Monday, January 9, 2012

Just Finished Reading

It has often been said that "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." But, as Dr. Lindsey Apple explained in The Family Legacy of Henry Clay: In the Shadow of a Kentucky Patriarch, Henry Clay Jr's statement that, "how difficult it is for a young tree to grow in the shade of an aged oak," might be more appropriate.

I count myself fortunate to have become acquainted with Dr. Apple over the past couple of years through working together on Teaching American History grants. Everyone who meets him will agree that he is truly a scholar and a gentleman. And, I think his book is certainly not to be overlooked. It is an interesting read filled with stories of tragedy and of missed opportunities, but it is also of accomplishments and perseverance.

Some of the tragedies the author examines are that Clay had two sons committed to an asylum, and Henry Jr. was killed in the Mexican War. All of Clay's daughters died before he did in 1852. In addition, the family was plagued with mental diseases such as depression and physical ailments such as tuberculosis, plus the stress of living up to the family name that Henry Clay made famous. Also, the second and third generation was particularly divided by the Civil War.

But, there were also generations that would have made Clay as pleased as punch. Sons and grandsons and great grandsons had successes in farming and horse breeding. Numerous Clays bravely served the nation by joining the armed forces. And, possibly the most Henry Clay-like descendant was not a male. Great granddaughter Madeline (Madge) McDowell Breckinridge was a leading Progressive Era reformer and suffragist. But, unfortunately, like so many other Clays, her story too was tragic as she died at the young age of 48 from a stroke after suffering extensively from tuberculosis of the bone. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about Henry Clay and the legacy he left for Kentucky and the United States.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.25. Well done Dr. Apple.

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