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Lincoln’s Eulogy of Henry Clay

January 30, 2019

Henry Clay died on June 29, 1852 having reached the age of 75 in April of that year.  On July 6 Abraham Lincoln, age 43, gave a eulogy in the Illinois statehouse.  Lincoln mentioned how Clay had run for President three times and lost.  “With other men, to be defeated, was to be forgotten; but to him, defeat was but a trifling incident, neither changing him, or the world’s estimate of him.”

A couple paragraphs later Lincoln said:  “Mr. Clay’s predominant sentiment, from first to last, was a deep devotion to the cause of human liberty — a strong sympathy with the oppressed everywhere, and an ardent wish for their elevation. With him, this was a primary and all controlling passion.”  Although Clay had been a slaveholder, Lincoln did not believe that to be incompatible with “a strong sympathy with the oppressed everywhere.”

“He ever was on principle and in feeling, opposed to slavery. The very earliest, and one of the latest public efforts of his life, separated by a period of more than fifty years, were both made in favor of gradual emancipation of the slaves in Kentucky. He did not perceive, that on a question of human right, the negroes were to be excepted from the human race. And yet Mr. Clay was the owner of slaves. Cast into life where slavery was already widely spread and deeply seated, he did not perceive, as I think no wise man has perceived, how it could be at once eradicated, without producing a greater evil, even to the cause of human liberty itself. His feeling and his judgment, therefore, ever led him to oppose both extremes of opinion on the subject.”

 

 

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