The Great Triumvirate is a term that refers to the three statesmen who dominated the United States Senate in the 1830s and 1840s: Henry Clay of Kentucky, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. All three were extremely active in politics, had been appointed United States Secretary of State, and had served in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Each was a distinguished orator and debater.
Traditionally, Clay has been described as the most animated of the three. His passionate delivery and flamboyant mannerisms captured the attention of his audience and made his words memorable. Webster has been described as the erudite one, especially in vocabulary. His seamless delivery of words made his speeches powerful. Calhoun has been described as the intellectual of the group, delivering speeches with great substance.
The time these three men spent in the Senate represents a time of rising political pressure in the United States, especially on the matter of slavery. With each one representing the three major sections of the United States at that time and their respective mindsets (the Northern businessmen, the Southern slaveholders, and the Western settlers), the Great Triumvirate was responsible for symbolizing the opposing viewpoints of the American people and giving them a voice in the government. The debates leading to the Compromise of 1850 were the last great hurrah of the members of the Great Triumvirate, as they saw at the same time the emergence of a new generation of political leaders like Jefferson Davis, William H. Seward, and Stephen Douglas. Within three years of the passage of the compromise, all three members of the Great Triumvirate were dead.