Henry Clay, the Great Commoner
by Martha Grassham Purcell
In Hanover County, Virginia, April 12, 1777, was
born Henry Clay, the "Millboy of the Slashes," who
in after years became the idol of our state,
and one of the most notable figures in
the entire Union.
Left fatherless at the age of five
years, his teaching and training
devolved upon his mother. So
well did she perform her part that
much of her illustrious
son's greatness may rightfully
be ascribed to maternal
At the early age of
twenty-one Henry Clay became
a member of the bar at Lexington,
and it was not long before his
genius, his eloquence, and his
versatile powers made for
him a name that will
The "Millboy of the Slashes."
He served the state
of his adoption in the lower house of the state legislature
for several terms. Part of that time he was
speaker of the house, in which position the zeal, energy,
dignity, and decision characteristic of him distinguished
his every act. Later he was elected representative to
the lower house of the United States Congress, was re-elected
several times, and during the entire time was
Speaker of the House, having received the very high
and unusual compliment of being thus chosen on the
first day he appeared as a member of that body.
He served as a valuable member of the commission
which met at Ghent, Belgium, to arrange the treaty
of peace between this country and Great Britain in 1814.
Henry Clay's Home, "Ashland."
He served with marked success in the United States
Senate; his great genius, his high patriotism, his
boundless energy, and fiery eloquence so swayed the
people that more than once civil war for a time was
averted, sections were reconciled, and he won the title
of the "Great Pacificator."
Convinced of his duty, Henry Clay was conscientious
in discharging it, and when he thus lost the highest
office in the gift of the nation he uttered the memorable
words, "I would rather be right than be President."
He did not need this office to confer honor on him;
he would have conferred honor on the office.
His fame was world-wide. His service as a statesman,
his power as an orator, his courage as an antagonist,
his cogency of reasoning, his untiring efforts as a
peacemaker, spread from ocean to ocean and even
beyond the seas. When he was laid to rest at his
beloved Ashland, high potentates, distinguished persons,
and the great common people alike bowed their