Monday, November 19, 2012

A Period Look at Cassius M. Clay

I am about to finish up reading Slavery Unmasked: Being a Truthful Narrative of a Three Years' Residence and Journeying in Eleven Southern States (gotta love those 19th century extended titles) by Rev. Philo Tower published in 1856. And, instead of writing a review of it, I thought I share some of the parts that struck me as interesting over the next few posts.

I have read a number of these Northern travelers' accounts the past. My favorites are probably those from the pen of Frederick Law Olmstead; the future renowned landscape architect. These accounts almost always come from a biased perspective, but if one understands that fact, they can offer so much context on how one section saw the other.

In Chapter 8 the Rev. Tower visited Louisville, Kentucky and took the opportunity to share some thoughts on Cassius M. Clay's reputation. I found them good reading so I will give the quotes here:

"One of [Kentucky's] daring native sons appears to be devoting his life to such a consummation, at least: I allude to the famous Cassius M. Clay. Reader, did you ever hear this singular man in public? I presume you have, while on some of his eastern lecturing tours. Well, just allow me here to describe to you, reader, how he harangues his native Kentuckians, on the subject of SLAVERY. He sends an appointment to a given place, to lecture at a certain time; perhaps some of the citizens will send word that he will not be allowed to lecture there; he sends word back to them that he will lecture there, according to previous notice. The time comes, a great crowd is collected to hear the lecturer or to see the mob; presently the lecturer comes, he passes directly through the crowd, mounts the forum, waves his hand for attention, all eyes are turned towards the speaker. He commences with a firm, clear, and decided tone of voice, the following remarks:

Gentlemen, says he, I have a few preliminaries to settle, previous to entering upon the main subject of discussion. I want to make three short appeals to three classes of persons, whereupon he holds up a small Bible. There, gentlemen says he, is the great charter record of human rights, on which all law and equity is based, deserving the name of law - this is my last appeal to the religious portion of society - and lays it down upon the stand before him. Then he holds up the Constitution of the United States. Here, gentlemen, says he, is the bond of our Union, the noble Constitution of our Glorious Republic, which says that all men are born free and equal, with certain inalienable rights, &c., &c. This is my appeal to gentlemen, to patriots, and to all true hearted Americans, and places it with the Bible before him. Then he puts his hand into his pocket and brings out and enormous six shooter: holding it up before the audience, he exclaims: and here, gentlemen, is a six shooter, every barrel of which is heavily charged with powder and cold lead. This is my appeal to the mobocrats, and I will blow its contents through the heart of the first man who offers to lay his hands on me; to silence men in my native State, or to gag free speech in my presence. This he also lays down upon the stand with his two former appeals, ready for action; then he commences a perfect storm against the peculiar institution, enough to wring the sweat our of old Kentucky from every pore. Such, sir, is the celebrated nephew [actually cousin] of old Henry Clay, in his own State. Success to his efforts. May he live to see the chains fall from every slave in the land of his birth."

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

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