Posted by: Democratic Thinker | January 27, 2010

Cassius M. Clay—Appeal No. I.

The Fall of the True American

In 1845, Cassius M. Clay establishes a press in his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky—the first press in a slave state set up expressly for the purposes of an open debate on the issue of slavery. It meets resistance.

No. I.


Cassius Marcellus Clay.

I DEEM it due to myself, the cause of the people, and the constitutional liberty of my state, that I make a few explanations before the enemies of these proceed to extremity, that they may be left without excuse in the estimation of all just men. I learned a few moments before  3 o’clock, that a public meeting was to be holden at that hour in the Court House, to take measures for the suppression of the publication of the True American. Immediately, unwell as I was, I proceeded to the Court House, to vindicate, as I shall ever be ready to do, the principles and policy maintained in that paper. I found about twenty individuals, including some two or three personal friends who followed me in. I knew them all to be political, and three-fourths of them violent personal, enemies. I saw but one so-called whig, and he has been ever since the publication of the paper, one of its most violent opponents. I will give the names of these men, hereafter to the public. Two speakers proposed to dissolve the meeting: and one Henry Johnson, a cotton planter, declared that although he was ever ready to act boldly upon this subject, he would not then, nor hereafter, take any action in regard to the True American, unless the whig party also came up and incurred the same responsibility. T. F. Marshall said that he had regarded it as a public not a private meeting, and that he conceived that the public dissatisfaction and excitement were based upon the editorial published by me in the last “American,” where I spoke of the consequence of the disregard of the principles of justice by the leading men of the nation; and another person remarked, that the dissatisfaction was also founded upon the opinion set forth in the leader of the last paper. Here several persons contended that it was a private meeting, upon which I started to leave the house, explaining to Mr. Marshall, in passing, that a construction had been put upon my article which it never entered my head to convey, and which any sensible man who will read the piece will see, who knows the circumstances in which I am placed, having regard to common sense, the effectuation of my own purposes, or the safety of myself and relatives, I could never have intended to give it. It will be perceived by the reader of that article, that the whole piece alludes to national policy, and the loss of a high sense of justice in the administration of our national affairs, resulting from the influence of negro slavery upon the national action, even to the habitual violation of the Constitution. And further, I meant to convey the idea, in my elliptical manner, that in a country like ours, where suffrage is universal, and standing armies impossible, that those men who are drawing substance and power from the existence and extension of slavery, at the expense of the interests of the great masses of the legal voters of this Union, who are now and have been sacrificed at the shrine of slavery—that these men, the white millions (having no allusion whatever to the blacks of the South) would, in the course of time, when that poverty pressed upon them which slavery had been the most instrumental in causing, follow the example of their plunderers, and in turn plunder them. Such was the case in France, when the oppressed rose upon the oppressor, and spared neither property, life, nor sex.

As to the blacks, we have ever held in our printed arguments, and in our secret opinion, that the slaves, whilst the Union lasts, are utterly impotent for any very extensive mischief, even in the cotton countries. And I regard the idea of insurrection in Kentucky, where there are about six whites to one black, as ridiculous, and only used by the slaveholders as a bugaboo, to maintain the ascendency of their power in the state; and even if an insurrection should take place, I feel myself as much bound, as any citizen in the state, to shoulder my musket to suppress it, and in the discharge of my duty I am not willing to admit that any person is more ready. With regard to the leader of the same paper, I said in the beginning that I intended to allow full freedom of discussion upon the subject of slavery, and I said for several weeks, at the head of my editorial columns, under my own signature, that I intended to allow, under the editorial head also, great latitude of opinion, without comment. Differing as I did in some important points from the writer of this article, who I repeat is a large slaveholder, I intended to give my individual views on the same subject, in my very next number, which when given will put my enemies under the necessity of denouncing, when they denounce me, the immortal Washington, a name sacred to the lovers of liberty of all time and place. I had not expected, in the abundance of my charity, that the most fallen men would have taken advantage of my helpless condition, arising from a long and painful illness, to sacrifice me ; when even in health I stood almost one man against a thousand. I tell these men, however, that they much mistake their man, and that if they do succeed in accomplishing their purposes and seal their triumph with my blood, that their banners of victory shall wave over a violated Constitution, the grave of liberty, and the impious defiance of the laws of God, and the moral sense of all mankind. If I stood in defence of my own right only, I might be deterred from the unequal contest; but when I stand for the six hundred thousand free white citizens of my native state, to which, and her interests, concentred by all republican principles, in the majority of her people, I owe eternal allegiance, I cannot lay down my arms. To my children, and friends, wherever found, if I know myself, it shall never be said, at least of one citizen of Kentucky, that he preferred life to honor and duty to his country.


Thursday, August 14th, 1845.

P. S. Since writing the above handbill, I have received the following letter from the hands of Thomas H. Waters, on my sick bed, at my own house.

Lexington, 14th August, 1845.

SIR:—We, the undersigned, have been appointed as a committee upon the part of a number of the respectable citizens of the city of Lexington to correspond with you, under the following resolution:

Resolved, That a committee of three be appointed to wait upon Cassius M. Clay, Editor of the “True American,” and request him to discontinue the publication of the paper called the “True American,” as its further continuance, in our judgment, is dangerous to the peace of our community, and to the safety of our homes and families.

In pursuance of the above, we hereby request you to discontinue your paper, and would seek to impress upon you the importance of your acquiescence. Your paper is agitating and exciting our community to an extent of which you can scarcely be aware. We do not approach you in the form of a threat. But we owe it to you to state, that, in our judgment, your own safely, as well as the repose and peace of the community, are involved in your answer. We await your reply, in the hope that your own good sense and regard for the reasonable wishes of a community in which you have many connexions and friends, will induce you promptly to comply with our request. We arc instructed to report your answer to a meeting, to-morrow evening, at three o’clock, and will expect it by two o’clock, P.M., of to-morrow.

Respectfully, &c.

To which I made the following reply, which will be delivered to-day, at the hour appointed:

SIRS:—I received through the hands of Mr. Thomas H. Waters, one of your committee, since candle-light, your extraordinary letter. Two of your committee and myself are not upon speaking terms, and when I add to this the fact that you have taken occasion to address me a note of this character, when I am on a bed of sickness of more than a month’s standing, from which I have only ventured at intervals to ride out and to write a few paragraphs, which have caused a relapse, I think that the American people will agree with me, that your office is a base and dishonorable one: more particularly when they reflect that you have had more than two months whilst I was in health to accomplish the same purpose. I say in reply to your assertion that you are a committee appointed by a respectable portion of the community, that it cannot be true. Traitors to the laws and Constitution cannot be deemed respectable by any but assassins, pirates, and highway robbers. Your meeting is one unknown to the laws and constitution of my country; it was secret in its proceedings; its purposes, its spirit, and its action, like its mode of existence, are wholly unknown to and in direct violation of every known principle of honor, religion, or government, held sacred by the civilized world. I treat them with the burning contempt of a brave heart and a loyal citizen. I deny their power and defy their action. It may be true that those men are excited as you say, whose interest it is to prey upon the excitement and distresses of the country. What tyrant ever failed to be excited when his unjust power was about to be taken from his hands? But I deny, utterly deny, and call for proof, that there is any just ground for this agitation. In every case of violence by the blacks since the publication of my paper, it has been proven and will be again proven by my representatives, if my life should fail to be spared, that there has been special causes for their action independent of, and having no relation whatever to the “True American” or its doctrines. Your advice with regard to my personal safety is worthy of the source whence it emanated, and meets with the same contempt from me which the purposes of your mission excite. Go tell your secret conclave of cowardly assassins that C. M. Clay knows his rights and how to defend them.


Lexington, August 15, 1845.

You see this attempt of these tyrants, worse than the thirty despots who lorded it over the once free Athens, now to enslave you. Men who regard law—men who regard all their liberties as not to be sacrificed to a single pecuniary interest, to say the least, of doubtful value—lovers of justice—enemies of blood—laborers of all classes—you for whom I have sacrificed so much, where will you be found when the battle between liberty and slavery is to be fought? I cannot, I will not, I dare not question on which side you will be found. If you stand by me like men, our country shall yet be free, but if you falter now, I perish with less regret when I remember that the people of my native state, of whom I have been so proud, and whom I have loved so much, are already slaves.


Lexington, August 15, 1845.