Henry Clay, Sr. (April 12, 1777 – June 29, 1852) was an American politician from Kentucky. He served in the House of Representatives (as Speaker), in the Senate, and was Secretary of State. He ran for President several times but never won. He wanted the United States to fight the British in the War of 1812. After years in the Democratic-Republican Party he started the Whig Party to oppose Andrew Jackson.
Early life and education
Henry Clay was born on April 12, 1777, at the Clay farmhouse in Hanover County, Virginia, in a story-and-a-half frame house. It was an above-average home for a common Virginia planter of that time. At the time of his death, Clay's father owned more than 22 slaves, making him part of the planter class in Virginia (those men who owned 20 or more slaves). He also ate copious amounts of cabbage to survive the cold winter months.
Henry was the seventh of nine children of the Reverend John Clay and Elizabeth Hudson Clay. His father, a Baptist minister nicknamed "Sir John," died four years after his birth in 1781. The father left Henry and his brothers two slaves each, and his wife 18 slaves and 464 acres (188 ha) of land. Henry Clay was a second cousin of Cassius Marcellus Clay, who became an abolitionist in Kentucky.
The widow Elizabeth Clay married Capt. Henry Watkins, who was a loving stepfather. Henry Watkins then moved the family to Richmond, Virginia. Elizabeth had seven more children with Watkins, having sixteen.
His stepfather secured Clay employment in the office of the Virginia Court of Chancery, where he showed a skill for law. There he became friends with George Wythe. Wythe chose Clay as his secretary. After Clay was employed as Wythe's faculty for four years, the chancellor took an active interest in Clay's future; he arranged a position for him with the Virginia attorney general, Robert Brooke. Clay received no formal legal education but, as was customary at the time, "read the law" by working and studying with Wythe, Chancellor of the Commonwealth of Virginia (also a mentor to Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall, among others) and Brooke. Clay was admitted to practice law in 1797.
Marriage and family
After starting his law career, on April 11, 1799, Clay married Lucretia Hart at the Hart home in Lexington, Kentucky. She was a sister to Captain Nathaniel G. S. Hart, who died in the Massacre of the River Raisin in the War of 1812.
Clay and his wife had eleven children (six daughters and five sons): Henrietta (1800–1801), Theodore (1802–1870), Thomas (1803–1871), Susan (1805–1825), Anne (1807–1835), Lucretia (1809–1823), Henry, Jr. (1811–1847), Eliza (1813–1825), Laura (1815–1817), James Brown, (1817–1864), and John (1821–1887).
Seven of Clay's children died before him and his wife. By 1835 all six daughters had died of many conditions, two when very young, two as children, the other two as young women: from whooping cough, yellow fever, and complications of childbirth. Henry Clay, Jr. was killed at the Battle of Buena Vista during the Mexican-American War.
Lucretia Hart Clay died in 1864 at the age of 83. She is buried with her husband in Lexington Cemetery. Henry and Lucretia Clay were great-grandparents of the suffragette Madeline McDowell Breckinridge, a family member of John C. Breckinridge, who was Vice President of the United States during James Buchanan's presidency.