"I Had Rather Be Right Than Be President"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Henry Clay, a Virginiaborn statesman, in a public life which covered nearly half a century, served as Senator, Speaker of the House, and Secretary of State under President John Quincy Adams. He gained his nickname "The Great Pacificator" from his efforts in behalf of the Missouri Compromise (1820) and lived up to his reputation in the so-called Compromise of 1850 by which he sought to avoid civil war. Although a Congressman from the slave state of Kentucky and three times a presidential candidate, Clay believed slavery to be a moral blight on the nation and refused to sacrifice principle for the sake of popularity. On the other hand, he deplored the extremists who advocated force. In 1839, while a candidate, he delivered a conciliatory address against militant abolitionism. Senator Preston of South Carolina, whom Clay had consulted before delivering the speech, later remarked:

On one occasion Mr. Clay did me the honor to consult me in reference to a step he was about to take. . . . After stating what he proposed, it was remarked that such a step might be offensive to the ultras of both parties, in the excitement which then existed. To this Mr. Clay replied: "I trust the sentiments and opinions are correct; I had rather be right than be President."