A Civil War Biography

Clement Claiborne Clay

Clay was born 13 December 1816 in Huntsville, Alabama. He earned a bachelor's and a master's degree from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa graduating in 1834 then a law degree from the University of Virginia at Charlottesville in 1839. He was admitted to the bar and joined his father's law practice in Huntsville in 1840.

His father, Clement Comer Clay, was governor and a US Senator from Alabama. Clement Clay was elected to the state house of representatives in 1842 and was in his third term in 1846 when he was appointed to the bench in the Madison County court. He served as a judge until 1848. Clay ran unsuccessfully for election to the US House of Representatives in 1850. He was elected as a Democrat to the US Senate in a special election to fill the vacancy created when the Alabama legislature failed to elect someone to take the Senate seat for the term beginning 4 March 1853. He took his seat in the Senate on 29 November 1853. Reelected in 1858, he served until resigning on 21 January 1861 after Alabama left the Union.

Clay was elected to the Confederate States Senate in 1862 and served until 1864. He failed in his bid for reelection supposedly because of his intense loyalty for Jefferson Davis. Clay, a foreign policy advisor to Davis, was sent by Davis to Canada in 1864 as a diplomatic representative. His mission initially was to open peace negotiations with the federal government. Abraham Lincoln, however, refused to meet with the Confederate peace delegation. While in Canada Clay also directed the Confederacy's largely ineffective campaign of sabotage and insurrection in the North. He returned to the South after a year. Arrested along with Davis for alleged complicity in Abraham Lincoln's assassination, Clay was imprisoned at Fortress Monroe, Virginia for nearly a year. After his release in 1866 he returned to his plantation in Jackson County, Alabama and tried to recover from the financial ruin caused by the war. He spent the remainder of his life in agricultural pursuits and occasionally practicing the law. Clay died at "Wildwood" near Gurley, Madison County, Alabama on 3 January 1882.

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