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Clement Claiborne Clay

Clement Clay
Confederate States Senator
from Alabama
In office
February 18, 1862 – February 17, 1864
Preceded by Constituency established
Succeeded by Richard Walker
United States Senator
from Alabama
In office
November 29, 1853 – January 21, 1861
Preceded by Jeremiah Clemens
Succeeded by Willard Warner
Personal details
Born (1816-12-13)December 13, 1816
Huntsville, Alabama, US
Died January 3, 1882(1882-01-03) (aged 65)
Gurley, Alabama, US
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Virginia Tunstall
Alma mater University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa
University of Virginia

Clement Claiborne Clay (December 13, 1816 – January 3, 1882) was a United States Senator (Democrat) from the state of Alabama from 1853 to 1861, and a Confederate States Senator from Alabama from 1861 to 1863. His portrait appears on the Confederate one-dollar note (4th issue and later).

After the war he and his wife Virginia were imprisoned for a time by the United States government at Fort Monroe, on the suspicion of having been involved in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. They were released in 1866. Former president Jefferson Davis was also held there, but was never tried; he was released in 1867. Clay and his wife returned to Alabama where he became a merchant and planter.


  • Biography 1
    • Early life 1.1
    • Marriage and family 1.2
    • Career 1.3
    • Postwar years 1.4
  • References 2
  • Further reading 3
  • External links 4


Early life

Clement Clay was born with a strong political pedigree; he was the oldest son of Clement Comer Clay, a former senator and governor of Alabama. He was also a third cousin of Henry Clay, the noted statesman from Kentucky. Clay attended the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and graduated in 1834. He obtained a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1839 and was admitted to the bar in Alabama in 1840.

Marriage and family

In 1843 he married Virginia Tunstall, who was then 18 years old. They had one child, who died in infancy.

After Clement's death in 1882, Virginia remarried to David Clopton, a judge, and was known as Virginia Clay-Clopton. Virginia wrote Belle of the Fifties, a memoir with New York journalist Ada Sterling, published in 1904 and re-issued in 1905. Belle was one of three memoirs by southern women particularly recommended by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to its membership for serious study.[1] These books became part of the discourse about the Lost Cause and the burnished memories of the antebellum South.


Clay depicted on a Confederate $1 banknote from 1864.

Clay was elected as a member of the Alabama State House of Representatives in 1842, 1844, and 1845. He was appointed as a county judge in Madison County, Alabama, where he served from 1848 to 1850. He ran for the United States Congress in 1850, but was not elected.

In 1853, he was elected by the Alabama legislature to serve in the United States Senate in a term beginning March 4, 1853. Due to the legislature's delay in filling the position, he served from November 29, 1853 to January 21, 1861. He withdrew from the senate when Alabama seceded from the Union in 1861 before the American Civil War. He was subsequently elected by the Alabama Confederate legislature as Senator in the First Confederate Congress. He served there from 1862 until 1864.

Clement Clay and Jacob Thompson were head of the Confederate secret agents. They had employed John Wilkes Booth for some services before he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. Due to suspicions that Clay was involved in the assassination plot of Lincoln, he and his wife were arrested and imprisoned in Fortress Monroe in Hampton, Virginia in 1865; they were held for about a year.

Postwar years

The Clays returned to Alabama and struggled to rebuild their lives. Clay practiced as an attorney. Clement Clay died in 1882 in Madison County and is interred at Maple Hill Cemetery.


  1. ^ Blood And Irony: Southern White Women's Narratives of the Civil War, 1861-1937Sarah E. Gardner, , University of North Carolina Press, 2006, pp. 128-130

Further reading

  • A Belle of the Fifties: Memoirs of Mrs. Clay, of Alabama, Covering Social and Political Life in Washington and the South, 1853-66Clay-Clopton, Virginia. , New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1905, c1904, full online text available at Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina.
  • Nueremberger, Ruth Ketring. The Clays of Alabama, Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1958.

External links

  • "Clement Claiborne Clay".  
United States Senate
Preceded by
Jeremiah Clemens
United States Senator (Class 2) from Alabama
Served alongside: Benjamin Fitzpatrick
Succeeded by
Willard Warner(1)
Confederate States Senate
New constituency Confederate States Senator (Class 1) from Alabama
Served alongside: William Yancey, Robert Jemison
Succeeded by
Richard Walker
Notes and references
1. Because of Alabama's secession, the Senate seat was vacant for seven years before Warner succeeded Clay.
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