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Clement Claiborne Clay

Clay, Clement Claiborne, 1816–82, U.S. Senator (1853–61), b. Huntsville, Ala. A legislator and then a judge in his native state, he was twice elected to the U.S. Senate and became an ardent defender of the states' rights doctrine. He left the Senate upon Alabama's secession and entered the Confederate senate, refusing the appointment as Secretary of War in the Confederacy. In 1864 he was sent by Jefferson Davis with two others on a diplomatic mission to Canada, which was intended to open peace negotiations with the federal government. Lincoln finally decided not to see him, and after a year in Canada, Clay returned to the South. After the assassination of Lincoln, he was accused of having taken part in a plot in Canada against Lincoln's life and also of having planned raids across the border, and a reward was offered for him. He gave himself up, was held at Fortress Monroe for almost a year without trial, and then was freed. His wife, Virginia Clay-Clopton, wrote A Belle of the Fifties (1904), a description of their Washington, D.C., home when it was a gathering place of capital society.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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