In the early 19th century, tensions between the North and the South were high and civil war seemed to be right on the horizon. Issues of slavery, new territories, tariffs, and more created a huge divide between slave and free states. Luckily, Henry Clay was there to diffuse several tricky situations. Elected Senator from Kentucky at the age of 29, Clay went on to serve for more than 40 years as Senator, Representative, Speaker of the House, and Secretary of State. Known for his great negotiating skills and compromises that held the nation together, Clay is a popular topic on the AP US History Exam. This APUSH review will tell you everything you need to know about Henry Clay and his accomplishments, successes, and failures.
War of 1812
Henry Clay was a leading advocate of going to war with Britain. In fact, he was part of a group of politicians known as the “War Hawks,” which also included John C. Calhoun. The issues of impressment (British military kidnapping American soldiers), Britain not respecting US neutrality, and the arming of Native Americans all contributed to Clay’s pro-war sentiments. However, Clay later played a role in ending the war, serving as a US ambassador peacemaker during the Treaty of Ghent. No land was gained or lost in the war, but Britain finally left their posts and Clay started to make a name for himself as a skilled compromiser, communicator, and peacemaker.
The Missouri Compromise (1820)
Several years later, in 1819, Missouri applied for statehood as a slave state. This was a problem, however, because it would upset the precarious balance between slave and free states; at the time, there were an equal number of each. Enter Henry Clay. Displaying his skills as a great compromiser, he proposed a solution, known as the Missouri Compromise. His solution was to (1) add Missouri as a slave state, and to keep the balance, add Maine as a new free state and (2) ban slavery in all lands acquired by the Louisiana Purchase north of latitude 36°30′. For the APUSH exam, it’s important to know these two parts of the Missouri Compromise and that it really helped make Henry Clay an overnight hero.
Election of 1824
Because of Clay’s surge in popularity after the Missouri Compromise, he decided to run for President in 1824. For context, it’s good to remember that James Monroe had just finished his 8 years as President, ending the Era of Good Feelings. You don’t need to know the specifics of this particular election, but just know that four people were running: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams (Monroe’s Secretary of State), William Crawford (had a stroke before the election), and Henry Clay. Surprisingly, Clay came in dead last in the election. Jackson won the popular vote, but did not win an electoral major as required by the Constitution. Because of this, the top three candidates (Jackson, Adams, and Crawford) went to the House for a vote.
The “Corrupt Bargain of 1824”
This is where things get a little sketchy on the part of Clay. If Clay had made the top three in the election of 1824, he most likely would have won the Presidency. This is because Clay was the Speaker of the House and could’ve actually decided the vote. However, since he had no chance of becoming President and since he personally disliked Jackson, Clay decided to throw his support behind John Quincy Adams. The “Corrupt Bargain of 1824” was that Clay made Adams president, and in return, Adams made Clay his Secretary of State, which was seen as a stepping stone to the presidency. Rightly so, Jackson and his supporters were furious, claiming corruption and deceit. For the AP US History test, it’s important to know that although the situation seemed corrupt, Clay and Adams did not do anything illegal. However, Adams’ and Clays’ legacies were forever tarnished, Jackson was pretty much guaranteed the presidency in 1828, and the rivalry between Jackson and Clay intensified.
Tariff Compromise of 1833
The Tariff of 1828, also known as the “Tariff of Abominations,” greatly outraged the South. These new high tariffs, imposed by President Andrew Jackson, forced Southerners to pay an increased tax on goods from the North. Since there was already tension between the North and South on the issue of slavery, this tariff felt like the last straw for many Southerners. In fact, the South nullified the tariff and threatened to secede and go to war if the tariff was collected. Enter Henry Clay yet again. He came up with a compromise, known as the Tariff Compromise of 1833, to lower the tariff rate by 10% over a period of 8 years. This appeased both the North and South. On the same day, Jackson signed into law the “Force Bill” (also known as the “Bloody Bill”), which allowed the President to use military force to collect tariffs in the future. You can see just how different Clay’s and Jackson’s views were and how much the hard feelings between the two affected their decisions.
Election of 1844
After losing the election of 1832 to Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay failed to win the presidency for the third and final time in 1844.Clay was very popular during this time and had the best chance he ever had to win. However, his downfall was his opinions on Texas. Texas was at the center of the debate in the election of 1844. Clay kept changing his mind on whether or not he wanted Texas to join the Union, since it would enter as a slave state. While Clay was being wishy washy, a dark horse candidate, James K. Polk, emerged. He was greatly in favor of US expansion, citing Manifest Destiny, or the United State’s God-given right to expand from sea to sea. In an upset, Polk won the presidency, tossing away Clay’s chances at the presidency and making Andrew Jackson very happy.
Compromise of 1850
After the Mexican American War, the US was granted new land in the Mexican Cession. This created problems, however, because, yet again, the issue of slave vs. free was a huge bone of contention. What was going to happen with all the new land? Would slavery be expanded into these new territories? Things were further complicated when California applied for admission as a free state, which would tip the balance in favor of free states, 16 to 15. Enter Henry Clay one last time. For the APUSH exam, it’s extremely important to know about the Compromise of 1850. This compromise was Clay’s third and most important compromise and consisted of five parts:
1. Strict Fugitive Slave Law, requiring federal judicial officials in all states to actively return escaped slaves to their masters.
2. Popular Sovereignty in Mexican Cession, meaning the people living in that area got to decide whether they are admitted as a free or slave state.
3. California was admitted as a free state.
4. The slave trade was abolished in Washington, D.C. (Important note: Slavery itself was not banned, only the trading/selling/buying of slaves in that area.)
5. Texas was paid money to settle a boundary dispute.
For the AP US History exam, it’s important to know about the parts of the Compromise of 1850, but it’s even more important to recognize the impact of the compromise. Before the Compromise, the US was very close to civil war. If Clay had not proposed his Compromise, the United States would’ve most likely started the Civil War in 1850. If this had happened, it’s very possible that the South would’ve won. The Compromise of 1850 avoided war for the next 10 years. Additionally, it increased tensions over fugitive slave laws, led to the rise of a new group of politicians, such as Stephen Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, and kept major issues of slavery out of Congress for the next several years.
Wrapping Up Henry Clay
Who was Henry Clay? He was a great compromiser, negotiator, and peacemaker. He diffused major situations and problems that would’ve led to a very different United States if he hadn’t of intervened. Even though he never became president, his legacy as a skilled compromiser lives on. For the APUSH exam, you should know about his compromises, the impact of those compromises, and how he delicately maintained the balance between the very different views of the North and the South.
Photo by US Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a51115 via commons.wikimedia.org
By the way, you should check out Albert.io for your AP US History review. We have hundreds of APUSH practice questions written just for you!
henry clays american system Essay
501 Words3 Pages
Henry Clay’s American System 1832
Following the War of 1812, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and John Quincy Adams helped form a new political agenda, which promised to meet the needs of America. It was a new nationalist United States. Henry Clay's "American System" was a neofederalist program of a national bank, a tariff to promote and protect industry’s, and financial improvements.
Henry Clays started as lawyer In Richmond, Virginia. In 1797 he quickly acquired a reputation and a lucrative income from his law practice. At the age of twenty-two, he was elected to a constitutional convention in Kentucky; at twenty-nine, while yet under the age limit of the United States Constitution, he was…show more content…
He was in favor of improvements in the West. The most important questions with Clay was the various phases of slavery politics and protection of home industries. The distress caused by the effect of disordered currency and the prices of the war of 1812, he Came Up with an idea that he called The American System. The Idea was to tie all the states together From the North, East, South , and West.
Henry Clay was a man who had many ideas and thoughts about the way America should be. After the War of 1812 Henry Clay John C. Calhoun and John Quincy Adams came up with and idea that they called The American System. The idea was to tie all the Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western states together. They planed on doing this by Federal funding such as the Erie Canal, and a series of highways, funded by a raised tariff on imported goods. They planned on using protective tariffs to encourage development of domestic industry and Reliance on domestic financial resources. They were in favor of reducing the tariff rates on all articles not competing with American products, so things would stay fair and so that every one could make a living.
Clay argued that the West, which opposed the tariff, should support it since urban factory workers would be consumers of western foods. In Clay’s view, the South, which also opposed high tariffs, should be supportive because of the market for cotton in northern mills. This last argument was a tough