Clay began his career in politics in the state House of Representatives from 1803 to 1806 and 1808-1810, Brooks said, then served in the U.S. House of Representatives 1811-1821 and 1823-25. At the time, the office of speaker was relatively unimportant and usually assigned to the newest member, and Clay got the job, Brooks said. However, he soon realized the speaker could control the flow of legislation and quickly redefined the position and "made it the position of power that we know it to be today," Brooks said. Clay served more terms as speaker than anyone but the late Sam Rayburn, he said.
In 1814-15 Clay helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent to end the War of 1812, and while it essentially made the war a draw, it established the United States' place in the world and made it a nation to be reckoned with on the international stage.
Clay served in the U.S. Senate 1806-1807; 1810-1811; 1831-1842 and 1849-1852, the speaker said. He finished fourth in a four-man race for president in 1824, and when the election went to the House of Representatives, as speaker he managed to swing its vote to John Quincy Adams, Brooks said. Shortly thereafter, Clay was named secretary of state and served from 1825 to 1829. Clay ran again for president in 1832 and 1844. While he failed to capture the nation's highest office, he probably was better off as speaker because of his ability to affect legislation, Brooks said.
The speaker said Clay believed strongly in the development of a system of national roads and waterways and invested heavily in roads and tollhouses. One company in which he purchased stock was the Winchester and Lexington Turnpike Company, which in 1838 opened what today is the Lexington Road, Brooks said.
As a lawyer, Clay tried his first case in Winchester on March 6, 1798, and served as deputy state attorney in Clark County 1798-1802, Brooks said. He practiced law successfully for more than 50 years, arguing 23 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, he said. One of his last cases, a contested will, was in Winchester, the speaker said. Although not the most legally educated, Clay could connect with jurors and was skilled in the nuances of court procedures, the speaker said.
Clay's farm at Ashland was one of the finest in Kentucky, the speaker said, noting that Clay used the latest techniques and methods. He was one of the state's major hemp farmers, raising it for use in making cotton bales. Clay also was a scientific breeder of horses, cattle, pigs and sheep, the speaker said, importing the first Hereford cattle in the United States in 1817. He noted that the lineage of 11 Kentucky Derby winners could be traced to two Clay mares.
After battling tuberculosis for several years and discounting the advice of his doctors, Clay died at the National Hotel in Washington, D.C. on June 29, 1856, at the age of 75. His body lay in state at the Capitol, the first to do so, Brooks said, and then was brought to Lexington where it was buried in the Lexington Cemetery on July 10. Lucretia Clay died in 1864, the speaker said.
Clay's son, James, acquired Ashland when his father died and tore down the original house and the wings that were later added because of poor construction and built a new house on the same foundation and with the same basic floor plan, Brooks said. James Clay cast his lot with the Confederacy in 1862 and fled to Canada where he died in 1864, the speaker said.
The property served as the mechanical and agricultural campus of Kentucky University (now the University of Kentucky) from 1866 until it relocated to its present position on Limestone Street in 1878, the speaker said.
Clay's great-granddaughter, Nanette McDowell Bullock, willed the estate to the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation, established in 1926, Brooks said, noting it became a historic house museum in 1950.
Today, it encompasses 16.7 acres, much of the original property now making up the Chevy Chase area of Lexington, the speaker said. It contains eight buildings as well as formal gardens.
Nancy O'Malley, University of Kentucky, will discuss Fort Boonesborough at 6:30 p.m. March 8 at the museum, 217 S. Main St. Admission is free.