within the upper chamber clay took leave of the senate for seemingly the final time in 1842 to prepare another run for the presidency. the campaign of 1844 was one tough race. you think elections are rough now? they're nothing like they were then. one piece of campaign literature termed clay "that notorious
10:29 pm
sabbath breaker, profane swearer, gambler, common drunkrd, perjurer, duellist, thief, robber, adulterer, man stealer, slave holder, and murder murderer." now, president obama and governor romney should be thankful that our election campaigns are mild by compari n comparison. it was in this race that clay made another crucial political blunder. the major issue at the time involved taxes, slavery and expansion. manifest destiny was in the air. yet clay continued to push his american system, much of which had lost favor with the voters. in politics it is important to have a platform of ideas to run on. however, a candidate must be
10:30 pm
ever mindful of the priorities of the electorate. campaigning and governing are really a two-way street. both involve reciprocal communication between voters and elected officials. clay candidly was sometimes tone deaf to the electorate. and in this election he completely misread the temper of the time. on the question of the annexation of texas, he hesitated to make a statement at first, then opposed immediate annexation, and then refined and revised his position in a way that alienated many in the electorate. his opponent, on the other hand, james k. polk, a protege of andrew jackson, seized the issue, vigorously advocated for annexation, and rode the issue to victory. despite clay's poor campaign, he
10:31 pm
lost by fewer than 40,000 popular votes. again, poor political judgment had cost clay dearly. this is not in my script, but i would just add anecdotally, you might be interested, andrew jackson died in the summer of 1845, about two months after his protege james k. polk was sworn in as president. and he had the satisfaction of living long enough to know that he beat clay one more time. the late 1840s again brought open talk of disunion. the annexation of texas and the mexican war like the louisiana purchase greatly enhanced the american territory and as before many of these new turts wanted to join the union as states. again the fragile balance between slave and free states in the senate was imperled.
10:32 pm
which threatened to push the nation into civil war. after several years' absence clay was elected once again into the senate in 1849 and many looked to the old war horse to save the union for a third time through his legislative and political acumen. despite his age and poor health clay took on the crisis with his usual zeal and assembled a group of senators that met virtually every day to try to arrive at a legislative solution. successfully navigating controversial legislation requires a number of attributes. it includes the ability to see opportunity where others see only obstacles. it requires a sense of timing. it requires the ability to harness and drive public opinion. and at times it can come down to a matter as seemingly mundane as packaging.
10:33 pm
in the case of what would come to be known as the compromise of 1850, upon which, by the way, i did my senior thesis in college, clay properly combined all of these attributes but one. he had all the components right and that was packaging. most of you are familiar with the term omnibus. it originally meant a horse-drawn coach that would carry several different passengers at once. in legislative terms it means a bill that would include a number of unrelated measures. this legislative expression was popularized by clay during the debate over the compromise. in this respect clay attempted to solve all of the outstanding issues in one fell swoop by putting them all into an omnibus. is there were a number of elements to the eventual compromise. among them were the admission of california, clarification of the
10:34 pm
border between texas and new mexico, prohibition of the slave trade but not slavery itself in the district of columbia, and a more ruinous -- rigorous fugitive slave law. now, under clay's proposal the north would get some of what it wanted. california as a free state and prohibition of the slave trade in the nation's capital. the south in turn would get some of what it wanted, a more aggressive fugitive slave law, and preservation of slavery in the district. first proposed by clay in january of 1850, the debate over the measures was grueling and lasted for months. yet despite his poor health clay could still summon some of the talents reminiscent of his yieth. one woman commented at the time that his oratory still had the
10:35 pm
old beguiling maukz. notwithstanding clay's valued measures in the end the omnibus was defeated in the senate. clay, exhausted, disheartened, and suffering from what appears to have been tuberculosis, left the capital for newport, rhode island to try to regain his strength. despite the failure of his omnibus bill, massive crowds of admirers greeted and cheered his coach as it passed. in philadelphia the crowds became so large a multipassenger carriage on an adjacent street could no longer proceed down the road. clay wryly noted that the omnibus is like the omnibus as i left it in washington. it didn't get through. back in washington senator stephen a. douglas correctly saw the tactical error that clay had made. douglas rescued clay's compromise and shrewdly
10:36 pm
separated the measure into five different parts. this proved essential as only four senators voted for all of the bills. separated the measure out and different collections of senators voted for different parts of it. only four would have voted for the entire package. ultimately, much like the coach in philadelphia the legislation did finally get through. just not as clay had envisioned. in fact, all but one of the measures that made up the compromise of 1850 passed before clay returned from rhode island. despite the failure of the omnibus approach, clay had once again played a fundamental role in saving the union. as for its importance, his biographer, robert remini, who is by the way the historian now of the u.s. house, argues that
10:37 pm
the compromise of 1850 delayed the civil war for ten years and those ten years were absolutely essential for preserving the american nation under the constitution. had succession occurred in 1850, the country might well have split permanently into two nations. other historians have echoed this view. the north in the 1850s had the opportunity to make great advances in its industrial output which helped it to prevail in the war. the decade also permitted the emergence of abraham lincoln. the compromise may have temporarily saved the union but it proved to be clay's last gasp. he never fully regained his health and passed away in 1852. afterward his body was the first to lie in state in the u.s. capitol. following a long procession through a number of major cities
10:38 pm
around the country, clay's remains were returned here to lexington, as all of you know, where thourntds greet the return of kentucky's favorite son. i leave it to you to judge the legacy of henry clay. in the 1950s then senator john f. kennedy chaired a committee to determine which five senators deserved to be honored with portraits in the senate reception room. in making its determination, the committee polled historians and political scientists. clay polled second among academics and was ultimately chosen as one of the five senators by the panel, the others being his colleagues at the time, webster and calhoun, and 20th century senator robert taft and robert lafollett. two others have since been
10:39 pm
added. a 1936 survey of professors done by sienna college reached a similar conclusion, ranking clay as the greatest senator ever. in its 2006 ranking of the 100 most influential americans of all walks of life, atlantic magazine placed clay 31st. since 1789 only 654 lawmakers have served in both houses of congress. and none has yet dominated both chambers to the degree that clay did. moreover, while some lawmakers can claim authorship of important legislation, clay can take credit for three legislative packages that quite possibly saved the nation from dissolution. the stakes quite simply could not have been higher, and each time he succeeded. had he not, the nation might well have fractured into two or
10:40 pm
more separate countries, perhaps with slavery continuing well past the 1860s in these breakaway nations. clay also profoundly shaped american political institutions. as mentioned earlier, he revolutionized the speaker's office. he played a major role in making the upper chamber the center of national debate and decision making. from the third to the sixth decade of the 19th century. helping this period earn the title the golden age of the senate. and clay was central to the creation of a major political party, the whigz, that for nearly two decades played a significant role in the american public life and it was later merged into what became the republican party. today we rightfully view individuals as enduring public figures if they can remain at or near the top of american
10:41 pm
politics for two or maybe three decades. one thinks of george washington, john adams, thomas jefferson, and james madison. henry clay, however, was at or near the top of american political life with little interruption for four decades. from his speakership to the end of his life. it is difficult to think of any other american political figure who can claim that type of lengthy, prominent career. on the other side of the ledger clay's record on slavery was complex to say the least. as a younger man he had advocated that kentucky amend its state charter to permit the gradual freeing of slaves. he maintained throughout his life the position that slaves
10:42 pm
should be freed. despite those noble sentiments, clay himself was a slave owner his entire adult life. to his profound discredit, he did not put his sentiments into action by manumitting all his slaves. the best he could offer was to assist freed slaves in being transferred to west africa. moreover, despite the presence -- pressure yens of much of clay's american system, he failed to get most of it enacted in his lifetime although some measures would later be adopted by succeeding generations. so i leave you tied consider the towering legacy of henry clay. he was a man of immense talents. a man of grand ambitions. a man who experienced dizzying heights and epic defeats. he was a man whose imprint on
10:43 pm
our nation's history is still very much with us today. perhaps it is not too much to say that the fact we are living today in a country of 50 states stretching from sea to shining sea instead of two or maybe three competing nation states is a testament to his life's great work. preservation of our great union, the united states of america. thank you so much. [ applause ] okay. i'd be happy to take some questions about what we've been discussing and who'd like to lead off? we've got a microphone here and we've got a microphone there. yes, sir. >> senator, thank you so much for coming back to your alma
10:44 pm
mater. henry clay served under ten presidents, and you now five i believe. i wonder if you picked up any tips for political longevity in your studying of clay or whether do you think it's impossible to compare those campaigning eras. >> no, i think you can compare it. the prn presidency almost from the beginning of our country was a unique institution. you all know there was a big debate about whether to have such a powerful president. and john marshall through the first three decades of the 19th century defined what america would become through his interpretations of the constitution. the ability -- you know, there's only one person in america who can sign something into law. and when the two-party system developed, there's only one person in america who can deliver the votes of his party
10:45 pm
in congress to support whatever he agrees to. so i think the lessons i've learned from the presidents i've served under is the truly great presidents or presidents that have the potential to be great wield that power to do important things. and i'm going to give you a completely bipartisan analysis of four examples of a president stepping up to tackle a big comprehensive problem, sticking his neck out and getting a result. ronald reagan and tip o'neill raised the age for social security. ronald reagan and tip o'neill did the last comprehensive tax reform. bill clinton and the republicans did welfare reform and bill clinton and a republican congress balanced the budget multiple times in the late '90s.
10:46 pm
presidential leadership has become increasingly essential. it was always important but it's become increasingly significant. i like presidents who are willing to stick their noingtz of either party. presidents who are willing to craft a bipartisan agreement to deal with the big stuff. and we've got some big stuff that needs to be dealt with. and whoever the next president is, it's time to quit kicking the can down the road. and i'm looking for somebody to respond to the biggest challenges we have. and the congress is always a problem. we're never lap dogs for anybody. and it's a lot of work to try to weave together some kind of coalition to get a result. great presidents have been able to do that.
10:47 pm
we've been lucky to have a number of great presidents. we're going to need one in the next four years. yeah. >> yes, sir. >> in light of his foundation of the whig party to be one of the first policy makers that established nationalist principles? >> yeah, really you had the federalists and the democratic republicans right in the beginning. but after the alien and sedition act and thomas jefferson's election in 1800 opposition disappeared. it was really a one-party america. and i think the beginning of the modern two-party system really developed around the rivalry between andrew jackson and henry clay. it really did. the difference, for example, on the two big issues that clay
10:48 pm
championed, what they called internal improvements then, what we call today roads and bridges, it was a debate about whether the federal government ought to be involved in that. clay was for it. jackson wasn't. the bank of the united states was kind of an early version of the fed. and clay believed we needed a national financial system to help stabilize the banks. jackson didn't. and that rivalry that developed around their political competition, and their different views about what america ought to be, was in my view really the beginning of the modern two-party system. the whigz morphed into the republicans, and the democrats stayed the democrats. and they've been sort of in different places over the years. now i think the democratic party is clearly the liberal party, republicans are conservatives. but they really in my view sort of began the modern two-party
10:49 pm
system. and the debates they had then are eerily reminiscent of some of the debates we're having these days. i reread mine recently. i did a crummy job. i should have been -- whoever was directing my thesis should have had me go back and rewrite it. yes, sir. >> senator mcconnell, it's good to see you. i just have a quick question, senator, about henry clay's tenure. i'm not familiar with parliamentary procedures in the 19th century as you are. but the use of the filibuster as it is used today, do you think that's something he would use, that he would enjoy, or do you think he would be trigger happy with the so-called nuclear option, which obviously wasn't the term back then? do you think that's something he would use? >> well, you know, the tradition of unlimited debate in the senate does go back a long way. and there was not a formal way to shut it down until world war
10:50 pm
i. and during world war i the senate adopted what is still called cloture, senate to begin to bring a debate to a conclusion. in the 1970s, it was lowered from 67 to 60. and that remains the case today. over a period of time, requiring a super majority to go forward with legislation has become fairly routine, and i think it's -- you know, you can call it a filibuster if you want to. another way of looking at it is the majority can't run over the minority easily. and so, i've been in the majority and i've been in the minority. i'd like to try the majority again. but i don't support changing the rules because the way the senate works it forces -- unless you
10:51 pm
have really, really big majorities like our friends on the other side had in 2009 and 2010, had during the great society, had during the new deal, it forces the solutions more to the political center. in other words, you can't -- except when you have total dominance, by the way, i'd like to try that sometime. my party didn't have more than 55 senators in more than 100 years so i don't anticipate having the control that our friends on the other side had just a couple of years ago but most of the time, the game in the senate is fought out between the 45 yard lines and so to get a solution you can't run over the minority like you can in the house so i think it served the country well. you remember from probably the first time i met you, i always told the story about what washington said when he was reportedly asked at the constitutional convention, what do you think the senate's going to look like? legend has it that washington said it will be like the saucer under the teacup.
10:52 pm
the tea is going to slosh out of the cup down to the saucer and cool off. in other words, wouldn't happen quickly. and you recall i just pointed out to you that the senate was so slow in the early part of our country, people didn't want to serve there. they would rather be in the house where the action was. so i think the senate has kind of been the brakes against the heat of the moment. against overreacting to things for most of our history. and it was employed back in the 19th century, as well. there was simply no way to cut it off until the world war i period. good question, curt. i guess we're through. our profiles of presidential candidates continues tomorrow night on tomorrow history tv with a look at james