“It seems you are resolved to speak until your audience arrives.”—Henry Clay, responding to a fellow member of Congress, speaking interminably in debate, who had just told him, “You, sir, speak for the present generation, but I speak for posterity,” quoted in Samuel A. Bent, comp., Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men (1887).
It pains me to write this, because I don’t think much of the man, but I was inspired to use this quote while listening to a portion of an address given by Senator Mitch McConnell on his great predecessor from Kentucky, Henry Clay (1777-1852). McConnell couldn’t, in his wildest dreams, match Clay for intellect, charm, and most of all, the willingness (let alone ability) to forge compromises on the nation’s most divisive issues.
But let’s give the Senate Minority Leader credit where it’s due—he knows a good example of rapier wit when he hears one, not to mention one of the most consequential politicians never to reach the White House. (Clay was, however, the hero of a man who did become President: Abraham Lincoln.)
(In the image here, Clay is addressing the U.S. Senate around 1850, toward the end of his career, with the other two members of the “Great Triumvirate” also here—Daniel Webster, seated to his left, and John C. Calhoun, seated to the left of the Speaker’s chair. The image, now in the Library of Congress, was drawn in 1855 by Peter F. Rothermel and engraved by Robert Whitechurch.)