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 influence.

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 ever endure.

The "Millboy of the Slashes."

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."

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 heads.