Henry Clay Songs
DESCRIPTION: Tunes in favor of "The Statesman, the Patriot, Clay" during his presidential campaigns. Sung to popular tunes such as "Rosin the Beau," they include "The Mill-Boy of the Slashes" and "Old Hal of the West"
KEYWORDS: political nonballad derivative
1777 - Birth of Henry Clay in Hannover County, Virginia -- a region known as "The Slashes," hence the song title "The Mill-Boy [=miller-boy] of the Slashes"
1824 - Clay's first campaign for President (in the first election where popular votes are recorded, Andrew Jackson is the clear winner in the voting, but no one wins in the Electoral College. John Quincy Adams is elected president by the House of Representatives, due mostly to backing from Clay)
1832 - Clay's second campaign for President. He is defeated by Andrew Jackson
1844 - Clay's third campaign for President, producing both ""The Mill-Boy of the Slashes," with its erroneous reference to Van Buren (who failed to earn the Democratic nomination) and "Old Hal o' the West." Clay is defeated by James K. Polk.
1852 - Death of Henry Clay
FOUND IN: US(So)
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Spaeth-ReadWeep, pp. 39-40, "The Mill-Boy of the Slashes" and "Old Hal o' the West" (2 texts, filed under "Old Rosin, the Beau," tune referenced)
Hudson 84, p. 211, "Henry Clay" (1 short text, to the tune of "Old Dan Tucker," with many floating elements)
Lawrence, p. 246, "Here's a health to the wokingman's friend" (1 short text); pp. 310-311, "Here's To You Henry Clay" (1 text); p. 312, "Hurrah for Henry Clay" (1 text, 1 tune, a copy of a broadside); p. 314, "Hurrah for Henry Clay" (1 text, not the same as the preceding)
ADDITIONAL: John Siegenthaler, _James K. Polk_, Times Books, 2003, p. 91, (A single stanza of a Clay campaign song beginning "Hurrah for Henry Clay" and ending "And Polk will soon burst his boiler")
cf. "Clay and Frelinghuysen" (broadside cited on p. 22 of Edwin Wolf 2nd, _American Song Sheets, Slip Ballads, and Political Broadsides 1850-1870_, Library Company of Philadelphia, 1963)
cf. "Rosin the Beau" (tune) and references there
cf. "The Coon Song (I)" (subject; Henry Clay and the 1844 election)
NOTES [810 words]: This is a lumping entry, for all the various political songs associated with Henry Clay and his sundry campaigns for president. They're all of separate origin, but since they had tenuous hold on tradition (at best), it seemed easier to put them all here. (I excluded one, "The Coon Song (I)," as it does seem to have been traditional).
My old high school history text described the period of 1830-1850 as the era of Clay, John C. Calhoun, and Daniel Webster. This is a little unfair; no matter how weak President Martin van Buren and John Tyler were, there is no questioning the importance of Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk!
Nonetheless, Clay was one of the greatest voices of the era, and the single most important force behind the Whig party -- one might almost say he *was* the Whig party, since it died almost the moment he did.
These days, he is usually remembered either for his many compromises, ending finally with the Compromise of 1850, or for his many presidential campaigns. But he was more. Holt's massive work gives this description on, p. 25:
"Clay was five years the senior of Webster, his great rival in the anti-Jackson camp. Whereas the granite-like Webster inspired awe and admiration, the irresistably appealing Kentuckian inspired love, affection, and often rapturous adoration from virtually everyone he met... Clay was a brilliant conversationalist, sparkling, witty, playful. Tall and thin, with a sandy complexion, a shock of brunette hair... gray, laughing eyes, and a straight, thin-lipped mouth that broke readily into a smile, the gracious, fun-loving clay charmed both men and women wherever he went. Neither as profound nor as learned as Webster, he exuded emotion and charisma when he addressed public audiences."
Jameson, p. 416, has this to add: "Mill-boy of the Slashes, a designation applied to Henry Clay, who was born in humble circumstances in the portion of Hanover County, Virginia, known as the "Slashes," and, like other farm-boys, used to ride to mill."
Schlesinger, p. 12, says this of Clay
"No man in American had a greater gift for exciting intense personal enthusiasm than Clay. A splendid orator, with a sure understanding of the crowd, he was endowed with a magnificent and garish imagination, which caught up and expressed the inarticulate popular feelings in their vague longing, their vulgarity and their wonder. He made Federalism a living vision, replacing the dry logical prose of Hamilton with thrilling pictures of a glorious future. The blaze of nationalist suggest a new and disarming name -- the American System -- and under Clay's solicitous care, this rebaptized Federalism slowly won its way to the inner councils of the government."
And yet, if Clay's vision resembles the modern American government, in the short term, he was largely a failure. Depending on how you count, he ran for President from three to five times -- the most by any serious candidate prior to Franklin Roosevelt. But the results were far from successful (see Hammond Atlas, p. U-59):
1824 -- the famous four-way election and the "corrupt bargain" that made John Quincy Adams President. Andrew Jackson won 43% of the popular vote, and 99 electoral votes; Adams has 31% of the vote and 84 electoral votes. William H. Crawford earned 13% of the vote and 41 electoral votes. Clay had 13% of the vote and 37 electoral votes. The election went to the House of Representatives. Clay, being the fourth place finisher, was eliminated from the contest. He threw his support to Adams, who thus (in the first election to feature direct vote count for President) because the first President elected with less than a plurality of the vote.
1832 -- Jackson, who had won the rematch with Adams in 1828, ran for re-election against a variety of candidates: Clay, Floyd, and the anti-Mason Wirt. Jackson won 55% of the vote, and 77% of the electoral vote; Clay won only 25% of the popular vote.
1840 -- By this time, the anti-Jackson, non-Democratic party had a name: They were Whigs. They had run three candidates in 1836, and lost to Martin van Buren. In 1840, Clay made noises about availability, but the Whigs nominated William Henry Harrison (one of their candidates in 1836) -- and won.
1844 -- With Harrison dead, the Whigs at last nominated Clay (the first time he was the sole candidate of the non-Democrats); he earned 48% of the vote to James K. Polk's 50%, but Polk won 62% of the electoral votes.
1848 -- Once again Clay made himself available; once again the Whigs nominated at general (Zachary Taylor) and won the Presidency for the last time.
Nor was this his last noble failure. In 1850, an old man of 72, he managed to put together the Compromise of 1850. He died in 1852 -- and, in 1854, Stephen A. Douglas introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act, thereby destroying the Compromise and opening the door for Civil War. - RBW
Last updated in version 3.5
- Hammond Atlas: (no author listed), The Atlas of United States History (Hammond; I'm using the edition copyrighted 1977 though I imagine there have been others)
- Holt: Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War Oxford, 1999
- Jameson: J. Franklin Jameson, Dictionary of United States History 1492-1895, Puritan Press, 1894
- Schlesinger: Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Jackson, Little Brown, 1945
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