SOCIAL SCIENCES

Henry Clay: The Man Who Would Be President

Oxford Univ. Aug. 2018. 536p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780190498047. $34.95. BIOG
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Henry Clay (1777–1852) was one of a triumvirate of Congressmen who dominated American politics between 1811 and 1852. In this political biography, Klotter (state historian of Kentucky, history emeritus, Georgetown Coll.; The Breckinridges of Kentucky) investigates why Clay never attained his presidential ambitions. Serving in both houses of Congress and representing Kentucky for 23 years, Clay was also speaker of the House of Representatives, the youngest elected at the time. The politician played significant roles in momentous issues impacting the early republic, negotiating the treaty ending the War of 1812 and serving as President John Quincy Adams's secretary of state. Unlike his equally ambitious colleagues Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun, Clay nearly succeeded in being elected U.S. president, having run for the office five times. Thrice he was on the ballot and twice he sought the nomination of the Whig Party, in which he was most responsible for founding. Klotter explains that Clay's failure was a combination of political circumstances, miscalculations, and timing.
VERDICT This well-written, interpretative account will be a must-reference for anyone interested in Clay, antebellum politics, and the early republic.

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