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This child, the seventh of 9 children, was born in 1777 on a small farm in Virginia to a Baptist minister and his wife. When he was four years old, his father died. His childhood thereafter was impoverished. He and his siblings struggled with their mother to work their farm, and he was badly educated in a local one-room schoolhouse. One of his jobs as a boy was to ride his old horse on farm errands bringing wheat or corn to the mill. Because he did not have a saddle, he sat on a bag of wheat or corn instead and the locals derided him as the Slashes millboy.
When he was fifteen, his mother remarried, and her new husband moved the family to Richmond. The boy then got a job as a clerk in the courthouse, keeping records. Afterward, a job with a judge gave him the opportunity to read and study the law on his own. At age 21, he moved himself to Kentucky, where he began to establish himself as a lawyer. He married a young woman from one of the more prominent local families. Ultimately they had eleven children.
As a lawyer, he gained a considerable reputation for his skill at oratory. Among his many famous clients was Aaron Burr, whom he successfully defended when Burr was criminally prosecuted for planning an expedition into Spanish territory west of the Missippi.
He was elected to the Kentucky General Assembly, and while there, was in two duels himself, one of which was instigated when he had a brawl on the floor of the Assembly with another legislator.
After serving in Kentucky's legislature, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. His reputation as a lawyer and orator so preceded him that he was elected Speaker of the House on his first day in Congress -- a feat not duplicated before or since. He was re-elected five times to the House and to the speakership. During his tenure he turned the position into one of political power second only to the president of the United States. He gained national prominence as the leader of a group in Congress called the "War Hawks" who pushed the country into the War of 1812. Subsequently, he was elected to the Senate.
Although he and his family before him had been slave owners, he became known for his advocacy in favor of limiting slavery. He also achieved an extraordinary reputation as a politician for sticking to his conscience, and for getting disagreeing sides to compromise. He was the author of the Missouri Compromise restricting slavery to the southern states. He also became known for his protection of American industry against calls for unrestrained free-trade.
He ran for president several times, but although he received his party's nomination twice, he was never successful. Nevertheless, he was widely admired as a politician. Abraham Lincoln called him his "beau ideal of a statesman". He said of himself, when asked why he allowed himself to lose a bid for presidency by not just telling people what they wanted to hear, that "I would rather be right than president."
When he died in 1852, Lincoln arranged for a public tribute, calling him "freedom's champion, the champion of a civilized world."
A hundred years later, John F. Kennedy identified him as part of the "Great Triumvirate" or "Immortal Trio," along with Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun. In 1957 a Senate committee chaired by Kennedy named him as one of the five greatest senators in U.S. history.
The poor farmboy whom reknowned American icons Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy themselves looked up to as a role model was the "silver-tongued Kentuckian",
Henry Clay, a boy from a "fatherless
* The term "fatherless" is used in this series as it is in current research and policy rhetoric by the U.S. federal government, DHHS and the National Fatherhood Initiative, most U.S. states in connection with child custody law and policy, and various family values and fatherhood interest policy and lobbying groups.
"...Just add Dad, the magic ingredient. It's hard to know where wishful thinking becomes deliberate deception. But this argument, advanced by the fathers' rights movement, is like saying that, since Mercedes Benz owners make more money than people who drive Hyundais, you will become wealthy if you buy a Mercedes..." Mike Peterson
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