Charles Francis Adams.

An address on the life, character and services of William Henry Seward (Volume 1) online

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have had a long journey, which, in its inception,
seemed to many to be eccentric, but I trust that all
my neighbors and friends are now satisfied that it
was reasonable. I found that, in returning home
to the occupations which were before me, I was
expected to enjoy rest from labors and cares which
were thought to have been oppressive and severe.
I found, that, at my age, and in my condition of
health, 'rest was rust,' and nothing remained to
prevent rust but to keep in motion. I selected the
way that would do the least harm, give the least
offense, enable me to acquire the most knowledge,
and increase the power, if any remained, to do
good." The volume from which I quote, contain-


The Address.

ing a very interesting account of the travels of Mr.
Seward, has been issued to the world since his
decease. The turn of his mind, ever indulging in
wide speculation upon the objects presented to his
observation, is as clearly marked in this as it is in
any of his earlier productions. Hence it is clear
that, however impaired may have been his tene-
ment of clay, the living principle within held out
firmly to the last. This book likewise shows, though
expressed in very modest language, that the fame
of the great statesman had reached the remotest
and most exclusive nations of the Eastern Hemis-
phere, and had won for him — a simple private
citizen — spontaneous recognitions such as hereto-
fore, in those communities, have been extorted only
by representatives of those sovereignties which they

And now the chief part of my work is done. I
have tried to test the statesman by the highest
standard known to mankind. His career covers
the whole of what I designate as the second period
of our history — that, pending which, the heaviest
clog to freedom, a perilous legacy from our fore-
fathers, was, after long and severe conflict, at last
happily removed. In this trial Mr. Seward played
a great part. His mind, taking in the broadest
view of practical popular government, never failed
him in the useful application of his powers to the


The Address.

removal of all adventitious obstructions to its
development. He was never a mere theorist or
dreamer of possibilities he could not reach. He
speculated boldly, but he was an actor all the while,
and effected results. It is in this sense that I think
my narrative has established for him a just claim to
the high position I assigned to him at my outset.
He may not, indeed, rise to the full stature of the
philosopher-statesman, " equal to the present, reach-
ing forward to the future," never seen even in the
palmy days of ancient Greece, or perhaps anywhere
else, but at least he stands in the first rank of those
admitted most nearly to approach it.

But thus far I have considered him exclusively in
his public life. The picture would scarcely seem
complete, if I omitted a word about him as a man
like all the rest of us. By nature he can scarcely
be said to have been gifted with the advantage of
an imposing presence, such as fell to the lot of Mr.
Calhoun and Mr. Webster. Neither in face nor
in figure would he have attracted particular notice,
and both his voice and power of articulation were
little favorable to the power of his elocution. Yet
he had in a remarkable degree the faculty of fixing
the hearer's attention — the surest test of oratorical
superiority. His familiar conversation rarely kept
in the dreary round of common-place, and often
struck into original and instructive paths. His

personal address was easy and careless, sometimes
rather blunt. It lacked something of the polish of
the most refined society, but there was a simplicity
and heartiness in his genial hours that often brought
one close to him in a moment. At times, when in
good spirits, there seemed a superabundant glee,
which spent itself in laughter springing from his
own thoughts, more robust than could be wholly
accounted for by any thing expressed. And yet it
had a sympathetic power over the hearers almost
irresistible. In his domestic relations he was pure
and affectionate — ready to heed the monitions of a
gifted and refined partner, and profit by her prudent
counsel. Unhappily, her infirm health, breeding a
strong inclination for retirement from the bustle
and excitement of the society of Washington, ma-
terially detracted from the influence, as well as the
satisfaction, attending her husband's elevated posi-
tion. Our forefathers would marvel could they
imagine it possible for me to claim credit for Mr.
Seward on the score of his honesty as a public man.
Yet the time has come when we must honor one
who never bought nor sold a vote or a place, and
who never permitted his public action to be con-
taminated in the atmosphere of corporation influ-
ence. On that subject I had occasion to know his
sentiments more than once. Above all, he was
earnestly impressed with religious feelings never

[10] 73

The Address.

making parade of it, but never omitting every
proper occasion to make it suitably respected. One
of his finest traits was the calmness with which he
endured all the various political assaults made upon
him by opponents, and often by those of his own
side. Few persons of his time encountered more.
It is the nature of power always to raise a body
of resistance in a relative proportion to the force
of its own movement. Then came also the day of
complaints raised by the large class fated to be
aggrieved by disappointed hopes or imagined offen-
ses, the arrogant, the incompetent, the rapacious,
the treacherous, and the unscrupulous, always to be
found intrenched around every fountain of political
favors. Mr. Seward was never tempted to elevate
the position of such persons by controversy, or to
profit by opportunities for merited retribution, even
when clearly within his grasp. To his intimate
friends he was deeply attached. One of these who
survives him — may I say his fidus Achates —

" It comes et paribus curis vestigia figit,"

whose singularly disinterested labor it has been to
effect the elevation of others to power, and never
his own, and to whose remarkable address I strongly
suspect Mr. Seward owed many obligations of that
kind, has been kind enough to submit to my
perusal numbers of his confidential letters, received


during interesting periods in the writer's life, which
have been collected and bound in volumes. I have
closely examined them, as laying bare the most
secret impulses of his mind and heart. Yet, highly
confidential as they appear on their face to be, I
could not detect a single passage which, for his
sake, " I could wish to blot."

The line of great statesmen in America may or
may not stretch out,

" In yon bright track that fires the western skies,"

to the crack of doom. But the memory of him
who guided our course, through the most appalling
tempest yet experienced in our annals, can scarcely
fail to confront all future aspirants in the same
honorable career, as an example which every one of
them may imitate to his advantage, but which few
can hope to be so fortunate as to excel.





QUARTETTE.— "IniegQiYii^ic" - - - Fleming.

BLESSING. — By Rev. Bishop Coxe.

Organ Dismission.

Subsequent to the address the following resolu-
tions, offered by Senator Perry, were unanimously
adopted by the Senate and concurred in by the
Assembly :

Resolved, That the thanks of the Legislature of the State of
New York be tendered to the Hon Charles Francis Adams,
for the eloquent eulogiuni on the life, character and services of
ex-Governor William H. Seward, delivered at the request
of the Legislature, on the i8th day of April, inst., and that a copy
of the address be requested for publication.

Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be forwarded to Mr.
Adams, signed b}^ the presiding officers and clerks of the Senate
and Assembly.

An engrossed copy of the above resolutions, duly
authenticated, was subsequently forwarded to Mr.
Adams by the joint committee, accompanied by the
following letter :

Letter to Mr. Adams,
"state of new york:

" Senate Chamber, |

" Albany, May 12, 1873. 1
" Hon. Charles Francis Adams :

"Dear Si} Herewith I have the honor to inclose the joint resolutions of thanks to

yourself, adopted by the Senate and Assembly on the 29th ult. In addition, I beg
leave, on behalf of the joint committee, to express to you their sincere acknowledg-
ments for your kind acceptance of their invitation, and for the very complete and
eloquent address delivered on the occasion.


Legislative jProceedings.

" You will observe that one of the resolutions contains a request that a copy of the
address be furnished for publication. Entertaining the hope that you may be pleased
to comply with this request, I have the honor to remain,

Gratefully yours,

" Chairman of Joint Committee."

The receipt of these resolutions was acknowledged
by Mr. Adams as follows :

Mr. Adams' Reply.

" QuiNCY, May 14, 1873.
" Hon. J. C. Perry, etc., etc. :

" Dear Sir — I have to acknowledge the reception of your letter of the 12th instant,
and of the joint resolutions of the Senate and Assembly therein referred to.

" I pray you to accept, in their behalf, my grateful thanks for the manner in which
they have honored me.

" In compliance with their request, I beg permission to transmit to you herewith a
copy of the address revised for publication.

"I have the honor to be,

" Your obdt. servt.,

"C. F. ADAMS."




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Online LibraryCharles Francis AdamsAn address on the life, character and services of William Henry Seward (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 5)