Cassius Marcellus Clay (politician)

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Cassius Marcellus Clay
Cassius Marcellus Clay (Madison County, Kentucky).jpg
Personal details
Born(1810-10-19)October 19, 1810
Madison County, Kentucky
DiedJuly 22, 1903(1903-07-22) (aged 92)
ChildrenElisha Warfield Clay, Green Clay, Mary Barr Clay, Sally Clay, Laura Clay, Brutus J. Clay II, Anne Clay, Henry Launey Clay (adopted)
OccupationLawyer, politician, newspaper publisher, soldier, farmer
ReligionCongregationalist
 
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Cassius Marcellus Clay
Cassius Marcellus Clay (Madison County, Kentucky).jpg
Personal details
Born(1810-10-19)October 19, 1810
Madison County, Kentucky
DiedJuly 22, 1903(1903-07-22) (aged 92)
ChildrenElisha Warfield Clay, Green Clay, Mary Barr Clay, Sally Clay, Laura Clay, Brutus J. Clay II, Anne Clay, Henry Launey Clay (adopted)
OccupationLawyer, politician, newspaper publisher, soldier, farmer
ReligionCongregationalist

Cassius Marcellus Clay (October 19, 1810 – July 22, 1903), nicknamed "The Lion of White Hall", was an emancipationist from Madison County, Kentucky, United States who served as the American minister to Russia. He was a cousin of Henry Clay and Alabama governor Clement Comer Clay.

Emancipationist[edit]

Cassius Clay was a pioneer, a southern aristocrat who became a prominent anti-slavery crusader. He was a son of Green Clay, one of the wealthiest landowners and slaveholders in Kentucky. Clay worked toward emancipation, both as a Kentucky state representative and as an early member of the Republican Party. [1]He spent 25 years of his life publishing "The True American" before Lincoln tapped him and asked, "Tell me about your Proclamation of Emancipation."

Clay attended Transylvania University and then graduated from Yale College in 1832. While at Yale, he heard abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison speak, and Garrison's lecture inspired Clay to join the antislavery movement. Garrison’s arguments were to him “as water is to a thirsty wayfarer.”[2] Clay was politically pragmatic, supporting gradual legal change rather than the immediacy of the Garrisonians. [1]

Clay served three terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives,[3] but he lost support among Kentucky voters as his platform became more focused on ending slavery. His anti-slavery activism won him enemies. During a political debate in 1843, he survived an assassination attempt by a hired gun, named Sam Brown, and despite being shot in the chest, and being restrained by the attacker's confederates, he defended himself, seriously wounding his attacker with his Bowie knife and throwing him over an embankment.[4]

In 1845, he began publishing an anti-slavery newspaper called the True American in Lexington, Kentucky. Within a month he received death threats, had to arm himself, and had to barricade the doors of his newspaper office for protection. Shortly after, a mob of about sixty men broke into his office and seized his printing equipment, which they shipped to Cincinnati, Ohio. Clay continued publication there.[1]

Again in 1849 while making a speech for slave emancipation he was attacked by the six Turner brothers, who beat, stabbed and attempted to shoot him, in the ensuing fight Clay fought off all six and killed Cyrus Turner after regaining his Bowie knife that had been taken from him earlier in the fight.[4]

In 1853, Clay granted 10 acres to John G. Fee, an abolitionist, who founded the town of Berea, Kentucky, and in 1855, Berea College.[5]

Even though he opposed the annexation of Texas, Clay served in the Mexican-American War as a Captain from 1846 to 1848. His connections to the northern antislavery movement remained strong, and he was a founder of the Republican party and a friend of Abraham Lincoln, supporting him for the presidency. Clay was briefly a candidate for the vice presidency at the 1860 Republican National Convention,[1] but lost the nomination to Hannibal Hamlin.

Minister to Russia[edit]

When the Civil War began in April 1861, Lincoln nominated Clay as ambassador to Spain, but Clay declined.[6]

Clay accepted the post of Minister to the Russian court at St. Petersburg. The Civil War erupted before he left for Russia. As there were no Federal troops in Washington at the time, Mr. Clay organized a group of 300 volunteers to protect the White House and US Naval Yard from a possible Confederate attack. These men became known as Cassius M. Clay's Washington Guards. For this service President Lincoln gave Clay a presentation Colt revolver. When Federal troops arrived, Clay and his family embarked for Russia.[7]

As Minister to Russia, he witnessed the Tsar's emancipation edict. Recalled to the United States to accept a commission as a major general from Lincoln, Clay publicly refused to accept it unless Lincoln would sign an emancipation proclamation. Lincoln sent Clay to Kentucky to assess the mood for emancipation there and in the other border states. Following Clay's return, Lincoln issued the proclamation.[8]

Clay returned to Russia in 1863 and remained until 1869. [1] He was influential in the negotiations for the purchase of Alaska.[citation needed]

Later political activities[edit]

Later, he founded the Cuban Charitable Aid Society to help the Cuban independence movement of Jose Marti. He also spoke out against robber barons, and in favor of nationalizing the railroads. In 1869, Clay left the Republican Party. This was partly due to President Grant's military interference in Haiti.[9] He also disapproved of the Republican reconstruction policy.[1]

In 1872, he was one of the organizers of the Liberal Republican revolt, and was largely instrumental in securing the nomination of Horace Greeley for the presidency. In the political campaigns of 1876 and 1880, he supported the Democratic Party candidate, but rejoined the Republican party in the campaign of 1884.[1]

Later years[edit]

Clay had a reputation as a rebel and a fighter.[10] There were threats on his life, compelling him to carry two pistols and a knife for protection; in addition, he used a cannon to protect his home and office.[10] As he aged, Clay became increasingly eccentric and paranoid.

In 1878 after 45 years of marriage Clay divorced his wife, Mary Jane Warfield Clay, daughter of Dr. Elisha Warfield, for abandonment after she could no longer tolerate his marital infidelities.[11] In 1894, the 84-year old Clay married Dora Richardson, the 15-year old daughter of one of his sharecropping tenants and a domestic servant. The scandalous marriage provoked national headlines and was much against the latter's will as Clay had to keep the girl locked in a room in his Whitehall mansion to prevent her from running away.[citation needed] She reportedly attempted suicide once by trying to jump out the window. A few years later, Clay divorced his second wife.

Cassius Clay died at his home on July 22, 1903 of "general exhaustion." Survivors included his daughters, women's rights activists Laura Clay and Mary Barr Clay.[12]

Legacy[edit]

His family home, White Hall, is maintained by the Commonwealth of Kentucky as White Hall State Historic Shrine.

During the Civil War, Russia came to the aid of the Union, threatening war on Britain and France should they recognize the Confederacy as a legitimate belligerent. Cassius Clay, as minister to Russia during that time, was instrumental in securing Russia's aide. Tsar Alexander II of Russia gave sealed orders to the commanders of both his Atlantic and Pacific fleets, and sent them to the East and West coasts of America. They were instructed that the sealed orders were to be opened only on the occasion of Britain and France entering the war on the side of the Confederacy.[13] On the occasion of the arrival of the Atlantic fleet in New York harbor, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles wrote in his diary: "In sending these ships to this country, there is something significant. What will be its effect on France, and French policy, we shall learn in due time. It may be moderate, it may exacerbate. God bless the Russians." This action of Tsar Alexander II was confirmed in 1904 by Wharton Barker of Pennsylvania, who in 1878 was the financial agent in the United States of the Russian government.[14]

Cassius Marcellus Clay, father of boxer Muhammad Ali, was named after the politician and he gave the same name to his son, who changed it when he converted to Islam.[15]

In his maiden speech on the Senate floor, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul praised Clay, and contrasted him favorably with his cousin Henry.[16]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Chisholm 1911.
  2. ^ Brennan 20
  3. ^ http://politicalgraveyard.com/bio/clarken-claytee.html
  4. ^ a b David Borgenicht; Turk Regan (1 July 2010). The Worst-Case Scenario Almanac: Politics. The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. Chronicle Books. pp. 94–. ISBN 978-0-8118-7359-8. Retrieved 20 July 2013. 
  5. ^ http://www.berea.edu/about/history.asp
  6. ^ United States Department of State list of ambassadors
  7. ^ Clay, Memoirs, pp. 260-264
  8. ^ Clay, Memoirs, pp. 305–312
  9. ^ Clay, Memoirs
  10. ^ a b "Clay, Cassius Marcellus", by Frank L. Klement, in The World Book Encyclopedia (1984). World Book Inc: Chicago.
  11. ^ The life of Cassius Marcellus Clay: Memoirs, writings, and speeches, showing ... By Cassius Marcellus Clay, Page 542
  12. ^ Newspaper article, Death Has Gripped Gen. Cassius Clay, Atlanta Constitution, July 23, 1903
  13. ^ Tarpley at National Press Club for 150th Anniversary of Russian Fleets of 1863, (Sept. 27, 2013)
  14. ^ American Banker Wharton Barker’s First-Person Account Confirms: Russian Tsar Alexander II Was Ready for War with Britain and France in 1862-1863 to Defend Lincoln and the Union, (March 24, 1904)
  15. ^ http://www.biographyonline.net/sport/muhammad_ali.html
  16. ^ Rand Paul: “No Compromise”, ABC News (Feb. 2, 2011)
Attribution

 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Clay, Cassius Marcellus". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press 

Books[edit]

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
John Appleton
United States Ambassador to Russia
March 28, 1861 – June 25, 1862
Succeeded by
Simon Cameron
Preceded by
Simon Cameron
United States Ambassador to Russia
March 11, 1863 – October 1, 1869
Succeeded by
Andrew G. Curtin