In order to allow for the installation of scaffolding and floor, statuary, and artwork protection in conjunction with the Dome Restoration Project, the Rotunda of the Capitol will be closed from Monday, July 27 through Monday, September 7. While the Rotunda is unavailable for tours, an alternate tour route will be provided. The Capitol Visitor Center is open during the closure of the Rotunda and will offer special activities which do not require advance reservations. You can also download our new U.S. Capitol Rotunda app.

1811 Henry Clay: The Speaker as Leader

The Constitution says that the House of Representatives "shall chuse their Speaker." But it doesn’t say what a Speaker does. The office evolved along with the House. At first, Speakers were largely neutral, presiding over debates and maintaining order. Then came Henry Clay of Kentucky.

Clay became Speaker in 1811, on his first day in the House. Not content simply to oversee the proceedings, he was determined to lead. Clay headed the "War Hawks" faction, which championed American interests against British activity on the seas and Western frontier. He assigned his supporters to committees involved in matters of war and peace with Britain and backed the War of 1812. Clay's forceful personality stamped the House with a partisan spirit and transformed the Speaker into its political leader.

"Come up, and you shall see how I will throw the reins over their necks."
— Speaker Henry Clay

History of Congress and the Capitol

The House 1789-1815

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Henry Clay, by Charles Bird King,...
Image Caption

Henry Clay, by Charles Bird King, 1821

Oil on canvas, 36 1/8 x 28 1/8 inches
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund, 81.9

Henry Clay, by Charles Bird King, 1821

Oil on canvas, 36 1/8 x 28 1/8 inches
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund, 81.9

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