CLAY, Henry (1777-1852), Politician. Autograph letter signed ("H. Clay") as Senator for Kentucky, to Robert S. Chilton, Washington, D.C., 14 December 1839. 1 page, 4to, integral autograph address panel, autograph free frank: "Free H. Clay," added postmark "Washington Dec 18," cut at seal, otherwise fine.
CLAY ON THE INADEQUACIES OF THE TREATY OF GHENT: "WE DID NOT THINK IT NECESSARY TO CONTINUE THE WAR TO COMPEL [GREAT BRITAIN] TO RENOUNCE IT"
A highly interesting letter, written during a period when Anglo-American relations were especially strained in the wake of the Caroline Affair and the Aroostook War; Van Buren was resisting calls for a new war with Britain. Clay, one of the commissioners who negotiated the treaty which ended the War of 1812, defends its failure to prohibit British impressment of American seamen. He writes: "...I have to say, that you will recollect that the peace of Europe was then established, and the U. States alone were at War with G. Britain. We were not in a condition to dictate the terms of peace. Impressment formed one of the topics of negotiation, but G. Britain was not prepared to renounce the practice of impressing as she said her own subjects. We did not think it necessary to continue the War to compel her to renounce it, if we could compel her, for various reasons. 1st. If there were a general peace, there would be no impressment, which only takes place in War, or in preparations for War. 2d. It was not necessary to have any Treaty stipulation to exempt us from the practice, our right to exemption depending upon higher ground than any treaty. And 3d. If G.B. should renew the practice of impressment against our citizens, we could renew the War; and we thought that we could prosecute a new War with more vigor and more ample means than we could continue the existing War, exhausted as we then were." He concludes that "In point of fact she has not renewed the practice of Impressment agt. us, and I think never will."
Clay had been a strong supporter of the war against Great Britain, encouraging President Madison into the conflict. In 1814, a peace commission composed of John Quincy Adams, Jonathan Russell, James A. Bayard, Albert Gallatin and Clay negotiated the peace treaty which "mentioned none of the maritime issues that had caused the war. It simply restored the status quo ante bellum..." (D.R. Hickey, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, p.296)