An Age of Compromise and Crises, 1820-60


Henry Clay (1777-1852) Notes concerning the abolition of slavery: manuscript, undated.

Kentucky statesman Henry Clay (1777-1852), a leading ideologue of conciliation with slavery, played a pivotal role in the Compromise of 1820 and later the Compromise of 1850. The 1820 compromise brought Missouri into the Union as a slave state and Maine as a free state while prohibiting the extension of slavery into the remaining Louisiana Purchase territories above the 36° 30' parallel. A slave owner himself, he owned the wife and child of Lewis Hayden, a Boston black leader and fugitive slave. Clay equivocated on slavery by endorsing very gradual emancipation and showing no compunction about breaking up slave families. He believed free labor would eventually supplant slave labor, and called slavery a "necessary evil" because it degraded poor whites.

Autograph file, C – Charles Eliot Norton Autograph collection, 1914.