Thursday, October 19, 2017

Birth Dates of Notable Kentuckians: October 19, 1810 - Cassius Marcellus Clay

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From The Kentucky Encyclopedia -
Cassius Marcellus Clay, emancipationist and diplomat, the son of Gen. Green and Sallie (Lewis) Clay, was born on October 19, 1810, in the Tate's Creek area of Madison County. After attending common schools and the Madison Seminary, he studied under the celebrated teacher Joshua Fry at his home in Garrard County and later enrolled at St. Joseph's College in Bardstown. From Transylvania University in 1831, Clay went to Yale, where in 1832 an antislavery speech by William Lloyd Garrison deeply impressed him and influenced his lifelong opposition to slavery.

Clay returned to Kentucky and completed a law degree at Transylvania. He embraced Henry Clay's American System and was elected state representative from Madison County in 1835. Opposing slavery interests, he was defeated the following year, but returned again in 1837 when, as a Whig, he backed the Bank of Kentucky and funds for public schools.

Clay's outspoken attacks on slavery aroused bitter hostility, especially among the pro-slavery faction of the Whig party , and occasionally involved him in violence. In 1841 he fought a duel with Robert Wickliffe, Jr.; neither was injured. In 1843, at a political meeting, he was attacked by Samuel M. Brown, reputed to be a hired assassin, who shot at Clay and in turn was severely wounded by Clay's bowie knife (a weapon that became part of Clay's colorful legend in Kentucky). Charged with mayhem, Clay was defended by Henry Clay and John Speed Smith and was acquitted on grounds of self-defense.

In the 1844 presidential race, Clay canvassed the North for his cousin Henry under the slogan "Clay, Union, and Liberty!" having by this time freed his unentailed slaves. The next year he began publishing an antislavery paper, the Lexington True American. A committee was organized to suppress the publication. Clay prepared to defend his office by force, but was stricken with typhoid fever; during his absence a posse including James B. Clay, Henry's son, packed the newspaper equipment and moved it to Cincinnati. Clay continued for a time to publish the paper in Cincinnati. Two years later he was awarded a judgment of $2,500 against the committee.

After serving as a captain in the Mexican War , Clay returned to Lexington in 1847 and continued to agitate on the slavery question, speaking frequently in the North. He corresponded with abolitionist John G. Fee , invited him to Madison County , donated a ten-acre tract of land, and encouraged Fee to begin the church-school community that became Berea College.

In 1856, Clay campaigned vigorously in the North for the first National Republican party ticket. By 1860 his picture had appeared in Harper's Weekly along with those of nine other likely presidential candidates. Clay supported Lincoln for the presidential nomination and after Lincoln's election was appointed minister to Russia in 1861. Before he sailed for Russia, Clay organized a battalion of volunteers to guard the Washington Navy Yard and protect government property in the capital until federal troops arrived.

In 1862 Clay was recalled from Russia and commissioned a major general; at Lincoln's request, he went to Kentucky to sound out opinion regarding the proposed emancipation proclamation and returned with a report that the loyal element would hold. About three weeks later, following the Union victory at Antietam, Lincoln released the historic proclamation.

Clay's second mission to Russia, 1863-69, was an extension of the first. His cultivation of amity between the two nations helped to bring about the U.S. purchase of Alaska.

After his return to the United States in 1869, Clay was a pioneer in the Liberal Republican movement and in 1872 helped to engineer the nomination of Horace Greeley. Later, his dislike of the Radicals led him to bolt the party. As a Democrat, he campaigned in Mississippi against Radical Republican Gov. Adelbert Ames; the famed emancipationist and hero of the North thus became a hero of the South.

Clay married Mary Jane Warfield of Lexington on February 26, 1833. Ten children were born to them: Elisha Warfield; Green; Mary Barr; Sarah Lewis; Cassius Marcellus, Jr. (died at three weeks); Cassius Marcellus, Jr.; Brutus Junius; Laura (Clay) ; Flora; and Anne Warfield. After forty-five years of marriage the octogenarian divorced his wife and married Dora Richardson, many years his junior. He died on July 22, 1903, and was buried in Richmond, Kentucky.


Selected Sources from UK Libraries:

Richardson, H. Edward. Cassius Marcellus Clay : Firebrand of Freedom. Lexington, Ky.: U of Kentucky, 1996. Print.
E415.9.C55 R47 1996, Special Collections Research Center

Clay, Cassius Marcellus. The Life of Cassius Marcellus Clay; Memoirs, Writings, and Speeches, Showing His Conduct in the Overthrow of American Slavery, the Salvation of the Union, and the Restoration of the Autonomy of the States. [Vol. 1]. New York: Negro Universities, 1969. Print.
E415.9.C55 A3 1969, Young Library - 4th Floor

Smiley, David L. Lion of White Hall; the Life of Cassius M. Clay. Gloucester, Mass.: P. Smith, 1969. Print.
E415.9.C55 S47 1969, Young Library - 4th Floor

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