This excerpt comes from my unpublished drama exploring the life of Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky. Unlike the current Senate majority leader from the Bluegrass State, Clay put our nation over the empty exercise of power.
The stage is dark. A painting of the White House on Andrew Jackson’s riotous inauguration day appears on the back curtain. The tune, “Turkey In The Hay” plays for a moment.
Clay speaks in the darkness.
A mob dressed in homespun and broadcloth descended upon the Executive Mansion. Fighting, biting and kicking, rowdy supporters scuffled in the crush, jockeying to seize a glimpse of their man.
Clay produces a small stemmed glass, drops and crushes it underfoot.
Delicate crystal crunched beneath rustic clogs and muddy brogans, while tributaries of hard liquor streamed over polished floors and carpets. Furniture buckled under the weight of gawkers, until the forlorn new President, nearly crushed, had to be secreted out a ground floor window. Desperate servants towed tubs of alcohol to the outside grounds and eventually cleared the residence.
Clay gestures toward the image.
Behold, the majesty of people!
The painting and music fade.
Home at Ashland, Lucretia and I beheld a residence in neglect and disrepair. Overgrown orchards, toppling fences, peeling white wash, collapsed wells. Our days were dedicated to mending, pruning, and scraping. Still, while I tended to my plantation, political allies faithfully kept me informed of developments in Washington City.
Clay settles in his chair, producing a corncob pipe, making ready to smoke.
Scores of federal workers, preparing for the Jacksonian storm, quit their public offices to secure more certain employment elsewhere. This newly-minted President had warned Washington, announcing a policy he termed “rotation in office,” promising experienced employees they would be replaced. Jackson insisted that his action was a remedy to corruption and patronage. Then without a blush, he awarded those same jobs to his loyal allies. Loyalty, you see, is what he prized over all else, including honor and decency.
Clay scoffs, adjusting his pipe.
The caliber of cabinet nominees proved unexceptional as well. Lackluster does not quite capture this collection of lackeys, particularly Roger Taney as Attorney General and John Eaton at War. But the official cabinet was of no consequence. If the President needed advice, a rare happenstance, he turned to personal cronies, his unofficial “Kitchen Cabinet.”
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles available on Kindle.