Question: Was Cassius Clay an abolitionist or an emancipationist?
Let’s join a tour already in progress at White Hall and find out…
Tour Guide: Cassius M. Clay was, to say the least, a colorful and controversial figure in Kentucky history. His work in helping to build the Republican Party, his service as Minister to Russia during the administrations of Lincoln and Johnson, and his long fight against slavery as an emancipationist constitute an important and often neglected story. Do we have any questions so far?
Guest: Yes, I have one question. You called Clay an emancipationist. I’ve also read that he was an abolitionist. Do the two terms have the same meaning?
Tour Guide: That’s a very good question. Even though many people will use the two terms interchangeably, they are not the same. Cassius is often labeled as an abolitionist when, in truth, he was an emancipationist.
Guest: So what is the distinction between an abolitionist and an emancipationist?
Tour Guide: Well, for one thing, abolitionists were far more radical than emancipationists. Abolitionists wanted to end slavery immediately—no matter what the cost—even if it meant breaking the law (hence the underground railroad). Emancipationists wanted a gradual emancipation of the slaves and demanded a constitutional or legal ending to slavery. Cassius M. Clay’s plan of emancipation is best set forth in his own words. In a copy of his newspaper, The True American, we read about Clay’s plan for emancipation and a denial of the accusation that he was an agent of the northern abolitionists.