Brian Lamb, CEO, C-SPAN
May 25, 2010
2:03 pm EST
BRIAN LAMB, CEO, C-SPAN: Jeanne Heidler, can you give us a brief synopsis of who Henry Clay was?
JEANNE HEIDLER, AUTHOR: Henry Clay was perhaps the most important legislator in our country. I think that sums up his career. Even though he is probably more famous for running for president five times and failing each time; his legislative career defined not just him, but much of the agenda for the first half of the 19th century for the nation.
LAMB: David Heidler, how many years was he in the House of Representatives; how many years in the Senate?
DAVID HEIDLER, AUTHOR: Well, his service in the House stretches from Jefferson’s administration through Monroe’s, so he enters or actually Madison’s administration through Monroe’s. So he went into the House in 1811, a brief interruption to go to Ghent and negotiate the treaty of peace with Britain for the War of 1812, returned immediately re-elected and served and served until his departure for the State Department in 1825, when he went into the Adams administration.
He doesn’t go back into the House after that. He’s after that his career is in the Senate, where of course the House is remarkable because of the speakership and role that he took in shaping that. And the Senate is remarkable because he assumed what in essence was the Majority Leader’s role before there was any formal label for that for that post.
LAMB: Jeanne Heidler, when you look at this picture, Henry and Lucretia Clay, in your book, what do you see?
J. HEIDLER: Well, I see a sad woman, because by that point in her life she was very sad. She had lost all of her daughters; all six of her daughters by that point and never really recovered. Her oldest son was in an insane asylum where he would die after her death. So and one of the things we do try to do with the book is bring Lucretia to life. No one’s ever really tried to do that.
As far as Henry Clay’s picture in that particular, what most people assume is their 50th wedding anniversary picture, is he too has a sadness about him, sort of a resignation I think.
LAMB: One of the things you notice in these pictures, and you see it a lot in those years, there’s not anybody smiling.
D. HEIDLER: Yes.
LAMB: Why is that?
D. HEIDLER: Well, one of the things is the flash photography was not in and they would have to have be pretty still and so they didn’t like a lot of motion in terms of they would actually have braces that would you know freeze people into positions of their posture. And they didn’t like a lot of facial expressions because the because it would blur the blur the negative and give you a blurred facial image.
Lincoln, I think there’s almost no a mild smile; very rarely do you see teeth if you think about it.
LAMB: Henry Clay was born where and lived where?
J. HEIDLER: He was born in Hanover County, Virginia, just south of here; lived there until his early teens, where he afterwards he was apprenticed in Richmond. After studying law in Richmond, Virginia he traveled to Kentucky to join his family, who had his mother and step-father and younger siblings had moved to Kentucky while he was in Richmond.
LAMB: There’s a painting of Ashland, his home in Lexington, Kentucky in your book; where did the name Ashland come from?
D. HEIDLER: From the trees.
LAMB: The ash trees?
D. HEIDLER: Ash trees, yes; were the most prominent feature of the property when he bought it and began clearing it, so Ashland was the name.
LAMB: If you were to describe him physically, the sound of his voice, how tall he was, thin; he looks thin in all these pictures.
D. HEIDLER: Yes. Well, he was tall. He was a he was a spare, tall man; resembled in posture and build, Andrew Jackson in that regard. He was also tall and very spare. He was not handsome by anyone’s estimation, but at the same time he had an animated way of speaking that was charismatic, drew people to him. Many people say that you can never know Clay from portraits or photographs, because to freeze him is to drain all the vitality and charisma out of him.
He was had a very wide mouth, as he puts it on his passport, what is it; the chin he describes as not particularly prominent, long nose, translucent blue eyes, which no portrait painter every really attempted to capture, because apparently it would not it’s more like a weimaraner in the in the translucent blueness of his eyes; sort of a pale transparency to them that were also arresting.
Voice would be baritone and very commanding. We mention in the book that Daniel Webster had the kind of voice that could make water tremble in tumblers. Clay was of that type; a different sort of orator, but extremely effective.
LAMB: Constitution says you can’t be a senator till you’re 30. He was a senator when he was 29. How’d he do that?
J. HEIDLER: Yes he did. He was appointed; well, actually chosen by the legislature to fill out an unexpired term. And he was about four months shy of his 30th birthday and they just chose to ignore it. There were a few comments in letters from some of his fellow senators that they thought he was a little below the legal limit, but no one ever raised the issue.
D. HEIDLER: Until later.
J. HEIDLER: Yes, later they used it.
D. HEIDLER: They later they used it to attack him as a perjurer for taking the constitutional oath; his political enemies. That was one of the arrows in their quiver that they drew out against him.
LAMB: Well, if I look at the record, it shows he was just in the Senate for a very short time in those first two times; once from November ’80 ’06 to March of ’07 and then January of 1810 to March of 1811. And then at age 34 or around there he became a Member of the House and became the Speaker. How did he get elected Speaker and how many times was he elected Speaker of the House?
D. HEIDLER: He was Speaker virtually all of his career in the House for brief periods where he was not. I think he surrendered that post when he briefly during the
J. HEIDLER: When he left briefly in 1820
D. HEIDLER: That’s right.
to sort of recoup his financial situation.
D. HEIDLER: Yes.
J. HEIDLER: He became a lawyer again, briefly.
D. HEIDLER: Yes, he was working for the for the B.U.S.
J. HEIDLER: Yes.
D. HEIDLER: The Bank of the United States. Clay became Speaker by virtue of events that were overtaking the country and the and the nature of the incumbency in that period, which was that there wasn’t any. The turnover in the House was quite remarkable. Because it was costly to serve in the House, they per diemed this people.
Clay came in with the war with Britain looming and the idea that tensions with Britain were going to boil over and there was a cadre of confederates in the in the House called the War Hogs who for whom Clay became the leader. And they are the ones who really engineered the Speakership, much to the astonishment of the old heads who were who had been around for a while. They were surprised that the War Hogs were so organized that they were able to take the Speakership on the first ballot.
LAMB: Who served in the House of Representatives that we could recognize by name with him?
J. HEIDLER: John C. Calhoun came in at the same time that he did and he’s probably the most recognizable figure of that time period. John Randolph of Virginia, also; not as well known today, but certainly probably the most famous person in the in the House. He was one of the people who was quite disturbed that these youngsters sort of took over the House when he came in.
LAMB: John Randolph was?
J. HEIDLER: Yes, very much so.
LAMB: Let’s stop there and talk about the two duels he was involved in. Marshall Humphrey? Humphrey Marshall?
J. HEIDLER: Humphrey Marshall.
LAMB: Yes. Who was he? And John Randolph looks like he’s quite a character.
J. HEIDLER: Very much so.
LAMB: And why duel explain the duel thing.
J. HEIDLER: It was usually an issue of honor. Honor in the sense that reputation would probably be the modern equivalent; that if you allowed yourself to be insulted and did not defend yourself then you would be pushed around for the rest of your life. As Clay, one of the things that he said when he was in Ghent is that young men need to fight a duel, just to show that they will do it. And then once they have demonstrated that they will do it, then people will not probably try to push them around as much.
And Humphrey Marshall was a senior person in the Kentucky legislature who tried to and he was a Federalist as well. Clay was very much a Jeffersonian Republican and they came at each other, first, for political reasons, but then it became personal. And Marshall, again, sort of like Randolph, saw Clay as somewhat of an upstart.
LAMB: There was a big difference in the duels and years.
J. HEIDLER: Very much so.
LAMB: One was early; one was late. What was the first one about?
D. HEIDLER: The first one was about clothes, oddly enough. There was a homespun resolution that was passed in the Kentucky legislature that was supposed to be a commercial restriction against British manufactured fabrics. And so Clay even, who was pretty dapper, began wearing denim suits into legislature in more than a symbolic show of support for this effort.
Marshall on the other hand said this was all claptrap and took to wearing broadcloth of the finest nature and as a way to differentiate himself. And they were arguing about this when one of them called well, Marshall intimated that Clay was lying and Clay spun around sort of as though he’d been struck. He was about ten feet away from him and ran at Marshall; was restrained.
He was wind-milling so much he hit somebody in the noggin nearby. And finally this German delegate from one of the counties with a heavy German population stepped in between them and says, boys, boys, don’t fight. I vip (ph) you both.
That evening Clay wrote well, actually he apologized to the Senate and Marshall said it is the apology of a poltroon, which is coward. And Marshall, let me say (ph), was wrong on both counts. Clay was not apologizing and he was not a coward. He wrote a challenge the next night and they fought in a duel.
LAMB: Anybody wounded?
D. HEIDLER: Yes, Clay was wounded.
LAMB: How badly?
D. HEIDLER: He took a bullet in his thigh. It wasn’t serious.
J. HEIDLER: The meaty part of the thigh; didn’t strike bone.
LAMB: And how many years later was the duel with John Randolph?
J. HEIDLER: Oh, almost 20.
J. HEIDLER: Almost 20 years.
LAMB: And what was that over?
J. HEIDLER: Randolph, in the Senate, Unites States Senate referred to the so-called Corrupt Bargain, in which Clay had thrown his support to Adams in the election of 1824 and Adams had then appointed Clay Secretary of State. And the Jackson people accused both of them of corruption in whatever arrangement they made, though there was certainly nothing illegal about what either one of them did.
And in the Senate in 1826, Randolph alluded to the whole incident, but then referred to Clay as a blackleg, which was slang for card cheat or just a cheater. And when Clay heard about that he challenged Randolph, after all of their years of sparring with each other this was going too far, to publicly call him say that he was dishonest. And so he challenged him and Randolph accepted.
LAMB: Anybody wounded?
J. HEIDLER: No one wounded in this one. Their first fire that they exchanged, no one was hit. The and then they asked for a second, which they could do, and Clay took very careful aim in that one and actually hit this billowing coat that Randolph was wearing and it went through the coat. Randolph then raised his pistol in the air and fired in the air, saying I do not fire at you, Mr. Clay.
LAMB: Is there a book from either one of you about John Randolph? Tell us something about
J. HEIDLER: Oh, he would be such an interesting there are some biographies of him. A lot of his papers went missing; whether they were destroyed after his death. He is a fascinating person; not as influential as some of the more famous people, because he was very eccentric. Some would even say almost insane.
LAMB: From where?
J. HEIDLER: Who knows? He drank excessively.
D. HEIDLER: Oh, you mean geographically?
J. HEIDLER: Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you meant
LAMB: Yes, I mean was he one of the Randolphs of Virginia?
J. HEIDLER: Oh yes, he oh and very proud of that, very proud of that.
LAMB: Drank, you say.
J. HEIDLER: Drank very heavily.
D. HEIDLER: Opiates.
J. HEIDLER: Did take some type of opiates.
D. HEIDLER: Laudanum, that sort of thing.
J. HEIDLER: He was always eccentric.
D. HEIDLER: Something wrong with him physically. He was a there’s a there’s a lot of speculation. We do know there was an autopsy performed on him when he died; obviously when he died. They wouldn’t have done that beforehand. Even Randolph would have drawn the line at that. That discovered that he was malformed in his genitals; that there was no there was no beard. He was always high-voiced. It was as though he’d been arrested at preadolescence.
And he was fearlessly nasty for it and was oddly enough, the only duel he ever fought was with Henry Clay, despite the fact that Clay was very congenial and got along with everybody, he fought two duels. Randolph was extremely nasty, but avoided gunplay for almost his entire life.
He when feels (ph) the duel that he was challenged to in 1806 by the James Wilkinson and he said it is beneath me to raise arms with you, intimating that we he wasn’t a gentleman enough to duel.
LAMB: You mentioned the Corrupt Bargain and putting on the record that Henry Clay ran for President in ’24, in ’32, in ’40, in ’44, and in ’48; five times. Go back to the Corrupt Bargain and the fact that he was Secretary of State; Henry Clay was, for how many years, and why?
J. HEIDLER: He was Secretary of State for four years; for Adams’ four years in office. Adams; John Quincy Adams was a one-term President like his father had been. The Corrupt Bargain arose out of the fact that in the election of 1824 there were actually four candidates for President and none of them received a majority in the electoral college, so it went to the House of Representatives, where Clay came in fourth in that election, which meant, according to the 12th Amendment that he would not be one of the ones that would be brought before the house. Only the top three would be brought before the House.
He was convinced, and I think he might have been correct, that if he’d made it into the top three, he could have used his influence as Speaker to get himself elected, but now he became a king-maker because he wasn’t in the election, but he was still Speaker, a very powerful Speaker and he did use his influence to have John Quincy Adams elected.
LAMB: You mentioned Ghent. Where is Ghent?
D. HEIDLER: It’s in Belgium.
LAMB: Treaty of Ghent; we hear about it all the time. What was it?
D. HEIDLER: It ends the War of 1812 and it’s an interesting arrangement, because it is it is established on the concept of the status quo ante bellum, meaning everything as it was before the war. No territory changed hands. There was not there was no resolution of any of the sensible causes of the war, which were free trade, sailors’ right, neutral rights for American commerce. Impressment was not mentioned in the treaty.
Everybody was tired of the war. Britain was tired of war in general. They had just finished their quarter century contest with Bonaparte. And they were they were prepared to stop fighting wherever they were fighting. And we grew (ph) and the Americans were able to take advantage of that, creating the idea that in some sense the United States had reclaimed, despite very few instances of marshal glory, had been able to stave off the mightiest empire in the world.
LAMB: Who sent Henry Clay to Ghent and how many other Americans were there negotiating?
J. HEIDLER: James Madison was President and so he was appointed by Madison. With him in Ghent was John Quincy Adams, who was Minister to Russia at the time, Albert Gallatin, who had been Secretary of the Treasury was also sent, James Bayard of Delaware. Those were the four primary negotiators.
LAMB: And what did he do about was he Speaker at the time?
J. HEIDLER: Yes, he was Speaker. He resigned from Congress; from the House.
D. HEIDLER: Langdon Cheves took his place as Speaker.
LAMB: And did he come back then after that to the House? Right after that?
D. HEIDLER: Right after. In fact, he was elected to the House of Representatives while he was while he was still under his diplomatic commission. And people made some of a his opponents made something of an issue of that and so they held another election and he won overwhelmingly again.
LAMB: So this is all from Lexington, Kentucky; his home.
D. HEIDLER: Fayette County.
LAMB: And you mentioned Lucretia and this is a book that has her throughout the book and it is unusual; you don’t normally read about all that. How often did she come to Washington?
J. HEIDLER: At first, she did come frequently. She did not come that first short time that he was in the Senate. She did come the second time that he was in the Senate and she came with him when he was first elected to the House. In fact, she was in Washington when he received that appointment to go to Ghent and her brother-in-law escorted her and the children back home once the weather it was it was still winter and so they waited till spring and then so she went home.
LAMB: So go over she had 11 kids.
J. HEIDLER: Yes.
LAMB: Go over the what happened to those 11 and you mentioned the six daughters that died; by what age?
J. HEIDLER: Yes. Four of them died as children and two of them, Susan and Anne, the two older of the oldest of the daughters; they lived to adulthood and married. Both of them married and had children of their own. Susan died, likely; she was in New Orleans. That’s where her husband lived and she likely died of either yellow fever or malaria; some tropical disease. She was 22 when she died.
LAMB: What about the boys? There were, what; five boys?
D. HEIDLER: The oldest was Theodore and Theodore was had an accident when he was a kid and had to be trepanned, meaning that Pindell, her brother-in-law did the he was a surgeon; opened the skull and released the fluid pressure on it. He took a blow to the head and he
LAMB: Was any was there any anesthetic then?
D. HEIDLER: Yes. They’d use laudanum, that sort of thing. But it’s a pretty grotesque procedure, nonetheless. And all the family regarded that as the beginning of all the trouble. Poor Theodore was a (ph) erratic youth who ultimately went crazy. They had to commit him to the insane asylum, where he lived until 1870. Didn’t know any of them after a time and it was very sad, because he was quite lucid for periods at the early and would implore Clay and Lucretia to come and get him, as thought there had been some mistake made. But a few years and that stopped and he was virtually a catatonic case.
The other boys were trouble and they troubled Henry and Lucretia a great deal, because they were bounders. They had drinking problems. Thomas and especially was had to be bailed out while Clay was Secretary of State, out of the Philadelphia jail because he couldn’t pay his hotel bill. They actually at Ashland have the check that Clay sent to the to the hotelier to settle up Thomas’ account. This was when he was a very you know Clay was the Secretary of State.
The exception to the boys is Henry. Henry Jr. was a model kid; disciplined, eager to please, never gave a moment’s trouble and paid for that in a way, because Clay hovered. He was a loving father, but he was also somewhat he liked to be in control.
The only time that we’ve ever found that Henry Jr. did something against his father’s wishes was when he volunteered to go to Mexico and fight in the war there. And of course he was killed.
LAMB: And that year was?
D. HEIDLER: Eighteen-forty-seven.
LAMB: So Henry Clay lives 1777 until 1852. He was 75 years old when he died. But before we do more on Henry Clay, how about the Heidlers? How many years have you two been married?
J. HEIDLER: Twenty-nine and (ph) two weeks.
D. HEIDLER: Twenty-nine and counting; yes.
LAMB: Where do you live today?
J. HEIDLER: We live in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
LAMB: What do you do today?
J. HEIDLER: I teach at the United States Air Force Academy. Been there since 1993 and I’m a professor of history there.
LAMB: First civilian
J. HEIDLER: First permanent civilian in the history department. In ’93 Congress had mandated that the military academies, particularly West Point and the Air Force Academy, hire a certain percentage of their permanent faculty as civilians. No necessarily not necessarily military experience to for a variety of reasons and I was one of those first who came in. Now there’s between 25 and 30 percent of the faculty there are civilians.
LAMB: How many courses do you teach a semester?
J. HEIDLER: Two usually; two.
LAMB: How big are the classes?
J. HEIDLER: They’re very small. That is one of the things that attracted me there. I have not taught a class with over 20 people in years; usually between ten and 15.
LAMB: What’s the number now between men and women?
J. HEIDLER: Women’s the numbers have increased. I believe it’s over 20 percent now. When I first started it hovered around ten to 15 and so now I think it is around 20 percent.
LAMB: It’s clear in Henry Clay’s day, none of that was (ph)
J. HEIDLER: Oh, no, no; not at all.
LAMB: Now, what is your profession?
D. HEIDLER: I’m a historian too; an academic. I taught for a number of years in Maryland and then followed her to Colorado and taught in Colorado State University system there for until the late ’90s. And we were working on a large project at the time, which was a five-volume encyclopedia, The American Civil War. And we weighed the workload, the commute I was having to make; decided that it would be best for me to devote fulltime to this and that’s what I’ve done ever since. And we managed to get that project out, write some other books, and then of course this one, which I don’t think we could have done as done as quickly if I had been
J. HEIDLER: No.
in the classroom. The state schools are a little bit more demanding in terms of class size and numbers.
LAMB: When did you leave Colorado State University at Pueblo?
D. HEIDLER: About ’98, ’99.
J. HEIDLER: It was ’99.
D. HEIDLER: Ninety-nine.
LAMB: And how many total books have you two put out?
J. HEIDLER: Eleven or twelve.
LAMB: And we know about the encyclopedia on the Civil War; what else? What kind of other books?
J. HEIDLER: We’ve also written on the War of 1812 and so we got to know Mr. Clay a good bit during that project or those projects.
D. HEIDLER: Yes.
J. HEIDLER: We’ve written two books. We’ve written on Andrew Jackson. We did a book; our first book together actually was a book that deals with Jackson’s invasion of Florida in 1818 and the constitutional implications of that invasion, because of course that was Spanish territory.
LAMB: Let me divert some more (ph). I want to come back to the two of you, but there is a speech you talk about in your book that Henry Clay gave about Andrew Jackson that you say started this big division between the two of them. Tell us more about that.
J. HEIDLER: Well, it was as a result of that invasion. He made the speech in January of 1819, decrying Jackson’s actions as unconstitutional.
LAMB: Where’d he make the speech and how long was it (ph)?
J. HEIDLER: In the House of Representatives and it went on for several hours.
LAMB: Was he Speaker then?
J. HEIDLER: Yes, he was Speaker, although
LAMB: You wouldn’t see that today though. A Speaker wouldn’t talk that long.
J. HEIDLER: He, from the very moment he became Speaker, he began using the process of going into the committee of the whole, which would mean the entire House was in committee session, and he would simply designate someone to preside over these committee debates so that he could participate, because that was one of his greatest talents was as a public speaker.
LAMB: Explain the atmosphere on that speech and a three-hour speech.
D. HEIDLER: Yes, yes.
LAMB: Who was in the gallery?
D. HEIDLER: Oh, the place was packed.
D. HEIDLER: Clay. Whenever Clay spoke it was like a as we say when we assess his legislative career, seeing Clay rise from his desk was like seeing a curtain go up on a first-rate theater production. He had all the props, he had the great voice, he had a natural way of speaking. He wasn’t declamatory. He tended to be more conversational. He spoke without notes and never a printed text and he could he wove allusions and created metaphorical analyses that were captivating. And people would sometimes they couldn’t gavel the crowds down. And in this particular speech he was he was in fine form.
A lot of people thought it was probably one of the most serious mistakes that he ever made in his career because he made an enemy out of Jackson with his speech and Jackson never forgave someone who crossed him.
LAMB: What’d he say about Andrew Jackson?
J. HEIDLER: Well, he said that he had violated the United States Constitution, because Congress had not authorized this military move, not just into foreign territory, but Jackson clearly violated his orders by not only he was supposed to go down there and chastise Seminoles who had been accused of making raids into the United States.
He chased a few Seminoles, but he spent most of his time conquering Spanish forts and the capital of West Florida, Pensacola, which he was clearly instructed not to do. He made war on a foreign power without congressional authorization.
LAMB: Can you read that speech today?
D. HEIDLER: Yes, oh yes.
LAMB: It’s in the congressional record?
D. HEIDLER: Yes, it’s in the annals of Congress, yes.
LAMB: A three-hour speech.
D. HEIDLER: Yes.
LAMB: Does it read well?
D. HEIDLER: Yes, it does. Clay’s speeches all are very literate, but we should also note that there was some amount of editing that went on. These guys were able to go back and tweak these things to make them make them obviously a little bit more polished than they were when they were done on the floor.
But this was a demanding audience; not just the House of Representatives, the people down in the chamber in the in the on the floor, but the galleries as well. They were incredibly astute and adept. Clay cut his teeth on this kind of thing. I mean (ph) Hanover County, he watched people like Patrick Henry speak.
LAMB: Down in Virginia.
D. HEIDLER: Yes. And when he was growing up and he saw what worked, what didn’t. He copied. He was a good emulator and eventually developed a style of his own that was that was peerless. Everyone who’d ever heard Clay remembered the first time they heard him and often they would say, well, this was the best speech Clay ever made was the first one they heard him make, no matter where it was or when it happened. He could make women cry and men stand on their feet.
LAMB: Assume there’s no voice track anywhere on him.
D. HEIDLER: No, no.
LAMB: He died
D. HEIDLER: Wish that there were.
D. HEIDLER: Yes.
LAMB: Go back to the two of you; where did you meet?
J. HEIDLER: We met in graduate school.
J. HEIDLER: Auburn University. In fact, we met in our first class together in graduate school. We didn’t necessarily hit it off right away and began actually seeing each other; dating when we were taking a graduate seminar on the American Civil War. I always tell people that and they say oh, that’s just so romantic.
LAMB: Do they mean it?
J. HEIDLER: No, no. They’re joking.
LAMB: What do you remember from those early days?
D. HEIDLER: Oh, it was a grand time. We were carefree, young, and had the whole future ahead of us. And I remember I remember sitting in the library and Jeanne was working there and I went to the table she was and sat down across from her and I said this I made some you know sort of dorky comment and she agreed you know perfunctorily agreed with it and got up and left. And it was six months
J. HEIDLER: I don’t remember that incident.
D. HEIDLER: It was six months, almost to the day, that I asked her out finally after that. We went to Pizza Hut.
LAMB: Still there?
D. HEIDLER: I guess it is.
LAMB: And you’ve got I know; I remember you got all of your education at Auburn through a PhD. And what was your PhD. in?
D. HEIDLER: In history.
LAMB: And how about you?
J. HEIDLER: I attended Mercer University in Atlanta for my bachelor’s degree and then went straight to graduate school from there; to Auburn.
LAMB: To Auburn.
J. HEIDLER: Yes.
LAMB: Two Auburn PhDs in history; went to Salisbury State to teach. Did you both go there?
D. HEIDLER: Yes.
J. HEIDLER: Yes.
LAMB: And taught there? And how many years were you there?
J. HEIDLER: Nine or ten.
D. HEIDLER: Nine or ten.
J. HEIDLER: Yes.
D. HEIDLER: It’s kind of runs together. I guess nine, yes.
LAMB: So how do you do something like this book? How did you divide the responsibilities? How do you write a book together? Where do you do it?
D. HEIDLER: We work solely, exclusively. We’re solitary in that, as all writing is. It’s not a Kaufman-Hart type thing, where they really somebody’s walking around the room waxing wise while the other acts as stenographer. We actually write separately. We don’t work on the same chapters at the same time, but we hand them off to each other several times to adjust the tone.
LAMB: But how’d you divide the chapters up?
D. HEIDLER: I
J. HEIDLER: This one was a little different.
D. HEIDLER: I wrote from the back and she wrote from the front.
J. HEIDLER: He started at the end of Clay’s life and I started at the beginning and we came together.
LAMB: Why did you decide to do it that particular way?
J. HEIDLER: I’m not sure. We had never done that before. We had usually just alternated chapters. And I’m not sure we’ll do it again, because meeting at the right place was a little difficult. We had to really tweak some things at the end, before we sent it off (ph).
D. HEIDLER: Yes. I was reminded at the closing of this of this process, Mark Twain’s remark about Charles Dudley Warner when they did the Gilded Age together. And they did alternating chapters, I think is the way they did it. But he said was as though two minors who’d been tunneling through the mountain from opposite ends and when they got to the middle of it they figured they were about 100 yards apart. And the book doesn’t really work because of that. He never thought it did; it wasn’t one of his favorites.
We weren’t that bad, but it was hard because one of the things that was as you know in a narrative, which this is very much a narrative, there are plot holes that develop that have to be straightened out sooner or later or and you have to go back and do it. You know the story with Tolkien with Lord of the Rings is that when he would get to one of these things where he didn’t he had made a mistake he’d throw everything away and start from the very beginning, which reason it took him you know decades to write the thing.
We didn’t have that much of a trouble. My main trouble was killing him. I had a devil of a time getting done with that and the chapter was much longer than it is here.
LAMB: Killing him?
D. HEIDLER: Yes. Our editor finally said you’re going to have to let him go. You’re just going to have to let him go.
LAMB: But you start the book that way. I mean you start with his end and you, of course, end with the end.
D. HEIDLER: That was the first thing written was the prologue. That was
LAMB: Who wrote that?
J. HEIDLER: You wrote the first draft.
D. HEIDLER: I wrote that (ph). Yes, I wrote the first draft to that.
LAMB: So why did you choose Henry Clay and when? When did you start the process?
J. HEIDLER: Well, about three years ago; maybe a little more than that. We actually wanted to write a book on the election of 1824. And we actually did have a proposal out through our agent. And a lot of people said well, that’s just kind of narrow. I’m not sure people understood that it was it is a very pivotal election.
And then our editor at Random House suggested well, why not Clay? Why not? Since he is such a key figure in that election, why not do a full biography of Clay? And I remember when you called me; I was at the Academy. He called and said they want us to do Clay. I said I like Henry Clay. And from that point on.
D. HEIDLER: And so Jeanne said we can do that and that was that.
LAMB: And when did you finish it?
D. HEIDLER: Finished it in March of 2009.
J. HEIDLER: Nine.
LAMB: Now I got to know who got to the middle first?
J. HEIDLER: I did.
D. HEIDLER: She writes faster than I do.
J. HEIDLER: He writes better than I do.
LAMB: She’s the one that’s got the fulltime job.
D. HEIDLER: She writes very fast and but I’m I fall often into the trap of that perfection is the enemy of good and so I tinker.
LAMB: So what did you each find along the way that you didn’t know about Henry Clay that surprised you, that interested you, that you wanted to know more about?
J. HEIDLER: I think his family life, because you never read about his family life and we’re political historians, so we’ve read a good bit about his political life and never knew anything about his family life. Even other biographers have not written a great deal about his family.
LAMB: How did you find it?
J. HEIDLER: Through the voluminous correspondence in a number of places; Library of Congress manuscripts.
LAMB: You said there’s only one remaining letter that Lucretia wrote.
J. HEIDLER: Yes. But his letter to her his letters to her are very illuminating. They had a very warm relationship. The children’s letters to her and about her are also very illuminating. So the family correspondence, which no one had really ever bothered to dip into; we finally had to just call it quits. There are so many that I’d like to get back into one day.
LAMB: Where’d you find it?
J. HEIDLER: Most of the family letters are in the Library of Congress. There are also some at the University of Kentucky; special collections as well.
LAMB: Can you read them online or did you have come to the library?
J. HEIDLER: No, we had to come.
LAMB: Did you read the physical, actual letters?
J. HEIDLER: Yes, the actual letters. And so we got to see the handwriting. One of the things, a little bit of trivia that we discovered is I saw the one surviving letter from Clay’s mother to him and not too long before she died in the late 1820s and her handwriting was very similar to his and so that was a clue that she was probably responsible for his beautiful handwriting.
LAMB: How many kids did she have?
J. HEIDLER: Oh goodness. She had she had a number who died in child (ph) as children. She had four children who survived to adulthood; one of them a daughter. That daughter died very young.
D. HEIDLER: Twenty-one.
J. HEIDLER: She was I her 20s, yes.
D. HEIDLER: She was 21, yes.
J. HEIDLER: And then she had three other children, I think; or four, four.
D. HEIDLER: Watkins, yes.
J. HEIDLER: Four other children with her second husband.
LAMB: And your big find in this process.
D. HEIDLER: Well, I agree. This family stuff is fascinating, because I think it gives an element of Clay’s personality; features of it that had been missing. There is a there is a the idea that Clay is a is an aloof figure in American history and that was very strange that that would be the case, because we found him to be extremely warm person, especially with his family.
But otherwise I think the Corrupt Bargain charges ultimately the investigation into those revealed them to be truly a smear campaign that was mounted by his enemies.
LAMB: Who in particular?
D. HEIDLER: Jackson and his people. Jackson’s lied about this. He lied, saying that James Buchanan, who at the time was a Pennsylvania congressman, had acted as the go-between for Clay and his camp, the Jacksonian camp. And Buchanan came out and said no, I didn’t. I mean publicly said I did not do this for Henry Clay. And it didn’t matter.
LAMB: So if you two were going to have a dinner and invite some historical guests, would you rather have Andrew Jackson at your table or Henry Clay?
J. HEIDLER: Oh, Henry Clay. He was a fun man at a party.
D. HEIDLER: He’d stand for the drinks.
LAMB: What would you what would you get if you had Andrew Jackson at your table?
D. HEIDLER: A courtly, withdrawn, and possibly sour person. Jackson was very polite; chivalrous with woman and anyone who ever met him actually Clay rather liked him until he became so vicious. He Clay, after that January 20, 1819 speech actually called on Jackson to show that it wasn’t anything personal. And this was the way the game was played. It was like professional wrestling you know where they go out and have a drink after the bout, and was somewhat surprised that Jackson was so chilly and aloof.
Adams, John Quincy Adams had the same impression. He and Jackson were looking over a map about something and Jackson just exploded about William H. Crawford, who was the Secretary of the Treasury in the Monroe administration and George (ph) and that Jackson thought was his biggest rival; just exploded and went on a raving rant about how perfidious and despicable Crawford was. And Adams was dumbfounded. It was this is a man who doesn’t understand the game.
LAMB: Repeating we said earlier, he ran Henry Clay ran in ’24, ’32, ’40, ’44, and ’48. You really want to say why didn’t he give up? I mean wasn’t there a message there after a while? I mean he was actual nominee of his party three times.
J. HEIDLER: Yes.
LAMB: And then the other two didn’t make it to the nomination. Do you have any sense of why he didn’t give it up? He’d been Speaker of the House.
J. HEIDLER: Yes.
LAMB: He’d been in the United States Senate for a long time or he was there while he was running.
J. HEIDLER: Well, he came very close in ’44. In fact there’s some evidence that he should have won that election.
LAMB: That was the Polk election?
J. HEIDLER: Yes. New York State had a great deal of voter fraud in that election and a large number of newly arrived immigrants voted, as well as a large number of deceased people voted in New York in that election. And if he’d taken New York he would have won the election and it was very, very close in New York.
So I think he thought that, for ’48 that the Whig Party had a very good chance and that’s why he sought the nomination is he was right. I mean as it was he was right, because the person who did win the nomination did win the election; Zachary Taylor.
LAMB: And a Whig goes on to be a Republican eventually?
J. HEIDLER: Well, in the North, generally speaking, people like William Henry Seward, Abraham Lincoln were Whigs and so when the Whig party disintegrated after Clay’s death, most northern Whigs eventually made their way into the Republican Party.
LAMB: Henry Clay comes into politics at 29; well, actually he was in the state earlier than that.
J. HEIDLER: Yes, yes.
LAMB: And then is a politician basically till he dies in 1875.
J. HEIDLER: Till he dies.
LAMB: Ran for President five times. Roughly the House looks like on the list about four I’ve got it four times, but the Senate four times and the one thing that I kept reading in your book is that he would be a friend with somebody and then over Jackson they would be they would lose the friendship. And one of the examples I want to bring up and have you explain is John Crittenden. Who was he and why were they friends and the story all I mean it weaves through the book until the end; they don’t quite ever get back together.
D. HEIDLER: No. Crittenden was not over Jackson. It was a it was a case of simple politics. Your question your earlier question of why doesn’t he just stop running for President is essentially the one that Crittenden finally asked and said enough.
LAMB: Who was he?
D. HEIDLER: He was a he was a Kentuckian.
J. HEIDLER: A protιgι of Clay’s.
D. HEIDLER: And it was a probably at the end, in the ’40s, Clay’s closest friend. He took Clay’s place in the in the Senate when Clay resigned; almost a handpicked successor, in the early ’40s to run for President in ’44. And he was sort of the unofficial campaign manager in ’44. I mean he was that close. They were tireless correspondents and social friends.
When the when the ’48 election loomed, Clay had retired after ’44 and said this is enough. I’m going to live out my years here as the sage of Ashland and be done with it. But as we as we say in the book, he’s sort of like a dray horse who’s been on a milk run you know. You can’t put a guy like that out to pasture. And so when the when the ’48 bell rings his ears perk up and he’s in the hunt ultimately.
Crittenden take it Crittenden had taken him at his word and had really become rather intimately involved in the Zachary Taylor boom (ph) that was the result of Taylor’s success in the Mexican War.
LAMB: And Taylor and Clay in the same party.
D. HEIDLER: Yes, they were both Whigs.
LAMB: And this is the ’48 election.
D. HEIDLER: Yes. And Taylor’s a Whig primarily, not because he really believes anything the Whigs do. He was at most apolitical. He’s a Whig because he hates James Polk, who wasn’t running, but Polk had tried to ruin Taylor’s career reputation, because he saw him as a political rival. And so Polk becomes a Whig by default. It’s a reflex rather than a choice.
J. HEIDLER: Yes, Taylor.
D. HEIDLER: I mean yes; Taylor becomes a Whig as a reflex.
LAMB: Kentuckian now and he’s buried in Louisville?
J. HEIDLER: He was
D. HEIDLER: Who, Taylor (ph)? Yes.
J. HEIDLER: Yes, he was
LAMB: And then and then Clay’s over in Lexington, so they’re in the same state.
D. HEIDLER: It’s strange, but of course at the time he was living in Louisiana.
J. HEIDLER: Yes.
D. HEIDLER: So he was a Louisiana citizen. When he came back in he wanted to be President as a vindication; Taylor did. Clay didn’t quite understand it. In fact, in November of ’47 Taylor virtually foreswore and said if Clay wants this I’ll step aside and that wasn’t true. As time wore on that became less true and Crittenden found himself pretty between a rock and a hard place on this, because he had thrown in with Taylor and Taylor’s compatriots and handlers and operators and as sort of the Kentucky point man, but he kept that secret from Clay.
LAMB: At the end of his life you say that they tried to get back together or they did get back together, but in a meeting.
D. HEIDLER: There’s a difference; there are different accounts of this. The idea that Clay and Crittenden reconciled largely derives from Thomas, who was actually there in Washington with Clay at the National Hotel.
LAMB: The son?
J. HEIDLER: Yes.
D. HEIDLER: Yes. He’d been summoned to bring Clay home. Clay had sent him a telegram and to come get him because he was doing; he knew it. And by the time Thomas got there it was too late. Clay couldn’t be moved. He was bedridden and sinking.
Crittenden came in the first week of June, little (ph) June to visit him. Whether he was summoned or whether he was it was of his own volition we don’t know. But Thomas says that they met and that his father told him after the meeting that Crittenden had done no wrong. He had never done anything wrong and that the family should forgive all of the rancor and forget it. James disagreed.
James never felt James, the other son, never felt that they reconciled. And he found a letter that Clay had written; it was quite bitter after the 1848 truth came out, that was a recrimination of Crittenden. He found that letter on Clay’s desk while he was waiting for the funeral train to come home and read it and thought well, this serves no purpose and he burned it.
LAMB: One of the things we haven’t talked much about and goodness; we can’t get to all of this, there’s a lot in there, is the Senate time. And the Senate how important was the Senate in his life?
J. HEIDLER: It was very important. In fact, as I think we mentioned somewhere in there that the United States Senate in the at the end of the 1950s appointed a committee of the Senate to rank senators and they ranked Clay as the number one senator in U.S. history.
LAMB: That was the John F. Kennedy committee?
J. HEIDLER: That is exactly the committee.
LAMB: Is to pick the best.
J. HEIDLER: Yes.
J. HEIDLER: And he was the best, according to that body.
LAMB: And as I read it, he was about 57 when he was re-elected to the Senate years later, by the legislature, not by the people, and stayed until he was roughly, almost the whole time; 75?
J. HEIDLER: No. He retired in ’42, so he was there about ten years and then he retired during the Tyler administration because partly because he simply couldn’t get anything done, but also to run for President.
LAMB: What were the high points though when he was in the Senate? What were the what was the biggest thing he did?
J. HEIDLER: Well, I think the Compromise of 1833, where he solved the Nullification Crisis, which prevented Jackson from invading South Carolina. And then when he went back into the Senate at the end of 1849 and was the architect of the Compromise of 1850.
LAMB: What was more powerful back then; the Presidency or the Congress?
D. HEIDLER: Congress.
LAMB: And why has it all changed?
D. HEIDLER: Andrew Jackson. He is the exception to the rule of executive passivity, which was the ideal. After the Revolution, the notion of a of an active executive was regarded as too monarchical. And in a democratic republic, as Washington said, the first wheel of government is Congress; the voice of the people. Clay believed that. So did most Presidents, which is one of the reasons that we see a fairly passive executive role in most cases.
The exceptions to that are Andrew Jackson and Jackson’s protιgι, James Polk. And quite frankly, it didn’t’ work out very well. The active executive tended to trammel liberty and overreach.
LAMB: Does it still?
D. HEIDLER: I don’t know. I don’t think I know I think obviously the Founders had a vision for the country is somewhat radically different than what’s evolved, especially in the 20 century and 21st century. War has a lot to do with this and this was one of (ph) reasons that Clay opposed the Mexican War. He saw that as a as a as an enormously corrosive influence on the on government, because it gave government power (ph) money. It tended to make the executive much more much more aggressive in framing policies. And the result almost always was irreversible, to some degree. You never went quite back where you were before.
LAMB: By the way, have you figured out any other characters that you would want to I’m not sure you’d call Henry Clay a character, but do you have any other people in history that you’d write a book about in this process?
J. HEIDLER: Well, we’re starting, right now, a book on the Washington administration; the Presidency of George Washington. It’s a much narrower focus, but perhaps one of the most influential eight years in our history as far as setting precedents.
So that didn’t exactly come out of this project, but there are a number I said repeatedly when we were at Ashland just over the weekend that I want to come back to Mr. Clay one day to take some other aspects of his life, again, particularly the election of 1824.
D. HEIDLER: Yes, I think ’24 deserves a thorough telling.
J. HEIDLER: It does.
D. HEIDLER: Yes.
LAMB: When Robert Remini wrote a book on Henry Clay a number of years ago it was the first book in like 50 years I think, at the time.
J. HEIDLER: Yes.
LAMB: And there haven’t been a lot of them since then. Why not? I mean this his when you go down the list of everything he did; the Speaker of the House and elected to the Senate four times and President he ran for President five times and the Treaty of Ghent and the Secretary of State. Why not? Why not more?
D. HEIDLER: I think because he didn’t win the Presidency. The historical trade has gone in for more the glamour of the Presidency, which was which is another consequence of the growth of executive authority and prestige.
Presidents were you know in many ways glorified clerks during Clay’s time. The dispensed patronage and they glad-handed and toured the country as symbols of unity. The real political power was in the House and the Senate, where policy was formed, appropriations were made. Veto was very rarely used in Presidents, so Jackson is the again, the exception in the veto
LAMB: People are probably wondering why I haven’t talked about the Compromise of 1850 and all of that, because it’s talked about so much and it’s written about. It’s in the book and so I want to go with our remaining time to one other thing. Sickness is another thing that is a thread in your book.
J. HEIDLER: Yes.
LAMB: It seems like more than I read before. Who was sick and what were they sick with?
J. HEIDLER: Clay was never healthy, even as a young man. He always had various respiratory problems and digestive problems. Lucretia tended to be healthier, though she went through some bad health problems as well. Then of course they’re the children; again, respiratory being oftentimes
LAMB: Caused by what?
J. HEIDLER: Well, in Clay’s case, it was probably just something that he was congenitally was a problem for him as far as he’s always had colds; always had very bad colds and bronchitis. And then of course he contracted tuberculosis, which ultimately killed him. Perhaps because of his respiratory problems he was more susceptible to that, because this was a disease that was the number one killer of adults during this time period.
LAMB: And you were, during the last part of the book and the very early part; when he died he had the full treatment; laid in State up there in the Capitol and six white horses pulling the how did he do that? What was the it doesn’t happen very often.
D. HEIDLER: No. And it is a it is an indication. What we wanted to do in the prologue, because Clay has retreated into the shadows of American memory so much, is we wanted to show in the prologue how important he was. And we wanted to show rather than just say he was important. And we thought the best way to do that was to take this funeral, which was unprecedented; the lying in State in the Capitol, the subsequent journey across upstate New York, down Lake Erie, through the central part of the country to Lexington, where hundreds of thousands; almost maybe a million people turned out in the course of that journey to pay tribute to him and the sense of loss that they had when he was gone.
Clay was Clay was, in the parlance of today, a rock star. He was the star player among a lot stock (ph) players.
LAMB: Anything you didn’t like about him?
J. HEIDLER: His inconsistency on the issue of slavery I think was one of the hardest things for us to actually come to grips with, because he was opposed to slavery and yet he owned slaves. And he never, until his death, took that final step to be an example to others to end the institution.
LAMB: And what did you like best about him?
D. HEIDLER: I think his ability to leaven issues with humor; something that Lincoln found admirable enough to emulate. But there is a lot of Lincoln foreshadowed in Clay’s addresses and his speeches, the way he used words and the way he approached issues, so that there is a kind of an anticipation of a of a great event about to happen. Clay, as Scott Fitzgerald said about Daisy Buchanan in the Great Gatsby; there was something about the face that there was a notion that exciting things had happened and exciting things were about to happen.
LAMB: This is the cover of the book; Henry Clay, the Essential American. Our guests have been David and Jeanne Heidler, 29 years married, both PhDs from Auburn, live in Colorado Springs, and have done at least ten books.
Thank you both very much for joining us.
D. HEIDLER: Thank you. Thanks for having us.
J. HEIDLER: Thank you.