When studying history it is easy to forget just how different the past is from our own times. The people we encounter in history are children of their times, just as we are children of ours, and the impact of that fact should never be forgotten by anyone seeking to understand a period of history.
Henry Clay, the Great Compromiser, one of the towering figures of the first half of the nineteenth century, and his wife Lucretia provide a simple example. They had eleven children. In a time when families with more than three children are a rarity, that alone is a fact that separates them from most of us, but it is the fate of those children that points out another major difference. At the time of his death, Henry Clay had outlived all of his six daughters and one of his five sons. Of the six girls, two died in infancy, two as children and two as young women. One son, Henry Clay, Jr, predeceased his father, dying at the battle of Buena Vista in 1847. By the time that Lucretia Clay died, she had outlived another son, who died a few months before her in 1864. (more…)