A note from Norm Evans has taught me something about American history. Norm wrote:

"If only Muhammad Ali hadn't changed his name! Then our most recent 'ambassador' to the Soviet Union and our first ambassador to imperial Russia would have had the same name. President Lincoln appointed Cassius Clay U.S. ambassador to Russia in approximately 1889."

Standard reference works indicate that Norm's memory is very good but not perfect. Cassius Marcellus Clay (1810-1903) was an antislavery leader. He was born in Kentucky and, like one of his relatives, Henry Clay, went into politics.

In 1835, Cassius Clay was elected to the Kentucky legislature. He was reelected twice. When he was defeated in 1841, it was over the slavery issue. The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography says of the young abolitionist: "He is said to have been at that time the wealthiest young man in Kentucky, and his natural talents, education, lineage and personal magnetism were all such as to insure him speedy political advancement, provided only he was willing to employ them in proslavery lines.

"It required exceptional courage, therefore, for him to plead in such a time and place for free speech and free men."

Clay established an antislavery paper in 1845 and the Encyclopaedia Britannica says he turned its offices "into a virtual arsenal to repel proslavery raiders." In spite of this, the newspaper was sacked while he was not on the premises, and he was forced to move his operation from Lexington to Cincinnati, and then to Louisville.

Clay was one of the founders of the Republican Party. After Lincoln's election, Clay was appointed minister (not ambassador) to Russia in 1861 or 1862, depending on which books one reads.

In a sense, Cassius Clay the abolitionist had a lot in common with Cassius Clay the young boxer. Both had ability, determination, personal magnetism and courage. Or, if you prefer, just plain guts.

I wonder how I got through school without hearing about Cassius Marcellus Clay. I wonder, too, whether Cassius Clay the boxer knew about Cassius Clay the abolitionist before he decided to change his name.