Henry Clay (1777-1852), American statesman, who was secretary of state under John Quincy Adams and an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency in 1824, 1832, and 1844. He was one of the most popular and influential political leaders in American history. His genius in the art of compromise three times resolved bitter political conflicts that threatened to tear the nation apart, winning him the title The Great Pacificator.
Clay established his great reputation in the United States House of Representatives, where he served intermittently from 1811 to 1825. In his first term, he became one of the leading “War Hawks” — the young men whose clamor for hostilities with England helped bring about the War of 1812. Clay was selected as one of the commissioners who in 1814 negotiated the Treaty of Ghent, ending that war. In 1820-21 it was Clay above all who engineered the Missouri Compromise, quieting the harsh controversy that had erupted by maintaining an equal balance between free and slave states. Although he himself was a slave owner, Clay’s views on slavery — as on most other issues — were moderate. He was thus able to command the support of men fearful of extremism.
Although Clay was a practical politician of flexible rather than rigid beliefs, he did emerge as the great champion of the “American System.” He called for a protective tariff in support of home manufactures, internal improvements (federal aid to local road and canal projects), a strong national bank, and distribution of the proceeds of federal land sales to the states.