War has long been a rite of passage, with new generations feeling a need to prove their courage and earn the right to supplant their elders. Clay's generation grew up on the hero tales of the American Revolution—the stories of boldness in the political arena and valor on the battlefield. Often implicit in the stories, as in the stories of every generation of elders, was skepticism that the younger generation had what it took to match the elders' feats. Where was the George Washington of the younger set, the general who could smite the British as Washington had done at Yorktown? Where were the Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, whose words inspired a nation and brought down an empire? Where were the James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, the framers of a new government for a new nation?
Henry Clay had heard the stories and felt the skepticism. He was burdened with no conspicuous personal sense of inferiority, but he reckoned that an ambitious young politician could do worse than demand that the country complete the work commenced by the generation of the founders.