Bill Bennett

When Henry Clay visited New Orleans in 1844, a local newspaper, the Tropic, had great fun with the great Kentuckian. It published as a spoof a Dutch-accented verse about the Great Compromiser:

Vell, Henry you’re in town at last, Ve’re wery glad to see you, Ve’ll breakfast and ve’ll dine you, And ve’ll sup you and ve’ll tea you It’s wery fortunate for us That yu veren’t born a Turk, You might among the ladies here Do so much orrid verk. They think of you the blessed day At night ven in their beds; It’s vell their politics to turn But not to turn their heads!

Here we see Great Harry’s famous appeal to the ladies. He was by far the least handsome of the three great senators of his day. Webster was “the Godlike Daniel,” and “Black Dan” to his women admirers. And Calhoun was a compelling figure in his younger days, tall and straight, with a shock of black hair and those dark piercing eyes.

Women liked Clay because he liked them. And he took them seriously. He was charming, soft-spoken, and reasonable. In an age of passionate intensity, Clay’s efforts to preserve the union—and peace—through reason and persuasion struck a responsive chord, especially with women. No one could imagine Clay’s campaigning with such an idiot election slogan as “Rumsey, Dumsey / Rumsey, Dumsey / Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh.” He appealed to the reserved, the thoughtful, the serious. And yes, even in Andrew Jackson’s rollicking America, there were still some of those.

Bill Bennett

Bill Bennett is the author of Our Country's Founders .

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