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Clayton, John Middleton

CLAYTON, JOHN MIDDLETON (1796-1856), American politician, was born in Dagsborough, Sussex county, Delaware, on the 24th of July 1796. He came of an old Quaker family long prominent in the political history of Delaware. He graduated at Yale in 1815, and in 1819 began to practise law at Dover, Delaware, where for a time he was associated with his cousin, Thomas Clayton (1778-1854), subsequently a United States senator and chief-justice of the state. He soon gained a large practice. He became a member of the state House of Representatives in 1824, and from December 1826 to October 1828 was secretary of state of Delaware. In 1829, by a combination of anti-Jackson forces in the state legislature, he was elected to the United States Senate. Here his great oratorical gifts gave him a high place as one of the ablest and most eloquent opponents of the administration. In 1831 he was a member of the Delaware constitutional convention, and in 1835 he was returned to the Senate as a Whig, but resigned in the following year. In 1837-1839 he was chief justice of Delaware. In 1845 he again entered the Senate, where he opposed the annexation of Texas and the Mexican War, but advocated the active prosecution of the latter once it was begun. In March 1849 he became secretary of state in the cabinet of President Zachary Taylor, to whose nomination and election his influence had contributed. His brief tenure of the state portfolio, which terminated on the 22nd of July 1850, soon after Taylor's death, was notable chiefly for the negotiation with the British minister, Sir Henry Lytton Bulwer, of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (q.v.). He was once more a member of the Senate from March 1853 until his death at Dover, Delaware, on the 9th of November 1856. By his contemporaries Clayton was considered one of the ablest debaters and orators in the Senate.

See the memoir by Joseph P. Comegys in the Papers of the Historical Society of Delaware, No. 4 (Wilmington, 1882).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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