Although raised by one of the wealthiest landowners and largest slaveholders in Kentucky, Cassius did not approve of the institution of slavery and devoted a great portion of his life to speaking out against the peculiar institution, fighting for the gradual emancipation of slaves. Cassius’ views were not very popular in his hometown; nevertheless he did not let widespread opinion deter him. Clay traveled extensively addressing his opposition to slavery and getting into a number of verbal and physical disputes as a result of his beliefs. Politically, although Clay ran for many appointments, his views regarding slavery were a great deterrent to winning actual posts. One position that he was able to secure was Minister to Russia, appointed by Abraham Lincoln when he took Presidential office.
In his seventies Cassius M. Clay, chose to pen his Memoirs in an effort to memorialize his actions regarding anti-slavery and politics. The six hundred page memoir spans all of Clay’s life up to the mid 1880’s. In addition to covering the politics that Clay was involved with, topics within the book are varied and range from Clay’s favorite authors to his defense of an African-American foreman against the Ku Klux Klan. The work also, as the name implies, contains a great deal of Clay’s writings and speeches as well as various letters.
Clay’s Memoirs, when originally published, were sold by subscription only. Buyers could choose from four different styles ranging in price from five to ten dollars. Although the subscription was to be for two volumes, only one was ever published. Few original copies of the Memoirs still exist today. In 1968 a reprinting of the Memoirs that included a reference index was produced in Berea, Kentucky, which coincided with the opening of White Hall State Historic Site. In addition Negro University Press did a reprinting in 1969, though without an index. Today reprinted copies can be purchased online.
Cassius M. Clay was a man who aspired to greatness, certainly with his ideals concerning freedom, and it is regrettable that he is often overlooked in the pages of history. Oftentimes the legends surrounding the man have taken precedence over the facts. It is therefore heartening that a work exists to prove that Clay, in his own words, was “Quorum—pars fui.” Translation, “Of them—I was a part.”
For additional information:
The Life of Cassius Marcellus Clay: Memoirs, Writings, and Speeches, Volume I
Cassius M. Clay, author