Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"Henry Clay did not"

David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler have no axe to grind; their subject is Henry Clay, not Millard Fillmore. It is therefore particularly gratifying to read their sympathetic and perceptive appreciation of our thirteenth president:
Millard Fillmore became president amid a grave crisis. The new president could match anyone as to humble origins, for his youth was framed in want, hard men, and harder circumstances, exploited by an apprenticeship that worked him like a dog at the hands of masters intent upon keeping him ignorant and dependent. He rose above it with almost superhuman resolve to acquire an education in the law and to establish himself in politics, first in New York and then in Washington, gaining a reputation as a reliable worker and an unquestionably honest man. Along the way he acquired habits and manners that would have made him celebrated for sophistication had be not been so resolutely self-effacing. His manner in fact convinced many that he was a plodding, timid intellect, but not everyone fell into the trap of thinking simplicity equated with simpleness. [Henry] Clay did not.
About the illustration, entitled Inklings of Travel, Up Salt River:
A broad satire, ridiculing all of the candidates in the 1848 presidential campaign. Swimming up "Salt River" and pulling the "Salt River Barge" is fox Martin van Buren. Seated in the barge are (left to right): Zachary Taylor, Taylor running mate Millard Fillmore, Henry Clay, Democratic vice presidential candidate William O. Butler, and presidential candidate Lewis Cass. Seated in the front of the boat and looking ahead through a spyglass, Taylor observes, "I say, Fillmore, I don't see anything ahead yonder that looks like the White House. The coast is very low & well adapted to Salt Works." Cass, at the tiller, says, "This boat carries Cesar and his fortunes. It cannot fail to arrive at its place of destination."

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