A formal campaign portrait of Whig presidential candidate Henry Clay, after the painting by John Neagle done at Ashland, Clay's estate in Kentucky. As this print's legend states, the original was painted "by the order of Philadelphia Whigs and with the approbation of the Central Clay association."
The engraver, Philadelphia artist John Sartain, was the most able and distinguished mezzotintist of the period. His "Henry Clay," although a much larger and more expensive production than the usual campaign images (see nos. 1844-1 through -10), must have attracted considerable election-year interest. The Library's impression was deposited for copyright on December 16, 1843, by which time Clay had emerged as the Whig party's obvious, if not official, presidential nominee.
The print's message is conveyed through text and iconography. Below the image are two quotes from Clay speeches: (1) "The colors that float from the mast-head should be the credentials of our seamen." And (2) "I shall stand erect with a spirit unconquered, whilst life endures, ready to second the exertions of the people in the cause of Liberty, the Union, and the National Prosperity."
The statements embody the candidate's commitment to the defense of American commerce and the preservation of a strong federal union. The iconography of the portrait also reflects Clay's political values and achievements. The subject stands before a large column, and gestures toward an American flag and a globe turned to show South America. The globe alludes to Clay's support, during his early career in the House of Representatives, of Latin American insurgents and new republics. (To an 1843 public it may also have been an oblique reference to the proposed American annexation of Texas, formerly part of Mexico, which Clay opposed.) Clay's role as a champion of internal improvements and of American industry and agriculture (and perhaps his more recent endorsement of a protective tariff--extremely popular with Pennsylvania voters) are symbolized by the anvil and spindle near his feet, by the plough and cows in the fields behind him, and the ship on the ocean beyond.