19th Century Era vs. Mixed Era
“Great Orator” vs. “Great Compromiser”
1. Daniel Webster, Whig - Massachusetts, 1782-1852: Dubbed “The Great Orator,” Daniel Webster fought to keep the country unified during the pre-Civil War debate over slavery. Indeed, he became the de facto spokesman for those seeking to save the union after delivering what’s been called, “The Most Famous Senate Speech” in a debate that lasted over nine days with a senator from South Carolina. Ironically, it was another speech – arguing in favor of the Compromise of 1850 and saying that bickering over slavery was pointless because it wasn’t going away – that ended his Senate career. That speech played well as a middle-of-the-road position in many parts of the country, but not in his liberal home state. Soon after, he resigned the Senate to become Secretary of State. Webster died just four months after Henry Clay – another #1 seed – did.
1. Henry Clay, D-R, Whig - Kentucky, 1777-1852: Henry Clay’s ability to navigate a fractured Senate is credited with fending off war between slave-owning and free states -- at least three times. He was pivotal in the negotiations in the creation of the Missouri Compromise, which allowed the United States to continue its Western expansion. For his efforts, Clay earned the nicknames “The Great Compromiser” and “The Great Pacificator.” How revered was he? Abraham Lincoln called him "my beau ideal of a statesman" and often used his quotes in his speeches. He was the first ever to receive the honor of being laid in state in the Capitol Rotunda. Clay also engineered the only censure of a president -- Andrew Jackson. Clay's death, which took place a decade before the Civil War's start, was regarded as the end of the Senate's "Golden Era."
20th Century Era vs. Modern Era
“The Master of the Senate” vs. “The Last Lion”
1. Lyndon Johnson, D - Texas, 1908-73: Lyndon Johnson was dubbed the “Master of the Senate” by author Robert Caro, and he drew the blueprint for what we think of as the modern majority leader. LBJ understood the rules and what made senators tick. Ironically, his greatest accomplishments – passing the Great Society measures and the Civil Rights Act – came when he was president, earning him the nickname "Super Majority Leader." As a young majority leader, Johnson helped usher through President Eisenhower’s civil rights bill that only passed by weakening key enforcement provisions to pacify Southern Democrats.
1. Ted Kennedy, D - Massachusetts, 1932-2009: Regarded as the last lion to serve in the Senate, Ted Kennedy worked across the aisle to achieve major legislative accomplishments -- on health care, education, civil rights, and raising the minimum wage. He also was instrumental in Barack Obama’s presidential quest, delivering him key support in the middle of the heated 2008 campaign between Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton.