Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Special Collections has recently acquired one of the earliest known letters of Henry Clay. Unpublished, it was written in Virginia, over a year before his move to Lexington in November of 1797. Dated July 16, 1796, it is addressed to Peter Tinsley, clerk of the High Court of Chancery of Virginia and was written when Clay would have been only nineteen years old. The letter, in which Clay discusses his poor health, is a revealing one. Young Clay states that he has “unwrapt his soul” and wishes to make amends for a misunderstanding in his terms of employment with Tinsley.
From his appointment with Tinsley, Clay moves on to work with Chancellor George Wythe, the teacher of Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, and is granted a license to practice law in Virginia in 1797. He was soon afterwards admitted to practice in the Fayette County circuit court, taking the oath on March 20, 1798.
The UK Libraries housed the Papers of Henry Clay editorial project, which produced eleven volumes of Clay documents over a forty year period. The earliest item in the first volume dates to August 22, 1797 and is a legal paper. The first piece of correspondence in the edition dates to December 27, 1798. This new acquisition prefigures all of the printed material in the published Clay papers and sheds significant light on Clay’s precocity and his early association with an important figure in Virginia’s public life. U.K. Libraries holds one of the largest collections of Henry Clay letters, rivaled only by the Library of Congress.