|If there was such a thing as evil in the world, slavery was an evil. |
If there was such a thing as justice among men,
then justice required the liberation of the slave;
and, as to rights:
"The greatest of all rights, was the right of a man to himself."
Cassius Marcellus Clay, nicknamed "Cash", was the youngest son of the nine children of General Green Clay and his wife, Sally Lewis Clay. He was born at Clermont, their home in the Richmond area of Madison County, Kentucky.
|Madison County, Kentucky|
My father was a stern man, absorbed in affairs. He spent but little time with the children, and did not assume control. Yet he directed, in the main, what was to be done; and, when the time had come, he sent me to school with my next older brother, Brutus J. Clay, much to the regret, it seemed to me, of my mother; for I was the Benjamin of the family.
|Sally Lewis Clay|
The family had many relations in Kentucky, the South, and Washington, D.C., and was active in politics. Their most famous cousin was Henry Clay, who was 33 years older than Cassius, and had been elected to the United States Congress in 1811.
My father being the largest slave- owner in the State, I early began to study the system, or, rather, began to feel its wrongs. Whilst I was yet a boy, my sister Eliza being very fond of flowers and their culture, I had my miniature garden also ; with great delight living close to nature, and feeling that serenity and passive happiness which she always lavishes upon those who love her.
One day, whilst absorbed in my favorite pastime, I heard a scream, and, looking up, what was my horror to see Mary coming into the yard with a butcher's knife, and her clothes all bloody! All the servants, from every cabin, big and little, ran wildly around in tears, with exclamations of grief and terror.
Who was Mary? A handsome mulatto girl, of about eighteen years of age, who had been engaged years ago as one of the flower-gardeners. She was a fine specimen of a mixed breed, rather light colored, showing the blood in her cheeks, with hair wavy, as in the case with mixed whites and blacks. Her features were finely cut, quite Caucasian ; whilst her eyes were large, black, languid, and unconscious, except when some passion stirred the fires of her African blood, when they flashed as the lightning through a cloud. It was Mary who had assisted in laying out my garden. A peach-tree, then planted by me, was in full bearing long after I was married, being more than a foot in diameter.
After some years she was sent to the house of an overseer, at one of the separate plantations, to cook for the whites, the "hands" and the overseer, his wife, and two or three grown daughters. . . . Payne, for that was his name, was a drunkard ; and, returning home after sprees, made it his custom to abuse Mary by words, which was not submitted to in those days by any slaves, when coming from "poor white trash," as they called the non-slave-holders ; and so she in turn used a woman's tongue in such a way as to arouse the anger of the whole family. Mary was sent into the kitchen or elsewhere, whilst the family, having made all preparations to bar up the doors, prepared to punish the woman severely, and, as the jury afterward decided, to kill her. They called her in, and sent her up stairs to shell the seed-corn for planting. All the field-hands were out at work. But Mary, suspecting mischief, knowing Payne's temper, secreted a butcher's knife in her bosom, and went sullenly to her work. As she anticipated, they soon came up and all attacked her. She attempted to run down stairs, and out of the house ; but, finding the door securely fastened, she turned upon them and slew Payne, and at length succeeded in making her escape.
She came home to the family. The whole community was in arms, and Mary taken to jail in a few hours. But my father being a man of fortune, and a "long head," Mary was finally acquitted and set free.
. . . About 1810-15, my father, having succeeded in a land-suit against a neighbor named Hendricks, the angry master sent his slave Joe to burn our dwelling ; but Joe, driven back by the watch-dogs, went to a large barn filled with hay and grain and set fire to that, in the hope of averting the anger of his master, which he had too much reason to dread. The barn made such a light that the poor fellow was terrified, and stood looking wildly at the flames, when he was seen and caught. On being questioned, he confessed the whole story.
Now, by the laws of the "Lost Cause," in no crime against the master could a slave be a witness. But the public opinion was all the same. Hendricks and sons, having put an iron collar on Joe with a bell, and moving to the banks of Station-Camp Creek, in now Estill County, then a remote and sparsely populated country, are said to have whipped Joe three successive days; and finally, when he died under the lash, they tied a large stone to his neck, and sank him in that deep stream. But the stone, heavy enough to sink the fresh body, was too light when the gases of decomposition were generated, and Joe's mortal remains arose to the surface, and revealed the secrets of the prison-house to the world. But what of that? Slavery, like necessity, knows no law. But the Hendricks' family were driven, by the irrepressible instincts of the human soul, into exile ; and they went West, where the memory of the crime and the criminal was lost.Cash attended the Madison Seminary at St. Joseph's College in Bardstown, writing in his memoirs, "I had a very pleasant time at the Jesuit College of St. Joseph, Bardstown, studying only French."
|St. Joseph's College, Bardstown, Kentucky|
When I was about twelve or thirteen years of age, during a school vacation, my father sent me to Cincinnati, Ohio, to pay taxes upon some lands which he owned in that State. This city was about one hundred miles away ; with no railroads then, nor stage-routes even. The only means of travel was on horseback; and along the ridge road, as it was called, there were inns, where travellers were entertained. Being fully equipped with saddle-bags, and with my money sewed up in some part of my clothing, with only enough left accessible to pay way-expenses, I set out with a rather heavy heart.
In those times, when city robberies were little known, desperadoes, driven by crime from the East, took refuge on the frontiers of civilization, and committed frequent assaults upon travelers, and appropriated their money. These were not pleasant memories to me ; but, as I entered the sparsely-settled forests, full of birds and squirrels, and occasional wild fruits, as plums and grapes, I began to feel more at home, and, on the whole, enjoyed my journey. I traveled about thirty miles a day, and reached Cincinnati on the third day, in the late afternoon. About 1812 Fulton introduced steam-boats on the Ohio; but at this time, about 1823, the flat-boats and barges were the main means of commerce, and a few hind- wheel steamboats made the trips at long intervals up the river to Wheeling and Pittsburg, and down to New Orleans. I don 't remember any houses where Covington and Newport now are ; and Cincinnati hardly reached above Second Street, parallel with the Ohio River. The principal buildings were on the street perpendicular to the upper river-wharf, on the right of which was the hotel. There were few brick buildings, and on Second and Third Streets the houses were low and scattering, with small yards in front.
|Cincinnati, ca. 1835|
Having taken my supper, I came down into the sitting- room, in which at those times was also the liquor-bar. Here men assembled around a huge coal fire, a . mixed mass of travelers and boatmen from all the river-crafts spending the Sunday evening. One rather sinister-looking man, with small, sharp grey eyes, and high Roman nose, drew up his chair, and began to question me about my journey, whence I came and where I was going. With some reticence I told him the main facts. He then invited me to go with him to church, to which I assented, inquiring his name. He told me it was "Birdseye." This was a curious and unknown name to me, and at once excited my suspicions about his character, as it seemed assumed. However, I went with him to church. I watched him during the ceremonies slyly, and found he showed no reverence whatever, looking about him and the audience. As we returned, he stopped opposite a small framed house, rather, isolated, with two rooms. Without ceremony, he said he wished to see a friend a moment on business, and would go on with me in a minute, and invited me in. I went in. There was no light in the first room, and in the second was a dim dip- candle burning, and a man, whom my friend asked out into the back-yard. My suspicions were aroused. I was to be robbed, and perhaps murdered. Why should they go out of the house to talk? So I at once passed out into the street, with a steady march for my hotel. My friend overtook me at a few paces from the door, and continued his walk with me, nothing being said by either party in explanation. In the meantime, I had taken out my pocket-knife, opened the largest blade, and put it up my sleeve, keeping my friend on my side, and never allowing him to fall behind me. As he passed a small alley, he said, suiting the action to the word, and turning in himself: "This way is the nearest route to the hotel." There were but few lights shining from the houses, and most of the church-goers and citizens had disappeared from the streets.
Now, I was raised in the woods, and was well posted as to place; and I knew that, so far from that route being nearest, it led me into the street parallel to the one where I had lodged, and that I would have to go to the river-wharf and then turn up to my quarters. So, paying no attention to his words or his actions, I went steadily on, and arrived with safety at my hotel. I sat some time awaiting the foiled Birdseye, but he came no more.' Now his object, no doubt, was to rob, if not to murder me — take my money, and go aboard the river-craft, and escape. This was a lesson to me through life, and I refused ever to go about in cities with strangers. And though I have traveled much in the world, I never was robbed of a cent, though many vain attempts have been made to pick my pockets. I paid the taxes and returned home in safety. . . This trip was evidently intended by my father as a school of self-reliance, and he was careful at all times to teach me such lessons, including occasional manual labor.His father became ill in 1826, and died on October 31st.
My father's fatal illness called me home from Bardstown — where I had formed quite an attachment to many friends, Catholic and Protestant, and who made me ever tolerant in religion — to feel the great woe of his approaching death, the greatest of human calamities.
. . . I think Ingersoll makes a mistake in his propagandism of infidelity. No man has a right, in the name of freedom of thought, to pull down even a bad system till he is able to build up a better. Much less has he a right to pull down the best religious and moral system evolved from the wisdom of all the ages, without building up any other at all! Let the friends of Christianity not be disturbed. Ingersoll will die and be forgotten.
. . . Sidney Payne Clay, our oldest brother, who had been educated at Princeton College, New Jersey, and had returned home, was an emancipationist as well as a Presbyterian. By my father's will he was appointed chief executor. As was the custom in all the border slave States, Mary was, by his will, ordered to be sent South, I suppose to make murder odious. Now, the most astonishing feature of the slave-system was the delusion that, as it was legal, it was morally right ; whilst all the sentiments of the soul and the force of the mind proclaimed it wrong. For "the greatest of all rights," said the eloquent Robert J. Breckinridge, "is the right of a man to himself." This doctrine, joined to some passing remarks in the Bible, written in an age when slavery was the result of a common barbarism, confused the strongest intellect, and led to the most conflicting results.
Never shall I forget — and through all these years it rests upon the memory as the stamp upon a bright coin — the scene, when Mary was tied by the wrists and sent from home and friends, and the loved features of her native land — the home of her infancy and girlish days — into Southern banishment forever; and yet held guiltless by a jury of, not her "peers," but her oppressors! Never shall I forget those two faces — of my brother and Mary — the oppressor and the oppressed, rigid with equal agony! She cast an imploring look at me, as if in appeal; but meekly went, without a word, as "a sheep to the slaughter."Cash inherited 2,220 acres of land, 17 slaves and the Clermont homestead after the death of his father.
"Miss Warfield, the second sister, was three years my junior, of medium size, graceful movement, and gay, fascinating manners, which are so noted in Irish women. She seemed equally pleased with me; and, with a few lines from Byron, on the blank leaves of Washington Irving's Sketch Book, if I remember aright, I left her and Lexington, and joined Yale College, in Yankee land, in the year 1831, entering the Junior Class."
It was announced that Garrison was going to speak in the South Church that night. "Who is Garrison?" I asked. "Why, Garrison is the Abolitionist. Don't you know?" So, as I had never heard an Abolitionist, nor the name hardly, I went to hear Garrison. Every accessible place was crowded ; but I pressed on determinedly to the front, so far as to see and hear him fully.
|William Lloyd Garrison|
. . . I felt all the horrors of slavery; but my parents were slave-holders ; all my known kindred in Kentucky were slave-holders; and I regarded it as I did other evils of humanity, as the fixed law of Nature or of God, and submitted as best I might. But Garrison dragged out the monster from all his citadels, and left him stabbed to the vitals, and dying at the feet of every logical and honest mind.
As water to a thirsty wayfarer, were to me Garrison's arguments and sentiments. He was often and boisterously hissed; but I stood silent and thoughtful in the depths of my new thought. . . . This aroused me from my apathy. I felt the greatest indignation. I never, in all my life, was so agitated in a public assemblage. . . . I returned to my room as full of tumultuous emotions as on the night before. I then resolved, however, that, when I had the strength, if ever, I would give slavery a death struggle.
|Cassius Marcellus Clay as a young man|
|Mary Jane Warfield|
A few days before my marriage, my mother-in-law, Mrs. Maria Barr Warfield, handed me an open letter addressed to her daughter, my fiancee, but placed in her own hands by General Leslie Combs, a friend of the family. Declarey was a very popular physician of Louisville, Kentucky, and was a suitor also of Mary Jane Warfield. The letter was depreciatory of my character, though containing nothing of serious allegation against me. It should have been thrown into the fire, and nothing shown to me. But, as the matter stood, I felt not only indignant at such secret and ungentle- manly conduct, but was compelled by a sense of honor to vindicate myself. So, taking my "best man," James S. Rollins, with me, I went to Louisville, procured a small black hickory stick, and, finding Declarey at the Louisville hotel steps, I invited him into the cross street; and showing him the letter, which he read, I asked him if he had any explanations or apology to make. He remained silent.
So I caned him severely — Rollins keeping the crowd off till he was sufficiently punished. Then, telling him that I would be found at his hotel, where the event occurred, I retired with Rollins to my room. In a few hours I received a challenge from Declarey, which I promptly accepted. Declarey was about ten years older than myself, and of my own size in weight and stature, whilst his reputation for courage stood high. The terms were soon arranged. We were to meet next day in Indiana, near the Ohio River, at a named place and hour. Both parties were promptly on the ground. But the news had spread, and a large crowd was already there, and more persons continually coming; so that all parties agreed to defer the meeting to a more favorable time and place — first, on the same side of the river, and that failing also, we returned to Louisville, it being nearly dark on our arrival there.
I was to be married the next evening; and Lexington, in those days, by stage, was a whole day's journey away. Declarey's friends proposed finally to set first the next day for a meeting, and then to fight in the city that night; all of which my friend Rollins peremptorily refused. Declarey was in his own home; was then, I think, a member of the Kentucky Legislature, or, at least, had been. He had, as followers, a large number of roughs, as a matter of course ; and if it was not fair to ask of me a fight in the day-time, it was more unfair to ask a fight in the city at night, when secrecy would be impossible. We had given them a fair chance for a fight; and if the crowd prevented it, it was Declarey's crowd. Rollins and myself had hardly an acquaintance in the city at that time.
Louisville was provincial in comparison with Lexington, and Rollins and myself were strangers there. If the time and place of the fight were known, it could not have been the fault of our side. For a man to leave a newly-married wife to return to fight her rejected suitor was too absurd for even the fool-code. So Rollins gave notice that we would leave for Lexington by stage next morning; and, all negotiations being at an end, Declarey had his usual right of offensive attack in personal rencounter.
The next day Rollins and I, no attack being made, took the stage ; and it was quite late in the night before we reached the "Meadows," where I was duly married.
Declarey, my friends wrote me, denounced me as a coward, and said I was beneath his notice; that he would not pursue me to Lexington, but, if ever he met me in life, he would "cowhide me." Now, the cowhide was a whip made of twisted raw cowhide, and was used to punish slaves in all the South ; and whilst the cane could be used without utter disgrace, to be "cowhided " was a doom of eternal infamy, which nothing but blood could wash away! So run the laws of the fool-code. . . . So the matter did not rest there ; and I determined to give Declarey a full test of his manhood.
So I set off, ostensibly for Cincinnati and St. Louis; and, after spending a very agreeable time with my friends, the Longworths and others, at Cincinnati, and visiting my wife's connections, the Strothers, in St. Louis, I came to my point of issue, Louisville. Taking lodgings elsewhere, about dinner-time I sauntered down alone to Declarey's hotel. Not finding him at table, I asked the servants about his habits, and they told me that he was irregular in his hours ; but that he would no doubt drop in very soon after dinner, as was his custom when he missed the regular hour. So, being well armed, I lounged about the hotel till I supposed he might have arrived.
The dining-room had a large colonnade, as was then the custom in the building of large rooms. I was leaning alone against one of these, when Declarey, having entered and finished his meal, rose up, and for the first time saw me. I had my eyes fixed steadily upon him. He turned pale, and retreated without addressing me. I staid in Louisville for a day or more; and, Declarey making no demonstrations, I returned to Lexington.
The next day in the evening, he committed suicide, by cutting his arteries. "Thus doth conscience make cowards of us all." Mrs. Warfield's imprudence — if nothing worse — caused the death of this man; and also sowed the seeds of alienation and distrust in her own household, which in time bore fruit.
In 1834, Clay announced his candidacy for the Kentucky legislature, but had to withdraw from the race because at 23, he was under the constitutionally required age of 25 to run for office. He was elected as a state representative as a Whig in 1835, 1837, and 1840.
Clay considered himself an emancipationist, not an abolitionist. Emancipationists sought to eliminate slavery by gradual, legal means. Clay hoped to maintain the law and the constitution while ridding the country of slavery.
Although Clay was influenced by his childhood experiences and by William Garrison, unlike the abolitionists, he rarely justified his opposition to slavery on a humanitarian or religious basis. He proposed a "Kentucky System", which he envisioned as a diversified economy with both farming and manufacturing in the South. Labor would be supplied by white workers. According to Richard Sears of Berea College:
Clay knew he had to educate Kentucky's voters to believe that the slavery system harmed them - he would not maintain that slavery was a sin, but that it was an evil, a big distinction. It was a system which harmed people, but not a wrong for which each individual should fell personally responsible. No one had to repent of it. . . . Clay charged that in the South, free white workers were "barred by despotic intolerance from receiving any light by which they can know their rights, and free themselves from the competition of slave labor, which brings ignorance and beggary tot heir doors." . . . Slaves, in effect, were taking food out of the mouths of white men . . . Thus, Clay's political program had three planks. . . his Kentucky system, the 'sacredness' of constitutional law, and emancipation. But Clay's emancipationist aim was to create freedom and economic opportunity for whites only. Under his scheme blacks would, indeed, be freed, but not because they had any right to freedom. . . . Many people were curious to know what he intended to do with the former slaves . . . "No more will be left among us," Clay said, "than we shall absolutely need." And few would be needed . . . "I have studied the Negro character," Clay wrote. "They lack self-reliance - we can make nothing out of them. God has made them for the sun and the banana." . . . He always maintained that blacks were inferior. . . . His agenda was political, economic and legal.Cassius Clay's oldest brother, Sidney Clay, died in 1834. His older brother, Brutus Junius Clay, had settled in Bourbon County, where he farmed his land and livestock. In 1840 Brutus Clay was elected to the Kentucky State Legislature.
|Brutus Junius Clay|
In 1840 Cassius Clay fought a duel with Robert Wickcliffe:
The greatest slave-holders from town and country came to Lexington and joined the processions. Inflammatory speeches were made on their part, and met with equal force on ours. So that, at length, Wickliffe introduced my wife's name in a speech, to which I took exception as inadmissible ; and I challenged him. We met near Louisville. Col. Wm. R. McKee, who fell at Buena Vista, was my second; and Albert Sidney Johnston, who fell at Shiloh, when Grant had retired for security under his gun-boats, and the Union cause was saved by Generals Buell and Nelson, was Wickliffe's. Dr. Alexander Marshall, brother of Thomas F., was my surgeon; and I do not remember, but I think, Dr. Caldwell was the surgeon of Wickliffe.
We fired at ten paces, at the word; and both missed. Raising my pistol up perpendicularly, I stood still, and demanded a second fire. But the good sense of our seconds prevailed, and it was decreed that the matter should be dropped. No apology was made on either side, and no reconciliation was proposed; and we left the ground enemies, as we came.
At that time I was young, but I knew full well that the least show of the "white feather" was not only political but physical death. So it was with me here, rather policy than impulse. I wanted to show those who lived by force, that it would be met, at all times, and in all places, with force.In 1841 he was defeated for re-election because of his opinions on slavery:
When Wickliffe was beaten by me, in 1840, Mr. Clay voted for me. Then arose the slavery issue. I was again a candidate in 1841; and Mr. Clay advised me not to run again, but to await a more favorable time. This I saw was said in good faith. We stood on different ground. Such time for me would never come. I therefore ran again in 1841. Now, as Mr. Clay advised me not to run, and I did not follow his advice, I do not think that I had any right to denounce him in a political sense for leaving me to my fate in 1845. I judged his duty to me by my own heart, not by the logic of events.Clay had inherited his slaves under trust conditions of his father's 1828 will. By 1843, Clay managed to free most of his slaves; he hired some of them as free laborers. In addition, Clay purchased 13 more slaves in order to free them and keep the families together.
Clay's third son, Cassius Marcellus, Jr., was born in 1843 and died after only three weeks. One of Clay's slaves, Emily, had been the child's nurse. Clay suspected Emily of poisoning his son; she was indicted for murder. Clay sent her mother, brother, and sister to the New Orleans slave market as suspected co-conspirators. For two years, Emily lived under the suspicion of being a murderer before being tried; despite being found not guilty by a jury, Clay still sold her south.
Samuel M. Brown, late of New Orleans, was post-office traveling-agent under Charles A. Wickliffe, his relative, then Postmaster-General under John Tyler. . . . He was an old Whig, of social character, strong physique, and, in a word, a political bully. . . At Russell's Cave, in Fayette County, when Mr. Wickliffe repeated the usual role, I interrupted him again, as before . . . At the moment, Brown gave me the "damned lie," and struck me simultaneously with his umbrella. I knew the man, and that it meant a death-struggle. I at once drew my Bowie-knife; but, before I could strike, I was seized from behind, and borne by force about fifteen feet from Brown, who, being now armed with a Colt's revolver, cried: "Clear the way, and let me kill the damned rascal."
The way was speedily cleared, and I stood isolated from the crowd. Now, as Brown had his pistol bearing upon me, I had either to run or advance. So, turning my left side toward him, with my left arm covering it, so as to protect it to that extent, I advanced rapidly on him, knife in hand. Seeing I was coming, he knew very well that nothing but a fatal and sudden shot could save him. So he held his fire; and, taking deliberate aim, just as I was in arm's reach, he fired at my heart. I came down upon his head with a tremendous blow, which would have split open an ordinary skull; but Brown's was as thick as that of an African. This blow laid his skull open about three inches to the brain, indenting it, but not breaking the textures; but it so stunned him that he was no more able to fire, but feebly attempted to seize me. The conspirators now seized me, and held both arms above my elbows, which only allowed me to strike with the fore-arm, as Brown advanced upon me. I was also struck with hickory sticks and chairs. But, finding I was likely to get loose, they threw Brown over the stone-fence. This fence, which inclosed the yard near the steep descent to the cave and spring, was built of limestone, about two feet high on the upper side, but perhaps seven or eight on the lower side.
So Brown had a terrible fall, which ended the contest. Raising my bloody knife, I said: "I repeat that the hand-bill was proven a falsehood ; and I stand ready to defend the truth." But, neither Mr. Wickliffe nor any of the conspirators taking up my challenge, some of my friends, recovering from their lethargy, took me by the arm (seeing where Brown's bullet had entered,) to the dwelling- house ; and, on opening my vest and shirt-bosom, found only a red spot over my heart, but no wound. On examination it was found that the ball, as I pulled up the scabbard of my Bowie-knife, in drawing the blade, had entered the leather near the point, which was lined with silver, and was there lodged.
Thus Providence, or fate, reserved me for a better work. And when I look back to my many escapes from death, I am at times impressed with the idea of the special interference of God in the affairs of men; whilst my cooler reason places human events in that equally certain arrangement of the great moral and physical laws, by which Deity may be said to be ever directing the affairs of men.
. . . Brown had his skull cut to the brain in several places ; one ear cut nearly off, his nose slit, and one eye cut out; and many other wounds.
Had the rencounter taken place between two ordinary citizens, no notice whatever would have been taken of it by the grand jury; but, as I was odious to the slave-holders, they improved all the chances to weaken and ruin me. I was indicted for mayhem. Henry Clay and John Speed Smith were my counsel and defenders; both volunteering their services. Brown, outraged at his being thrown over the fence, and deserted, was my principal witness. He proved that there was a consultation at Ashton's (hotel-keeper,) between himself, Wickliffe, Prof. J. C. Cross of the Transylvania Medical School, Jacob Ashton, and Ben. Wood, a police bully; that the pistol with which I was shot was loaded in advance ; that he was to bring on the affray, and they were to aid; that they four went in the same hack to Russell's Cave, and there all took part in the fight.
Human nature is much the same under all forms of government. Power is generally force; and there is but little sentimentalism in that, whether it be in an autocrat or a despotic majority in a republic; and which, in such cases, is, when uncovered from its mask, again an autocracy.
So I, instead of Brown, was prosecuted. By our laws, shooting with intent to kill is a criminal offense, punishable with confinement in the penitentiary. That offense, in this case, was aggravated by a conspiracy to kill me, which intensified the criminal intent, and made the facts incontrovertible; yet Brown was not prosecuted, but I, who had stood upon the eternal law of self-defense, was held to answer for mayhem, or maiming the person, by cutting Brown's ear, and destroying his eye.
Henry Clay and John Speed Smith, my brother-in-law, a great orator also, as said, volunteered to defend me. Smith's speech, as he was aroused by the comparison with so great a man as Clay, was a very able one — fully equal, if not superior, to Clay's. He was the uncle of James Speed, Lincoln's Attorney-General, and father of the Rev. General Green Clay Smith, better known, perhaps, than his father, but not his equal as an orator.
But the reader is interested more in Henry Clay, and I shall speak of him only. Generally, when a man is alive, and his person and character familiar to every one, but little is said of them. And, after his death, but few are left who, by personal contact, are able to sketch the lost portraiture. As Henry Clay is one of those men who "are not for a day, but for all time," I shall here, as elsewhere, speak of him from my own knowledge. It is a remarkable fact, but well known, that Mr. Clay, as a criminal advocate, never lost a case. . . . Of all men whom I have known, Clay had more of what is called, in modern times, magnetism. He was, as is well known, quite tall, yet commanding and very graceful in manner and movement. He had the most wonderful voice in compass, purity, and sweetness; and which, with the whole science of gesticulation and manner, he sedulously cultivated. . . . In this Clay had a great source of power. There was also a natural common sense, which, in him and in Abraham Lincoln, outweighed all the culture in books of their great rivals. Now, without at- tempting a definition of "common sense," I regard it as a faculty of observing and standing close to the normal laws of mind and body ; which laws operate with steady influence in all the mental and physical activities of the common or average man. Thus Mr. Clay, in the backwoods, where men are seen more in their real characters than in older societies and cities, was better able to understand them, (and men are at bottom much the same everywhere,) or any audience elsewhere.
. . . After Brown's evidence, and the very able speeches of Messrs. Clay and Smith in my defense, the jury had only to retire, write a verdict of not guilty, and return it to the court. . . .
I sent Brown word by a friend that I was willing to drop the whole enmity, and be friends! This he silently declined. So, after he recovered from his wounds, terribly disfigured, I expected another deadly rencounter, and was ever prepared. I met him twice afterward. I was sitting one day in D. C. Wickliffe's office — editor of the Kentucky Reporter — with some friends, when Brown came in. I rose up, and stood ready for defense. But Brown, seeing me, and saying a few words, retired. In a few days I met him, passing on the foot-path across the street from one square to the other, about midway. We passed each other, both giving part of the road ; and I never saw him again.
Not long afterward, he was blown up in a steamboat near Louisville, and was lost. Of all the men I ever encountered in personal conflict Brown was the bravest.
I will only say a few words here upon the political situation in 1844. The South, by a compact minority, ever vigilant and unrelenting, had assumed the ascendency in a Union once founded upon free principles. They now reversed the policy of our fathers, North and South, and determined to maintain supreme control of the government, and extend slavery first into all the new territory; and finally give it sway, at least politically, in the free States themselves. So that the issue was inevitable, as I before said, for either all slave or all free States. This interest, for brevity, will be called the slave-power.
. . . Of the slave-power, John C. Calhoun was now the leader; and of the other force was Henry Clay. The Abolitionists were Disunionists; the other two parties stood in a sliding movement. The Whigs for the Union, with or without slavery. The Calhoun Democrats for the Union, if possible, with slavery; but, Union or no Union, slavery forever.
These were the trunks of the three growths, with the roots yet intermingling in apparent unity.Cassius Clay set out to actively support Henry Clay for the 1844 presidential election, traveling and giving many speeches on his behalf. At the time, Henry Clay was already a well-known and respected senator and congressman, a former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. He had been speaking out against slavery as an emancipationist since 1799. But he had also already run for president twice and lost both times, in 1824 and 1832. Clay ran under the banner of the Whig Party, which he had helped form and lead. But by this time the Whigs were showing signs of disunity, with Southern and Northern factions growing farther apart over the issue of slavery. Once the 1844 campaign was in full swing, Henry grew concerned that the Southern, slave-holding Whigs were being turned away from him by his Cousin Cash's fiery oratory against slavery. Henry wrote a letter to Cassius, asking him not to "commit" him so strenuously. The letter was intercepted and ended up being used by the northern Whigs, as well as abolitionists from the rival Liberty Party, as showing that Henry was "soft" on the slavery issue. Henry Clay ended up losing many Whig votes to the northern abolitionists' candidate, James G. Birney, an editor who had once attempted to start an abolitionist newspaper called The Philanthropist in Danville, Kentucky. With the Whigs so split, neither Clay nor Birney could muster enough votes to win. The 1844 presidential election was won by James Polk of Tennessee, a pro-slavery Southern Democrat.
C.M. Clay:You are meaner than the autocrats of hell. You may think you can awe and curse the people of Kentucky to your infamous course. You will find, when it is too late for life, the people are no cowards. Eternal hatred is locked up in the bosoms of braver men, your betters, for you. The hemp is ready for your neck. Your life cannot be spared. Plenty thirst for your blood -- are determined to have it. It is unknown to you and your friends, if you have any, and in a way you little dream of.
|The True American|
The effect of tropical vegetation upon one born and grown to manhood in forest surroundings was intense in all its sensuous influence. The impenetrable jungles, thickly set with immense feather-shaped foliage and palms ; the hundred species of cactus, with their grotesque shapes of trunk and leaf, flower and fruit ; the Agave Mexicana (century plant), here planted in fields as Indian corn, and in a few nights sending their enormous stems, with myriad flowers, into the air, twenty and more feet in height; the many-colored parrots and parroquettes, and other tropical birds of rare plumage ; and the many cultivated and wild flowers and vines, all filled me with intense enjoyment. Then the snow-clad mountains, rising abruptly from the plains, with ever-flowing rivulets, toward which countless herds of sheep and goats, with herders of a novel race and dress, were moving, amid the songs of the birds and the rippling of the waters, made this the Arcadia of the ancient's imagination. To me, at least, it was an elysium. The eye, the ear, the flow of the blood through the veins and arteries — existence itself — was a positive pleasure; so that I felt as an Aeolian harp, which was played upon by the breeze ; and my every sense was responsive to all lovely Nature.
. . . I found here a new race of natives, unlike any others in America. They were tall, and fuller in person, with light complexion, some having blue and others grey eyes, and dark auburn hair. Used all my life to the breeding of pure races of live stock of the finest forms, besides my love of art in painting and statuary, and having studied, during my anti-slavery career, all the best authors, French and English, on the unity and diversity of the Human Race, I was not only greatly interested in these people, but, I think, brought a discriminating judgment to my aid, unusual in travelers. I am sure their characteristics were not the result of Spanish crosses ; for such are common in the Mexican capital, and are not at all like the Tolucans.
The women, especially, would interest me ; and I found them beautiful, with large brains, more thoughtful minds, and more taste in all ways than other Indians with whom I had mixed freely, from the Rio Grande to Toluca. The hair is worn in two plaits, tied with yarn or colored ribbons, hanging down the back. The chemise is cut low, and the arms well exposed. To the waist is bound several tiers of petticoats, made of fine native cotton-cloth, with very highly-colored and well-contrasted borders. The legs are generally bare; and the feet (like the hands), well turned, were covered with Indian sandals, at times highly ornamented with beads and needle work. No bonnets or head-dress is worn; but the elegant native rebosa, or shawl, covers the head and part of the face, which at will reveals at times the full anterior busts and rounded arms.
Spanish is spoken more or less in all Mexico; and the better class of Indians always speak it. So, when I got to Toluca, as usual, I made haste to enter society as far as I was able. In this provincial town, having no commerce, except the Federal Governor and a small suite of dark Spaniards and Indians, there are rarely seen any of the white race. So I was as much a curiosity to them as they were to me; and I had no great difficulty in making acquaintances among the Tolucans. Thus I was spending my time very agreeably.After a year and a half, they were set free. When he arrived in Lexington on December 11, 1847, he was met by Mary Jane and his six children, including the 9-month-old baby, Brutus, who had been born after Clay's departure for Mexico. Clay was given a hero's welcome, with people cheering him in the streets. Robert Todd gave a speech, and Clay was given a jeweled Tiffany sword by the people of Fayette County for his bravery.
Robert S. Todd, my old and faithful friend, the father of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, was the one selected to give the address of welcome; and so Lexington was never before, or since, even, in such a state of enthusiasm. I was escorted by all to my home, where a collation had been prepared; and where all, without distinction, gave and received welcome.
Turner and I had never been friends. Now, it was plain to all that I was beating him in debate; and that my followers were increasing. The slave-power became alarmed, and rallied to Turner's support. Angry feelings began to arise, and the debate to grow more personal. This was Turner's policy, as mine was peace. At Tate's Creek, among his relations, he grew quite offensive in his remarks, and I replied in an equal tone of defiance. The next meeting was at Foxtown, my immediate neighborhood. That lulled my suspicions, and I expected no assault there, at least. So, though I always went armed, and had pistols in my hand-sack, I had only a Bowie knife when I spoke.
Turner opened the debate, as usual; but became extremely violent. With great animation, he depicted the evils of agitation of the slavery-question, and was more personal than usual. In response, I was equally in earnest; and, when interrupted by a young lawyer, named Runion, I denounced him as "Turner's tool," and defied him. As soon as I stepped down from the table on which I stood, Cyrus Turner, the lawyer's son, came up to me, gave me the lie, and struck me. I had already been told, calmly, by one of my neighbors, who was now among the conspirators, that if I did not quit the discussion of the subject I would be killed. So knowing, as in Brown's case, what this meant, I at once drew my knife. I was immediately surrounded by about twenty of the conspirators, my arms seized, and my knife wrested from me. Thinking it might be a friendly intervention to prevent blood-shed, I made but little resistance. But I found that the loss of my knife but subjected me to renewed attack. I was struck with sticks, and finally stabbed in the right side, just above the lower rib — the knife entering my lungs, and cutting apart my breast-bone, which has not united to this day.
Seeing I was to be murdered, I seized my Bowie-knife; and, catching it by the handle and the blade, cutting two of my fingers to the bone, I wrested it from my opponent, and held it firmly for use.
The blood now gushed violently from my side; and I felt the utmost indignation. I flourished my knife, clearing the crowd nearest me; and looked out for Turner, determining to kill him. The way was opened, and I advanced upon him, and thrust the knife into his abdomen, which meant death.
At this time my eldest son, Warfield, being about fourteen years old, had procured a pistol, and handed it to me. It was too late. I was feeble from the loss of blood; and, crying out that "I died in the defense of the liberties of the people," I was borne to my bed in the hotel by my friends.
Turner was also taken into another room. It turned out that the conspirators numbered over twenty; and the idea that I was killed, and too many around me, saved me. But two persons besides my son interfered. William and Wyatt Wilkerson rendered me great service. William prevented Thomas Turner from shooting me in the back of the head with a pistol, which he snapped; and Wyatt Wilkerson threw him under the table, where preparations had been made for dinner. Wyatt was wounded with a knife in the arm.
I had many friends present; but, as is usual, they were paralyzed by the sudden and unexpected attack. Every body thought I would die, but myself. I allowed no probing of the wound; and ordered nothing to be given me, relying on my vigor of constitution, and somewhat upon my destiny.
I had never had any intercourse with young Turner. He had married the daughter of a gentleman whom I much respected, and who had been one of the associates of my earlier years. He had evidently acted in obedience to others, and had been put forward by more cowardly men. So I sent him word that, as it seemed that we were rather driven by events than any personal feeling, I regretted the necessity of having given him such a wound (which I knew to be fatal), and proposed a reconciliation. This he accepted, and returned me a friendly answer of forgiveness. He died, and I lived.Clay was not expected to live: he had been stabbed in the lung, and his breastbone was severed. Although there were newspaper reports of his death, Clay did not die, although it took him nearly a year to recover. Turner, however, died a few days after the fight. Clay's chest wound, as the the beatings he had received, caused him pain for the rest of his life.
Before I arose again from my bed, the election had closed, and Turner and William Chenault were sent to the Convention. Here was made that infamous (1850) Constitution which to this day defies the National organic law — holding that the right of the slave-holder to his "slave and the increase" is "higher" than any other human or divine law!
Clay left the Whig party in 1850. He ran for governor of Kentucky in 1851, on an emancipation platform. He knew he couldn't win, but he was determined to damage the pro-slavery faction of the Whig party. He considered it a victory when the Democrat, Lazarus Powell, was elected.
In 1853, Clay granted 10 acres to John Gregg Fee, an abolitionist, who founded the community of Berea, Kentucky, along with a church and school there. Their relationship later broke over their disagreements about abolition and the constitution. Clay wrote to Fee on July 8, 1855:
The only safe ground of opposition to slavery in my judgment is that it is the creature of law and we propose not to violate the law by to unmake it by law. That it is our constitutional right to create slavery - the same right is the very way to unmake it. As the slaves have no voice in the matter we have nothing to do with them in any way. From a religious point of view, if you offer the Bible and the masters say "no" - then you have done your duty - the responsibility rests upon them, not you. Any other communication with the slave except through the master is not to be thought of by us. There's no obligation upon us. Nor is it at all expedient.
|John Gregg Fee|
As an antislavery advocate, Clay was invited to speak throughout the North.
Lucretia Mott Mott deserves signal mention for her long and efficient services in the cause of the slave. She was born in 1793, of Friend's (Quaker) parentage; and early took ground against slavery, in common with the general tenets of those Christians. She was the organizer of the American Anti-Slavery branch of that Society in Philadelphia; opposed the use of slave-grown products; and, as a preacher of the Society of Friends, denounced slavery in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. She was ever the friend of the slave in all her various relations in life.
|Lucretia Coffin Mott|
On a visit to Mrs. Mott, after I began the anti-slavery war, I was handsomely entertained at a dinner at her home, where the leading anti-slavery men and women of Philadelphia were present. The Friends, of Philadelphia, in a genial climate, and by the purity of their lives, were noted for their beauty of body and soul. At this dinner, also, Edward Purvis, [it was actually Robert Purvis] a half-breed white and African, was present. His father was a ship-carpenter, and accumulated a large property. His son was well educated at home and abroad, and would have been regarded as a refined gentleman in any country. He sat opposite me at dinner, and by the side of one of the most lovely girls present.
This was the first time in my life that I had ever sat at table with a mulatto on terms of equality. Notwithstanding my advanced ideas in the direction of liberalism, I felt the greatest shock at this new relation of the races and the sexes; so that I imagine it must have been observed by all. After dinner, Purvis, with the address which comes of intercourse in many countries, sought me, and commenced a very agreeable conversation, till my prejudices were well nigh conquered. He said, on his return from Europe once, on the same vessel was a South Carolina family, including wife and daughters. They denounced negro-equality; but, taking Purvis for a Spaniard, or Italian, they danced with him — never suspecting his lineage. Such is the force of habit and prejudice.
. . . The prejudice of slavery will last in this country for centuries.
In my home, my white employees refuse to sit at table with blacks; but do not object to wait upon them civilly when they dine with me at times.Clay visited Springfield, Illinois and spoke there. Lincoln scholar Daniel Mark Epstein wrote: “On July 8, the Lincolns read in the paper that Mary’s childhood friend from Lexington, the forty-three-year-old abolitionist Cassius Clay, was coming to Springfield on Monday, July 10, to give a speech in the state house rotunda in the afternoon. She remembered him as a muscular, short-necked man with a handsome, large head and furious eyes.”
Abraham Lincoln was first seen by me at Springfield, Illinois, in 1856. Here I made my appointment at the capital; but, when the hour arrived, like at Frankfort, Kentucky, the doors were closed against me. Fortunately, the weather was pleasant; and the crowd immense. This noted man, who was to fill so large a space in the world's history, was then comparatively unknown, practicing law quietly at Springfield, with his associate, O. H. Browning. They sat under the trees. Whittling sticks, as he lay on the turf, Lincoln gave me a most patient hearing. I shall never forget his long, ungainly form, and his ever sad and homely face. He, too, was a native Kentuckian; and could bear witness, in his own person, to the depressing influence of slavery upon all the races.
I saw no more of Lincoln till after his celebrated canvass with Stephen A. Douglas for the Senatorship of Illinois, in 1858. He was going on north to make that speech, before the young men of New York City, which placed him so eminently before the people for President. Here we renewed our old acquaintanceship; and I, on the cars, had a long talk with him on the great issue. He listened a long time — such was his habit — without saying a word; and, when I had concluded my argument, he replied: "Yes, I always thought, Mr. Clay, that the man who made the corn should eat the corn." Now, these homely ways of expression lowered him in the estimation of weak men; but his style was that of Franklin — natural and robust, and therefore impressive and convincing.
. . . Americans, like the English, are ever much in favor of their own liberty. Only when the slave-power projected universal dominion was the North aroused; and only when it was the death of Slavery, or the death of the Union, did the great mass of Americans assent to its destruction. So Lincoln was not indifferent to slavery, as some of his superficial critics assert; but he was a type of the majority of Americans who, whilst conscious of the evils of slavery, were not yet so enthusiastic as to desire to grapple with its difficulties.
But Lincoln was not only wise, but good. He was not only good, but eminently patriotic. He was the most honest man that I ever knew. Religiously, he was an agnostic; but practically, as the responsibilities of his position increased, his devotion to duty increased. So, like the great leaders of all times, he became more conscious of the weakness of Man and the power of God.In April 1857, his son Cassius Marcellus Clay, the second son with that name, died at the age of 12.
In 1859, John Gregg Fee visited Clay to ask him to join the board of trustees at his Berea school. Clay refused because the proposed plan for the school was not only co-education for males and females, but also both races.
|Brutus J. Clay|
Portrait by Brady in Washington, D.C.
|Portrait of Alexander II|
given by the emperor to Cassius Clay
The true politeness of universal society is the same — to be agreeable and deferential to others; and should never give way to either impertinence or self-abasement. . . . The aristocracy of Russia, men and women, are models of form and refinement; and, as an aggregate, excel all others. To one who has the entree into these circles, nothing in the social way can give more agreeable pastime, or " savoir-vivre." I was in the prime of life, not a bad-looking fellow, who had seen much of the world, and who was determined to please. I broke through all etiquette so far as to be affable to all classes alike; and when I made a gaucherie, I was the first to laugh at it.
|Portrait of the empress|
given by the emperor to Cassius Clay
I remember once talking familiarly with the Empress, when I first got to St. Petersburg. She was a woman of good sense, and great sweetness of disposition and features, though of delicate health. I was interested in her conversation, and she was by no means displeased with mine. Now the greatest breach of etiquette in Russia is to address the imperial family without being first spoken to. How could I know? Foreign legations were glad to see me in a false position. The Russians were horrified. I was told afterward that a consultation was held by the immediate suite of the Emperor to break up the tete-a-tete, by informing me of my error. They named it to the Emperor; but he smiled, and said: "He will know better after a while." The Empress, even after I had "learned better," seemed to find pleasure in some new ideas and freedom of thought, and frequently renewed our conversations. . . .
I found Russian society very agreeable. My family, as soon as the novelty of the new situation had passed away, not finding the climate very healthy, returned home, leaving me alone.In January 1862, Clay wrote his brother Brutus that Mary Jane, their son Brutus and their four daughters would be leaving Russia the following month, complaining that she left "contrary to my wishes, and regardless of my protest."
|Clay's son, Brutus|
|Cassius Clay in his general's uniform|
Seward was too glad to avail himself of my promise to Lincoln, about the generalship, to recall me, and send Simon Cameron, who had got into bad odor as Secretary of War by his business-affairs with the railroads and the Government. He was sent to supersede me, with Bayard Taylor as Secretary of Legation. It was understood that Cameron was to slide down to his old level, using the mission to St. Petersburg as a parachute ; and that Taylor, who had great influence as one of the owners and editors of the New York Tribune, was to take his place as minister in full.
I had made a very full investment of my small salary in beautiful plate, and other articles of vertu from Paris, made under my immediate direction; and, by giving a few elegant entertainments, which were not excelled by any one, I gave the Russians an idea of my taste and training. . . . I was in no haste to go back to America; and I determined to return to St. Petersburg again.
When I reached Lexington, Kirby Smith was marching upon my county town, Richmond; and General Lew Wallace was in command of the Union forces. I suggested that the defense against those veteran troops should be made on the bluffs of the Kentucky River; that the passes were few, and easy of defense. This I knew from long observation in fishing in that river, from the three forks to the mouth. Wallace then asked me to take charge of the troops — infantry and artillery — and make the defense as I thought best. To this I consented . . .
In justice to General Nelson, I want to say that I believe he was a brave, and not a bad-hearted man. His schooling in the navy unfitted him for the command of volunteers, where persuasion and kindness must be used in connection with firmness. Let us all cast the mantle of charity over the faults of a man whose patriotism and courage have never been questioned.As an aide to General "Bull" Nelson, Clay's son, Green, had helped the general off the field and through the enemy lines to safety.
Shortly before Clay's reappointment as minister to Russia, Senator Orville Browning spent an evening with his old friend, Abraham Lincoln, on December 12, 1862:
Went to the Presidents at 6 P.M. and had a talk with him . . . . Whilst I was with him Cassius M. Clay & some other gentlemen sent in their cards. He was much annoyed—said to me he did not wish to see them, and finally told the servant to tell them he was engaged and could not see them to-night.
I asked him what he thought of Clay. He answered that he had a great deal of conceit and very little sense, and that he did not know what to do with him, for he could not give him a command—he was not fit for it. He had asked to be permitted to come home from Russia to take part in the war. Since he wanted some place to put Cameron to get him out of the War Department he consented, and appointed Clay a Majr Genl hoping the war would be over before he got home.
That when he came he was dissatisfied and wanted to go back, and was not willing to take a command unless he could control every thing—conduct the war on his own plan, and run the entire machine of Government—That could not be allowed, and he was now urging to be sent back to Russia. What embarrassed him was that he had given him his promise to send him back if Cameron resigned.
This man is certainly the most wonderful ass of the age. . . It is prosperity that has developed the fearful underlying vanity that poisons his whole character.
|Clermont / White Hall after reconstruction|
During this time, in spite of the war going on, Mary Jane supervised the reconstruction of White Hall, at a cost of about $30,000.
I was invited by the Emperor to visit him at Gatchina. This palatial villa lies on a spur of hills and cool valleys, a long day's drive south from St. Petersburg. Much of the court was there. We had trout-fishing and walks in the groves, by day; with dancing by night. The trout were caught in advance, and put into cool pools of running water, with wire screens, so that they could not escape. We could catch as many as we wanted, and what were caught were eaten. Nothing could be finer for sport or for the table. I was reminded of the fishing of Pompey with Cleopatra, who had divers to put fish on the hooks. Many thought the fish were in their native waters; though I, an old fisherman knew better. But I kept my own secret.
In no country in the world are the summers more delightful than in Russia. Round tables were set under the thick-shading trees ; and the company was thus broken into agreeable groups of men and women.
A woman who was, for a while, quite a sensation in St. Petersburg was Madame Grimski Corsikoff. One night at a great ball I saw, for the first time, where beauty is so common in high life, a lady who at once commanded attention. She was above ordinary size, with sloping shoulders, rounded arms and waist sufficiently large, and a bust which would rival the finest Greek statues. Her hair was a dark auburn and luxuriant, such as always attends the finest health; and she was as ruddy as a rose-bud. This was her first entrance into grand society; and, as she was soon aware of the sensation her personal appearance produced, this self-consciousness gave an illumination almost spiritual to her eyes.
|Mary Barr Clay|
|Mary Jane Clay in the gold silk presentation dress|
In the theatre President and Mrs. Lincoln, Miss Sally Clay and I, Mr. Nicolay and Mr. Hay, occupied the same box which the year after saw Mr. Lincoln slain by [John Wilkes] Booth. I do not recall the play, but Wilkes Booth played the part of the villain. The box was right on the stage with a railing around it. Mr. Lincoln sat next to the rail, I next to Mrs. Lincoln, Miss Sally Clay and the other gentlemen farther around. Twice Booth in uttering disagreeable threats in the play came very near and put his fingers close to Mr. Lincoln’s face; when he came a third time I was impressed by it, and said ‘Mr. Lincoln he looks as if he meant that for you.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘he does look pretty sharp at me, doesn’t he?’
|Mary B. Clay|
|Illustration of the Alaska Purchase,|
with Seward sitting by the globe,
and Stoeckl standing with his hand above it
I was in favor of that purchase, as you know, from the very beginning and I may safely say that it was owing to the good relations which I have been able to maintain with Russia that such a purchase was possible.
Clay returned to the United States in 1869. One of his souvenirs was a portrait of a semi-nude woman, which hung in a prominent place in White Hall for many years afterward.
|Clay's portrait of a Russian woman|
On my return home, she ventured to treat me as a stranger — putting me in a separate room; and, when the weather turned suddenly cold, she moved all my clothing, without consulting me, into another room in the new house, where the fire-place was unfinished, being without a grate, and the cold so intense that icicles froze on my beard.
. . . Her sister, Anne Ryland, had played well her usual role — had gathered up all the faults and escapades of a life-time — and now the infuriated woman poured them upon my devoted head like a deluge. At first I was indignant, and ready to retort upon her my own wrongs; for, after I had married her, my love for her was pure and devoted, and it was she who made the first breach upon the marriage duties. But, when I began to see the drift of her remarks, and where they were about to end, I grew calm; for now the last touch of love had vanished, and I let her go on, enumerating many truths against me at home and abroad, but also many calumnies, to which I gave the same tacit consent. For I desired now that she should magnify, not extenuate, my offences. The scene was closed by my asking her if she had any thing more to say; and I finally, with suave tones, bade her good- night, and returned to my room, and locked the door after me ever afterward during her stay in my house. For she told me, Christian as she professed to be, that she feared neither God nor man!
. . . She prepared to leave for Lexington. We had agreed that she should take every thing which she ever brought into my house, or bought with her own money, and that she should relieve me of her right of dower; and this was reduced to writing. After she had tried her sister, Anne Ryland, a long time . . . she sent word that she was. coming home again. As the time came near, as before mentioned, I went over to my son Green's home, and there remained, leaving my own house vacant. But, when my son went to see her, she sent him on a peace-errand ; and authorized him to say to me, after other explanations, that "she loved me as much as ever." To this I made no reply — not even to my son. Then she left once more, never to return. She had made my life miserable. I was driven to the wall, and there I stood !
I, who had sacrificed all to men, was by men left to myself alone. Kindred were cold, and children interested mainly in their own families! In a distant land — at the very antipodes — was one spark of eternal life, which, out of all the voiceless creation, spoke to me in words which I could well understand. Day by day that one image — that one voice which for so many years in a strange land I had listened to as the sweetest music — gathered into more vividness, till in my dreams I saw the imploring looks, and heard the calling for me of the lost one. In the great city of St. Petersburg, of now near a million of people — that city of isolation, infinite intrigues, and silence — was born, in the year 1866, a male child. To the secret of his parentage I am the only living witness — I who have, of all men living, the best reason to know — and that secret will die with me. So I sent for my adopted child, and brought him into the courts of Madison County, Ky., and had his name changed and recorded . . . This boy was then about four years old, well-formed, bright, and athletic, and full of health and color as a judicious culture could develop.Local gossip had it that his "adopted child" was actually his illegitimate son, and was part of the reason that Mary Jane had been angry with him, and eventually left him.
Clay left the Republican Party. He disapproved of the Republican reconstruction policy, and President Ulysses Grant's military interference in Haiti. In 1872, Clay was one of the organizers of the Liberal Republican revolt, and was largely instrumental at the convention in Cincinnati in securing the nomination of Horace Greeley for the presidency. Clay believed that the Republican principles had been perverted during the Grant administration. He joined the Democratic Party in 1875, and in the political campaigns of 1876 and 1880, he supported the Democratic Party candidates.
I had only black employees. They had all my keys, commanded all my stores of the meat-house and the pantry, as well as the wine-cellar. They ate and drank every thing that I did — we were as one family. I was absorbed in political thought, in my business, and in my books. I paid no attention to household-affairs as long as things were tolerable. But it turned out that every one was a traitor and my enemy. They not only used whatever they desired, but plundered me systematically, and divided my property among a large circle of friends and acquaintances. Sarah White, my cook, and David, her husband, had two sons. The elder lived in Winchester, the county-seat of Clarke. He had a market-wagon ; and, when it was filled, he went with it to Lexington, sold out, and then returned . . . He soon began to be known as a rogue. He was known to have driven a bullock from the pasture of a neighbor, and sold it to his confederates, who killed and either again sold it as beef, or ate it. He would come to my house, to his mother, my cook, at night, load up, and be off again; and I was ignorant of his coming, or his going.
Finding that some things were not in place, and must have been stolen, but knowing the tendency of such people to larceny, I winked at it; seeing that . . . I would suffer as much, or more, from the new-comers, if the old were driven off.
The other son, Perry White, was a general loafer. He rode a fine horse and saddle, went well-dressed, and carried a pistol always. Knowing his character, I never employed him. But, as his parents were with me, I disliked to forbid his coming to my place. He would sometimes practice his pistol-shots at trees in my pasture, which I forbade.
Launey, my son, was too young to take care of himself. So I put him in charge of one of the servants, with orders to obey her. He understood but little English, and had to learn to speak it; and was taught his letters and reading mostly by her.
Of all men I am, the least suspicious when my confidence is once gained. So I did not see what was going on all around me. Articles of house-supplies, of table-linen, of bedding, and all that, gradually disappeared. My clothing, books, and even my money was stolen. The duplicate keys of my safe were taken, and the cypher also. At length the silver of the safe was missing. Then I saw all.
In the meantime I found that Sarah, my cook, church- member as she was, was preaching that the blacks being robbed by the masters, it mattered not how good they were, now they ought to be plundered on all occasions, as a matter of remuneration! With this substratum of all crime, murder followed fast in its wake.
Launey lost his color, his vivacity, his appetite; often vomiting, he grew listless, and dropped things from his half-paralyzed hands. I did every thing I could to guard him from all ills. I was told that he ate dirt, and desired always to return home to his Russian birthplace. I attributed his decline to the change of climate; and hoped daily for a change. I then never suffered him to be out of my sight. If dirt was the cause, that would be seen; but, being with the nurse, the same effects ensued, and no change for the better took place.
Thus for years he was poisoned by these fiends, until one day I intercepted a letter from Perry White, threatening my life, because he conceived that the nurse, hired to me for the year by her mother, would marry him if she was re- moved from my employ. In all these years Launey had never grown at all. The same clothes which he had brought from Russia, three years before, fitted him to an inch. I tasted a peculiar flavor in the milk — I and he drank much of it — but supposed it to be acquired by the herbage in the park, full of wild shrubbery, as well as blue-grass, where the cattle grazed. One morning I went into the bed-room of my son, as he had begun to sleep apart, and found him gone. There was left on the bed a letter written in his handwriting, saying that he was going to Russia, and bidding me farewell for- ever. The nurse, on being called, said that Launey had often said of late that he was tired of staying with me, and was going to run away, and that he would make his living by fishing; and some pieces of his fishing-tackle were found on the bed.
I immediately- called for every one to join the search. I went myself to all the ponds, and carefully examined them. I went to all the adjoining fields, and examined if any tracks had passed; but, finding no trace, I returned home about noon, and found the boy standing beside the nurse. I then took him to my room. I had whipped him often severely for telling lies — in which he was encouraged — and no reform resulted. But finding, as I supposed, that I had been too harsh, and had uselessly punished him, I knelt down and thanked God for his return. I then resolved never again to punish him corporeally, and I never did.
When the letter of Perry White was discovered, like a flash of lightning I saw the whole ground of plunder and intended murder. I kept my own counsel. I made an elaborate examination of all my losses; and then sent for David White, and told him and wife to leave in fifteen minutes, if they desired to live. In less than five minutes Sarah was on a run for Foxtown. Dave asked to return next day and get his household furniture, which leave I granted. I had already given Perry orders never to come upon my land again, if he valued his life. I had heard of his boasting that he was "not afraid of Cash Clay;" and I now told his father to tell him, if he came on my land I would kill him, and this his father admitted he told him. I packed up the nurse and sent her off.
Then Launey, for the first time, at my request, told me all. How the nurse had often beaten him and starved him, and put dirt into his bed and pockets, and then made me believe that it was himself; that the nurse had dictated the letter, and threatened him with death if he did not jump out of the window; that he had at times told me the truth about the nurse's maltreatment, and I would not believe him, and that he feared to tell me the truth; that Sarah was in conspiracy against him, and he was in despair; that, on the night of his dis- appearance (it was warm weather), he sat in the window of the third story (counting the basement,) with his legs over the sill, and, fearing to jump, at last went to sleep, and thus fell upon the grass; that, when the first stunning effect was over, he got up, and, fearing to return, and finding himself able to walk, he went to the stable (about two hundred and fifty yards from the mansion), and laid down in the hay, where Perry White found him.
No language could describe my anguish. I looked upon his sallow, shriveled face and parched lips, which I have for long years kissed every night — so that no greater punishment could be inflicted upon him than to refuse him this trust of love. All the injuries of a life-time loomed up before me in fearful array — the death of my sister Anne's husband, a fine and gallant gentleman, killed by Mattingly, in Richmond, a few days after her marriage; the death of my elder brother, Sidney, killed with a designed dose of laudanum by his physician; the death of my two infant children, poisoned in Lexington by their nurse, Emily, who, on trial, was acquitted, in the midst of grateful enemies, and who were base enough to insult me by insinuations; the murderous assaults upon myself, and now, all that was left me, my innocent boy and only hope, was to be destroyed! For awhile I was paralyzed with despair. I had sacrificed all things for the happiness of mankind. . . . The philanthropy of a life-time melted as the dew before a summer's sun. Sternly resolving, I exclaim: I will stand on the eternal laws of self-defense of me and mine! When I had made this my resolve, I never felt more calm in my life. I armed myself, and never went out on the farm without shot-gun and pistol. We were now alone, I and Launey — not another soul within a mile of us. . . I will let others tell the tale of this tragedy. . .
The Commercial of Cincinnati by Col. Wm. G. Terrill, of Newport, Kentucky, 1877: GEN. CLAY'S MISFORTUNE. Particulars of the Killing of the Negro Perry White — Examination Waived and Bail Given. Correspondence of the Courier-Journal. Richmond, Ky., Oct. 1, 1877.—A gentleman of distinguished, aye, national, reputation has been compelled, in defense of his life and property, to slay, within the very precincts of his own home, an impudent bully, and that bully a negro who had been fed and nurtured by the very hand that laid him in his grave. . . . For several months Gen. Cassius M. Clay has had in his employ a negro woman (Sarah) as cook. Gen. Clay lives alone, several miles from town, and not nearer than a mile to his nearest neighbor. This negro woman had two or more sons — one, Perry, the unfortunate victim herein mentioned. Gen. Clay, in consequence of the impudence, thievery, etc., of these negroes, was compelled, in self-defense, to discharge the woman, Sarah. She was impudent and violent, and threatened him with the fact that she had sons and other friends who could and would protect her. Gen. Clay was even informed by other and reliable parties that the aforesaid Perry (Sarah's son) had said that he "was as good as old Cash. Clay, or any other white man, and if he fooled with him as he did with other negroes he would kill him," or words to that import. Gen. Clay paid little attention to these threats, but quietly discharged and sent this whole family from his place.
. . . The negro, Perry, left the county, and during that time wrote several times to his mother. In these letters he distinctly stated that he "did not care for Cash Clay, and, if he ever got a chance, he intended to kill him." These letters, the general, by accident, intercepted, and became aware of these threats. He was, consequently, forewarned, and was constantly on the lookout. The negro Perry was forbidden Gen. Clay's place. Now comes the finale. On yesterday morning, about 11 o'clock, Gen. Clay, mounted upon his mule, with a boy some ten years old behind him, started out in search of a cook, his negroes, through the persuasion of these hostiles, having all left him; and, when approaching his stable, about one hundred and fifty yards from his house, he discovered concealed in the woods, and behind what was apparently a loose horse, the negro Perry. Divining the scoundrel's object, the general at once dismounted; and, with pistol in hand, rapidly advanced on the would-be assassin, and, before he had time to fire, or even draw his weapon, confronted him face to face at but a few feet distance, calling on him at the same time to "hold up" his hands, all of which the said Perry complied with instantly. . . . Perry sprang to his feet and attempted to draw his weapons. At this demonstration Gen. Clay fired, striking him in the neck, and immediately afterward a second shot, which passed through his heart and produced instant death.
Gen. Clay rode at once to Foxtown, and there informed Mr. Green Samuels of the affair; and sent for his son, Major Green Clay, with directions to go at once and examine the body. When Major Clay arrived, about three-quarters of an hour after the killing, the negro's friends and kinsfolk, a dozen or more in number, had already arrived and had possession of the body. As no one was present, or any where in sight, save Gen. Clay, the little boy, and the negro killed, and as they had no means of knowing of the occurrence, unless privy thereto, it is plain that these people were a party to the whole affair, and were at the time either watching, or were at least within hailing distance. . . . Gen. Clay came up at once to Richmond, and surrendered himself to the proper authorities. He was yesterday, at his own request, placed under guard; and this morning appeared in court, and having waived an examination, was held to bail, and that being promptly given he was released. To his neighbors, his friends, indeed, to any one personally acquainted with Gen. Clay, it is unnecessary to say that he regrets the necessity of this action as much as any one could. He acted through an imperative necessity; and, however unfortunate the affair, has the sympathy of all good men in our community. It is not necessary to speak of Gen. Clay's character at home or abroad. He is esteemed and loved by his neighbors, and respected everywhere, even by his enemies. He is emphatically a law and order man, and nothing save an absolute necessity could have induced this act. . . . The jury in the case of the Commonwealth vs. C. M. Clay for shooting a negro, returned a verdict of justifiable homicide, every member of the jury signing the verdict. His son, who was present at the shooting, gave full particulars of the affair, under oath, before the grand jury. Thus it will be seen that Gen. Clay stands honorably acquitted of the charge of murder.In 1878, after 45 years of marriage, Clay divorced his wife, Mary Jane Warfield Clay, for abandonment.
On my final return home, the bonds between myself and wife, which had been strained from the date of our marriage, were about to be broken forever. My younger children knew but little of me. They received their ideas of my character from my inveterate enemies, the Warfield clan — all but Green, who knew me well from being the eldest, and much with me. I went to him, and told him I intended to get a divorce. Although he knew that his mother had left my home, and had gone to Lexington to live, he was much shocked. He, like the remainder of the family, seemed to think that I was to bear every thing, like a pack-horse, with patience, and without a murmur. He said he had been unfortunate in many things — in the loss of property and health; but he thought at least the good name of his parents was left him, and now that also was to be lost!
I told him that I had maturely considered the matter, and had come to an unchangeable resolve; that, as he had been a good and honorable son, and a man in all things, I would explain to him what I had not said to any other person or persons whatever. I then related the occurrences before and after marriage — how I had been treated by that family all through life — referring to Mrs. and Mr. Warfield . . . how Julia Hunt was heard, by my niece, to say, that she hoped I would die in prison in Mexico . . . how I was left alone at St. Petersburg; how I could not persuade Mrs. Clay to return there with me in 1863; how, when Seward calumniated me, she wrote a letter, not trusting me . . . how I found my property at home injured, the ornamental trees cut down, no fences, and not a good roof on the estate, but that of tin on the main building; how she sold the stock before I reached home, and kept the money; how I did not receive a single cent from her as my attorney-in- fact, for the rent of the place — about eighty thousand dollars, at least.
That, before I left for Europe; how I had sent her nearly four times the whole amount of the original estimate of the additional building — which was $8,000 — I having previously furnished and paid for the most of the material, as stated . . . how all my faults had been studiously magnified and misstated. . . how, before she finally deserted me, and went to live with Anne Ryland in Lexington, she had divided up my household furniture; how she refused to pay a part of our common expenses; how, when she and Mrs. Ryland could not live together, (how could they?) she returned unasked to my home once more; how I, on hearing of her coming, left my own house, and went to his; how she sent word by him that she had come home, and "loved me as much as she ever did;" and how I, being silent, and making no response, she then returned to Lexington, bought a house, and there lived separate and apart from me for five years, which, by our laws, gave me the right of divorce.
Green heard me with great emotion and great patience. He then said, in substance, that: I was his father, and Mrs. C. his mother; and that he considered it his duty, as it was his sentiment, to love both. That he had regarded, and would continue to regard it as a quarrel between us only; and he was not the one, but a higher Power, to judge us. And so I brought suit in the Fayette Circuit Court for divorce; and all the family, so far as I heard, except Green, opposed it. . . . A decree of divorce was granted me February 7, 1878.
. . . After she abandoned my home, I sent for my adopted son, Launey Clay, from Russia; and, through the courts of Madison County, Ky., by permission of his nominal parents, assumed his guardianship, and sole control of him, and changed his name to the one he now bears.
|Clay outside White Hall with sheep|
I believe that the so-called advance in civilization which secures separate property rights to women is a fatal mistake. It denies the unity of interests in families, breeds suspicion and war, and is the chief cause of divorce, which signalizes modern society — "the cause of all our woe." These evils would be intensely aggravated by equal suffrage, where politics often leads to bloodshed, by passions which would invade the peace of every household. Suffrage is already in the hands of the ignorant and the vicious — a dangerous experiment; and its extension to women would, in my judgment, but add fuel to the fire.
We are told that men protect us; that they are generous, even chivalric in their protection. Gentlemen, if your protectors were women, and they took all your property and your children, and paid you half as much for your work, though as well or better done than your own, would you think much of the chivalry which permitted you to sit in street-cars and picked up your pocket- handkerchief ?
~ Mary Barr ClayClay's oldest son, Green Clay, died June 21, 1883. His health had been poor since his service in the Civil War.
A memorial to John C. Breckinridge, the Kentucky senator who had become the Confederate Secretary of War, was placed on the Fayette County Courthouse lawn in Lexington in 1887.
John C. Breckinridge was foremost whenever fortune led him. But defeat settled upon the "Lost Cause," and he fell with it. . . . His country greatly honored and greatly trusted him. So much greater was his crime. . . . But he did some deeds of repentance which should be held as offsets to his great offense. He denounced and effectively killed in Kentucky, at least, the remorseless " Ku-Klux-Klan."
|John C. Breckinridge|
I never did approve of the State erecting a monument to his memory, whilst Union soldiers lie obscure in turf-covered graves. To honor those who have signally failed in the admitted duties of civilized society, for the defense of national life, with posthumous fame, is to ignore the existence of good and evil.
That should have been the work of private grief; for to frail humanity much leniency must be accorded, and over the graves even of the fallen tears may flow without the violation of the eternal laws. So great are the evils of a revolution that, even in a patriotic cause, there should be some reasonable chance of success to halo a failure.
. . . But to attempt the overthrow of the American Republic, to conserve the meanest of all despotisms — Slavery — should leave but little sympathy or honor for the " Lost Cause! " For Breckinridge's monument was appropriated ten thousand dollars ; whilst a resolution to allow a similar sum for a monument in memory of the gallant Union soldier, William Nelson, was voted down with contempt and indignation!
|Clay's Gout Stool|
|Clay outside White Hall in 1894|
|Clay in 1894 on his wedding day|
|Dora Richardson Clay Brock|
In January 1900, burglars broke into White Hall. Clay, who slept in his first floor library, killed two of them: one with a gun and the other with his Bowie knife.
Cassius Clay died at his home on the stormy night of July 22, 1903 of kidney failure. He was 92 years old. His estranged children were reportedly at his bedside when he died.
Local papers reported that Clay was so respected by the black community, the streets of Richmond were lined by local black families, paying their last respects to a man who had fought for, and in part, helped them win them freedom from slavery. A local paper reported:
Never was a more striking scene witnessed on the way to Richmond, where the funeral services were to be held. From every humble negro cottage along the roadside and at every cross roads, the mothers and large children carrying those who were too little to walk, the negroes were lined up to pay their last respects to the man whom they honored as the Abraham Lincoln of Kentucky.Clay was buried in the Richmond Cemetery.
In 1920, Laura Clay was a founder of the Democratic Women's Club of Kentucky. That same year, at the 1920 Democratic National Convention, Laura Clay made American history as the first woman to be nominated for President by a major political party.
|Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.|
White Hall was uninhabitated and fell into disrepair after Clay's death.
|White Hall in 1968|
It was purchased and restored in the 1970s, and is now maintained by the Commonwealth of Kentucky as White Hall State Historic Shrine.
|White Hall State Historic Shrine|