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Clement Claiborne Clay

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Clement Clay
Clement C Clay.png
Confederate States Senator
from Alabama
In office
February 18, 1862 – February 17, 1864
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byRichard Walker
United States Senator
from Alabama
In office
November 29, 1853 – January 21, 1861
Preceded byJeremiah Clemens
Succeeded byWillard Warner
Personal details
Clement Claiborne Clay

(1816-12-13)December 13, 1816
Huntsville, Alabama, US
DiedJanuary 3, 1882(1882-01-03) (aged 65)
Gurley, Alabama, US
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Virginia Tunstall
Alma materUniversity of Alabama, Tuscaloosa
University of Virginia

Clement Claiborne Clay (December 13, 1816 – January 3, 1882), also known as C. C. Clay Jr., was a United States Senator (Democrat) from the state of Alabama from 1853 to 1861, and a Confederate States Senator from Alabama from 1862 to 1864. His portrait appeared on the Confederate one-dollar note (4th issue and later).


Early life

Clement Claiborne Clay was born to Clement Comer Clay and Susanna Claiborne Withers, a daughter of well-off planter John Withers, in Huntsville, Alabama.[1] He had a strong political pedigree; he was the oldest son of Clement Comer Clay, a U.S. senator and governor of Alabama. He was also a third cousin of Henry Clay, the noted statesman from Kentucky. Clay attended the Huntsville Green Academy, then studied at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa in 1833–1834. In August 1834, at the age seventeen, he received an A.B. degree. He served as his father's secretary in 1835–1837 after Clement Clay, Sr. was elected as a governor of Alabama. In 1837, he and his brother John Withers Clay both entered the University of Virginia; their brother Hugh Lawson Clay joined them later. In July 1839, Clay obtained a Bachelor of Laws degree after studying with John B. Minor, known for his rigor, and was admitted to the Alabama Bar on October 2, 1839.[2]

Marriage and family

On February 1, 1843 he married Virginia Tunstall, who was then 18 years old. They had one child, who died stillborn.[1]

After Clement's death in 1882, Virginia remarried to David Clopton, a judge, and was known as Virginia Clay-Clopton. Virginia wrote Belle of the Fifties, a memoir with New York journalist Ada Sterling, published in 1904 and re-issued in 1905. Belle was one of three memoirs by southern women particularly recommended by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to its membership for studying.[3] Her book became part of the discourse about the Lost Cause and the burnished memory of the antebellum South.


Clay depicted on a Confederate $1 banknote from 1864
Clay depicted on a Confederate $1 banknote from 1864

In 1839–1846, Clay practiced law in a family law firm; in 1846–1848 he served as Madison County judge. Clay was a member of the Alabama State House of Representatives in 1842, and in 1844–1845. He ran for the United States Congress in 1850, but did not succeed, losing to an incumbent.[2]

In 1853, Clay was elected by the Alabama legislature to serve in the United States Senate in a term beginning March 4, 1853; and was re-elected in 1857. Due to the legislature's delay in filling the position, he served from November 29, 1853 to January 21, 1861. In the Senate, he defended the state's rights during the political debates of the time, and opposed Henry Clay.[2] After the 1860 presidential election, Alabama seceded from the Union on January 11, 1861 before the American Civil War broke out. On January 21, six men, including Clay, resigned their seats in the United States Senate. Most made brief and temperate speeches. Clay, however, delivered an impassioned justification for secession and a denunciation of the Northern anti-slavery Republican Party. He denounced its resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act and the spread of slavery into the territories. "No sentiment is more insulting or more hostile to our domestic tranquility, to our social order, and to our social existence, than is contained in the declaration that our negroes are entitled to liberty and equality with the white man," Clay said. He described the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency as a hostile act against the Southern people which left them with no recourse other than secession in order to defend their liberty, honor, and safety.[4]

Clay was subsequently elected by the Alabama Confederate legislature as Senator in the First Confederate Congress. He served there from 1862 until 1864 acting as a supporter of Jefferson Davis.

Along with Jacob Thompson, Clay was a part of the Confederate War Department effort to create a network of secret agents to conduct espionage and sabotage.[5] In May 1864, president Davis sent Clay to Canada with a secret mission to coordinate activities of the Southern sympathizers in the Great Lakes area, including members of the Order of the Sons of Liberty and the Knights of the Golden Circle.[6] Clay took part in a secret meeting with John Hay, President Abraham Lincoln's aide, at Niagara Falls, Canada.[7]

It was suspected that Thompson and Clay had employed John Wilkes Booth for some services before he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.[8] President Andrew Johnson signed an order to arrest Clay. After learning from a newspaper that a reward was issued for his capture, Clay, who initially planned to escape to Mexico, turned himself in to General James H. Wilson in Macon, Georgia in May 1865. He was arrested and held in Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia until April 1866.[5] Former Confederate president Jefferson Davis was also held in Fort Monroe, but was never tried; he was released in 1867.

Postwar years

Clay was imprisoned by the United States government under impression that he was involved in the plot to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. Virginia Clay played some role in her husband's release as she went to Washington, D.C. and personally pleaded with President Johnson.[1] A viewpoint that Johnson's role in Clay's release was an act worthy of being among the charges for impeaching Johnson was voiced in the December 1867 Thomas Williams-authored majority report of House Committee on the Judiciary published at the conclusion of first impeachment inquiry against Andrew Johnson.[9]

The Clays returned to Alabama and struggled to rebuild their lives living on a farm. Clay tried to practice as an attorney and entered insurance business in Huntsville, however without much success due to poor health, ultimately returning to his farm in January 1882. He died in 1882 in Madison County besieged by debts and health problems, and is interred at Maple Hill Cemetery.



  1. ^ a b c Bleser, Carol K. R. In Joy and in Sorrow: Women, Family, and Marriage in the Victorian South, 1830–1900. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  2. ^ a b c Nuermberger, Ruth K. The Clays of Alabama: A Planter-Lawyer-Politician Family. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1958.
  3. ^ Sarah E. Gardner, Blood And Irony: Southern White Women's Narratives of the Civil War, 1861–1937, University of North Carolina Press, 2006, pp. 128-130
  4. ^ Pollard 1867, pp. 87–90.
  5. ^ a b Michael B. Chesson. Clay, Clement Claiborne. American National Biography Online, February 2000. Retrieved December 13, 2015.
  6. ^ Intelligence in the Civil War, a publication of the Central Intelligence Agency – Conspiracy in Canada, pp. 42–46.
  7. ^ Confederacy’s Canadian Mission: Spies Across the Border,
  8. ^ Tidwell, William A. April '65: Confederate Covert Action in the American Civil War. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1995


Further reading

External links

U.S. Senate
Preceded by United States Senator (Class 2) from Alabama
Served alongside: Benjamin Fitzpatrick
Succeeded by
Confederate States Senate
New constituency Confederate States Senator (Class 1) from Alabama
Served alongside: William Yancey, Robert Jemison
Succeeded by
Notes and references
1. Because of Alabama's secession, the Senate seat was vacant for seven years before Warner succeeded Clay.
This page was last edited on 1 August 2022, at 01:09
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