Joyanna Adams

Nobody's Opinion

Nobody Remembers House Speaker Henry Clay

Nobody Remembers

I thought that since today, Paul Ryan took over as House Leader, it might be a good time to remember just how the speakership got so powerful.Gingrich

Nobody hopes that Paul Ryan will not be the dictator that Nancy Pelosi, and John Boehner turned out to be. The spot itself, just like the Presidency, has grown exponentially in power and size beyond what the Constitution meant it to be.

Not many people know this, but Newt Gingrich, once welded the same kind of power over his members, as John Boehner. While Newt was known as the man who put the Republicans back in power in 1994, after fifty years of democratic rule, there were many men and women who went to Washington to serve in Gingrich’s ‘revolution’ and yet, in closed meetings they were told by Newt that either they go HIS way, or none of them would be re-elected or get on committees. Hard to believe, but Newt, after that ‘revolution’, abandoned many of the ideas that he wrote on that Contract with America board and cuddled up to Bill Clinton. The Freedom members of that time, had to admit defeat and just go back home.

When did this ‘power’ of the “speaker ” come about?  According to some historians, It was Henry Clay that started it.

From A History of the American People…Henry Clay

Henry Clay (from Kentucky) was probably the most innovative politician in American history , to be ranked with Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison as a political creator. A year after getting to the House he was elected its Speaker. Hitherto, the House had followed the English tradition, whereby the Speaker presided impartially and represented the collective consensus. Clay transformed this essentially non-political post into one of leadership, drilling and controlling a partisan majority and, in the process, making himself the most powerful politician in the country after the President. This made him a key figure in promoting the War of 1812 and in negotiating the Treaty of Ghent: and, somehow or other, he escaped any blame for the war’s disasters and returned from Ghent in Triumph. This led him to think he ought to be secretary of state to the  new President, Monroe. When the job went to John Quincy Adams instead, Clay organized and led in the House a systematic. “Loyal opposition” another political innovations.

By all accounts, Henry Clay was a pre-Bill Clinton lovable cad. He was a big playboy, drank and gambled heavily. And he was very rich, due to the deals that he arranged by the power he held.

He was incredibly talented at stacking the house and getting his way. He was a dictator, but as one of the men in the house said about him:

“I don’t like Clay. He is a bad man, an imposter, a creator of wicked schemes. I wouldn’t speak to him but, by God, I love him!”

So, next time you wonder why your “representatives” in Washington D.C. never seem to do what they promised you they would do..

Go ahead. Blame Henry Clay. He expanded the power of the speakership and it remains to this day, next to the Presidency, a position of great power.

October 30, 2015 - Posted by | American History, Uncategorized | ,


  1. Yes…it’s the evolution of ‘What else can we change?’ I say it’s the second most powerful because as most people know, unless the President dies, the VP is simply there to enjoy the ride…


    Comment by Joyanna Adams | October 31, 2015 | Reply

  2. It’s interesting that the Speaker of the House is third in line of Presidential Succession. I had thought that was in the original Constitution, but I was wrong. It’s in the Presidential Succession Act of 1947.


    Comment by snopercod | October 30, 2015 | Reply

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