Henry Clay, the son of a Baptist preacher, was born in Hanover County, on 12th April, 1777. He studied law and was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1797. Clay worked in Lexington, Kentucky, where he soon developed a good reputation as a lawyer.
An opponent of slavery, Clay was elected to the state legislator in 1803 where he advocated the formation of banks and help for manufacturers. In 1811 he was elected to the House of Representatives and served as speaker (1811-14). In 1824 Clay strongly supported John Quincy Adams for president. He was rewarded by being appointed as secretary of state (1825-29).
In 1832 Clay failed in his first attempt to become president. A leading member of the Whig Party, Clay tried again in 1844. However he was beaten by James Polk, the Democratic Party candidate, in the election.
The great issue before the nation was the problem of slavery in the land taken from Mexico. New Mexico and California were being ruled by military governors but Zachary Taylor favoured them becoming part of the United States. This became more complicated after the people of California and New Mexico approved constitutions prohibiting slavery.
Taylor's son-in-law, Jefferson Davis and John Calhoun, led the pro-slavery faction in Congress that opposed the admission of California and New Mexico as free states. Fearing civil war Clay re-entered politics and made a great speech on 5th February, 1850, where he outlined a proposed compromise. This included the admission of California as a free state, a stricter Fugitive Slave Law and a reduction in the size of Texas. Henry Clay died on 29th June, 1852.