For the first half of the nineteenth century, Henry Clay was a key figure in the political development of the United States. He earned a reputation as the "Great Compromiser" for his central roles in the Compromises of 1820, 1821, 1833, and 1850, in which he avoided a direct conflict on the issue of slavery and balanced the interests of free and slave states. As Speaker of the House, Clay played a pivotal role in the election of John Quincy AdamsSon of John Adams and 6th President of the United States. over the more popular Andrew Jackson in the 1824 presidential election. Clay's subsequent appointment to the Adam's cabinet was proof to Jackson that a "corrupt bargain" had been made. Jackson's bitterness toward Clay never diminished, and the two battled over numerous issues throughout Jackson's presidency.
Central to Clay's beliefs was a doctrine that came to be known as the American SystemSystem advocated by Henry Clay for modernizing the nation's economy.. By raising tariffs on imported manufactured goods, the argument went, infant industries in the United States could be protected from foreign competition. This "protective" policy would become an important part of the National RepublicanThe political party comprised mostly of John Quincy Adams supporters./Whig PartyParty formed in the 1830s in opposition to the Democratic Party and Andrew Jackson. platform through the 1840's. Jackson's Democratic PartyThe party created in 1828 by Jackson and his supporters to mobilize constituents. felt the policy aided moneyed corporations at the expense of workers and farmers and consistently opposed it.
Despite his great compromises, the power he exercised as Speaker of the House, and his position as primary leader of the early National Republican/Whig party, Henry Clay never gained the office he desired most - the presidency. He unsuccessfully ran for president in 1824, 1832, and 1844. Though some were interest in Clay in 1840 and 1848, he was not the Whig candidate in either of those elections (which were won by Whigs William H. Harrison and Zachary Taylor).