CLAY, Henry. Autograph letter signed ("H. Clay") as Senator, to I. Robertson, Samuel Gwatheny, and others, Ashland, Kentucky, 3 September 1836. 1½ pages, 4to (9 15/16 x 7 15/16 in.), integral address leaf, some minor staining, slight separation at horizontal folds, otherwise in very good condition.
CLAY ENTHUSIASTICALLY ENDORSES "COLONIZING THE FREE BLACKS ON THE COAST OF AFRICA"
The American Colonization society was created in 1816 to resettle emancipated slaves in Africa. The organization drew support from many distinguished public figures from the outset, including Henry Clay, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key and Daniel Webster. Clay took particular interest in the cause of the freemen, arguing that because of the "unconquerable prejudice resulting from their color, they never could amalgamate with the free whites of this country" (Jefferson had held a similar conviction, see lot 36).
Here, Clay replies to a letter from a group of Colonization Society members in Louisville, who had expressed concerns about "the languishing condition of the cause of Colonization of Louisville" and applied to the Senator to "aid in its revival." Clay is reassuring: "I am extremely sorry to learn that the Colonization cause should be in a languishing condition in your intelligent and enterprizing city. In my opinion the project of Colonizing the free blacks on the Coast of Africa is entirely practicable; and only requires the necessary pecuniary aid to ensure it complete success." Success, Clay argues, depends upon sanctioning by the government: "That aid the Governments of the Union and of the states are fully competent to render. Indeed, I think that the measures and success of the Colonization Society have demonstrated that, whenever the several states or any of them, shall be disposed to find a foreign asylum for any portion of the African race, bond or free...the coasts of Africa offer a certain one, within their reach, and within their means gradually and judiciously applied. It is greatly to be regretted that our Governments have not taken more efficient hold of the scheme and given it their countenance, sanction and patronage. I think they will, sooner or later, ultimately do it."
Clay concludes with great praise for the high goals of the organization: "the cause of Colonization addresses the most powerful motives of humanity, religion and patriotism to our Country men. And I sincerely hope that the spontaneous contributions by benevolent individuals will be continued until the General or Local Governments shall come forward to its support. With this view, as well as for the purpose of enlightening the public mind as to the object and progress of the Colonization Society, I think the formation of auxilliary societies is deserving of all encouragement."
Although the Colonization Society attracted the interest of many Americans, including Abraham Lincoln, only 6000 emancipated slaves were resettled in Africa between 1821 and 1867. As Clay noted, the most critical problem was a lack of funds, though internal dissension and pro-slavery opposition also played a role in the Society's ultimate failure to achieve its objectives.