After the 1843 disturbance, Clay had been charged with mayhem, but was successfully defended by Henry Clay. In return, Cassius set out to actively support his cousin for the 1844 presidential election, traveling and giving many speeches on his behalf. But his efforts ended up backfiring.
At the time, Henry Clay was already a well-known and respected senator and congressman, a former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. He had been speaking out against slavery as an emancipationist since 1799. But he had also already run for president twice and lost both times, in 1824 and 1832. So at first he welcomed his cousin's assistance, hoping that Cassius could campaign for him in the East, where Henry feared that he might lose votes to the more radical abolitionists.
Clay ran under the banner of the Whig Party, which he had helped form and lead. But by this time the Whigs were showing signs of disunity, with Southern and Northern factions growing farther apart over the issue of slavery. Once the 1844 campaign was in full swing, Henry grew concerned that the Southern, slave-holding Whigs were being turned away from him by cousin Cassius' fiery oratory against slavery. So he wrote a letter to Cassius, asking him not to "commit" him so strenuously. But the letter was intercepted and ended up being used by the northern Whigs, as well as abolitionists from the rival Liberty Party, as showing that Henry was "soft" on the slavery issue. Clay ended up losing many Whig votes to the northern abolitionists' candidate, James G. Birney, an editor who had once attempted to start an abolitionist newspaper called The Philanthropist in Danville, KY. (The publisher, S.S. Dismukes, fled Danville after threats.)
With the Whigs so split, neither Clay nor Birney could muster enough votes to win. In an ironic turn of political events, the 1844 presidential election was won by James Polk of Tennessee, a pro-slavery Southern Democrat.
Adventures in Publishing
In 1845, Cassius Marcellus Clay and his family lived for a time in the "Lord Morton House" at Fifth and Limestone streets in Lexington, KY, while still retaining White Hall. Clay was now publishing a newspaper called The True American. From the beginning, its anti-slavery editorials aroused much anger, as can be seen in this letter received by Clay not long after the paper opened:
You are meaner than the autocrats of hell. You may think you can awe and curse the people of Kentucky to your infamous course. You will find, when it is too late for life, the people are no cowards. Eternal hatred is locked up in the bosoms of braver men, your betters, for you. The hemp is ready for your neck. Your life cannot be spared. Plenty thirst for your blood -- are determined to have it. It is unknown to you and your friends, if you have any, and in a way you little dream of.
Clay fortified his office on Mill Street with iron doors, a cannon, and rifles. Several friends, including the architect Thomas Lewinski, helped him plan to defend the structure from attack. Meanwhile, a "committee of sixty" slavery supporters was organized to get rid of the paper. On August 18, 1845, while Cassius was sick in bed with typhoid fever, a delegation led by James B. Clay -- Henry Clay's son -- entered the newspaper office with a city judge's injunction against the paper and dismantled the printing equipment, which they sent by rail to Cincinnati.
Cassius simply relocated his operation, resuming publication shortly thereafter from Cincinnati (though still using a Lexington dateline), and two years later he was awarded a $2,500 legal settlement against James Clay. Unfortunately, the original structure that housed The True American at Number 6 North Mill Street in Lexington has been demolished.
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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27-Aug-2014 15:27:41 EDT