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Clement C. Clay (1789 – 1866)
Clement C. Clay (1789 – 1866)
Clement Comer Clay was born in Halifax County, Virginia, on December 17, 1789 and moved to Tennessee as a child. He graduated from East Tennessee College (later the University of Tennessee) in 1807 and was admitted to the bar in 1809. In 1811, he came to Huntsville, then part of the Mississippi Territory, with little money, but a lot of ambition. He served as an adjutant in the 1813 Creek Indian War under General Andrew Jackson.

Alabama had been part of the Mississippi Territory, but when Mississippi entered the union in 1817, Alabama remained a territory. Clay served in the 1817-1819 Territorial Legislature and also the 1819 Constitutional Convention. At that convention, Clay became chairman of the 15 member committee assigned to draft the constitution that upon approval of the United States government on December 14, 1819, would make Alabama the 22nd state of the Union. Clay was encouraged to run for the office of Alabama's first governor, but the Constitution stated that the governor must be 30 years of age. Clay was only 29. Instead, he was elected a circuit judge by the new state legislature. The other four circuit judges elected Clay the state’s first Chief Justice.

Clement C. Clay served on the state Supreme Court from 1820-1823. In 1827, he was elected to the Alabama Legislature, where he served as Speaker of the House. In 1829 he was elected to the United States Congress and in that position he helped arrange the 1833 negotiations concerning the removal of the Creek Indians from Alabama.

In 1835, he was elected the eighth Governor of Alabama and during this difficult term of office the removal of the Creek Indians resulted in the Trail of Tears, many Alabamians served in the militia and fought against the Seminoles in Florida, and in 1836, a large number of Alabama citizens were massacred by the Mexican army at Goliad, Texas. Also, in 1836, Clay helped establish Spring Hill College in Mobile, the third oldest Jesuit College in the United States.

In 1837 Clay was appointed by the legislature to the United States Senate and he resigned as Governor. He remained in the Senate until 1841 when he resigned to return to Alabama in order to prepare a digest of state laws under the direction of the Alabama General Assembly. Clay’s Digest, completed in 1843, is still referenced today. In 1843, Clay was appointed to the State Supreme Court by Governor Fitzpatrick to fill a vacancy for six months.

Clay returned to his law practice during the latter years of his life. His son, Clement Claiborne Clay, served as Senator from Alabama from 1853 to 1861. Because the Clays supported secession, the elder Clay was arrested when Huntsville was occupied by Union troops during the Civil War. He died on September 7, 1866.

Clement Comer Clay helped to make Alabama’s first constitution. He served in the legislature, in Congress, and as the state’ first Chief Justice. He authored Clay’s Digest of Alabama Laws. In 1931, a bridge was built over the Tennessee River and named in his honor. His early law office has been restored and is now a part of the Alabama Constitution Village in Huntsville. Today the lawyers of Alabama recognize his many contributions and induct him into the Alabama Lawyers Hall of Fame.

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