Monday, May 12, 2014

Abraham Lincoln's Admiration for Henry Clay

Henry Clay, the Kentucky politician whom Lincoln called his "beau ideal of a statesman," died on June 29, 1852. The same day, Lincoln appointed a committee in Springfield, Illinois, to arrange a public tribute


To build the Republican coalition Abraham Lincoln reached out to his Whig friends by heaping praise on to their deceased leader Henry Clay. It's amazing how to this day people still believe this admiration was real. Thomas Rush in a biography on the website of the RUG writes:
 'His words and ideas were a major influence on Lincoln who would later often quote Clay on the subject'
Henry Clay might have influenced Abraham Lincoln in many ways, but not in his views concerning slavery. Abraham Lincoln built his views on the work of the abolitionist leaders John Birney and William Jay and Salmon P Chase. Unlike the Garrisonians, many of whom became anarchists, these antislavery constitutionalists favored political action, writes Randy E. Barnett.

The brilliant strategy of praising Henry Clay helped break away large chunks of Whigs during the election of 1860 en helped keep Kentucky in the Union during the civil war.

In 1844 John Birney and William Jay's liberal party had succesfully blocked Henry Clay's road to the presidency. Clay's Compromise of 1850 'fractured the Whigs along pro- and anti-slavery lines, with the anti-slavery faction having enough power to deny Fillmore the party's nomination in 1852'. Whig history is complex, but Lincoln was obviously trying to bring as much Whigs into his Republican party as he could.

Both Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams built their reputation on their role in ending the 1812-1814 war that ended with the treaty  of Ghent. This treaty had an anti-slavery clause that ensured for a long time their reputation as anti-slavery politicians. But at the same time most likely both men played a role in decapitating the presbyterian leadership of Transylvania University in Kentucky in the years after the Ghent treaty. James G. Birney studied under Reverend James Blythe at that University before Henry Clay made sure Blythe and his Scottish colleague Bishop lost control of the institution.

John Quincy Adams role in decapitating the presbyterian leadership of Transylvania University can be inferred from his close relationship with the successor, a Unitarian minister from Boston:
'Holley came to Lexington from Boston, where he knew Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams. His wife, Mary Austin Holley, was a cousin of Stephen F. Austin, a Transy alum for whom Austin, Texas, was later named. Holley was a Unitarian minister and admired educator who helped burnish Lexington’s image as the “Athens of the West.”

How Abraham Lincoln viewed John Quincy Adams and how that fits in with the general view of him among the Whigs during the first half of the 19th century is a good question in this context.

What is clear is that John Quincy Adams refusal to ban slavery from Washington DC in 1839 partly triggered the decision by a small group of abolitionists to take part in the 1840 elections as a separate entity. Henry Clay's negative role inside the party had been crystal clear since Birney's troubles in Cincinnati when publishing his paper, the Philantropist. Clay's words, february 7th 1840 didn't add that much to his established untrustworthy reputation. Abolitionists made sure Henry Clay did not get the nomination in 1840. In 1840 Clay got the nomination, but again abolitionists made sure he did not win the presidency.

Note however that Horrace Holley's brother, Myron Holley, played an important role in the formation of the liberal party in 1840.

How did Thaddeus Stevens strategy of reaching out to the know-nothings influence Lincoln? It's an interesting question.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Read your favorite quotes by clicking the link below
its a mobile friendly website , made in latest technology
Love Quotes-
Life Quotes-
Inspirational Quotes-
Friendship Quotes-
Funny Quotes-
Motivational Quotes-
Happiness Quotes-
Good Quotes-
Cute Quotes-
Positive Quotes-
Quote Of The Day