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Cassius Marcellus Clay

Cassius Marcellus Clay (October 19, 1810July 22, 1903), nicknamed "The Lion of White Hall", was an emancipationist from Madison Countymarker, Kentuckymarker, United Statesmarker. He was a cousin of Henry Clay and Alabama governor Clement Comer Clay.


Cassius Clay was a paradox - a southern aristocrat who became a prominent anti-slavery crusader. He was a son of Green Clay, one of the wealthiest landowners and slaveholders in Kentucky. Clay worked toward emancipation, both as a Kentucky state representative and as an early member of the Republican Party.

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

Clay served three terms in the Kentucky General Assembly, but he lost support among Kentucky voters as his platform became more focused on ending slavery. In 1845, he began publishing an anti-slavery newspaper called the True American in Lexington, Kentuckymarker. Within a month he received death threats, had to arm himself, and had to barricade the doors of his newspaper office for protection. Shortly after, a mob of about sixty men broke into his office and seized his printing equipment, which they shipped to Cincinnati, Ohiomarker. Clay continued publication there.

Even though he opposed the annexation of Texasmarker, Clay served in the Mexican-American War. His connections to the northern antislavery movement remained strong, and he was a founder of the Republican party and a friend of Abraham Lincoln, supporting him for the presidency.

Minister to Russia

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

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

Clay returned to Russia in 1863 and remained until 1869. He was influential in the negotiations for the purchase of Alaskamarker.

Later political activities

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

In 1872, he was one of the organizers of theLiberal Republican revolt, and was largely instrumental in securing thenomination of Horace Greeley for the presidency. In thepolitical campaigns of 1876 and 1880, he supported the Democratic Party candidate, but rejoined the Republican party in the campaign of 1884.

Later years

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

In Clay's later years, his wife, Mary Jane Warfield Clay, daughter of Dr. Elisha Warfield, divorced him and he fell deeply into debt, causing him to sell much of his property. In 1894, he married 15 year-old Dora Richardson, but they soon divorced.

Cassius Clay died July 22, 1903. Survivors included his daughters, women's rights activists Laura Clay and Mary Barr Clay.


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

Former world Heavy Weight Champion boxer Muhammad Ali was born as Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. after his father, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr., whose grandfather grew up on the property of the emancipationist for whom he was named..

See also


  1. Brennan 20
  2. United States Department of State list of ambassadors
  3. Clay, Memoirs, pp. 305–312
  4. Clay, Memoirs
  5. "Clay, Cassius Marcellus", by Frank L. Klement, in The World Book Encyclopedia (1984). World Book Inc: Chicago.
  6. "Clay, Cassius Marcellus", by Frank L. Klement, in The World Book Encyclopedia (1984). World Book Inc: Chicago.
  7. King of the World by David Remnick (Random House, 1998), p. 83.


  • The Life, Memoirs. Writings, and Speeches of Cassius Marcellus Clay (Cincinnati, 1896), his autobiography
  • The Writings of Cassius Marcellus Clay (edited with a Memoir by Horace Greeley. New York, 1848).
  • The Other Cassius Clay (Kalamazoo: Brian Tice, 2002), an original musical stage production based on his life.
  • Cassius M. Clay: Freedom's Champion (Turner Publishing Company Keven McQueen, 2001), A look at the life of Cassius Clay by fellow Kentuckian, researcher, and former tour guide of Whitehall, Keven McQueen.
  • A Man Seen But Once: Cassius Marcellus Clay by Betty Boles Ellison (AuthorHouse, 2005)
  • Cassius Marcellus Clay: Firebrand of Freedom by H. Edward Robinson (University Press of Kentucky, 1976)
  • The Life of Cassius Marcellus Clay by Fletcher Brennan (Negro Universities Press, 1970)
  • "Kentucky Lion: The True Story of Cassius Clay" (Morrison McNae Publishing, 2007) authored by Richard Kiel and Pamela Wallace [169183]

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