Since the days of George Washington, I can think of many who probably would have been good on the job if they had made it into the Oval Office: John Jay, George Clinton (fourth vice president), Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John Calhoun, Edward Everett, John Hay, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Charles Dawes (vice president under Coolidge), George Marshall, Thomas Dewey, Earl Warren, Eleanor Roosevelt, Daniel Inouye, Barry Goldwater and Colin Powell. Three of them, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and John Calhoun, had streets in Alameda named for them.

Webster is our main business thoroughfare in the city's West End; Calhoun is a seven-block stretch from Broadway eastward across High Street, and two blocks nearby were named for Clay. Who were they? Many historians believe those three senators forestalled the Civil War by at least a decade. How? By compromising for the sake of the country.

Each represented one of the three main sections of our nation during the first half of the 19th century; Webster from Massachusetts in New England, Clay from Kentucky in the West and Calhoun a southerner from South Carolina. As young congressional representatives, they had helped pass the Compromise of 1820, which stalled the inevitable showdown between free and slave states by maintaining the balance as new states joined the Union.

I know, I know. There shouldn't have been any slave states, but it was 1820 -- remember? England, France, Holland and Spain hadn't forbidden it at the time either! Nearly 30 years later, the argument over slavery reached a boiling point when the vast Mexican Cession territory spread the United States to the Pacific. Western folks strongly opposed slavery.


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Daniel Webster was an ardent abolitionist hoping to end all slavery, Henry Clay owned a few slaves, but could see the light and willed them free upon his death, while John C. Calhoun, feeling slavery was necessary to the South's plantation economy, feared the newer free states would tip the voting balance in Congress. Profound disagreement! However, for the sake of the country, each gave way to keep the United States united!

No one was really happy when the 1850 Compromise they backed became law (strenuous oratorical gripes always accompany compromises). Nevertheless, it cooled temperatures for another 10 years and 11 months.

Previously, Webster and Clay had both tried for the presidency three times but lost; and Calhoun, who had been vice president under both John Q. Adams and Andrew Jackson, took a shot at the top job once (1824).

The Compromise of 1850 was their last hurrah, however. Calhoun was literally carried into the Senate chamber on his death bed to vote on the bill, while the lives of Clay and Webster ended just two years later, in 1852. With good reason, Henry Clay became known in our history as "The Great Compromiser." Too bad his ghost hasn't returned to haunt today's Washington crowd!!!

Contact Joe King at alamedanews@bayareanewsgroup.com.