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HENRY CLAY was born at Hanover, Virginia, April 12, 1777. When he was but four years old his father died, and thenceforward the boy was obliged to earn his own living. Notwithstanding this fact, he was able to gain considerable knowledge of books. At fifteen he became assistant clerk of a court, and at twenty he was licensed to practice law. Very soon he removed to Lexington, and there he acquired eminence in his profession. During many years he was a member of the national House of Representatives and served several terms as
speaker of that body. At other periods he was a member of the Senate. As a statesman he had great influence, and as an orator he ranked very high. It was he who uttered the famous saying, “Sir, I would rather be right than be President.”
He died at Washington, June 29, 1852.
I have been accused of ambition in presenting the measure. Ambition ! inordinate ambition! If I had thought of myself only, I should have never brought it forward. I know well the perils to which I expose myself; the risk of alienating faithful and valued friends, with but little prospect of making new ones, if
any new ones could compensate for those whom we have long tried and loved ; and the honest misconceptions both of friends and foes.
Ambition! if I had listened to its soft and seducing whispers, if I had yielded myself to the dictates of a cold, calculating, and prudential policy, I would have stood still and unmoved. I might even have silently gazed on the raging storm, enjoyed its loudest thunders, and left those who are charged with the care of the vessel of State to conduct it as they could.
I have been heretofore often unjustly accused of ambition. Low, groveling souls, who are utterly incapable of elevating themselves to the higher and nobler duties of pure patriotism, beings who, forever keeping their own selfish aims in view, decide all public measures by their presumed influence on their own aggrandizement, judge me by the venal rule which they prescribe to themselves.
I have given to the winds those false accusations, as I consign that which now impeaches my motives. I have no desire for office, not even the highest. The most exalted is but a prison, in which the incarcerated incumbent daily receives his cold, heartless visitants, marks his weary hours, and is cut off from the practical enjoyment of all the blessings of genuine freedom. I am no candidate for any office in the gift of the people of these States, united or separated : I never wish, never expect to be.
Pass this bill, tranquilize the country, restore confidence and affection in the Union, and I am willing to go home to Ashland, and renounce public service forever. I should there find, in its groves, under its shades, on its lawns, amidst my flocks and herds, in the bosom of my family, sincerity and truth, attachment and fidelity, and gratitude, which I have not always found in the walks of public life.
Yes, I have ambition, but it is the ambition of being the humble instrument, in the hands of Providence, to reconcile a divided people, once more to revive concord and harmony in a distracted land, the pleasing ambition of contemplating the glorious spectacle of a free, united, prosperous, and fraternal people !
What constitutes a state ?
Thick wall or moated gate;
Not bays and broad-armed ports,
Not starred and spangled courts,
No: men, high-minded men,
In forest, brake, or den,
Men who their duties know,
Prevent the long-aimed blow,
SIR WILLIAM JONES.
Volcanoes can never be trusted. No one knows when one will break out or what it will do; and those who live close to them — as the city of Naples is close to Vesuvius — must not be astonished if they are blown up or swallowed up, as that great and beautiful city of Naples may be, without a warning, any day.
For what happened to that same Mount Vesuvius nearly 1800 years ago, in the old Roman times? For ages and ages it had been lying quiet, like any other hill. Beautiful cities were built at its foot, filled with people who were as handsome, and as comfortable, and (I am afraid) as wicked, as people ever were on earth. Fair gardens, vineyards, olive yards, covered the mountain slopes. It was held to be one of the paradises of the world.
As for the mountain's being a burning mountain, who ever thought of that? To be sure, on the top of it was a great round crater, or cup, a mile or more across, and a few hundred yards deep. But that was all overgrown with bushes and wild vines, full of boars and deer. What sign of fire was there in that? To be sure, also, there was an ugly place below by the seashore, called the Phlegræan fields, where smoke and brimstone came out of the ground; and a lake, called Avernus, over which poisonous gases hung, and which (old stories told) was one of the mouths of the Nether Pit. But what of that? It had never harmed any one, and how could it harm them?
So they all lived on, merrily and happily enough, till the year A.D. 79. There was stationed in the bay of Naples a Roman admiral, called Pliny, who was also a very studious and learned man, and author of a famous old book on natural history. He was staying on shore with his sister; and as he sat in his study she called him out to see a strange cloud which had been hanging for some time over the top of Mount Vesuvius.
It was in shape just like a pine tree; not, of course like one of our branching Scotch firs here ; but like an Italian stone pine, with a long straight stem and a flat parasol-shaped top.
Sometimes it was blackish, sometimes spotted ; and the good Admiral Pliny, who was always curious about natural science, ordered his cutter and went away across the bay to see