IN SENATE, 1851
Henry Clay in the U.S. Senate illustrates the institution’s Golden Age, a period known for its skilled orators and momentous debates. During the decades from 1820 to the 1850s, the Senate emerged as the principal forum for discussion of the nation’s most pressing issues, including economic development, westward expansion, and the question of slavery.
The figure of Henry Clay gestures towards a document dated “In Senate, 1851.” A Senate Journal in the painting's foreground provides an additional reference—the first session of the 32nd Congress.
As such, this painting does not depict the earlier scenes of the Great Triumvirate that were popular subjects for artists in Clay's time. Working shortly after the Civil War and fourteen years after Clay's death, Staunton chose to memorialize Henry Clay and the lofty Chamber in a more symbolic manner.