CLAY (HENRY) Two letters signed ("H. Clay"), with autograph subscriptions, additions and corrections, being the original, plus covering note, of his letter to the British plantation owner, politician and economist Thomson Hankey, in which he argues for the desirability of getting rid of the unenslaved black population of the United States, A MAJOR POLITICAL TESTAMENT BY HENRY CLAY, Ashland, 10 May 1851
Lot 19
CLAY (HENRY)
Two letters signed ("H. Clay"), with autograph subscriptions, additions and corrections, being the original, plus covering note, of his letter to the British plantation owner, politician and economist Thomson Hankey, in which he argues for the desirability of getting rid of the unenslaved black population of the United States, A MAJOR POLITICAL TESTAMENT BY HENRY CLAY, Ashland, 10 May 1851
Sold for £2,500 (US$ 4,256) inc. premium
Lot Details
CLAY (HENRY)
Two letters signed ("H. Clay"), with autograph subscriptions, additions and corrections, being the original, plus covering note, of his letter to the British plantation owner, politician and economist Thomson Hankey, in which he argues for the desirability of getting rid of the unenslaved black population of the United States, both for their own sakes and in order to separate them from the white population, and discusses whether this is best attained by settling them in Africa or, as his correspondent suggests, in the British West Indies, although pointing out that in either case their so-called friends the abolitionists will do their best to dissuade them from such resettlement; and putting forward the suggestion that better cheap labour might be provided for the British West Indies by importing Chinese in their stead; in the covering letter Clay explains the circumstances under which the letter was written and expresses the hope that he "might be able to prevail upon a portion of our free black population to remove to the West India Colonies"; the principal letter rubricated at the head with a note of copies sent in June 1851 (to A. Macgregor of the US Committee, the Committee of Correspondence, Grenada, and A. Barclay in Jamaica), 8 pages in all, the main letter being 6 pages, the covering letter 2 pages, originally folded into a small packet for dispatch, docketed "817/ 2 Inclosures", light dust-staining on outer blank portions but overall in fine, fresh condition, 4to, Ashland, 10 May 1851

Footnotes

  • 'I have no doubt that it would conduce to the happiness of both races, if the blacks were removed from the United States': A MAJOR POLITICAL TESTAMENT BY HENRY CLAY, made a year before his death and shortly after attaining the Compromise of 1850 in which he had sought to ward off the threat of civil war by defusing the confrontation between the slave states of the South and free states of the North.

    Although Clay was a slave owner, and in this letter derides abolitionists, he was in fact in favour of gradual abolition, even if this was to be combined with resettlement as laid out in our letter. His great admirer Abraham Lincoln – who famously described him as 'my ideal of a great man' – alluded to this contradiction in his eulogy of 6 July 1852: 'He ever was on principle and in feeling, opposed to slavery. The very earliest, and one of the latest public efforts of his life, separated by a period of more than fifty years;- were both made in favor of gradual emancipation of the slaves in Kentucky. He did not perceive, that on a question of human right, the negroes were to be excepted from the human race. And yet Mr Clay was the owner of slaves'; and with regard to Clay's views on resettlement – of direct relevance to our letter – Lincoln wrote: 'The American Colonization Society was organized in 1816. Mr Clay, though not its projector, was one of its earliest members; and he died, as for the many preceding years he had been, its President. It was one of the most cherished objects of his direct care and consideration; and the association of his name with it has probably been its very greatest collateral support. He considered it no demerit in the society, that it tended to relieve slave-holders from the troublesome presence of the free negroes; but this was far from being its whole merit in his estimation. In the same speech from which I have quoted he says: "There is a moral fitness in the idea of returning to Africa her children, whose ancestors have been torn from her by the ruthless hand of fraud and violence. Transplanted in a foreign land, they will carry back to their native soil the rich fruits of religion, civilization, law and liberty. May it not be one of the great designs of the Ruler of the universe, (whose ways are often inscrutable by short-sighted mortals,) thus to transform an original crime, into a signal blessing to that most unfortunate portion of the globe?" This suggestion of the possible ultimate redemption of the African race and African continent, was made twenty-five years ago. Every succeeding year has added strength to the hope of its realization. May it indeed be realized!'

    Our letter – written just over a year before Clay's death and Lincoln's eulogy – could well stand as Clay's last word and fullest statement on the subject; and in dictating and then carefully correcting it, it is clear that Clay knew that it would attain wide circulation (as indeed it did, appearing among other places in the Maryland Colonization Journal 6, no. 4 (1851), pp. 61-62, taken from the Kingston (Jamaica) Despatch): "The free colored population of the United States amounts to about half a million... The disposition of a large portion of this colored population is to prefer a residence in our cities and villages, where they perform the menial offices of life, and the lower departments of labor... Taken as an entire class, they are an improvident, and thoughtless race, addicted to habits of vice much more extensively, than any other portion of our population... Their condition, in this respect, is perhaps partly owing to the physical and intellectual constitution of the African race, but mainly, to do with the degraded position which they occupy in the United States, where they do not, and probably never can, enjoy equal priviledges, social and political, with the whites. I have no doubt that it would conduce to the happiness of both races, if the blacks were removed from the United States, by colonization or expatriation. But that object is unattainable, with regard to the slave portion of that population, while their bondage continues to exist in the United States. How Long that will be can only be a matter of conjecture. My own opinion, long and deliberately entertained, is, that, as they are held in slavery for the purpose of obtaining a necessary supply of labor, slavery will cease whenever, by the increase of the white population, free white labor can be procured cheaper than that of the blacks. But, although a seperation of the slave portion of the blacks is impracticable, in consequence of their being held in slavery, no obstacle exists with regard to the free portion of the black population and every passing year, more and more, evinces the necessity of such a seperation. In many of the States, laws have been passed, with rigorous penalties, to prevent the free people of color from settling in them, and in one or more of the States a proposal has been seriously made to expatriate them, by compulsory means. So thoroughly have I been convinced, for a great length of time, of the expediency of the removal of the free blacks from the United States, that, in cooperation with others, entertaining the same opinion, upwards of thirty years ago, we established the American Colonization Society for transporting them/ with their own consent [added in Clay's hand]/ to the Western Coast of Africa and subsequently planted the Colony of Liberia... there is no incompatibility between the object of transporting them to Africa and that of sending them to the British West India Colonies. Whether they go to the one or to the other place, the purpose of separating them from the Whites in the United States, and placing them whether they can enjoy priviledges, civil and political equality, and happiness, which they cannot realize here, will be equally accomplished... The American Colonization Society has found, in the Abolitionists of the United States, a constant opposition to the African Colony. They use all the arts in their power to dissuade the free people of color from voluntarily going to Africa, and their exertions have been attended with some success. But, I think, that the free blacks are becoming less and less disposed, to listen to the mischevous councils of their pretended Abolition-friends. But, in any project of inducing them to go to the West India Colonies, the same source of opposition ought to be anticipated. How far the free blacks may be inclined, to emigrate to the West India Colonies, I am not able to say, and it can perhaps only be ascertained by actual experiment. I must however frankly say, that I think considerable difficulty would be encou[n]tered... Have you ever turned attention of China as a source of labor to supply your colonies? I remember to have heard that you made an experiment with some Malays from the East Indies, and that it was not very successful or encouraging, but I have not heard of your having introduced any Chinese into your Colonies. When I was in Cuba, a few weeks ago, I was informed that a planter had seventy or eighty Chinese, brought from Northern China, imployed on his estate; that he had engaged them at the very low price of four dollars per month each for seven years, that he found them laborious and trustworthy and that he greatly preferred them to the blacks, having better heads and more skillful capacity in performance of their work than the blacks...".
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