Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky was unquestionably one of the greatest U.S. senators of all time. In the antebellum era, he was considered a member of the “Great Triumvirate” along with Sen. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina and Sen. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts. In retrospect, the early 19th century was the Golden Age of the U.S. Senate when the states chose their highest quality leaders.
I’ve written at length about South Carolina and the influence it had on the culture of the Deep South, but Kentucky was the opposite pole in Greater Appalachia. Whereas South Carolina and John C. Calhoun considered slavery a positive good, Henry Clay and Kentucky considered it a curse. Whereas South Carolina and John C. Calhoun favored free trade, Henry Clay and Kentucky championed the American system of internal improvements and protectionism. Whereas South Carolina wanted to reopen the slave trade, Henry Clay was the president of the American Colonization Society and supported resettling free blacks in Africa. Whereas South Carolina was majority black, Kentucky became less black over time. Whereas South Carolina seceded from the Union, Kentucky dithered and was occupied by the Union Army.
John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay dominated the Senate during their generation. Clay ran for president three times. He lost to Andrew Jackson (Old Hickory) in the 1832 presidential election as a National Republican. He lost to his successor James K. Polk (Young Hickory) in the 1844 presidential election as the candidate of the Whig Party. For 1806 until 1852, Henry Clay took turns as a representative from Kentucky, a U.S. senator from Kentucky, Secretary of State under President John Quincy Adams, Speaker of the House of Representatives and as a major party presidential nominee. It will suffice to say that there has never been a greater and more influential Kentuckian than “Harry of the West.”
The following excerpt comes from a speech by Sen. Henry Clay on the subject of abolitionism and racial equality which was delivered in the U.S. Senate on February 7, 1839:
“And now, Mr. President, if it were possible to overcome the insurmountable obstacles which lie in the way of immediate abolition, let us briefly contemplate some of the consequences which would inevitably ensue. One of these has been occasionally alluded to in the context of these remarks. It is the struggle which would instantaneously arise between the two races in most of the southern and southwestern states. And what a dreadful struggle it would be! Embittered by all the recollections of the past, by the unconquerable prejudices which would prevail between the two races, and stimulated by all the hopes and fears of the future, it would be a contest in which the extermination of the blacks, or their ascendancy over the whites, would be the sole alternative. Prior to the conclusion, or during the progress of such a contest, vast numbers, probably, of the black race would migrate into the free states; and what effect would such a migration have upon the laboring classes in those states!”
Henry Clay anticipated the Great Migration. He foresaw a future of endless racial strife “embittered by recollections of the past” and “unconquerable prejudices which would prevail between the two races.” This was also Thomas Jefferson’s position which is why he was a white separatist.
“Now the distribution of labor in the United States is geographical ; the free laborers occupying one side of the line, and the slave laborers the other; each class pursuing its own avocations almost unmixed with the other. But on the supposition of immediate abolition, the black class, migrating into the free states, would enter into competition with the white class, diminishing the wages of their labor, and augmenting the hardships of their condition.”
This is how it later played out too in the 20th century in all of the Eastern and Midwestern cities whether it was New York City, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, etc.
“This is not all. The abolitionists strenuously oppose all separation of the two races. I confess to you, sir, that I have seen with regret, grief, and astonishment, their resolute opposition to the project of colonization. No scheme was ever presented to the acceptance of man, which, whether it be entirely practicable or not, is characterized by more unmixed humanity and benevolence, than that of transporting, with their own consent, the free people of color in the United States to the land of their ancestors. It has the powerful recommendation, that whatever it does, is good; and, if it effects nothing, it inflicts no evil or mischief upon any portion of our society. There is no necessary hostility between the objects of colonization and abolition. Colonization deals only with the free man of color, and that with his own free voluntary consent. It has nothing to do with slavery. It disturbs no man’s property, seeks to impair no power in the slave states, nor to attribute any to the general government. All its action and all its ways and means are voluntary, depending upon the blessings of Providence, which hitherto has graciously smiled upon it. And yet, beneficent and harmless as colonization is, no portion of the people of the United States denounces it with so much persevering zeal, and such unmixed bitterness, as do the abolitionists.”
Henry Clay believed the colonization of free blacks in Liberia was a happy ending to slavery and the best long term solution. He thought the policy was benevolent and was the best way to prevent perpetual racial strife which would inevitably be the legacy of immediate abolition.
“They put themselves in direct opposition to any separation whatever between the two races. They would keep them forever pent up together within the same limits, perpetuating their animosities and constantly endangering the peace of the community.”
Fastforward 180 years into the future and such has been the predictable result of abolition and forced integration. We’re debating reparations for slavery in 2019.
“They proclaim, indeed, that color is nothing; that the organic and characteristic differences between the two races ought to be entirely overlooked and disregarded. And, elevating themselves to a sublime but impracticable philosophy , they would teach us to eradicate all the repugnance of our nature, and to take to our bosoms and our boards, the black man as we do the white, on the same footing of equal social condition. Do they not perceive that in thus confounding all the distinctions which God himself has made, they arraign the goodness and wisdom of Providence itself? It has been his divine pleasure to make the black man black, and the white man white, and to distinguish them by other repulsive constitutional differences. It is not necessary for me to maintain , nor shall I endeavor to prove, that it was any part of the divine intention that the one race shall be held in perpetual bondage by the other; but I will say, that those whom he has created different, and has declared, by their physical structure and color, ought to be kept asunder, should not be brought together by any process whatever of unnatural amalgamation.”
180 years later, nothing has changed since Henry Clay’s day. Racial differences still exist in spite of a quixotic crusade by the federal government to close the existing racial gaps that has gone on for 65 years since the Brown decision which was based on the latest cutting edge research in mid-20th century sociology and flies in the face of a century of intelligence testing!
“But if the dangers of the civil contest which I have supposed could be avoided, separation of amalgamation is the only peaceful alternative, if it were possible to effectuate the project of abolition. The abolitionists oppose all colonization, and it irresistibly follows, whatever they may protest or declare, that they are in favor of amalgamation. And who are to bring about this amalgamation? I have heard none of these ultra-abolitionists furnishing in their own families or persons examples of intermarriage. Who is to begin it? Is it their purpose not only to create a pinching competition between black labor and white labor, but do they intend also to contaminate the industrious and laborious classes of society at the north by the revolting admixture of the black element?”
The amalgamation that Henry Clay predicted would happen in the North in the wake of the abolition of slavery came true.
“I am, Mr. President, no friend of slavery. The searcher of all hearts knows that every pulsation of mine beats high and strong in the cause of civil liberty. Wherever it is safe and practicable, I desire to see every portion of the human family in the enjoyment of it. But I prefer the liberty of my own country to that of any other people; and the liberty of my own race to that of any other race. The liberty of the descendants of Africa in the United States is incompatible with the safety and liberty of the European descendants. Their slavery forms an exception… an exception resulting from a stern and inexorable necessity … to the general liberty in the United States. We did not originate, nor are we responsible for, this necessity. Their liberty, if it were possible, could only be established by violating the incontestable powers of the States, and subverting the Union. And beneath the ruins of the Union would be buried, sooner or later, the liberty of both races.”
Read this paragraph three times.
This is absolute blasphemy to True Conservatism which holds that the “liberty” of the Founding Fathers was classical liberalism. Presumably, our modern day mainstream conservatives were more in touch with the Founding Fathers than the second generation of Americans.
Compare Henry Clay’s take on liberty to his great rival Sen. John C. Calhoun’s take on liberty:
“Liberty, indeed, though among the greatest of blessings, is not so great as that of protection; inasmuch, as the end of the former is the progress and improvement of the race,—while that of the latter is preservation and perpetuation. And hence, when the two come into conflict, liberty must, and ever ought, to yield to protection; as the existence of the race is of greater moment than its improvement.
It follows, from what has been stated, that it is a great and dangerous error to suppose that all people are equally entitled to liberty. It is a reward to be earned, not a blessing to be gratuitously lavished on all alike;—a reward reserved for the intelligent, the patriotic, the virtuous and deserving;—and not a boon to be bestowed on a people too ignorant, degraded and vicious, to be capable either of appreciating or of enjoying it.”
In the eyes of both Clay and Calhoun, there was a principle greater than any abstract notion of liberty: the protection and preservation of the safety and liberty of their European posterity.
Note: Check out the map of regional cultures below. You can see why South Carolina and Kentucky were rivals. The former is almost entirely part of the Deep South while the latter is entirely Appalachian.