Jeremiah Clemens was born in Huntsville, Ala., to well-to-do parents. After Clemens graduated from the University of Alabama, he studied law in Kentucky, then returned to Huntsville to practice. He was appointed federal attorney in 1837 and elected to the Alabama legislature two years later. He left the legislature during his second term to command a company of volunteers in the Texas Revolution. After his service there, Clemens served again in the legislature from 1843 to 1844. He then served in the United States Army in the Mexican War from 1847 to 1848. In 1849, Clemens was elected to serve out an unexpired US Senate term. His Unionist sympathies were unpopular in Alabama, however, and he was defeated in a bid for re-election in 1853. At that point, Clemens began a second career as a novelist. He based his first two novels on his experiences in Texas and Mexico, while his third novel was based on the story of the rivalry between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.
Following the election of Abraham Lincoln, Clemens was selected as a delegate to the Secession Convention in 1861. Despite his passionate speeches to the convention against secession, Clemens voted for the measure as a gesture of Alabama unity. He was appointed a major general in the Army of the Republic of Alabama, but, once Alabama joined the Confederate States of America, its troops became part of the Confederate army and he was left with nothing to command. He returned home to Huntsville and its Unionist community. After Federal troops occupied Huntsville, he divided his time between Philadelphia, Nashville, and Huntsville, writing in support of the Union League. His last novel was published in Philadelphia shortly before the war ended. He returned home to Huntsville after a bout of pneumonia. He relapsed during the journey and died shortly after his return.
Jeremiah Clemens was a historical novelist, writing in the Romantic tradition but with realistic details. He was one of the first writers in the genre of “Wild West” stories. His Tobias Wilson was one of the first Civil War novels.
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Photo courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History.
Last updated on May 30, 2008.