Did you know that Cassius Marcellus Clay was born today in 1810? He was an American politician and emancipationist. An emancipationist is someone who works to end slavery. Cassius Marcellus Clay was born into one of the wealthiest plantation and slaveholding families in Kentucky. While in college, he heard the famous abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, speak. While contrary to the lifestyle he grew up with, Cassius Marcellus Clay started to support the anti-slavery movement. He freed the slaves he personally inherited. As a politician he worked to create laws to end slavery in the United States and became friends with Abraham Lincoln.
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Cassius Marcellus Clay was nicknamed “The Lion of White Hall”.
Cassius Marcellus Clay’s anti-slavery views earned him enemies. In 1843, during a political debate Cassius Marcellus Clay survived and fended off an assassination attempt. He was shot in the chest, but still managed to draw his Bowie knife, tackle his assailant, cut out his eyes, and throw him over an embankment. In 1845, Clay began publishing an anti-slavery newspaper. He started to receive death threats. In response, Clay armed himself and installed cannons and armored doors at the newspaper office. Despite his efforts, eventually a mob broke into the office and destroyed the printing equipment. In 1849, while making an anti-slavery speech the six Turner brothers beat, stabbed, and tried to shoot Clay. Clay fought off the six brothers and using his Bowie knife killed one of his attackers.
President Abraham Lincoln appointed Cassius Marcellus Clay to be the United States minister to Russia. He was in Russian during the United States Civil War and worked to earn Russian support for the President Lincoln and the Union, which kept Britain and France from helping the Confederacy. While in Russian in 1861, Cassius Marcellus Clay witnessed the Russian Tsar’s emancipation edict, ending serfdom in Russia. Cassius Marcellus Clay returned to help fight the Civil War in 1862, but returned to Russian in 1863. Later he helped with negotiations with Russia for the purchase of Alaska.
Laura Clay and Mary Barr Clay were two of Cassius Marcellus Clay’s surviving children. They were women’s rights activists.
Herman Heaton Clay, who was a descendant of African-American slaves named his son Cassius Marcellus Clay as a tribute to the great emancipationist. This name was passed on to his son, Cassius M. Clay, Jr. who is better known as Muhammad Ali.