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Henry Clay Letters

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Clay

Scope and Content of the Collection

Letters regarding various aspects of Clay’s political career, including his opposition towards Andrew Jackson and Jacksonism and details of his race against Zachary Taylor to be nominated for Whig Presidential candidate. The letters express opinions on South Carolina’s 1830 threat of secession, the Bank of the U.S., candidates for the vice presidency, the temperance movement, and slavery. Though Clay writes a letter lauding the laws which suppress the African slave trade, in another he refutes a conversation in which he purportedly admitted to the aim of pitting slave labor against free labor to make slavery expensive and impractical, reminding his correspondent that he is a slaveholder himself and an “adversary to abolition.” Letters of introduction and suggestions as to what to say in speeches and who to nominate show Clay’s large political influence. The last letter provides a description of the life, career, and death of George Wythe, who had employed the young Clay as a secretary in his old age. Correspondents include: Matthew Carey, Lewis Tappan, Francis Taliaferro Brooke, John Leeds Kerr, Edward C. Delavan, Kenneth Rayner, H. H. Dearborn, Phillip Phoenix, H. Holley, and Benjamin Blake Minor.


  • Creation: 1825-1851



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Henry Clay Letters are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 5 folders at a time maximum, and items in each folder will be counted before and after delivery to the patron (Priority I).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Henry Clay Letters are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of Henry Clay

Statesman, Speaker of the House, Secretary of State, founder of the Whig party and a five time Presidential candidate.

Henry Clay was born on April 12, 1777 in Hanover County, Virginia. His family, which grew to include sixteen children, would move to Versailles, Kentucky to run a tavern, leaving the young Clay in the care of a boy’s club. When he was sixteen, he was hired as a secretary by the lawyer George Wythe, who went on to teach him law at the College of William and Mary. Clay was admitted to the bar in 1797 and began practicing in Lexington, Kentucky. In 1799, he married Lucretia Hart, starting a family of six daughters and five sons.

In 1811, Clay was elected to the House of Representatives and was immediately voted Speaker of the House and changed that position from one of rule enforcement and mediation to one of power. He appointed members of the War Hawk faction to all committees, thus giving him control of the House and facilitating the War of 1812. Praised for his skills as an orator, Clay was highly influential and supported such policies as the American System, which featured tariffs and improvements to infrastructure, and the Missouri Compromise. He ran for President several times. Though successful in none of them, he was influential in John Quincy Adams' 1824 election, and the President immediately appointed him Secretary of State. Clay created the Whig Party in 1836 and as a Senator continued to influence policy, handling the Nullification Crisis in 1833 and helping to work out the Compromise of 1850. Clay was still a Kentucky Senator when he died in Washington, DC, June 29, 1852 at the age of 75.


0.2 Linear Feet (1 box)


Letters of Henry Clay, prominent statesman and orator, during his career as US Senator, concerning political topics which include the election of Jackson, secession, the temperance movement, and slavery.


Materials arranged chronologically.

Collection Stack Location

1 12 5


Gift, Herbert Strauss, 1965.

Processed by

Jane Venanzi, 2009.

Inventory of the Henry Clay Letters, 1825-1851
Jane Venanzi
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 08/17/2011: Revisions, additions, and updates were made.

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States