Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Most Violent Place on Earth

In 1829, Henry Clay returned to Kentucky after four years as U.S. Secretary of State. Although he did not want to return to the practice of law, he was forced to respond to a special appeal from an old friend and wealthy supporter named Robert Wickliffe. Wickliffe's son Charles had gotten into a dispute with Thomas Benning, the editor of the Kentucky Gazette (a pro-Jackson paper). When Benning refused to identify the author of an article attacking the senior Wickliffe, Charles shot the editor and killed him.

Clay defended Charles Wickliffe with the support of his friends John J. Crittenden and Richard H. Chinn. Although Clay had not appeared in court for four years, he remained as brilliant as ever, and won Wickliffe's acquittal after a five-day trial. It was a great triumph for Clay, and a sign of his continued popularity in Kentucky.

Soon afterward, the new editor of the Gazette, a man named George Trotter, referred to Charles Wickliffe as the cold-blooded murderer of Benning. Charles Wickliffe challenged Trotter to a duel, and this time Wickliffe was killed.

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