Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Historical Image of the Day

In honor of Ted Kennedy's death, this week's historical images will focus on the greatest senators in U.S. history.

Henry Clay, 1849.

Clay represented Kentucky in the Senate on 4 different occasions between 1806 and 1852. During those years, he was notable for many things, including his unfulfilled ambition to become president. He's arguably the single most important senator in American history for two reasons. First, his visionary American System, which he hoped would bring the country into the modern age through a series of government investments in the public sector, particularly over the issue of roads that would connect the remote western half of the nation to the ports of the East. Second, his ability to broker compromises that kept the nation together when it seemed on the verge of collapse over slavery. The Missouri Compromise (although Clay was actually in the House at that time) and the Compromise of 1850 not only prevented the Civil War (or some other action of dissolution) from happening earlier in the nation's history, but also gave the North time to become more industrialized and ready to defeat the South and end slavery when war came. Of course, this was not Clay's intention; in fact, he was a slaveholder himself. But nonetheless, probably no one single senator has done as much to shape U.S. history as Henry Clay.