Henry Clay Sr. (April 12, 1777 – June 29, 1852) was an American lawyer, planter, and statesman who represented Kentucky in both the United States Senate and House of Representatives. After serving three non-consecutive terms as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Clay helped elect John Quincy Adams as president, and Adams subsequently appointed Clay as Secretary of State. Clay served four separate terms in the Senate, including stints from 1831 to 1842 and from 1849 to 1852. He ran for the presidency in 1824, 1832 and 1844, and unsuccessfully sought his party's nomination in 1840 and 1848. Clay was one of a handful of national leaders to actively work from 1811 to the 1850s, defining the issues, proposing nationalistic solutions, and creating the Whig Party, one of the two major parties during the Second Party System.
Clay was born in Hanover County, Virginia, in 1777, but moved to Lexington, Kentucky, in 1797. In Lexington, he established a flourishing legal career and won election to the state legislature as a Democratic-Republican. Clay moved onto the national scene with two brief stints in the Senate, and election to the House of Representatives in 1810; he promptly was elected Speaker. A leading war hawk, Speaker Clay helped lead Congress into declaring the War of 1812 against Britain over violations of American honor. In 1814, Clay helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812. After the war, Clay developed his American System, which called for an increase in tariffs to foster industry in the United States and the use of federal funding to build infrastructure. He helped launch a strong national bank and defended it against attacks from President Andrew Jackson. After unsuccessfully running for president in the 1824 presidential election, Clay helped Adams win the 1824 contingent election in the House of Representatives. Jackson denounced Clay's role in Adams's victory, as well as Clay's subsequent appointment as Secretary of State, as a "corrupt bargain".
Clay returned to the Senate in 1831. He continued to advocate his American System, and mobilized the opposition to President Jackson and his new Democratic Party. Jackson opposed federally subsidized internal improvements and a national bank as a threat to states' rights, and as president used his veto power to defeat many of Clay's proposals. In 1832, Clay ran for president as a candidate of the National Republican Party, losing to Jackson. Following the election, the National Republicans united with other opponents of Jackson to form the Whig Party, which remained one of the two major American political parties at the time of Clay's death. In 1844, Clay won the Whig Party's presidential nomination. Clay's opposition to the annexation of Texas, partly over fears that such an annexation would inflame the slavery issue, hurt his campaign, and Democrat James K. Polk won the election. Clay later opposed the Mexican–American War, which resulted in part from the Texas annexation. Clay returned to the Senate for a final term, where he helped broker a compromise over the status of slavery in the Mexican Cession.
Known as "The Great Compromiser", Clay brokered important agreements during the Nullification Crisis and on the slavery issue. As part of the "Great Triumvirate" or "Immortal Trio," along with his colleagues Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun, he was instrumental in formulating the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Compromise Tariff of 1833, and the Compromise of 1850 to ease sectional tensions. He was viewed as the primary representative of Western interests in this group, and was given the names "Harry of the West" and "The Western Star."