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My Beau Ideal…

January 16, 2019

When the story of the 1824 election is told from Andrew Jackson’s perspective, Henry Clay is the villain.  Jackson received the most Electoral votes in 1824, but since no one had received a majority, the final outcome was determined by the House of Representatives.  Clay, who had received the fewest Electoral votes, threw his support to the second place candidate and denied Jackson the Presidency.

When the story of the 2nd Bank of the United States (B.U.S.) is told from Andrew Jackson’s perspective, Henry Clay is again the villain.  Not only did Clay support the B.U.S. in principle, he also derived significant financial reward from the institution.  After Jackson destroyed the B.U.S., Clay had Jackson censured by the Senate.

In the Presidential pantheon Jackson is a larger-than-life figure.  Jackson ran for President three times and won twice.  He would have said that he won all three times.  Clay was a three-time loser.  We have already mentioned his fourth-place finish in 1824.  He also suffered a humiliating defeat when “Old Hickory,” i.e. Jackson, was re-elected in 1832.  In 1844, despite the popular notion that he would win easily, Clay was defeated by James Knox Polk, who had already been nicknamed “Young Hickory.”

But Henry Clay was much more than a Presidential also-ran.  He too had a nickname: “The Great Compromiser.”  In the 21st century such an appellation might be regarded as less than complimentary, but Clay’s compromises were political arrangements that prevented the onset of the Civil War by a decade or more.

One famous politician of the Civil War era had another nickname for Henry Clay.  He called him “My Beau Ideal.”  What sort of a man would offer such lavish praise?  None other than Abraham Lincoln.



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