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Clay, Henry (1777-1852) to Caesar A. Rodney

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC05265 Author/Creator: Clay, Henry (1777-1852) Place Written: Lexington, Kentucky Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 10 June 1820 Pagination: 2 p. ; 24.7 x 20.2 cm.

Written as Speaker of the House. Acknowledges Rodney's letter of 22 May 1820. Rodney asked Clay to hold off on retiring from the House of Representatives, but Clay is adamant, saying "I have reasons, altogether of a private nature, for retiring from the H. of R. which if it were worth while to trouble you with them, I think you would admit justifys my resolution." Says he believes in the maxim of one belonging to his country, but says now is not the time to sacrifice himself since he predicts the country will be at peace for the short term. Believes there is interesting matters to take care of in the House "but I have not the vanity to suppose that my presence there is at all necessary to a right disposition of them." Is gratified by the House voting to recognize the rebel governments of South America. He hopes the president will come to support their position by the next session. Says the revolution in Spain will probably lead to revolution in Mexico also. Clay retired in 1821 to recoup financial loses he suffered during the panic of 1819. He returned to a private law practice and two years later returned to the Speakship free from debt.

Notes: Clay's sanguine attitude about the nation's future may have sprung from the recently settled Missouri Compromise (March 1820). After failing to receive the post of Secretary of State, Clay quarreled repeatedly with the Monroe administration over the issues of internal improvements and foreign policy. Monroe's decision not to heed the House's resolution to recognize the South American governments epitomizes the decline of Clay's influence during this period. Clay did temporarily retire from the Congress but returned to the House of Representatives in 1823. He would later become a member of the Senate, a perennial presidential candidate and one of the most influential men in American politics. Spain's threat to re-establish control in South America, along with France's and Russia's claims in the hemisphere, prompted President Monroe to announce the Monroe Doctrine in 1823.

Lex[ingto]n l0th June 1820
My Dear Rodney
Your favor of the 22d ulto. followed and found me at home. I am obliged by the expression of your friendly wishes that I should continue in public life. and I assure you that I give to your opinions and advice the highest consideration. But I have reasons, altogether of a private nature, for retiring from the H. of R. which, if it were worth while to trouble you with them, I think you [illegible strikeout] would admit justify my resolution. I do not quit from any dislike or disgust for public life -- Far from it; I am pleased with it, and I had every reason to be satisfied with it which can arise out of the success of those principles and measures for which one contends.
I admit the maxim that one belongs to his Country; but then, when he makes the sacrifice [inserted: of himself] it must be on a fit occasion. None such appears to be now existing as respects me. I do not think there is much likelyhood [sic] of the peace of the nation being shortly disturbed. Those threatening appearances which we see in Europe, I am persuaded, will not materially affect us. One may, it is true, always find highly interesting matters to engage his attention and exertions in the H. of R.; but I have not the vanity to suppose that my presence there is at all necessary to a right disposition of them.
I was never more gratified by the result of any public [2] transaction in which I had any participation, than by the vote of the H. of R. in favor of recognizing the Patriot Governments of South America. We did not press the vote farther from several considerations of which the leading one was that we did not wish to fetter the President in the mode of accomplishing the object, that is whether by receiving or deputing ministers. We thought it sufficient to announce substantially the will of the Representatives of the people that those Governments should be recognized; and that the president would of course conform to it. This I have no doubt he will do before the next Session, unless some very untoward event takes place. It is idle, I think, to suppose that there will be any arrangement between Spain & the Colonies for restoring the authority of the parent Country, growing out of the recent revolution. There are moral & physical impossibilities to any such arrangement. Will the people of S. America consent to become Slaves, because the people of the Peninsula ceasing to be slaves have become Free? You will say no; but they may make parts of a common empire. Nature forbids that. And, besides, where the relation of parent Country and Colony has once existed, which is a relation of domination and subjugation, it is utterly impracticable to engraft upon or substitute to it, that of perfect equality. I concur fully with Mendez, and many other reasons might be added to his. The revolution in Spain, far from stopping that in S. America, will only confirm it, and probably lead to revolution in Mexico also.
I am faithfy & cordially Yrs
H Clay

C. A. Rodney Esq

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