"The annexation of Texas, should it be consummated, will prolong the duration of Slavery"Senator Henry Clay Autograph Letter Signed "H. Clay." Two pages of a bifolium, 7.75" x 9.75", Ashland [Lexington, Kentucky], March 31, 1845, addressed to "Mrs. Martha K. Buckingham" of Putnam, Ohio, marked "Private" in the top margin of the first page. In this letter, written only months after losing the 1844 presidential election to James K. Polk, Clay responds to a woman who has asked for his advice on how best to spend $1,000 to be used "for the promotion of the immediate emancipation of the slaves in the United States." He responds with fascinating ruminations on a number of thoughts regarding slavery: the number of Americans favoring gradual emancipation and those favoring immediate freedom for slaves and the role that the annexation of Texas would play for the future of American slavery. Clay also supposes that time will solve the slavery issue if "the public mind were left undisturbed by the excitement of passions . . . such excitement that abolitionists . . . have done." In the end, he argues that Mrs. Buckingham should not support with her money his second cousin, Cassius Clay, who was a Kentucky politician and abolitionist, in his new venture of publishing an anti-slavery newspaper, unless "he limit himself to a gradual emancipation." Even then, Clay advised her to "withhold the application of the money, for the present, and until Mr. Clay's plan is further developed, and the reception of it by the public is seen." The address panel bears the postmark from Lexington, Kentucky, on April 1. The text and signature are bold and clear. Some small holes at fold intersections. A small amount of paper loss from the original opening at the wax seal (no loss of text). Minor staining. The letter reads in part:
"I received your letter informing me that your mother had bequeathed to yourself and your two sisters $1000 to be appropriated by you and them, as you might deem best, for the promotion of the immediate emancipation of the slaves in the United States; and that it has occurred to you that the benevolent design of your mother might be well executed by applying that sum in aiding the circulation of a paper which Mr. Cassius M. Clay purposes publishing in support of the cause of emancipation of the slaves in Kentucky. You do me the honor to ask my advice as to the direction of the bequest to that object. . . .
"At all times there have been in Kentucky many individuals in favor of gradual emancipation of slaves, similar to that which was adopted by Pennsylvania, during the Revolutionary War. At no time has any body, or at least any considerable number of persons, been in favor of immediate emancipation. I sincerely believe that the number, in favor of gradual emancipation, would now be much greater that it is but for the unhappy agitation of the question of abolition in the free States. What proportion of the population of K. is in favor of gradual emancipation, at present, I have no means of judging, and can only be matter of conjecture. I am inclined to believe that it is not greater, relatively to those who are opposed to it, than it was in the year 1798-9.
"My belief is that Mr. Clay's effort is made at an inauspicious period, and that it will be unsuccessful. Time would do a great deal, if its operations, and the calm reflections of the public mind were left undisturbed by the excitement of passions. It has been by such excitement that abolitionists, contrary no doubt to the intention of the honest portion of them, have done much prejudice to the cause which they espoused. The annexation of Texas, should it be consummated, will prolong the duration of Slavery, by opening to it a new theater.
"I am not in consultation with Mr. Clay about the project of his paper. . . . If he should go for immediate emancipation, he will find no partizan whatever in this State. And, if he should even confine his exertions to the object of a gradual emancipation, I doubt whether he will add many to the number of those among us who are in favor of that plan. But if he limit himself to a gradual emancipation, it is worthy of your consideration whether such a purpose falls within the scope of your mother's bequest, which is directed to immediate emancipation.
"If I were to offer any advice to you, it would be to withhold the application of the money, for the present, and until Mr. Clay's plan is further developed, and the reception of it by the public is seen."
Cassius Clay supported gradual emancipation. To that end, he began publishing the anti-slavery newspaper True American in 1845 from Lexington. After numerous threats by pro-slavery men, Clay was quickly forced to move his operation to Cincinnati, Ohio.
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