U S Political oddities are not new.
Take Cassius Marcellus Clay for example.
Today is his birthday, he was born in 1810.
Born to one of wealthiest planters and slaveholders in Kentucky, Clay became a prominent politician with quite the reputation.
One of seven children and a cousin to Henry Clay as well as Clement Comer Clay, Alabama’s governor, Cassius graduated from Yale in 1832. While there, he heard abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison who’s lecture moved Clay to become an abolitionist.
Pretty strange for the son of one of wealthiest slaveholders in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, he claimed, Garrison’s words were, “…as water is to a thirsty wayfarer…”
Realizing his hope of emancipation was the thing of dreams, he, ever the pragmatist, supported gradual legal emancipation rather than Garrison’s full on abolition.
Fresh out of college, he married Mary Jane Warfield and they had seven children as well. They also adopted a child who was rumored to be Clay’s son from an affair while he was Abraham Lincoln’s ambassador to Imperial Russia!
See, scandal is nothing new to politics.
Clay, an early member of the fledgling Republican Party that would nominate Lincoln, was elected three times to the Kentucky House of Representatives, but got the boot when he promoted the end of slavery.
His stance made him some enemies as well.
At one debate in 1843, Sam Brown shot him in the chest, but Clay was able to fight him off, seriously wounding the would be assassin with his Bowie knife. Once he was done fighting, he tossed his assailant over an embankment.
Unthwarted, he started an anti-slavery newspaper, True American, after which he received death threats and started carrying on a regular basis.
He carried two pistols, a knife, barricaded his armored office doors, and just for safe-keeping set UP two four-pounder cannons inside the front door.
After his office was destroyed and his printing press seized by a mob of 60, Clay moved the paper to Cincinnati which was an abolitionist center.
He remained a resident of Kentucky, however.
Hey, home is home. KWIM?
He served his country in the Mexican-American War, he opposed the annexation of Texas and the continuing expansion of slavery, and was attacked again in 1849 by six men, the Turner brothers who beat him, stabbed him, and tried to shoot him.
Clay fought off all six, killing one brother, Cyrus, using his trusty Bowie knife.
Emboldened in his cause, he gave 10 acres to John G. Fee, a fellow abolitionist, who founded the town of Berea and went on to found Berea College which was open to all races.
Clay befriended Abraham Lincoln and supported his candidacy for the presidency in 1860. Once elected, Honest Abe rewarded him with the diplomatic post as Minister to the Russian court.
Prior to leaving for Tsar Alexander’s Winter Palace, the American Civil War erupted, and Clay organized a group of 300 volunteers to protect the White House and US Naval Yard from the Confederate rebels.
They were called Cassius Clay’s Washington Guards, and Lincoln, knowing just what Clay would like, gave the Kentuckian a Colt revolver as a show of appreciation.
When the Federal troops arrived, Clay and his family headed to Russia.
While in Russia, Clay saw the Tsar emancipate the serfs Russiawide.
Emboldened in his cause by this act, he refused to accept a commission as a major general in the Union unless Lincoln agreed to free slaves under Confederate control. Lincoln issued the proclamation late in 1862; it took effect in January of 1863.
Finding himself back in Russia later in 1863, he negotiated the support of Russia against France and England should they come into the war on the side of the Confederacy.
He stayed in Russia until 1869 and was influential in Seward’s Folly, the purchase of Alaska.
He supported freedom and independence everywhere.
He founded the Cuban Charitable Aid Society when Jose Marti was fighting for Cuba’s independence from Spain, he supported American workers against industrial barons, fought for the nationalization of the railroads, and left the Republican Party over Radical Reconstruction, which history has shown was unjust, worsened race relations, and gave rise to Jim Crow.
His reputation as a rebel and a fighter never waned. He carried until he couldn’t walk, became more and more paranoid and eccentric as he aged, and after 45 years of marriage divorced his wife because she would no longer tolerate his infidelities.
Oh, yes, he was a player.
At the age of 85 he married the 15 year old sister of one of his share cropper tenants, one Dora Richardson.
There were no children.
He died at home in 1903 from “general exhaustion.”
See, nothing’s new.
No one’s perfect.
He was survived by two daughters and several admirers.
Herman Heaton Clay, the son of one of the Clay family slaves, named one of his 12 children Cassius Marcellus Clay nine years after the death of the abolitionist.
Marcellus Clay would name his son, Cassius M. Clay, JR.
He would become the heavy weight champion of the world, change his name to Muhammad Ali and inspire millions.