Monday, February 14, 2011

150-Years-Ago -- Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln

The Richmond Dispatch
February 14, 1861

Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky
(Library of Congress)
   In acknowledging a present of a bronze medal of Henry Clay, which some one lately sent to the Black Republican President elect, Mr. Lincoln speaks of the "extreme gratification I feel in possessing so beautiful a moment to of him whom, during my whole political life. I have loved and revered as a teacher and a leader."

   His teacher! His leader! Henry Clay the teacher of Mr. Lincoln! What lesson of Henry Clay has he learned? Wherein does he follow his leader's footsteps?
   If we were called upon to search the United States for two men who were father apart than any other two in character and public policy, we could not find such antipodes as Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln. The solitary polar sea glittering in its framework of everlasting ice, and the mighty and genial tropie gulf, alive with the white sails of commerce and gemmed with the richest islands of the globe, are not farther apart and more dissimilar. Abraham Lincoln, the starched up, grim visaged, billions, dyspeptic Puritan, and Clay, the bright, joyous, generous, candid, noble gentleman! But in their political life, they have even less in unison than in personal character. Abraham Lincoln is the representative of sectional principles and a sectional party. The Convention which nominated him deliberately struck the word "National" out of its platform. It refused to be known by any such designation, and in that it was at least honest. It received no support in the slave States, and could claim none; and it presented Lincoln, not on his own merits but as the best available embodiment and representative of the sectional spirit. With a country rent in twain by his party, and the whole land overwhelmed with financial convulsions and distress, he has refused to speak one word which could end the war of sections and pour oil upon the troubled waters. And this is the man who has the effrontery to speak of Henry Clay as his teacher and his leader! If there was anything in the world by which Henry Clay was peculiarly and pre-eminently distinguished, it was his American spirit, embracing in its ample arms every section, every State, every little neighborhood of the American Union, and knitting one and all to his own patriotic soul with "hooks of steel." On every occasion of sectional antagonism, he stepped forward to heal the breach, and was willing himself to spring into the open chasm and perish there, if he could, by so doing, save his country. At such periods, when section was arrayed against section, when civil war was imminent, when the best and boldest held their breath in terror and amazement, the whole country looked to Henry Clay as its Pacificator, and so, on three different occasions, he proved himself, dying at last amid his struggles to preserve the Union and overcome the fell demon of sectionalism. Yet Lincoln, the first begotten of this sectional demon, has the audacity to declare himself a follower and disciple of Henry Clay! If so, he is such a follower as Benedict Arnold was of Washington, and such a disciple as was the traitor Judas.

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