Cassius Marcellus Clay


Cassius Marcellus Clay Famous memorial

Madison County, Kentucky, USA
Death 23 Jul 1903 (aged 92)
Madison County, Kentucky, USA
Burial Richmond, Madison County, Kentucky, USA
Plot Section F, Lot 10
Memorial ID 8009 View Source

Journalist, Abolitionist, United States Ambassador. He received notoriety in American history as a Southerner, who fought for the freedom of slaves in the American Civil War era. After freeing his own slaves, which he had inherited from his father, he founded in 1845 the newspaper, "True American," an antislavery newspaper in Kentucky. At first, he had hoped freeing the slaves would be a peaceful act. Being realist, he knew that there could be a physical altercation from the community, thus fireproofed his print shop with iron, two cannons at the door, and rifles hanging on the wall. During a political debate in 1843, he survived an assassination attempt by Sam Brown, who was hired by his many political enemies. Brown shot and missed Clay, and at this point, Clay retaliated and attacked Brown with a Bowie knife, blinding Brown in both eyes and disfiguring his face . While he was sick with thyroid fever at home in August of 1845, the Committee of Sixty, which was a mob led by George Washington Johnson, who became the first Confederate governor of Kentucky, seized Clay's printing press in attempt to stop his publication. Continuing to print his newspaper for another year, Clay relocated his print shop to Cincinnati, Ohio. He sued some of the Committee of Sixty for denying him the "freedom of press," collecting $2,500 in damages. Born into a wealthy family with seven children, his father, General Green Clay, was a Revolutionary War veteran, who owned several businesses including a plantation with the largest number of slaves in Kentucky. He denounced his father's way of life for his cause. After attending Lexington's Transylvania University, he attended Yale University graduating in 1832. After listening to William Lloyd Garrison's thoughts on freeing slaves while at Yale, he became inspired. He was surprised to learn that most men in Connecticut could read and write. Later, he wrote in his memoirs, "...ignorance and poverty are the fast high roads to crime and suffering." He knew education should not only be for wealthy men. Years later in 1855 he donated land for Berea College, which was opened to male and female students of both white and black races. The next year after graduating from Yale University, he married Mary Jane Warfield, a personal friend to Mary Todd Lincoln, and the couple had ten children with six living to adulthood. Starting in 1835 he was elected as a member of the Whig Party to three terms in the Kentucky legislature, until his anti-slavery views caused problems with Pro-slavery sympathizers. Many of his well-known family members were active in Southern politics supporting slavery and the antebellum life-style. From 1846 to 1848, he fought in the Mexican War at the rank of captain in the 1st Kentucky Cavalry, spending eighteen months as a prisoner of war in Mexico City and returning a war hero. Being a physically strong, 6'3" tall man, he fought in 1848 singlehandedly six attackers, killing one, after giving an anti-slavery speech in Texas. In 1850 he was a candidate for the office of governor of Kentucky, but although loss the election, he gained national recognition. In 1854 he became a charter member of the Kentucky's Republican Party and in 1860 was nominated to be a candidate for the office of vice-president of the United States. In April of 1861 while in Washington D.C., he organized a battalion of 300 volunteers to defend the White House at the dawn of the American Civil War. In March of 1861, he was appointed by United States President Abraham Lincoln to the post of Ambassador to Russia. For a few months, he returned to the United States in 1862. While in Russia, he successfully encouraged Czar Alexander II to free 23 millions serfs before President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in September 22, 1862, freeing slaves in the United States. Seeking Russia's support during the American Civil War, he returned to his Russian ambassador post in March of 1863, coming home in 1869 to the United States. His wife refused to return to Russia with him. During the American Civil War, the Russian navy had ships in New York and San Francisco harbors, which impeded Britain and France from siding with the Confederacy. Later, Clay paved the way to the purchase of Alaska. He brought with him from Russia an orphan boy, who was allegedly his biological son with a Prima ballerina of the Russian Imperial Ballet. He supported the Cuban Independence Movement against Spain, forming the Cuban Charitable Aid Society, but did not support United States President Ulysses Grant's involvement with Haiti's government. This cause him to switched political parties from being Republican to joining the Liberal Republican Party to the Democrat Party and back to Republican. After a long separation and several public extra-marital affairs on his part, he and his wife divorced in 1878, leaving his wife to live penniless and homeless. The treatment of their mother, led his four daughters, especially Laura and Mary, to become active in the Women's Rights movement. Having many enemies throughout his life, he carried a gun and a large silver Bowie knife with him even as an elderly man. In 1894 at the age of 84 he married a 15-year-old orphan girl; the marriage ended in three years. He died of natural causes and was declared insane before dying. His home, the "White Hall," is now a Kentucky Historical Building. Horace Greeley edited his memoirs. A descendant of one of his liberated slaves, Herman Heaton Clay, name his son Cassius Clay in honor of the abolitionist, which led to the slave's grandson being named Cassius Clay, Jr, who became the heavyweight champion of the world before changing his name to Muhammad Ali. Numerous biographies have been written on Clay's life.

Bio by: Linda Davis

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 6 Jan 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 8009
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Cassius Marcellus Clay (10 Oct 1810–23 Jul 1903), Find a Grave Memorial ID 8009, citing Richmond Cemetery, Richmond, Madison County, Kentucky, USA ; Maintained by Find a Grave .