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Clay, Henry (1777-1852) to Thomas J. Wharton

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC00509 Author/Creator: Clay, Henry (1777-1852) Place Written: Ashland, Kentucky Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 28 August 1823 Pagination: 4 p. ; 26 x 20 cm.

Summary of Content: Discusses at length the strong position he took favoring emancipation 25 years earlier and how his continuing emancipation feelings defeated him at the polls several times due to the strong slavery interest. States that there are not enough Africans in the U.S. to pose a hazard if they are gradually emancipated. Writes, "My opinion is unchanged...the African portion of the community is not so large as to make any hazard to the purity & safety of Society by a gradual and prepared emancipation of the offspring." Also discusses the political situation especially as it was affecting his first candidacy for president in the 1824 presidential election. He assesses the support he might have and mentions his opponents Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams. Writes that some of Jackson's supporters are coming over to him.

Background Information: Henry Clay was a Representative from Kentucky and one of the founders of the Whig Party. He served in the United States Senate in 1806-1807, 1810-1811, 1831-1842, and 1849-1852. He ...was an unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1824, 1832, and in 1844. During the 1824 election, Clay came in third and only received about 13% of the popular vote.See More

Full Transcript: Partial Transcript:
Certainly it would have been more auspicious to my interests that the popular demonstrations made in Pennsylvania in favor of Genl. Jackson should have been given in my ...support! But the next best thing to have happened is that which has actually occurred....
The papers at Cincinnati, the principal point of unavailing opposition to me in Ohio, have begun to assume a friendlier tone, and to harmonize more with the residue of that State. In short, every where in the West my ground is not only maintained, but there is a sensible & sure progress making in my prospects. My cause, perhaps, feels the want of some well established democratic press in the large cities to sustain it, as suggested by you: but this disadvantage is less, in consequence of the very great division among the presses there; and the reciprocal abuse which is so copiously lavished upon their respective favorites. Will not the moderate portion of the community, disgusted with those who are, at the same time, the objects of unmerited calumny and undeserved eulogy, finally rather concentrate their votes upon one who has been held up neither to their detestation nor idolatry?...
On the matter of fact, respecting the part which I acted on the question of Gradual Emancipation, [agitated] in this State many years ago, on which you desire information, I am sorry that I am not able to transmit you any from the record. All that I can communicate is preserved now by tradition, but is known to hundreds within and without this State. In 1798 and 1799 the question of a new Convention to amend and alter our State Constitution agitated & divided this State. One of the grounds upon which it was supported and approved was that of introducing a provision similar to what is contained in your Abolition act, for the gradual emancipation of slaves. I took the side of a new Convention, and that of gradual emancipation. We carried the question of Convention, and then came on, in the year 1799, the election of members to it. Emancipation & antiemancipation tickets were formed. The greatest animation every where prevailed. I was then about 23, too young to be a member of the Convention; but I zealously supported the emancipation ticket, in all the circles, public descriptions and news papers....We were opposed by Geo. Nicholas and John Breckenridge, then the most powerful & prominent Citizens of this State....The slave interest was too predominant for us and we were beaten at the elections, but in several important ones, we lost by very small majorities. My opinion is unchanged. I advised the Delegate from Missouri to strive to get a provision inserted in the Constitution of that State for gradual emancipation. The expediency of the measure, I think depends, in some degree, upon the relative proportions of the two races existing in any State in which it may be proposed. Here my opinion was and is that the African portion of the community is not so large as to make any hazard to the purity & safety of Society by a gradual & prepared emancipation of the offspring. However should my friends think it useful to make any public allusion to the incident I have been relating, in my early life, perhaps it would not be proper to refer to present opinions, lest it should be said that these result from sinister motives.
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People: Clay, Henry, 1777-1852
Wharton, Thomas J., fl. 1823
Adams, John Quincy, 1767-1848
Jackson, Andrew, 1767-1845

Historical Era: National Expansion and Reform, 1815-1860

Subjects: PresidentPoliticsGovernment and CivicsElectionAfrican American HistoryAbolitionSlave SaleReform MovementEmancipation

Sub Era: Slavery & Anti-slavery

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