Posted by: Democratic Thinker | January 31, 2010

Cassius M. Clay—Appeal No. III

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. III.


Cassius Marcellus Clay.

SINCE writing my last handbill concerning a Convention, I have seen the handbill put out by Henry Johnson, Thomas H. Waters, and Dudley M. Craig, committee, and Beverly A. Hicks, chairman. I thank God, that in his mercy, I am not yet “MAD,” although these men, the public will perceive, since they know the state of my health, have done all in their power possible, to destroy not only my reason but my life: for I have had the typhoid fever for thirty-three days, during which time, almost incessantly, my brain has been affected. It will be perceived that they do not characterize their meeting as a private caucus, which all Lexington know it was. And I now thank God that a lifetime’s regard for my word will enable me, I feel confident, whilst I am lying on my back unable to hold a pen, and dictating all these handbills which I have put forth, unable to procure authority and testimony to sustain it, to use with the power and truth of evidence, my bare assertion against a thousand calumniators. When I appeal to LABORERS for help, in my handbill, and I say, I meant white laborers and no others, all who know me will believe what I say. And all who do not know me—when they remember that every blood relation I have in the world that I know of, and every connexion, are slaveholders, and that with all these, with few exceptions, I am upon terms of the most harmonious and friendly feeling and association, although we differ about this thing of slavery—they will also know, that I speak the truth. Yes, I say it, the publishers of this handbill believe it and know it. If these men have had a six-pounder cannon and some sixty or one hundred balls, as I am credibly informed, ready to batter down my office, before the publication of this editorial of which they complain, it is proven to every honest man that they are now playing upon me the story of the “wolf and the lamb.” Whether they “are putting forth a counter manifesto, or advertising-for recruits,” not only from our own city and county, but from adjoining counties, let the public judge. They say that I am “ASSOCIATED” with the abolitionists of the North.* The gentlemen either mean political association, or nothing; for personal association at this distance is impossible. I utterly deny that I have any political association with them, other than that the opinions of all political parties whatever, meet and mingle upon some common grounds. In my prospectus, which was published for months in this city, I said that I should form alliance with no political party, but act as a “state party,” so that then, once more, if I speak truth, these men do not. In the “True American,” July 29th, in my letter to the Cincinnati Anti-Slavery Convention, I declined to be present, and in the same letter I used the following language: “I abide the destiny of that party in which I have grown to manhood, until some other, numbering more friends of liberty than we, shall give indication of a more speedy success. I claim to be a WHIG, because I stand upon the same ground of the illustrious declarators of 1776.” Now, my countrymen, is not here most triumphant refutation of the assassin calumnies of these men? For if I have said to the abolitionists themselves that I am a whig, whilst they were supporting me as one of their party, how could I hope to be estimated by them in any other light than as a base and false political adventurer. That I have many subscribers among them, is true; but to say that I am “SUSTAINED” by them, in the sense here meant, is false. I believe that they do not compose more than one-fourth part of my subscribers in the Northern states; and I would far rather have their support, than that of such men as one of this committee, who comes blubbering like a great fat baby into secret caucus, calling himself my “friend,” whilst at the same time, as soon as my back is turned, he stabs me to the vitals. Now, my countrymen! when you remember that such far-seeing and clear-headed statesmen, whose names are appended to this handbill, and who have undertaken to become the guardians of the honor and interests of this state, must have seen these written declarations of mine, you must be convinced that they wilfully misrepresent me on this occasion. If “defiance and threats” were my earliest heralds, they came, if report be true, from one of this committee. They were the same heralds of “defiance and threats” which now once more come from them; and if Lexington be true to the glorious name she bears, and if Fayette be true to the glorious name she bears, they will meet with the same fate—a dishonored grave of undisturbed centuries. I am satisfied to trust the explanation of my editorial of the last paper to the people whom I address. But one more suggestion, in addition to those which I have already made, if they torture my meaning from the general context, which none but clear-headed men as these will do—not upon mere verbal, and grammatical criticism, and literal interpretation—could I have meant the blacks not in the South; for there are five millions of whites to three of blacks—not in Kentucky, for there are six whites to one black. So, then, if a class is to be taken, and choice is to be made between the whites and blacks, even then the whites are the “MASSES.” No, these men cannot, they do not, believe what they say. They say that I deny the VALIDITY of the laws in one of the most important “of all its relations.” This is absolutely false. Turn to the number of the American in which Thomas Metcalfe’s letter was published, and strange to say they will there find an article from my pen, where I maintain with all the power of intellect of which I am capable, against the Albany Patriot—one of those abolitionists with whom these men say I am allied—the proposition in relation to slavery, that “that is property which the law makes property.” It is one thing to admit the legality of a thing, and another thing to deny its justice. Oh! Henry, Thomas, Dudley, Beverley, surely ye are “Daniels come to judgment!” To say that “regard for the public peace” induces Henry, and Thomas, and Dudley, and Beverley, to shoulder their muskets, and drag one poor editor out of his bed, when they know that he can neither pull a trigger nor wield a pen, and shed his blood—thus violating not only the express language of the Constitution, but every principle of right, religion, and justice—is about as logical as it is magnanimous, or likely to be carried into execution.

But if I am mistaken, and an outrage is to be perpetrated which will stain, with eternal dishonor, Fayette’s heretofore proud and fair escutcheon, I pray you, people of Lexington and Fayette, get some men of more truth, of more sense, of more eloquence than these men possess, to give you an excuse to say that you were driven from your propriety to the perpetration of this deed, by the power of genius, which can at times obscure the clearest intellects, and madden the noblest hearts into crime.


August 18th, 1845.

* From the Ky. Commonwealth.


WE insert the following letter from Mr. C. M. Clay, at his request, in order that his true position, which has been entirely misconceived by many, may be correctly understood by the country. Those who have supposed him an abolitionist, in the sense of the term, as commonly understood in political circles, will see that they have misunderstood him.


Sir:—I ask the liberty to make, through your columns, a summary statement of my views upon the subject of slavery. By a portion of the people of this state, I never expect to be fairly represented. To the great mass of the people who have no interest in suppressing truth, I would appeal against the calumnies of unscrupulous partizans.

Slavery is a municipal institution. It exists by no other right and tenure, than the Constitution Of Kentucky.

I am opposed to depriving slaveholders of their slaves by any other than Constitutional and legal means. Of course, then, I have no sympathy for those who would liberate the slaves of Kentucky in other ways. I have no connexion with any man, or set of men, who would sanction or undertake the illegal liberation of slaves; and I feel bound, by my allegiance to the state of Kentucky, to resist, by force, if necessary, all such efforts.

Whilst I hold that the United States Constitution has no power to establish slavery in the District of Columbia, or in the Territories, or in any place of its exclusive supremacy; so I contend, that in the states, once admitted into the Union, and thereby become sovereign and independent, Congress has no power or right to interfere with or touch slavery, without the legitimate consent of the states.

I believe that the addition of new slave states, or slave territory, to this Union, is unconstitutional and impossible.

I am the avowed and uncompromising enemy of slavery, and shall never cease to use all Constitutional, and honorable, and just means, to cause its extinction in Kentucky, and its reduction to its constitutional limits in the United States.

Born a Kentuckian and a slaveholder, I have no prejudices nor enmities to gratify; but, impelled by a sense of self respect, love of justice, and the highest expediency, I shall ever maintain that liberty is our only safety.

For the freedom of speech and of the press, I never shall cease to battle while life lasts. If there is any Kentuckian so base as to yield thes Constitutional and glorious privileges, whithout which it is the veriest mockery to talk of being a free people, I envy him not. A slave to slaves, let him sodden in his infamy. With such I hold no fellowship; from such I ask no quarter. All I ask is an open field and a fair fight.

Your obedient servant,

Frankfort, Ky., Jan 8, 1845.