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Henry Clay was born on April 12 1777 in Hanover County Virginia to a middle-class family After studying for the bar with the eminent George Wythe Clay at the age of 20 moved to Lexington Kentucky where he developed a thriving practice He was blessed with a quick mind a flair for oratory and an ability to charm both sexes with his easy attractive manner That he loved to drink and gamble was no drawback in an age that admired both vices Clay ambitious for worldly success married into a wealthy and socially prominent family and soon gained entry into Kentuckys most influential circles While still in his 20s he was elected to the state legislature in which he served for six years until 1809 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 Clays views on slavery-as on most other issues-were moderate He was thus able to command the support of men fearful of extremism In the presidential election of 1824 after his own candidacy had failed Clay threw his support to John Quincy Adams whom the House early in 1825 elected as the sixth president When Adams named Clay secretary of state his Jacksonian opponents charged corrupt bargain The charge was unfair but Clay was haunted by it throughout his subsequent career Although Clay was a practical politician of flexible rather than rigid beliefs he did emerge as the great
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