Posted by: Democratic Thinker | February 1, 2010

Cassius M. Clay—Appeal No. IV

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. IV.



Cassius Marcellus Clay.

Fellow-citizens of Lexington, and County of Fayette:
BEING unable from the state of my health, to be present at your meeting, and even unable to hold a pen, having been sick for thirty-five days with the typhoid fever, I dictate to an amanuensis, a few lines for your just consideration. Having been the unwilling cause, in part, of the present excitement in my county, and feeling, as I do, respect for the safety and happiness of others as well as my own, I voluntarily come forward and do all I conscientiously can do for your quiet and satisfaction. I treated the communication from the private caucus with burning contempt, arising not only from their assuming over me a power which would make me a slave, but from a sense of the deep personal indignity with which their unheard-of assumptions were attempted to be carried into execution. But to you—a far differently organized body, and a constitutional assemblage of citizens—I feel that it is just and proper that I should answer at your bar; and as I am not in a state of health to carry on an argument or vindicate properly my own rights, I shall, voluntarily, before any action is taken on your part, make such explanation as I deem just and proper.

During my sickness my paper has been conducted by some friends. The leading article in the last number, which I am told is the great cause of the public disquietude. I have never read; because at the time it was put to press I could not have undergone the fatigue of reading such a paper through. Although it was read over to me at the time, yet I am fully persuaded now, that had I been in health it would not have been admitted into my columns. But I felt the less hesitancy in admitting it, because it has been my avowed policy heretofore to admit free discussion upon the subject of slavery, by slaveholders themselves, and the author of this article is largely interested in that kind of property. You have seen before this time that the course of policy which I commend, myself, to the state, is widely different, in many essential points, from this author’s views. The article written by myself, and published in the same paper, was written a few days after the leader was in type, and which has also been the cause of so much dissatisfaction, the justice of which, to some extent, I am willing to acknowledge. I assure you, upon the honor of a man, it was never intended to mean, or to bear the construction which my enemies have given it. I was pursuing the reflections of my own mind, without thinking of the misconstruction that could be put upon my language.

Had I been in the vigor of health, I should have avoided the objectionable expressions, for by sharply guarding against the cavils of my opponents, I would best guard at the same time against anything which could be considered of an incendiary character. I cannot say that the paper from the beginning, has been conducted in the manner I could have wished. The cause of this it is not now necessary for me to mention. Satisfied, however, from past experience, that the free discussion of the subject of slavery is liable to many objections which I did not anticipate, and which I had allowed in an excess of liberality, arising, no doubt, from the fact that I had been denied the columns of the other presses of the country myself, I propose in future very materially to restrict the latitude of discussion. I shall admit into my paper no article upon this subject, for which I am not willing to be held responsible. This, you perceive, will very much narrow the ground; for my plan of emancipation which I put forth a few days ago, is of the most gradual character. My other views put forth there also, are such as I learn are not at all offensive to the great mass of our people. By this course, I expect to achieve two objects, to be enabled to carry on the advocacy of those principles and measures which I deem of vital importance to our state without molestation: and to avoid subjecting the people to the apprehensions and excitement which are now unhappily upon us. You may properly ask, perhaps, why was not this thing done before? I reply, that I did not foresee any such consequences as have resulted from a different course. The denunciations of the public press on both sides, I conceived, and am still of the same opinion, arose from the desire to make for both parties political capital. And you will see also, when the excitement is worn off, that there have been many selfish purposes sought to be accomplished at the expense of your peace and mine, by men who are professing to be actuated by nothing but patriotic motives.

Having said thus much upon the conduct of my paper, I must say also, THAT MY CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS I SHALL NEVER ABANDON. I feel as deeply interested in this community as any other man in it. No man is, or has a connexion, more deeply interested, in the prosperity of this state, than myself. You ought not, you cannot, if you are just to me as you are to yourselves, ask me to do that which you would not do. I know not, in reality, what may be the state of public feeling. I am told it is very much inflamed; I, therefore, directed my publisher, after the publication of tomorrow’s paper, to exclude all matter upon the subject of slavery, until, if my health is restored, I shall be able myself to take the helm.

My office and dwelling are undefended, except by the laws of my country, to the sacred inviolability of which I confide myself and property; and of these laws you are the sole guardians. You have the power to do as you please. You will so act, however, I trust, that this day shall not be one ACCURSED to our county and state.

Your obedient servant,