Friday, May 13, 2016


We all know the famous Muhammed Ali, formerly known as Cassius Marcellus Clay.  Not everybody knows that he was a junior, named after his father, Cassius Marcellus Clay.  But I'd wager that very few of us knew that there was a Cassius Marcellus Clay even farther back in time…a fellow born on October 19, 1810 in Kentucky, who became a major figure in the abolitionist movement during the Civil War and was not in any way related to the man we know.

This early Cassius was the son of General Green Clay and Sallie Lewis Clay.  According to Wikipedia, General Clay was an early explorer of the American wilderness and an acquaintance of Daniel Boone.  He lived in Kentucky and was a wealthy man who owned many slaves.

Cassius was highly educated, and at Yale in 1832 he heard William Lloyd Garrison speak against slavery.  This influenced him to take a stand that was at odds with his father's beliefs and practices.  However, he was more attuned to being an emancipationist, which meant that he favored the gradual ending of slavery through legal means sanctioned by the Constitution, rather than the more direct abolitionist actions.

He was elected to the Kentucky state legislature twice in the 1830s, in spite of his stand against slavery.  In 1844, he freed all his own slaves.  From that point on he was active in the anti-slavery movement and supported Abraham Lincoln's candidacy for President.  Later on, he was appointed an Ambassador to Russia, a post he held twice. 

According to various sources, he had some "foibles" in his life that were quite unusual; one writer described him as having a great deal of conceit and very little sense.  "Ridiculous" was also applied to some of his actions. 

Be that as it may, the man did accomplish much in his life to be proud of, and certainly the good overshadowed the bad. 

Undoubtedly his role in abolitionist movement is what encouraged the parents of Cassius Marcellus Clay (Senior) to name their child as they did.  And of course that name was carried down another generation and given to the man we all know now as the famous "Muhammed Ali."

I have been unable to find any earlier Cassius Marcellus in history.  Seems to me there might be another Immortal Nobody hanging around.

I found this story, sketchy as it is, so very interesting.  I was simply reading the book "Washington, A History of Our National City" by Tom Lewis and came upon a short bit about the Legislator Cassius Marcellus Clay.  A little snooping told me a lot, and from that point I knew he would be one of my Immortal Nobodies.  And all of you who love American History, let me tell you that Tom Lewis has written ONE GOOD BOOK.

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