Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Henry Clay

American Statesman. Orator and Senator

"In all the affairs of human life, social as well as political, I have remarked that courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest to the grateful and appreciating heart."

"Statistics are no substitute for judgment."

"The arts of power and its minions are the same in all countries and in all ages. It marks its victim; denounces [him]; and excites the public odium and the public hatred, to conceal its own abuses and encroachments."

"Self-government is the natural government of man."

"Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees; and both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the public."

"An oppressed people are authorized whenever they can to rise and break their fetters. "

"Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees. And both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people."

"Of all human powers operating on the affairs of mankind, none is greater than that of competition. "

"Of all the properties which belong to honorable men, not one is so highly prized as that of character. "

"How often are we forced to charge fortune with partiality towards the unjust!"

"What is the nature of this government? It is emphatically federal, vested with an aggregate of special powers for general purposes, conceded by existing sovereignties, who have themselves retained what is not so conceded. It is said that there are cases in which it must act on implied powers. This is not controverted, but the implication must be necessary, and obviously flow from enumerated power with which it is allied."

"The great advantage of our system of government over all others, is, that we have a written constitution, defining its limits, and prescribing its authorities; and that, however, for a time, faction may convulse the nation, and passion and party prejudice sway its functionaries, the season of reflection will recur, when calmly retracing their deeds, all aberrations from fundamental principle will be corrected."

"All religions united with government are more or less inimical to liberty. All, separated from government, are compatible with liberty."

"Precedents deliberately established by wise men are entitled to great weight. They are evidence of truth, but only evidence...But a solitary precedent...which has never been reexamined, cannot be conclusive."

"It has been objected against this measure that it is a compromise. It has been said that it is a compromise of principle, or of a principle. Mr. President, what is a compromise? It is a work of mutual concession - an agreement in which there are reciprocal stipulations - a work in which, for the sake of peace and concord, one party abates his extreme demands in consideration of an abatement of extreme demands by the other party: it is a measure of mutual concession - a measure of mutual sacrifice. Undoubtedly, Mr. President, in all such measures of compromise, one party would be very glad to get what he wants, and reject what he does not desire but which the other party wants. But when he comes to reflect that, from the nature of the government and its operations, and from those with whom he is dealing, it is necessary upon his part, in order to secure what he wants, to grant something to the other side, he should be reconciled to the concession which he has made in consequence of the concession which he is to receive, if there is no great principle involved, such as a violation of the Constitution of the United States. I admit that such a compromise as that ought never to be sanctioned or adopted. But I now call upon any senator in his place to point out from the beginning to the end, from California to New Mexico, a solitary provision in this bill which is violative of the Constitution of the United States. The responsibility of this great measure passes from the hands of the committee, and from my hands. They know, and I know, that it is an awful and tremendous responsibility. I hope that you will meet it with a just conception and a true appreciation of its magnitude, and the magnitude of the consequences that may ensue from your decision one way or the other. The alternatives, I fear, which the measure presents, are concord and increased discord. . . I believe from the bottom of my soul that the measure is the reunion of this Union. I believe it is the dove of peace, which, taking its aerial flight from the dome of the Capitol, carries the glad tidings of assured peace and restored harmony to all the remotest extremities of this distracted land. I believe that it will be attended with all these beneficent effects. And now let us discard all resentment, all passions, all petty jealousies, all personal desires, all love of place, all hankerings after the gilded crumbs which fall from the table of power. Let us forget popular fears, from whatever quarter they may spring. Let us go to the limpid fountain of unadulterated patriotism, and, performing a solemn lustration, return divested of all selfish, sinister, and sordid impurities, and think alone of our God, our country, our consciences, and our glorious Union - that Union without which we shall be torn into hostile fragments, and sooner or later become the victims of military despotism or foreign domination... Let us look to our country and our cause, elevate ourselves to the dignity of pure and disinterested patriots, and save our country from all impending dangers. What if, in the march of this nation to greatness and power, we should be buried beneath the wheels that propel it onward! ... I call upon all the South. Sir, we have had hard words, bitter words, bitter thoughts, unpleasant feelings toward each other in the progress of this great measure. Let us forget them. Let us sacrifice these feelings. Let us go to the altar of our country and swear, as the oath was taken of old, that we will stand by her; that we will support her; that we will uphold her Constitution; that we will preserve her union; and that we will pass this great, comprehensive, and healing system of measures, which will hush all the jarring elements and bring peace and tranquillity to our homes. Let me, Mr. President, in conclusion, say that the most disastrous consequences would occur, in my opinion, were we to go home, doing nothing to satisfy and tranquillize the country upon these great questions. What will be the judgment of mankind, what the judgment of that portion of mankind who are looking upon the progress of this scheme of self-government as being that which holds the highest hopes and expectations of amelioratirig the condition of mankind - what will their judgment be? Will not all the monarchs of the Old World pronounce our glorious republic a disgracefu! failure? Will you go home and leave all in disorder and confusion - all unsettled-all open? The contentions and agitations of the past will be increased and augmented by the agitations resulting from our neglect to decide them. Sir, we shall stand condemned by all human judgment below, and of that above it is not for me to speak. We shall stand condemned in OUI own consciences, by our own constituents, and by our own country. The measure may be defeated. I have been aware that its passage for many days was not absolutely certain. ...But, if defeated, it will be a triumph of ultraism and impracticability-a triumph of a most extraordinary conjunction of extremes; a victory won by abolitionism; a victory achieved by freesoilism; a victory of discord and agitation over peace and tranquillity; and I pray to Almighty God that it may not, in consequence of the inauspicious result, lead to the most unhappy and disastrous consequences to our beloved country."

"A loving trust in the Author of the Bible is the best preparation for a wise study of the Bible."

"A nation?s character is the sum of its splendid deeds; they constitute one common patrimony, the nation?s inheritance. They awe foreign powers; they arouse and animate our own people."

"All legislation, all government, all society is founded upon the principle of mutual concession, politeness, comity, courtesy; upon these everything is based...Let him who elevates himself above humanity, above its weaknesses, its infirmities, its wants, its necessities, say, if he pleases, I will never compromise; but let no one who is not above the frailties of our common nature disdain compromises."

"Attention is our first duty whenever we want to know what is our second duty. There is no such cause of confusion and worry about what we ought to do, and how to do it, as our unwillingness to bear what God would tell us on that very point."

"Bring the good old bugle, boys! we'll sing another song-- Sing it with a spirit that will start the world along-- Sing it as we used to sing it, fifty thousand strong, While we were marching through Georgia."

"Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart."

"I always have had, and always shall have, a profound regard for Christianity, the religion of my fathers, and for its rights, its usages and observances."

"I am not, sir, in favor of cherishing the passion of conquest. I am permitted ? to indulge the hope of seeing, ere long, the new United States, (if you will allow me the expression,) embracing not only the old."

"I had rather be right than be President."

"I have heard something said about allegiance to the South. I know no South, no North, no East, no West, to which I owe any allegiance."

"I have no commiseration for princes. My sympathies are reserved for the great mass of mankind."

"I hope that it will yet be said, America is America's best customer."

"If you wish to avoid foreign collision, you had better abandon the ocean."

"Impart additional strength to our happy Union. Diversified as are the interests of its various parts, how admirably do they harmonize and blend together!?We have only to make a proper use of the bounties spread before us, to render us prosperous and powerful."

"In a scheme of policy which is devised for a nation, we should not limit our views to its operation during a single year, or even for a short term of years. We should look at its operation for a considerable time, and in war as well as in peace."

"In all cases where incidental powers are acted upon, the principal and incidental ought to be congenial with each other, and partake of a common nature. The incidental power ought to be strictly subordinate and limited to the end proposed to be obtained by the specified power. In other words, under the name of accomplishing one object which is specified, the power implied ought not to be made to embrace other objects, which are not specified in the constitution."

"It consists in the genius of the nation, which is prone to peace; in that desire to arrange, by friendly negotiation, our disputes with all nations... But a new state of things has arisen: negotiation has become hopeless. The power with whom it was to be conducted, if not annihilated, is in the situation that precludes it; and the subject-matter of it is in danger of being snatched forever from our power. Longer delay would be construed into a dereliction of our right, and would amount to a treachery to ourselves."

"It is much more important that we unite, harmonize, and improve what we have than attempt to acquire more."

"It is totally unnecessary for the gentleman to remind me of my coming from a slaveholding state. I know whence I came, and I know my duty, and I am ready to submit to any responsibility which belongs to me as a senator from a slaveholding state. I have heard something said on this and a former occasion about allegiance to the South. I know no South, no North, no East, no West, to which I owe any allegiance. I owe allegiance to two sovereignties, and only two: one is the sovereignty of this Union, and the other is the sovereignty of the state of Kentucky. My allegiance is to this Union and to my state; but if gentlemen suppose they can exact from me an acknowledgement of allegiance to any ideal or future contemplated confederacy of the South, I here declare that I owe no allegiance to it; nor will I, for one, come under any such allegiance if I can avoid it."

"My friends are not worth the powder and shot it would take to kill them!... If there were two Henry Clays, one of them would make the other President of the United States!... It is a diabolical intrigue, I know now, which has betrayed me. I am the most unfortunate man in the history of parties: always run by my friends when sure to be defeated, and now betrayed for a nomination when I, or any one, would be sure of an election."

"Not prayer without faith, nor faith without prayer, but prayer in faith, is the cost of spiritual gifts and graces."

"Political parties serve to keep each other in check, one keenly watching the other."

"Sir, I would rather be right than be president. There is no power like that of oratory. C‘sar controlled men by exciting their fears; Cicero, by captivating their affections and swaying their passions. The influence of the one perished with its author; that of the other continues to this day."

"Sir, if you wish to avoid foreign commerce; give up all your prosperity. It is the thing protected, not the instrument of protection that involves you in war."

"war, the argument supposes, leads to despotism. Would the councils of that statesman be deemed who would recommend that the nation should be unarmed?that in the art of war, the material spirit, and martial exercises, should be prohibited???and that the great body of the people should be taught that the national happiness was to be found in perpetual peace alone? No, sir."

"The Constitution of the United States was made not merely for the generation that then existed, but for posterity?unlimited, undefined, endless, perpetual posterity."

"The courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest to the grateful and appreciating heart. It is the picayune compliments which are the most appreciated; far more than the double ones we sometimes pay."

"The gentleman [Josiah Quincy] cannot have forgotten his own sentiment, uttered even on the floor of this House, "Peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must.""

"The person who has not learned to be happy and content while completely alone for an hour a day, or a week has missed life's greatest serenity."

"The time will come when winter will ask you what you were doing all summer."

"There is no power like that of oratory. Caesar controlled men by exciting their fears; Cicero, by captivating their affections and swaying their passions. The influence of the one perished with its author; that of the other continues to this day."

"There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right in America."

"Value friendship for what there is in it, not for what can be gotten out of it."

"We have had good and bad Presidents, and it is a consoling reflection that the American Nation possesses such elements of prosperity that the bad Presidents cannot destroy it, and have been able to do no more than slightly to retard the public's advancement."

"Whether we assert our rights by sea, or attempt their maintenance by land ? whithersoever we turn ourselves, this phantom incessantly pursues us. Already has it had too much influence on the councils of the nation."