It can be credibly argued that among the three or so most important political leaders responsible for the preservation and advance of the United States of America’s experiment in democracy was Sen. Henry Clay.
He is hardly known anymore to the casual observer of this nation’s history. He’s not on any currency denominations (and I’ll inject here that if anyone is to be substituted for on U.S. currency, it should be Jackson on the $20 and not Hamilton on the $10!). Clay was never elected president, although he was far better than men of his own Whig Party who were.
Clay did more than anyone to hold the fragile young nation together under the relentless subversive pressures from England and her slavery-dependent textile trade allies in the southern states to split it apart.
The “preservation of the Union” was the indispensable rallying cry for the young republic from the days of the Federalist Papers until the South launched its war of succession.
Holding the Union together was Clay’s passion, and his warnings about the potential for its demise were, of course, vindicated by the onset of the Civil War. But for critical decades prior to that, his efforts were successful, especially in dealing with leaders of the southern states like Sen. John C. Calhoun. By the time the Civil War finally did break out (following Clay’s death in 1852), the nation had gained the strength to prosecute it, not only to hold the nation together as a result, but to abolish slavery once and for all.
For this reason, I contend that the U.S. War of Independence was not finally accomplished at Yorktown in 1781, but at Appomattox in 1865. In the process of all this, Henry Clay gained the nickname, “The Great Compromiser,” because his ability to compromise was the skill he mastered to keep the nation intact for as long as he did.
I raise this now because on the one hand, it speaks to the issue of the anti-American, counterrevolutionary Confederacy and the long-overdue movement now to remove its flags and symbols, and on the other hand it underscores the monumental achievement of the negotiated deal for peace achieved by the U.S. and its allies with Iran this week.
In this postmodern, dystopian era, “compromise” has become a dirty word. The norm is an Ayn Rand-like resolve by every self-actualized person to stand their ground in an angry world of each against all. Anything else is spineless and weak.
But for the very survival of our nation and so much more, the ability to effectively compromise has been the highest and the most valued skill on behalf of humanity, itself.
It is the alternative to a world where everyone is defined as winners and losers and where violence and war are the norm for how conflicts are resolved. Many people fail to appreciate its value because they feel they lack the skills, personally, to engage others in this way, while on the other hand, it’s easy to step back and fire a gun or lob a grenade.
The Iran deal is truly historic and, predictably, it has the dogs of war barking and howling like it’s the end of the world.
The entire “military and industrial complex” that President Eisenhower identified in his farewell address as the greatest threat to our nation has closed ranks to discredit and cancel it with a full-court-press barrage of dissembling arguments and worst case scenarios.
Among other things, they cite the lives that decades of Iranian-sponsored terrorism have cost. But on the other side are the hundreds of thousands of lives that were lost as a result of the unprovoked 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Had the dogs of war who stampeded the U.S. into that invasion gotten their way, the U.S. would have invaded Iran long before now. Thanks to Seymour Hersh and others, we know the plans were in place to do just that. Perpetual war and natural resources grabs are the hallmarks of these dogs, indifferent to the countless casualties among U.S. soldiers and indigenous populations, alike, that would result.
So much better is the humanitarian commitment to diplomacy and, yes, compromise.