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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Henry Clay

  • [An American statesman and orator; born in Virginia, April 12, 1777; elected United-States senator from Kentucky, 1806; to the House of Representatives, 1811, and chosen speaker; commissioner to sign the treaty of peace with England, 1814; a candidate for the Presidency, 1824 and 1844; senator, 1831; resigned, 1842; re-elected, 1848, and served until his death, June 29, 1852.]
  • Sir, I would rather be right than be president.

  • A remark which became proverbial; made to Mr. Preston of Kentucky, who told him that the compromise measures of 1850, which he advocated as a means of preserving the Union, would injure his chances for the presidency by alienating the Northern, or anti-slavery, Whigs. Clay’s motto then and always was, “I know no North, no South, no East, no West;” which he first used when taunted by a Southern senator with being unfaithful to his section. During the debate in the Senate on the compromise measures, he declared, “If Kentucky should to-morrow unfurl the banner of resistance unjustly, I will never fight under that banner. I owe a paramount allegiance to the whole Union,—a subordinate one to my own State.” And again he said, “The senator speaks of Virginia being my country. The Union, sir, is my country.” Patrick Henry said in the Continental Congress, Sept. 5, 1774, “I am not a Virginian, but an American,” and Daniel Webster declared, “I was born an American, I live an American, I shall die an American.”
  • It seems you are resolved to speak until your audience arrive.

  • To a dull and interminable member of Congress, who said to Clay, “You, sir, speak for the present generation, but I speak for posterity.” “Mr. Townsend mentions,” says Jennings, “that an interminable orator, haranguing to empty benches, whispered to a friend, ‘I am speaking to posterity.’—‘If you go on at that rate,’ replied his friend, ‘you will see your audience before you.’”—Anecdotal History of Parliament. It was enough for the member of Congress from North Carolina, in whose district was the county of Buncombe, when told that no one in the house was listening to him, to say, “No matter: I am speaking for Buncombe.”
  • On leaving a party at sunrise, and being asked how he could preside that day as speaker of the House, Clay replied, “Come up, and you shall see how I will throw the reins over their necks.”