Washington, D.C. April 21, 1838. p. on a quarto sheet. Old folds, minor smudging to a few words. Near fine. Item #WRCAM54998
An elegant and humble correspondence from a potential presidential candidate regarding the current leadership situation in post- Jacksonian America. At the time he penned the current letter, Henry Clay was serving his third of four stints as United States Senator from Kentucky. Clay, "The Great Compromiser" and a perennial runner- up in presidential elections was eyeing the highest office in the land yet again for the 1840 race, and hoped to restore the country to health himself. Ever the skilled politician, here Clay argues for a greater-good solution to the political leadership question. He is likely referring to the 1839 Whig national nominating convention, where he eventually lost the nomination to William Henry Harrison, when he writes: "On whomsoever public opinion may finally unite, whether it be myself or another, I sincerely hope that the harmony & concert, so essential to success, may not be disturbed. The great object should be to eject from the public councils those rulers who have brought ruin & affliction upon the country; & the selection of a person for that purpose should be regarded as a wholly subordinate question." In Clay's view, the "rulers who have brought ruin & affliction upon the country" were likely figures such as Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, and their supporters in Congress. Van Buren's administration caught the blame for the Panic of 1837, which caused a years-long recession, which Clay sought to remedy with his America System. Consistent with his own political career, Clay argues here for capable leadership, whether or not it be him. Clay lost nominations to John Quincy Adams in 1824 and 1828, and to William Henry Harrison in 1836 and 1840, but still actively campaigned for the party's nominee in each case. Clay was accustomed to stepping back and playing a supporting role on the national stage of American politics and the present letter provides a glimpse into his thinking on the subject. Clay would unfortunately never get the chance to lead the country from the Oval Office, losing the 1844 presidential election to John Tyler before eventually retiring from politics in late 1851.