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Alabama Governors

Clement Comer Clay

photo of portrait of Ala. Governor Clement Comer Clay

 

Governor: 1835-1837

Chief Justice Ala. Supreme Court: 1820-1823

U.S. Congressman: 1829-1835, 1837-1841

 

Clement Comer Clay was born in Halifax County, Virginia in 1789. He moved to Tennessee as a child and attended East Tennessee College and graduated in 1807. He was admitted to the bar in 1809 and moved to Huntsville, Mississippi Territory, in 1811. Clay fought in the 1813 Creek War and served in the Territorial legislature from 1817-1819. Clay was a member of the Alabama Constitutional Convention which created the state of Alabama and served as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court from 1820-1823. In 1823 Clay fought a duel with Dr. Waddy Tate of Limestone County and temporarily resigned from public service.

 

In 1827 Clay resumed his political career. Running unsuccessfully for a place in the US Congress, he lost the race to John Murphy. Later in 1827 Clay was elected to the Alabama state legislature and two years later was successful in his bid for the US Congress. As a US Representative Clay was a Jacksonian, though he did oppose Jackson in the nullification crisis, particularly in regard to the Force Act. While in Congress Clay also helped arrange Francis Scott Key's 1833 visit to Alabama to negotiate with Governor Gayle concerning Creek Indian removal.

 

In 1835 Clement Comer Clay was elected the eighth governor of Alabama. As the democratic candidate Clay received 23,297 votes, beating Enoch Persons, a states' rights Whig, who received 12,209 votes.

 

Clay's term as governor was dominated by the Creek Indian War of 1836. This war was caused by the removal of the Creek Indians from Southeastern Alabama under the terms of the 1832 Treaty of Cusseta. The US Army began rounding up Indians to send to their new homeland west of the Mississippi during the summer of 1836 and numerous disturbances resulted. Skirmishes between Indians and white settlers were reported. Adding to the problem was widespread land speculation and fraud practiced by the Columbus (Georgia) Land Company which attempted to illegally obtain land from the Indians before their relocation. Some Alabama Creeks fled to Florida and joined the Seminoles in the Seminole War of 1837. The US Army and volunteer units of the Alabama Militia attempted to suppress hostile actions by the Creeks and the Seminoles. Some Creek Indians remaining in Alabama were persuaded, with promises of concessions and preferential treatment, to join the Alabama Militia and US Army in their fight against the Seminoles.

 

There were other important military and Indian related events which occurred during Clay's term of office. Many Alabamians volunteered for the 1836 Texas War and a number were massacred by the Mexicans at Goliad. On December 29, 1835 the Cherokee Indians signed the Treaty of New Echota, ceding their rights to lands east of the Mississippi River. The new Alabama counties of Marshall, Dekalb, and Cherokee were created from the former Indian Territory.

 

Financial affairs were also important during Clay's term as governor. In January 1836 the state General Assembly abolished direct taxation, hoping to pay the costs of state government with the proceeds from the Bank of the State of Alabama. The national financial crisis of 1837 caused a panic and a run on the state bank which suspended specie payment. Governor Clay called a special session of the legislature to deal with the state's financial problems. Clay also ordered the bank to make a detailed report of its finances. The bank's inadequate record keeping practices made the report an impossibility.

 

In 1837 Clay was appointed to the US Senate and resigned as governor effective July 16, 1837. He served in Congress until 1841. He introduced a land graduation bill which was eventually passed as the Benton Bill in 1854. Clay resigned from the Senate in 1841 when he was commissioned by the Alabama General Assembly to prepare a digest of state laws. After Clay's Digest was completed in 1843, Clay was appointed to the State Supreme Court. In 1846 Clay served on a committee to settle the affairs of the Bank of the State of Alabama and then he retired to his private law practice. During the Civil War Clay was arrested by US Troops and his property was seized. Clay died in 1866.

 


Authorities:
Owen, Thomas, M. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, 1921.
Stewart, John Craig. The Governors of Alabama, 1975
Young, Mary Elizabeth. Redskins, Ruffleshirts and Rednecks: Indian Allotments in Alabama and Mississippi, 1830-1860, 1961.