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Senator John F. Kennedy Notes For a Speech on Henry Clay, One of His Greatest Predecessors, Whom Lincoln Had Called “his beau ideal of a statesman
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Henry Clay was an extraordinarily gifted political figure…He was a brilliant orator…whose effectiveness was heightened by extraordinary activity of an unique gift of winning the hearts of his country men.

JOHN F. KENNEDY. Autograph Manuscript, Unsigned. Notes for a Speech Delivered on May 1, 1957. 2 pp. on two separate sheets, 5 x 8 in., undated.

Inventory #24384       Price: $4,500

Complete Transcript

The Comm has met and made its final selections and I read you their names in order of selection of seniority in Senate service.

Henry Clay of K. He comes first from point of service and perhaps from point of regard. eulogy. [?] etc. Henry Clay was an extraordinarily gifted politician and statesman political figure. Although he was

[?] [be one leader?] on any list of the greatest Speakers of the House of Rep. <2> over which he presided with skill & judgement. He was an Asst. Secy. of State. He was a determined dominant party leader. [?] He was a brilliant orator and he was the m [?] When disintegration [?] was

whose effectiveness was heightened by extraordinary activity of an unique gift of winning the hearts of his country men.

He was an Lincoln called his beau ideal of a statesman.

Historical Background

In 1957, Senator John F. Kennedy sent out a request to over 150 lawyers and jurists, asking them to name the most influential lawyer in American history. This informal survey turned into Kennedy’s famous “Search for the Five Greatest Senators,” which assembled a special Senate committee, chaired by Kennedy, to formally decide the issue. An essay of the same name, authored by Kennedy, appeared in the New York Times Magazine on April 14, 1957.

The manuscript offered here contains Kennedy’s early notes for a speech delivered on the Senate floor and addressed to President Dwight D. Eisenhower on May 1, 1957, to announce the committee’s selections. Here, Kennedy concentrates on a clear favorite in the deliberations: Henry Clay of Kentucky. The committee recommended placing portraits of the five senators in the Senate Reception Room. The other men selected by the committee were Daniel Webster (1782-1852) of Massachusetts, John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) of South Carolina, Robert M. LaFollette Sr. (1855-1925) of Wisconsin, and Robert A. Taft (1889-1953) of Ohio.

Henry Clay (1777-1852) was born in Virginia and studied law in Richmond. Admitted to the bar in 1797, he began a practice in Lexington, Kentucky. He was elected as a Democratic Republican to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate, where he served from 1806 to 1807, despite being under the required age of thirty years. He again served in the U.S. Senate from 1810 to 1811. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1811 to 1814, when he resigned to negotiate a peace treaty with Great Britain. He served again in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1815 to 1821 and 1823 to 1825, when he resigned to serve as Secretary of State from 1825 to 1829. He again served in the U.S. Senate from 1831 to 1842, when he resigned. Clay returned to the Senate for the final time from 1849 until his death. He served as the Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1811 to 1821, and from 1823 to 1825.

Clay had the distinction of being the youngest Speaker of the House in its history, being chosen for the role on the very first day of his first session. John F. Kennedy likely noted a personal parallel. Kennedy was 36 when he became a Senator in 1953, and is, to date, the youngest president.

Full Text of Speech


From the Estate of Malcolm S. Forbes.


Clean and near fine.

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