Home Article 1 A Short Political Biography of Henry Clay

A Short Political Biography of Henry Clay

A Short Political Biography of Henry Clay

The Speaker of
the House has managed to garner impressive power ever since its creation in
1789, under Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution. Originally,
the Speaker was not a position that had much influence. The first Speaker of
the House was Frederick Muhlenberg, and there was little that can be attributed
to him in the sense of having impacted the political world of the time.
However, it would be Henry Clay that would manage to break the Speaker’s mold
as an ineffectual role to one that had active responsibilities and duties.

Henry Clay
served for several terms as Speaker of the House, beginning in 1811 and ending
in 1825. Henry Clay’s service as Speaker was not in consecutive terms during
that period. The main change that Henry Clay brought to the office of Speaker
of the House was that he began to actively participate in debates, which was
not done by any of his predecessors. Furthermore, he began to use the position
of his office and use his influence to secure the passage of certain matters
that he supported, such as the War of 1812.

However, Henry
Clay’s influence is most evident in the presidential election of 1824. The
Electoral College did not manage to provide for a majority for any of the
candidates up for election during that year. Therefore, under Constitutional
law, the President was to be decided by the House. Henry Clay supported John
Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson, thus giving Adams the victory in the

Henry Clay proved to deviate as Speaker of the
House in terms of the role’s previous responsibilities or powers. Following
Clay’s run as Speaker, the influence and duties of the role as Henry Clay had affected
them reverted back to its original boundaries for a time.

It would be at the dawning of the 20th Century
that the role of Speaker would once again develop its power and influence,
which was all started under Henry Clay’s tenure. The Speaker’s power would
begin once the position also entailed being Chairman of the Committee on Rules.
After its structure was reorganized in 1880, the position of Speaker was given a
very powerful standing because of the fact that the Committee was one of the
most powerful of the House of Representatives.

The rise of
power of the Speaker was once again felt under Thomas Brackett Reed, who took
the position starting in 1889. Reed managed to effectively end the delaying in
passing of bills due to minority opposition. However, it is Joseph Gurney
Cannon, who served from 1903 to 1911, who is considered as the most powerful
Speaker of the House in the history of the United States. Cannon determined
what was to be the agenda of the House, appointed all the members to the
various House Committees, as well as their chairmen, and determined what bills
were to be heard by which Committee. However, in the year prior to his stepping
down, many of the other House members would be dissatisfied with the control
that was exerted by Cannon and many of his powers would be removed. It would
not be until fifteen years later that Speaker Nicholas Longworth would
institute some, but not all, of those powers and influence. 

The Speaker of the House does not have its roles
in terms of political stance detailed in the Constitution. The position,
however, has throughout history developed into taking a partisan role. The
Speaker has, therefore, also been the head of the majority party in the House
of Representatives. The Speaker is responsible to ensure that the agenda of the
majority party is addressed by helping pass legislation that is in favor of the
majority party. They exercise their power and influence to the extent of being
able to decide when each bill is to reach the floor.

The power of
the Speaker is also evident in the fact that it is second in line to ascend to
the Presidential office only behind the Vice President. If both the President
and Vice President were removed by office, it would be the Speaker that would
be next in line to be sworn in as President and assume the office.