Clay's plaintive reply.
There is something almost plaintive in the reply of Henry Clay
to Mr. Mendenhall
It was as meek as an imperious spirit knew how to be. ‘Without any knowledge of the relations in which I stand to my slaves or their individual condition, you, Mr. Mendenhall
, and your associates, who have been active in getting up this petition, call upon me forthwith to liberate the whole of them.
Now, let me tell you that some half dozen of them from age decrepitude, or infirmity are wholly unable to gain a livelihood for themselves and are a heavy charge upon me. Do you think that I should conform to the dictates of humanity by ridding myself of that charge and sending them forth into the world with the boon of liberty to end a wretched existence in starvation? * * I own about fifty who are probably worth $15,000. To turn them loose upon society without any means of subsistence or support would be an act of cruelty.
Are you willing to raise and secure the payment of $15,000 for their benefit if I should be induced to free them?
The security of that sum would materially lessen the obstacle in the way of their emancipation.’
But even when such security was provided by the slave-holder himself the way was far from smooth.
One instance occurs to me with which was associated a revered relative of my own—John Randolph
; and I can never mention the name of this transcendent flame of genius without recalling the incalculable debt which Virginia
owes to his singleness of heart and purity of service.
, by a will executed in the presence of Mark Alexander
and Nathaniel Macon
, had made Judge William Leigh
, the residuary devisee and legatee of his valuable estate, subject to certain specific legacies and provisions.
The most important of these provisions was that of the means to enable the executor of the will to transport the slaves of the estate (set free by a previous clause) and settle them in some other State or territory.
He appointed Judge Leigh
The will was contested on the ground of the mental unsoundness of the testator.
, well aware that the emancipation of these slaves had been the undeviating purpose of Randolph
's life, relinguished his absorbing interest under the will that he might become a witness in support of it and so at least accomplish the particular intent to which I have referred.
To this extent the will was, in effect, sustained, and Judge Leigh
was appointed commissioner to transport and settle the negroes as provided therein.
The State selected for the settlement was Ohio
; but when the commissioner landed, his first interview was with a mob formed to resist and repel the negro settlement.
The clearest glimpse of the State
of feeling is derived from the newspapers of the time.