Henry Clay and the American System

Following the War of 1812, Henry Clay propounded what became known as the "American System". It advocated federally financed internal improvements (primarily roads and canals), a high protective tariff, and cooperation with South American patriots to enhance the American status as a leader in the Western Hemisphere. Clay stated that adoption of his plan would bring the United States "to that height to which God and nature had destined it."

President Monroe studied the matter carefully and traveled to many locations to learn more about the proposed roads and canals. In the end, Monroe stood by his Democratic-Republican principles and opposed a federal role in such construction projects, arguing that the Constitution provision to "promote the general welfare" was not met.

Monroe did not support Clay's enthusiasm for Latin American revolutions, claiming that to endorse them would be to involve the United States against Spain. Clay said that he

would not disturb the repose even of the most detestable despotism, but if an abused and oppressed people willed their freedom; if they sought to establish it; if, in truth, they had established it, we had the right as a sovereign power, to notice the fact, and to act as circumstances and our interest required.

Opposition to the South American objectives was lead by John C. Calhoun and John Quincy Adams, both members of Monroe's cabinet.

Clay was more successful with tariff measures, securing passage of protective rates in 1816, 1818 and 1824.

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