Cassius Marcellus Clay – Emancipationist
In 1831, Cassius M. Clay, son of General Green Clay, went to Yale College, and was there brought under the magic of Garrison, already well launched upon his dramatic Crusade. Soon after Clay’s admission to the Junior Class, the College was stirred by the news that “Garrison was going to speak in the South Church.” “I had,” writes Clay, “never heard an abolitionist, nor the name hardly,” so complete was “the isolation of thought between the Liberals of the South and the North,” but, “I went to hear Garrison. In plain, logical and sententious language he treated the “Divine Institution,” so as to hum like a branding-iron into the most callous hide of the slaveholder and his defenders. I felt all the horrors of slavery; but my parents were slaveholders; all my kindred in Kentucky were slaveholders; and I regarded it as I did other evils of humanity, as the fixed law of nature or of God; Garrison dragged out the monster; and left him stabbed to the vitals, and dying at the feet of every logical and honest mind; I then resolved; that, when I had the strength, if ever, I would give slavery a death struggle.”
Such was the initiation of the man who boasted that he was the first real abolitionist of Kentucky. The iron had entered deep into his soul, and, from that moment, the friend of slavery was to him the enemy of mankind.
After two years spent at Yale, Cassius Clay returned to Kentucky, where he entered the field of politics, and began the free expression of his views. The impression, made by Garrison, time and experience only served to deepen, and, as the slavery cloud darkened over Kentucky, the “Lion of Whitehall,” vaunted his abolitionist theories in the faces of the slaveocracy as boldly and fearlessly as if the whole world were on his side. He knew the danger of his course as well as any man. The terror inspired by the slave power, he said upon one occasion, is but faintly indicated by the declaration of a minister of South Carolina who said that it “were better for him, rather than denounce slavery, ‘to murder his own mother,’ and lose his soul in hell!” This is of course the exaggerated style, characteristic of the abolitionist of the period; but no one, who knew Cassius M. Clay, will venture to deny that he had the courage of his convictions, and was a man, if one ever existed, who feared no foe.
In 1841, an act was introduced into the Kentucky Legislature, for repealing the law of 1833, which prevented the importation of slaves into Kentucky, but it failed to pass. Cassius Clay seized this occasion for denouncing slavery and its defenders in the savage language which he knew well how to use. To the threats of the slaveholders, he replied that neither bowie knives, pistols nor mobs could force him to change his course toward the institution, and he warned them that, although ready to sacrifice his life, if need be, in the cause, they would not find him “a tarne victim of either force or denunciation.”
Excerpt from Kentucky in the Nation’s History by Robert McNutt McElroy – 1909
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