Clay, Cassius Marcellus

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Clay, Cassius Marcellus,

1810–1903, American politician and diplomat, b. Madison co., Ky. Although he came from a slaveholding family, Clay early came to abhor the institution of slavery. In 1845 he established at Lexington, Ky., the True American, an abolitionist paper. His press was moved by his enemies to Cincinnati, and he continued its publication there and at Louisville. He served as a captain in the Mexican War and was captured and for a time imprisoned. In 1851 he was an unsuccessful candidate for governor of Kentucky on an antislavery ticket; he captured enough votes, however, to cause the defeat of the Whig candidate and thus hastened the collapse of the Whigs in Kentucky. He was minister to Russia (1861–62, 1863–69) and served briefly in the Civil War as a major general of volunteers.


See his autobiography (1866); his writings, ed. by H. Greeley (1848, repr. 1969); biographies by D. L. Smiley (1962) and W. H. Townsend (1967).

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Clay, Cassius Marcellus

(1810–1903) abolitionist; born in Madison County, Ky. (cousin of Henry Clay). He was the son of a wealthy slaveholding planter, but while at Yale, he heard abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison speak and was converted to abolitionism. Returning to Kentucky, he studied law, then served in the state legislature. Clay freed his own slaves in 1844, and the next year founded a newspaper, The True American (later the Examiner), to combat slavery. Honored for valor in the Mexican American War, he was appointed ambassador to Russia in 1861 but delayed his departure to help strengthen the defenses of Washington, D.C.; he went to Russia, returned to the U.S.A. in 1862 when named a major general in the Union army, then went back to take up his diplomatic post in Russia (1863–69) and participated in the purchase of Alaska. On his return he was active in Republican politics but he became increasingly erratic and reclusive; he was judged insane in his final months.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.