The Speaker has Arrived

Henry Clay was first elected Speaker of the House… on November 4, 1811.  America was on the verge of war with Britain and the new Speaker(and freshman House member) immediately set the agenda.  No previous Speaker had used the gavel in such a way.  Henry Clay was not only pushing his country into war, he was revolutionizing policy making in the People’s House:

Henry Clay of Kentucky

“What are we to gain by war, has been emphatically asked?  In reply, he would ask, what are we not to lose by peace?—commerce, character, a nation’s best treasure, honor!  Let those who contend for this humiliating doctrine, read its refutation in the history of the very man against whose insatiable thirst of dominion we are warned.  Let us come home to our own history. It was not by submission that our fathers achieved our independence.”

Clay’s silky smooth delivery in a deep baritone that commanded attention… made  floor debates his stage.  But, the Speaker’s conference room was where Clay was able to hammer out deals to guide difficult policies through the House.  The War of 1812 was his first great accomplishment.  Ever the gambler, Clay felt the struggle was worth the risk:

“But it is said that we are not prepared for war, and ought therefore not to declare it. This is an idle objection, which can have weight with the timid and pusillanimous only. The fact is otherwise. Our preparations are adequate to every essential object. Do we apprehend danger to ourselves? From what quarter will it assail us? From England, and by invasion? The idea is too absurd to merit a moment’s consideration.” –Henry Clay, 1811

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