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Henry Clay was a 19th century U.S. politician who served in Congress and as secretary of state under President John Quincy Adams.
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Clay parked his support behind Adams with the understanding that he'd have a place in his cabinet. When he received it, Clay's critics blasted him, with a cry of "bargain and sale."
The attacks continued into the Adams presidency. Jackson, stung by the defeat, blocked several foreign-policy initiatives put forth by Clay,
including securing a trade agreement with Great Britain over the West Indies and sending delegates to a Pan American Congress in Panama. The backlash against his support for Adams reached its apex when Congressman John Randolph challenged Clay to a duel. Neither man was hurt.
In 1828 Andrew Jackson captured the presidency from John Quincy Adams. With Clay's National Republican Party coming apart at the seams—it would eventually become absorbed by the Whig Party—Clay retired from politics and returned to Kentucky.
But Clay was unable to stay away from Washington. In 1831 he came back to D.C. and the Senate floor. The following year he headed the National Republicans' bid to unseat Jackson. At the center of the presidential election was Clay's support for the renewal of the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, whose creation in 1816 Clay had fought hard for.
But the issues around it proved to be Clay's undoing. Jackson vehemently opposed the bank and the renewal of its charter. He alleged it was a corrupt institution and had helped steer the nation toward higher inflation. The voters sided with him.
After the election Clay remained in the Senate, taking on Jackson and becoming the head of the Whig Party.
The decade following his loss to Jackson for the presidency proved to be a frustrating period for Clay. In 1840 he had every reason to expect to be nominated as the Whigs' candidate for the White House. He did little to hide his frustration when the party turned to General William Henry Harrison, who selected John Tyler as his running mate.
After Harrison's death just a month into his presidency, Clay tried to dominate Tyler and his administration, but his actions proved futile. In 1842 he retired from the Senate and again returned to Kentucky.
Two years later, however, he was back in Washington, when the Whig Party chose him, not Tyler, as its candidate for the 1844 presidential election. But like his run a decade earlier, the election centered around one issue. This time it was the annexation of Texas.
Clay opposed the move, fearing it would provoke a war with Mexico and reignite the battle between pro-slavery and anti-slavery states. His opponent, James K. Polk, on the other hand, was an ardent supporter of making Texas a state, and the voters, smitten with the idea of Manifest Destiny, sided with him and delivered the White House to Polk.
Almost right up until his last days, Henry Clay still played a part in the nation's politics. Battling tuberculosis, he died on June 29, 1852. Widely respected for his contributions to the country, Clay was laid in state in the Capitol rotunda, the first person ever to receive that honor. In the days that followed his death, funeral ceremonies were held in New York, Washington and other cities. He was buried in Lexington, Kentucky.
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