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Schuylkill County News

Should Henry Clay Stay or Go? Online Debate Heats Up

henry clay statue pottsville

It was only a matter of time before some people in the community wondered — who’s that giant white guy looking over Pottsville?

We’re talking about the giant statue that stands tall above the city, perched up on Bunker Hill and visible almost everywhere downtown.

henry clay statue pottsville pa

The Henry Clay statue above Pottsville, PA. (Coal Region Canary photo)

For those new in town or for those who never knew, it’s 19th Century politician Henry Clay.

And with statues being toppled across the country, including some here in Pennsylvania, questions were bound to be asked and they are.

Henry Clay Statue in Pottsville – Stay or Go?

Some members of a local online activist group — associated with recent race protests and rallies in Pottsville — think the Clay statue should come down. Not everyone there agrees, however.

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And based on the discussion in another popular local online group, the idea of the Pottsville Henry Clay statue coming down is not going over well.

So, despite feeling that statues should not be destroyed, partly because enough people in Pottsville once believed it was a good idea, let’s look at the merits, if any, of an argument which has the Clay statue in Pottsville coming down.

Who is Henry Clay?

Here’s just enough about Clay to help you pass the test, should there be a test on Henry Clay facts in the future:

Clay was born in Virginia in 1777. He became a lawyer in Virginia by 1797 but then moved to Kentucky. He got elected to the Kentucky General Assembly in 1803. And in 1806 – the same year Pottsville celebrates its founding – Clay was appointed to the US Senate.

Voters actually put him into office as a US Representative in 1811, where he also served for a time as Speaker of the House. Clay became known over his career as The Great Compromiser and The Great Pacificator. For instance, he pushed hard for the War of 1812 but also negotiated the peace treaty between a very young United States and the British.

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In 1825, Clay served as Secretary of State for President John Quincy Adams. He ran for President of the United States in 1824, 1832, and 1844. Obviously, he never won.

Why is Henry Clay in Pottsville?

None of that, of course, has much to do with Pottsville or even Pennsylvania. So, why is there a statue to Henry Clay in Pottsville?

A debunked local legend suggests the Henry Clay statue in Pottsville is here by mistake. One side of the legend says it was to originally go to Ashland but got stopped here in Pottsville and never made it north of the mountain.

And there’s another tale which suggests the shippers made the old Pottsville-Pottstown mistake.

Local historians have told us, however, that neither legend is true, no matter how many times it’s told. The Schuylkill County Historical Society says a group of citizens met in Pottsville back in 1852 and decided to move forward on getting a Clay statue in the city.

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The Henry Clay statue is supposed to be here. And here’s why …

Clay was an outspoken politician. And one of the many issues he supported was tariffs on foreign goods. Namely, in this case, a tariff on British iron. As demand for iron products increased in the northern United States, companies began importing iron from the country we soundly thumped twice in battle.

The tariffs Clay supported forced more iron to be produced in the US, which caused a greater demand for anthracite coal. And a demand for coal, of course, kept the home fires burning here in Pottsville and Schuylkill County.

The Historical Society also notes that Clay’s nationalism and sense of patriotism also led to the support of a statue in his honor here.

FOR MORE: Read this history of the Clay statue in Pottsville, written by the late Leo Ward, hosted on the Historical Society’s website.

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Henry Clay and Slavery

Here’s where things get a little dicey with Henry Clay. Yes, he owned slaves. He inherited slaves and married into a family that also owned slaves.

At the same time, however, Clay argued through his positions as Senator and Congressman for the gradual abolition of slavery. He also supported an idea that returned slaves to their native Africa, an idea that eventually led to the African nation of Liberia.

The apparent hypocrisy of his stance on the slavery issue likely cost him any real chance at occupying the White House.

And when Clay died, in his will he reportedly freed all the slaves he owned and paid for some of their future endeavors.

More Statues Coming Down Daily

Amid this current time of social justice awareness and sudden woke-ness to varying versions of American history, the discussion that’s currently happening online locally was bound to occur.

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It’d take a hell of an arm to get a rope around Henry Clay in Pottsville. So, any action on the statue would likely have to come from someone official. It seems highly unlikely, as it should.

Right now, in Lancaster, local officials there are debating the fate of a Christopher Columbus bust that’s been vandalized several times recently. Lancaster city officials want it down but county officials have been slow to act.

POLL QUESTION – Should the Henry Clay Statue in Pottsville Come Down?

So, what do you think? Knowing what you knew or now know about the Henry Clay statue in Pottsville, do you think it should stay where it is or come down like so many others across the country lately?

Take a second to answer our poll question or let us know in the comments below.

[poll id=”14871″]

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  1. Dave

    July 7, 2020 at 4:28 pm

    These younglings need a job, maturity, and a history lesson. Or a many score one.

  2. Den kling

    July 7, 2020 at 6:34 pm

    Are the people on the left any different from the bullies on the bus or play ground

  3. Susan Bianchi

    April 1, 2023 at 1:45 pm

    I don’t live in Pottsville, but I have been coming 2 or 3 times a month for medical treatment.i saw the Clay statue from Rt 61 and wondered who it was. Now I know. I think the statue should stay and be maintained as part of our history. If nothing else, Clay was responsible for putting off the Civil War for maybe 10 years. If he had lived longer and been able to work with Lincoln, our history during Reconstruc-tion might have been a lot different – think if he had been Lincoln’s VP instead of that idiot Johnson!
    Anyway, I vote for Henry Clay to stay!

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