Charles Francis Adams.

Charles Francis Adams, 1835-1915; an autobiography; online

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That House was an angry, quarrelsome body, full to over-
flowing of men who subsequently became "Confederate
Brigadiers." Among them I specially recall Roger A. Pryor,

Law and Politics 45

of Virginia, who "petered out" during the RebeUion, and
subsequently came North and quietly took to the law in
Brookl}^n, New York, then a pronounced fire-eater, a typi-
cal Southerner of that period. I remember him at one of
Buchanan's receptions, a rather tall and lank Virginian,
stalking about with a lady on each arm. In shabby black,
of course, and ugly as a stone fence, with tallowy, close-
shaven features, and prominent high cheek-bones, his eyes
had a hard, venomous look, while his flowing locks, brushed
carefully back behind his ears, fell well down over his coat
collar, innocent of the shears. He was representative of a
large class — men who were just spoiling for a fight. They
had it, too! and, before they got through, had a belly-full!
But never on this earth did human beings more richly de-
serve the complete, out-and-out thrashing that those men
then coveted, and aftenvards had.

None the less tempora mutantur, et, etc., etc., even as re-
spects that community and those very men. Long subse-
quently, as a result of my two addresses on General Lee,
that at Chicago in 1902, and that at Lexington in 1907, I
became a very popular character in Virginia; and the change
of sentiment was manifested many times and in ways very
gratifying to me. Even Roger A. Pryor assumed a pleasant
personal aspect. I first met him face to face in New York,
December 9, 191 1 — just fifty years later. He was then
manifestly a very old man, softened by experience and
domestic affliction, for he had lost a most promising son,
already professionally far advanced. It was at a reception
given by the New York Genealogical Society to old John
Bigelow, who died just one year later. I had agreed to read
a paper on the occasion, and Judge Pryor came expressly

46 Charles Francis Adams

to hear me. I recognized him, sitting on one of the front
benches, the moment I came into the room; and at once
went and introduced myself to him. He was plainly grati-
fied; and so was I at seeing him there. On both sides, all
the old feeling was gone. In the quieter rays of a setting
sun, I like to think it was so!

Of H. Winter Davis I saw a good deal that winter. He
was a man of very different type; the extremely gentle-
manly representative of the Baltimore "Plug-uglies" as
they were called. He died a few years later, having become
an extremist among the Union men. I don't know what his
game was; but, with him, I imagine It was all a game. A
man of medium size, very boyish in appearance, with thick,
dark curling hair, cut short, a small moustache and a dark
complexion, he had a quiet manner and was extremely care-
ful in his dress. I heard him deliver from the floor of the
House one of the most effective, if not the most effective
speech I ever listened to. That day he followed Lamar, of
Mississippi, whom, long afterwards, I knew much better.
Lamar at that period looked the Southern college professor
— lank, tall, bearded, long-haired and large-featured. Of
both of these men — Davis and Lamar — my brother Henry
has much to say in his volume The Education of Henry
Adams, and his means of observation were far better and
closer than mine. ^ This was not so with some others. John
Sherman was a case In point. He was then by far the most
noticed man on the floor of the House, having been sud-
denly brought Into much prominence In the long struggle
for possession of the Speaker's chair. Then In his first vigor,

* His account of Henry W. Davis is in Mass. Hist. Soc. Proceedings^
XLIII. 660.

Law and Politics 47

John Sherman was a young-looking man of the Ohio type,
tall and slender, with black hair and beard, keen eyes and
a large nose. His face was expressive of character and deci-
sion, and he had the reputation of being a fighter in every
sense of the word. I saw something of him in 1 860-61 —
much more years later — and he edified me by telling me
on one occasion that, in politics, "he made it a rule always
to act with his party; on great matters from principle, and
on small matters from policy." He certainly followed his
rule throughout his public life; and he was more than forty
consecutive years in position at Washington. I heard of his
death (1900) while passing through Chicago.

The Senate was, however, in 1860-61 far the more inter-
esting body; and I then made very fair use of my advan-
tages. Seward was the leader on the Republican side;
though, as one looked down from the gallery, the only man,
I remember, whose face and bearing, whose figure and the
air of large refinement about him, seemed to me impressive
was Mr. Sumner. He certainly always oflFered a notable
exception to the prevailing commonplace, and coarseness of
fibre, both mental and physical. Douglas, of Illinois, was
very much in evidence, "a squab, vulgar little man, with an
immense frowsy head." Mason, of Virginia — after\vards
my father's vanquished opponent in England — also at-
tracted my attention from the first, "a large, handsome
man, not unpleasant to look at," as, dressed ostentatiously
in a grey suit of Virginia homespun, he appeared to own the
Senate-chamber. Of Senator Fessenden, of Maine, I at that
time saw a good deal, calling on him at his hotel-room on
Sunday afternoons, when he evidently was gratified at my
attention and glad of company in his boarding-house soli-

48 Charles Francis Adams

tude. He impressed me as a man of natural refinement and
decided force — every inch a Senator. He talked to me of
my grandfather, with whom he had served in the House,
and, for whom, as did all those men — his contemporaries
— he expressed a keen admiration. Fessenden left on me,
however, a sense of a dreariness and solitude in life, as I
found him always sitting there in that forlorn private "par-
lor" of a Washington boarding-house hotel, as Washington
hotels then were — unkempt barracks, spotted along the
north side of Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol to
the Treasury. They all had the third-rate, Southem-
slouchy aspect and atmosphere. That may have been a
period of high thinking; it was certainly one of plain living;
and there was in Washington a noticeable absence of the
more ordinary elegancies of civilized life; its luxuries were
undreamed of. The "mess" and the Southern boarding-
house were in order, and accepted. They knew nothing
better; but Senator Fessenden's old-time hotel — furnished
sitting-room with its bed-room attachment, devoid of any
pretence of life's amenities and attractions — impressed me
with a sense of neither domesticity nor taste. I suppose,
however, it compared fairly well with what he was then
accustomed to at home, in Maine; but in all respects the
Washington of that period was in strange contrast with the
Washington of this. The Civil War marked the dividing line.
Recurring to Fessenden and what he told me of my grand-
father, Jefferson Davis was on that topic the most out-
spoken of all I met. I do not, indeed, with the exception of
Joshua R. Giddlngs, remember any public man of that epoch
who seemed to feel such a genuine sense of appreciation for
J. Q. Adams as Jefferson Davis, and he repeatedly put him-

Law and Politics 49

self on record on the subject. Davis, by the way, impressed
me that winter more agreeably than any Southern man I
met. I did not see him again until, in May, 1885, I called
on him at his house at Belvoir, near New Orleans; but to
me he was a distinctly attractive as well as interesting per-
sonality. Of medium height and spare of figure, he had an
essentially Southern face, but he was very much of a gen-
tleman in his address — courteous, unpretending and yet
quietly dignified. A man in no way aggressive, yet not to be
trifled with. I instinctively liked him; and regret extremely
that it was not my good fortune, then or later, to see more
of him.

Physically, Washington was then curiously unkempt, the
wide, half-built, unpaved streets being alternately oceans
of mud or deep in dust. A dirtier city materially — "Nig-
ger" — it would not have been easy to imagine; while, so-
cially, it was quite innocent of "style." Among those in
public life very few had houses of their own, and those of
such as had them were unpretentious — modest to a degree.
There were a few private carriages, but no equipage. The
entertainment was of the simplest. The social element was
altogether Southern in sympathy and in expression; and,
as a young man, I am forced to say that the inducements to
flirtation sometimes extended by certain of the young ladies
were of a nature not usual in more conventional centres —
they were of the jolly-girl brand. My now destroyed diaries
bore witness to the fact that on more than one occasion
I did not know what to do, or which way to look; and ig-
nored what I did not dare reciprocate. Miss Harriet Lane
then presided over the White House; and, of wholly another
sort, she did it very well. Young, handsome, dignified and

5 o Charles Francis Adams

imposing, she bore herself as became her position, having,
beside a London experience, a well-developed natural, social
faculty. I was presented to her at one of the White House
receptions of that very simple and most democratically un-
conventional period when the White House entertainments,
conducted absolutely without rule or regulation, were
thronged by people of both sexes, dressed each one as his
or her means or fancy directed. As respects Miss Lane, I
was deeply impressed by the fact that, the next time I met
her, she addressed me by name. It was close upon forty
years later. I then once more found myself in the same
room with her. She was now an elderly lady; a white-haired,
childless widow, living in Washington ; she was pointed out
to me at a wedding reception, and I " tried it on," going
up and expressing my disbelief in any possible recollection
of me on her part. But the old social faculty was there.
She at once called me by name. Through what process she
instinctively worked the problem out or by what mental
action she divined, I do not know; but that she should have
remembered both face and name is not supposable. It was
an instance of the exercise of a social faculty which I never
possessed in any degree, and the absence of which has been
in my case a badly felt handicap throughout life in many
ways. Few things do I envy the possession of in others more
than the faculty of remembering faces or placing names.

Subsequently, during the first winter of my later Wash-
ington life, I saw a good deal of Mrs. Johnson, and our rela-
tions became exceptionally friendly. The fact that I had been
part of the ante-bellum Washington of her White House
days constituted a sort of bond of kindliness between us.
Hence her death a year or two later was for me an appre-

Law and Politics 5 1

ciable loss — Washington became the poorer because of her
decease. There are frequent and admiring mentions of Miss
Lane, as she then was, in Hawthorne's Our Old Home: Eng-
lish Sketches, and Mrs. Johnson could certainly have counted
me among her obliged admirers. She is a gracious memor)^

My two winter visits to Washington in i860 and 1861
were my only social experiences outside of Boston until
after the war. They were of great educational benefit to
me, something I of all things needed. I there came in con-
tact with men, and distinguished men; and I met women,
and not girls. In Boston there was no political element in
social life; and no foreign element. In Washington, you met
interesting men and some clever women; and conversation
sometimes rose above the level of society small-talk.

Meanwhile, at the law I was in these years doing abso-
lutely nothing, making no progress. Regular in my habits,
I was constantly at my office; but business would not come
my way; and, naturally, I got discouraged. I kept writing,
if I did not publish; but — I am sorry to say it, though I
see it clearly now — I had not the native force to break
through the barriers, and strike out in some line for myself.
I remained a round peg in a square hole. I would now give
much, if I could look back on some virile action of my own
at that time; an attempt, even though it had been a failure.
It simply was not in me; and I went along, stupidly adhering
to the old precedents and traditions, just as if I were not a
young man, with a great, untried world all about me. I was
quite lacking in both aggressive initiative and correct fore-

In the summer of i860, however, came the monitions of
great impending change; though I quite failed to read the

5 2 Charles Francis Adams

signs aright. In the long, hot summer of i860, as we were
getting into the swing of that lurid, red-painted political
canvass which proved the prologue to the war, Governor
Seward one day turned up in Boston, coming from the
eastward. Just defeated at Chicago, Seward then showed
a real bigness. Nursing no sense of disappointment, he
came out in large, earnest support of the cause, and its
exponent who had been preferred to him. With a clear
eye, though that of an astute politician, to the unknown
and unforeseeable future, he was carefully cultivating rela-
tions with my father, seeing In him I imagine a much-needed
New England political counterpoise to the distrustful and
impracticable Sumner. He had, I think — going back to
what took place in "the forties" — sized my father; and,
almost alone of the public men of the period, he had "sized"
him correctly. So now he turned up suddenly in Boston;
singled my father out for special notice; and came out to
Quincy to pass a day. Seward was then at the highest point
of reputation and political prominence he ever attained. As
a political factor he was of the first class; and he now pro-
posed to my father, that he and I — I having met him in
Washington — should join him in an electioneering tour
through the Northwest in the coming month of September.
I eagerly caught at the idea, and prevailed on my father to
fall into it. We went, and it proved a considerable episode
in my life. I saw the West for the first time, and moved
among men.

During that summer also I saw a good deal of Charles
Sumner, and very pleasantly. We none of us in the least
suspected it; but for the old intimacy it was the beginning of
the end. He was then in great spirits. Physically, he had

Law and Politics 5 3

recovered from the Brooks assault, and was In the full swing
of political movement. In June he had delivered in the
Senate his long and carefully prepared, but most unphllo-
sophical, speech entitled by him the "Barbarism, of Slavery."
This effort of his had long been fore-shadowed and was
loudly heralded; but I am glad to say that, my great personal
admiration for Sumner non obstante^ my mental vision was
not now obscured. Of this speech I at the time wrote: "I
have steadily stood up for It, and defended and endorsed
everything in it; yet. In my heart of hearts, this speech is
heavy proof that Sumner is not nearly so great a man as I
had supposed and hoped. He had a great chance; and he
was not equal to the occasion. After being stricken down
as he was, with four years of subsequent Illness, he should
have risen In the Senate-chamber grand and magnificent; —
something more than mortal, above revenge or spite, he
should not have 'poured forth abuse as from a cart,' even on
institutions. He should have dealt only In great principles,
not In newspaper paragraphs and book clippings; he should
have said that which would have offended no man, and yet
would have touched and appealed to all. This he has not
done. His speech Is a farrago of newspaper Items collected
with toil and codified with reflection, but not marked by
good temper or pervaded by Inspiration. It Is the able ex
'parte argument of an ordinary mortal, and by no means the
crowning effort of a great genius." I have not since read,
and never again shall read — as, I opine, will few others —
that bitter, railing indictment of June 4, i860; but I Imagine
I was not far wrong In this contemporaneous estimate of It.
A few days later, however, I came across Sumner charac-
teristically and pleasantly; and In a way curious for me now

54 Charles Francis Adams

(1900) to notice, looking over my diary of that time, having
wholly forgotten the incident. It had a noticeable bearing
on the address I had just been delivering at Madison, show-
ing how I revived in the summer of 1900 an historical paral-
lel which I had worked out in detail forty years before, and
then retained no faintest recollection of. My entry of July,
i860, was as follows:

"For the last two years I have been industriously labor-
ing on a parallel, covering the slavery question, between my
grandfather and Calhoun. This last week my thunder has
been stolen, and rolled louder than I ever could roll it, and
that by no less a person than Charles Sumner, of the United
States Senate. In a political address in New York last week,
he began with that parallel exactly as I had thought it out;
and, when I had read what he said, a vague impression came
across me that I had one day at Washington, while dining
with him at home, run the parallel, and stated the relative
influence of the two men on our own time. My father pres-
ently came into the office, and I spoke to him of it. He re-
membered the conversation perfectly; and advised me for
the future to be more careful of my gems, if I did n't want to
have them stolen. My only desire was to give his dues to
my grandfather, so I can't say I care much for the thing;
but I think Sumner might have done it rather better; and,
if ever I now carry out the parallel, as I certainly meant to
do, I shall be said to perfect only, and not originate."

Queer coincidence! There is the parallel, to-day, in Sum-
ner's Works} I have looked it up since coming across this
diary entry of my own; and forty years afterwards in the
Madison address, I harked back to my own old inspiration,

» 1. 193, 323.

L^aw and Politics 5 5

and, for the first time, presented my grandfather's record.
And, now, what do I care for Sumner?

But my diary record did not end there. Just a fortnight
later (July 29, i860) I went on as follows:

"Sumner dined here yesterday, and came out evidently
primed on some subject. I met him at the [Quincy] station;
and, as we walked over the hill home, out it came — ' We
must have an edition of my grandfather's political speeches
— this year — at once!' I read him an extract of a note I
had had from Mr. Giddings, a day or two before, in which
he [Giddings] speaks approvingly of the parallel in Sum-
ner's Cooper Institute speech. On hearing it Sumner laughed
loud, and smote me on the shoulder with immense delight.
He seemed greatly amused at the idea of my own idea com-
ing back to me in this way, through him, with the stamp of
approval from J. R. Giddings. After dinner, he went off
again on the subject of the speeches; his parallel had pro-
voked discussion and comment, had been ridiculed; he knew
he was right; but where were his authorities.? We must have
an edition of the speeches at once, we must get those at least
between hard covers! My father thought the time had not
yet come; my grandfather, when brought forward as a char-
acter in history, had best be brought forward as a whole,
etc., etc. I cannot agree with him, except in part. A man's
historical character must rest on evidence; and it seems to
me the evidence on which my grandfather's ultimate posi-
tion in the history of his time must rest cannot too soon
be brought before the public. A collection of his political
speeches and reports, if published now, would be of interest
as bearing on the questions of the day, and be read and re-
ferred to now more perhaps than at any future time. I have

56 Charles Francis Adams

no idea, however, that such a collection will be issued, and
my grandfather must wait yet a while for justice."

This I now (191 2) find rather an interesting record of a
talk. In less than two years from that time, emancipation
under the war power was a living question, and my grand-
father's utterances were rummaged up. Fourteen months
later, Sumner himself was working up the partial record on
the subject, which now appears in his Works ; ^ for which he
was indebted to a communication from me in the Boston
Transcript of September 11, 1861. On the 1st of January,
1863, Lincoln's proclamation took effect; and only now,
forty years later, has an incomplete record of my grand-
father's enunciation of the doctrine of emancipation under
the war power been put on file.^ Sumner was wholly right.
An edition of those speeches was in the summer of i860
greatly needed ; and they would have appeared in the very
nick of time. I ought to have brought them out. He meant
to incite me so to do. Again, I was not equal to the occasion
offered me.

At this period, however, I was seeing a good deal in an
intimate way of some men of considerable mark; and I am
glad to be able to say that, in this respect, I did appreciate
my privilege. I think, also, I stood fairly well in their esti-
mate. I was very much younger; I did not realize how much,
or have a correct sense of my own position, failing properly
to subordinate myself. But I was twenty-five, and ought to
have matured more than I had. R. H. Dana was then forty-
five, and absent on his trip round the world taken to escape
a break-down, threatened from overwork and the utter dis-
regard by him of all sanitary rules. Had I been awake to

^ VI. 19-23. ' 2 Mass. Hist. Soc. Proceedings, xv. 436.

Law and Politics 5 7

my opportunities, I would have gone with him; but, In fact,
so doing never even occurred to me. I Vas accomplishing
nothing at home — eating my heart out in a clientless office,
and wasting my time in ball-rooms; and here was an oppor-
tunity never to be had again, and I simply did not see it!
It has been so all through life — unequalled chances missed;
that with Dana in i860 one of the most educational and
maturing. Sumner I saw much of; he was then In his fiftieth
year. Seward was ten years older, and at his best. Dr. Pal-
frey, occupied with his history, was older yet; bom in May,
1796, he was In his sixty-fifth year, one year younger than
I now (1900) am. My father was fifty-three. I was a young
fellow, eager and aspiring; intensely interested in politics;
in a social way healthily frivolous; and trying to follow a
profession for which I had no natural aptitude. In fact,
I was blindly seeking for my bearings.

I find In my diary, which was little more than an empty
record of aspirations, comments on current events and social
dissipations — many of the last distinctly the reverse of
creditable, for I was, I do not regret to say, a very human
youth — a few, a very few, notes of conversations, etc., not
wholly without interest still. For instance, Seward was then
rapidly establishing himself In the estimate of all of us as
the Republican leader — the philosophical politician, states-
man and guide of the party of the future. I shall revise and
review this estimate presently, in the full light of fifty years
later; but, in the summer of i860, he certainly bore himself
well. In a short speech he made on his arrival In Boston at
this time, he took occasion to declare himself a political
disciple of J. Q. Adams — which, except in theory, he dis-
tinctly was not — and while at Quincy, sitting on the piazza

5 8 Charles Francis Adams

and puffing at his everlasting cigar, he talked freely about
himself, J. Q. Adams, and public life. My brother John re-
minded him of a remark he (John) heard him make the pre-
vious winter in Washington to the effect that no man should
continue in the Senate more than twelve years; and, ob-
serving that he had said this before Lincoln's nomination,
inquired if he was of the same mind still. "Yes," said Sew-
ard, "I still think so. I shall have been in the Senate twelve
years ; and, in that time, I have seen Benton die a vagrant,
pining to get back there; Calhoun die, chagrined, disap-
pointed, ambitious and unsatisfied; declaring almost in his
last words in the Senate that he would not speak to me;
Clay die, eating his heart away, and naming the Committee
of the Senate which was to carry him home to Kentucky,
designating Hamilton Fish, so as to cut me off; and I am
clear that unless a man can come out on some new course

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Online LibraryCharles Francis AdamsCharles Francis Adams, 1835-1915; an autobiography; → online text (page 8 of 21)