"Ashland," in [Lexington, Ky.]: Nov. 18, 1844 - Oct. 19, 1848. Six autograph letters, signed, on folded folio or octavo sheets. A total of pp. Some 3,000 words in total. Old folds. Letter of Feb. 4, 1845 with a neat split along lower horizontal fold, with bottom third of both sheets detached but present. Very clean and legible, and in very good condition overall. Item #WRCAM48405
A fascinating group of six autograph letters, signed, from Henry Clay to Mary S. Bayard, the wife of former Senator Richard Bayard of Delaware, discussing Clay's runs for the presidency in 1844 and 1848, the state of the Whig party, Clay's personal feelings about politics and Washington, and a variety of other subjects. Clay was one of the most consequential and influential figures in antebellum American politics, and these letters from the Great Compromiser give excellent insight into the thoughts of a natural politician while he was out of power but still hoping to influence national issues. The letters also show that Clay's famed rhetorical skills had an analogue in his eloquent pen. At the time he wrote these letters, Clay (1777-1852) did not hold elective office, having resigned from the Senate in 1842 to prepare for the presidential election of 1844, in which he was the Whig nominee. Clay lost the very close 1844 election to Democrat James K. Polk (his third loss in a run for the presidency), and it is in the wake of that defeat that the first letter in this group was written. All six of the letters are written from Clay at his Kentucky home, Ashland, to Mary S. Bayard (1804-86), wife of the former Whig Senator from Delaware, Richard Bayard, and a granddaughter of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The final letter is dated Oct. 19, 1848, just four months before the Kentucky legislature returned Clay to the U.S. Senate. The first letter is dated Nov. 18, 1844, and even though voting in the election was not yet complete, Clay writes to Mrs. Bayard (in reply to her letter of Nov. 4) that "the foreboding of the defeat of the Whig Party, which you appear to have entertained even at its date, are realized." He goes on to describe his feelings, having lost a third bid for the presidency: "Your kind and soothing letter reached me most opportunely, for it came to me in the same mail that bore intelligence which satisfied me that our case was lost. The spread of religion, of philosophy and of friendship which it embodied served to weaken the blow what fell upon me. I will not disguise, my dear friend, that I felt the severity of that blow, more perhaps because two weeks ago it was altogether unexpected by me here....But, much as this sad event affects me personally, I feel much more for my country and my friends. I am but a poor mortal, whose life has nearly reached the ordinary limit of human existence. But the country comprehends many millions, and the nation, it is to be hoped, will remain for ages to come. And my friends, by this event, are cut out of that share in the conduct of public affairs to which, from their values, their talents and their cruel proscription, they were justly entitled." In the next letter, dated Feb. 4, 1845, it is Clay's turn to console Mrs. Bayard, as he conveys his regrets upon hearing of her husband's loss to fellow Whig, John Clayton, in the election to be United States Senator from Delaware. Clay assures Mrs. Bayard that he did not support Clayton, though he was asked, and then turns philosophical in consideration of the plans that providence has for their country: "I own, with you, that I can discern scarcely a faint glimpse of light breaking through the dark gloom of the future. My only trust is in Providence, who may, in his inscrutable dispensations, have provided some means of safety and deliverance for our country; which he chooses to conceal from our vision." Clay then writes: "You ask me if I am happy? Ah! my dear friend, who on earth is happy?" The next letter is dated more than three years later, March 31, 1848, as Clay is preparing to run yet again for the Whig nomination for the presidency. He relates his recent journey home, and the warm reception he received in Pittsburgh, which he reached by steamship: "As I approached it in a steamboat on the Monongahela, filled with passengers and resounding with music, one of the most brilliant scenes opened on me that I ever beheld. In front a beautiful wire bridge was gracefully suspended over the river, crowded with people. The bank of the river, from the water's edge, to the summit, for many hundred yards, was chock full with people. The whole population of the city appeared to have precipitated itself on the bank, rising in amphitheatrical array. All this was accompanied with the display of numerous flags, the roar of cannon, the ringing of bells and the sound of music, and the enthusiastic cheers of the countless multitude." He goes on to describe the warm reception he received at other towns en route to Kentucky, and writes that he is heartened by the support of the people in his home state: "From what I have learned, since I reached home, Kentucky retains unabashed her attachment to me. They had had recently a great meeting at Louisville, & passed strong resolutions in my favor." In the fourth letter, dated June 19, 1848, Clay's optimism at the possibility of a fourth presidential nomination has been dashed by the results of the Whig Convention held earlier in the month in Philadelphia. Clay came in second to Mexican-American War hero Zachary Taylor, and cannot conceal his disappointment at the lack of support he received from the Ohio delegates, and even from his own state of Kentucky: "I was prepared for the event, which you deplore, of the failure of the Whig Convention to nominate me for the Presidency, and it therefore did not take me by surprise, but I was surprised and shocked by the course of some of the delegations to it. Most of all I was disappointed in that of the Ohio delegation. I had every assurance, in every form, from the most prominent men in that state (including the governor, Senator Corwin, &c.) that I would receive its support. If I had not fully believed in that fact, I would never have consented to the submission of my name to the Convention. With regard to Kentucky, I was aware of the exceptionable means which had been employed to appoint the Taylor delegates, and although mortified I was not much surprised. But it is useless to dwell on details. The work is done, and there is no alternative left to me, but that of quiet submission to it, so far as I was personally concerned. I ought to rejoice in the event, and I should rejoice in it but for the sake of my true and ardent friends, our cause and our country....I am relieved from a vast deal of anxiety and painful suspense, during the canvas, if I had been nominated, and from an immense responsibility, if I had been elected. In all the vicissitudes of life, it has pleased God to throw in many compensations." Clay concludes the letter by discussing the possibility that he may again be sent to the U.S. Senate, and his ambivalent feelings thereon: "I have been proposed by the Governor and other friends to return to the Senate of the U. States, but after the final & formal leave which I took of that body in 1842, I have not allowed myself to think of returning to it. There is but one consideration which recommends the step to me, and that is that I should again see friends that I may never more meet; but my purpose is to decline it." Writing a month later, on July 17, 1848, Clay tells Mrs. Bayard that despite her strong encouragement that he return to the Senate, he remains inclined not to do so: "If I had hesitation in forming my resolution, it sprung from my ardent desire to see and be more with my Eastern friends (and especially with your dear family) than I can expect to be in private life; but then I thought that I might not to mix my private feelings and inclination with the sense and consideration of public duty; and, accustomed as I am to personal sacrifices, I determined not to allow my private wishes to prevail." The final letter is dated Oct. 19, 1848, and after passing along some sad family news (the death of a grandson, a son-in-law, and a niece), Clay turns to a consideration of the forthcoming election: "The Presidential election now depends, in my opinion, upon Pennsylvania. If that state votes for Taylor he will be elected, and not otherwise. There is not the smallest prospect of his getting Ohio. I told the public so in April last but I was not believed. Indeed all the statements contained in my note to the public are in a process of verification." As it turns out, Clay was prescient: Taylor defeated Democrat Lewis Cass and Free Soil nominee Martin Van Buren, taking Pennsylvania's twenty-six electoral votes but not Ohio's twenty-three. An outstanding group of Henry Clay letters, in which one of the most influential political leaders of his era reflects on his personal political fortunes, those of the Whig party, and his philosophy of public service. THE PAPERS OF HENRY CLAY, Vol. 10, (Lexington, Ky., 1991), pp.149-50, 197-98, 420-21, 494-95, 509-10, 553-54.