‘Henry Clay’ Comes to Town

Winchester got a blast from the past Thursday evening.

Lexington actor Kevin Hardesty performed as famed statesman Henry Clay in the one-man show “Divided We Stand” for the Bluegrass Heritage Museum’s Second Thursday program.

“This Henry Clay piece is actually a brand new endeavor for me,” Hardesty said to the audience after his performance. “I actually started working on it two years ago, just prior to the pandemic.”

Hardesty said that the performance was one of his first times acting as Clay in public.

“I’m still working out the style of it and learning more about Clay,” he said.

Hardesty spoke about Clay’s background as a legal apprentice in Virginia, his successful tenure as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, his legendary statecraft in the U.S. Senate, and his many failed bids for the presidency.

Clay is best known for the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850. Both were legislative packages that simmered down tensions about slavery, and each bought the nation time to grow before the Civil War erupted.

“He gave time for this country to strengthen itself enough to survive, Hardesty said about Clay’s compromises.

For all of Clay’s achievements, the elephant in the room concerning his legacy was and still is his contradictory stance on slavery. Clay owned dozens of enslaved Black people but publicly denounced the institution. He favored gradual emancipation and colonization of formerly enslaved people in Africa.

“That’s the most difficult part in, I think, preparing this and bringing it to you,” Hardesty said. “It is not a comfortable topic, and people don’t want to talk about this.”

Despite that, Hardesty said that history needs to be taught “whether bad, good or indifferent.”

Hardesty’s portrayal of Clay is part of the Kentucky Humanities Chautauqua program. The program brings 25 actors portraying historical figures from Kentucky’s past to schools and civic groups. Hardesty has portrayed Daniel Boone and Jefferson Davis in the past.

The museum offers the Second Thursday program once a month. It is free of charge for all to attend.