Known as the "Great Compromiser," Henry Clay of Kentucky served in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. He was Speaker of the House, secretary of state, and a perennial Whig presidential candidate. During an illustrious political career that spanned almost half a century, Clay crafted three major legislative compromises in an attempt to resolve the sectional struggle threatening the Union.
Despite the attribution to "T. Nagle" noted at the bottom of the engraving, this portrait is clearly based on a painting from life by artist John Neagle. That painting was commissioned in 1842 by the Philadelphia Whigs in anticipation of the 1844 presidential campaign. Neagle initially painted a bust portrait, then completed a full-length figure (a second version of the latter is in the U.S. Capitol). Clay complimented Neagle: "I think you have happily delineated the character, as well as the physical appearance, of your subject." William Warner?s engraving differs from the original painting by placing Clay in an oval porthole. This is no doubt a reference to Rembrandt Peale?s famous portrait of George Washington (see 38.00982.001) and an attempt to associate the two great statesmen.
1. Henry Clay, Papers of Henry Clay, vol. 9, edited by Robert Seager, et al. (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1991), 822.