Known as the "Great Compromiser," Henry Clay was a principal figure in U.S. politics in the first half of the 19th century. He moved from Virginia to Kentucky in 1797, quickly rose in that state's politics, and was speaker of the state assembly in 1807.
He won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1811. In Washington, as a spokesman for the West, he was a leader of the "war hawks" seeking war against Britain in 1812. In 1820 he was instrumental in devising the Missouri Compromise, which settled a dispute over the extension of slavery into the western territory.
Clay's first attempt at the presidency was in 1824, when he threw his support to John Quincy Adams--and was named secretary of state--in a four-man contest. The furor caused by this move led to Adams losing to Andrew Jackson in the next presidential election. In 1831 Clay was elected senator from Kentucky and led the opposition to Jackson. He ran against Jackson in 1832 in a losing effort.
Following several disappointments in the early 1840's, Clay resigned from the Senate in 1842. He returned to the Senate in 1849 and helped persuade Congress to accept the Compromise of 1850 concerning slavery in the Southwest. This compromise kept the Union together for an additional decade.