The word from a Kentucky acquaintance is that Mitch McConnell fancies himself a Henry Clay scholar. That probably means little to most, but Senator Clay (1777-1852) nearly single-handedly held the US together, postponing Civil War for over 40 years.
With a name that epitomizes progress and compromise, it feels odd Mitch McConnell proclaims a kindred spirit in Senator Clay. This earlier Kentucky Senator bent over backwards to protect and promote the vitality of our young republic.
Clay rolled up his sleeves and cultivated coalitions among his fellow law makers to keep the nation from fracturing. He orchestrated the passage of the Missouri Compromise in 1820, the Compromise Tariff of 1833, and the Compromise of 1850; all crafted to maintain the Union. In fact, the Civil War erupted AFTER Clay’s death, as no other Senator possessed the talent and determination to keep Congress talking.
In the interest of full disclosure, yes, Henry Clay owned slaves. And yes, he believed in gradual emancipation, as slavery proved antithetical to economic progress. The Senator’s commitment to America drove his efforts, and Clay worked with all political factions, even those he opposed.
McConnell does nothing, and takes pride in doing nothing. Invoking Senator Clay, who did a lot, is poor cover for an old obstructing politician to presume. Clay did not dig in his heels to impede the opposition party’s efforts to govern.
Henry Clay served his country, McConnell serves himself.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight,” and the stage play, “Clay.”