Charles Francis Adams.

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

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in this country, appear in some new character, as did J. Q.
Adams, he must fail as those men failed. As compared with
J. Q. Adams, Calhoun was a man of talent and originality;
but he was visionary; whereas Mr. Adams, equal to him in
other respects, was a practical statesman. Calhoun, for in-
stance, wrote a book about the Constitution in which he
advocated a dual executive and a balance of power between
the free and slave states, than which what could be more
absurd. But to imitate J. Q. Adams was not possible for
most men, because there were few who, like him, loved com-
bat for combat's sake, and who could thus fight through a
long life. For himself, he [Seward] thought it much more
difficult to retire gracefully from public life than to keep in
it. It was different in Great Britain. There Palmerston had
been in Parliament perhaps forty years; but in Great Britain



Law and Politics 5 9



the same man might be King many times, and there was
a variety in ParHamentary Ufe which Congress did not af-
ford." While driving into town, where he was to take his
train home, I asked him about Webster, Clay and Calhoun,
with all three of whom he had sat in the Senate. He said
that, in his judgment, Calhoun was the most eminent of the
three; "but," he added, "they are all over-rated men; for
they converted the Senate-chamber into a mere intellectual
arena for their own struggles. Calhoun had undirected,
original eloquence; Clay had a fiery, brilliant imagination;
Webster, brute intellectual force. Calhoun's logic was not
sound; he led and did not follow it, using it to support a
pre-conceived theory."

My diary records that, when we got to town that day and
were waiting on the platform of the station for the start-
ing of the train, we found there only a very few enthusiastic
souls to look at the famous New Yorker, "and I couldn't
but agree with one or two of them that a more unpromising
looking subject for a great man than Seward did n't stand
on the depot platform at that time. Small, rusty in aspect,
dressed in a coat and trousers made apparently twenty
years ago and by a bad tailor at that, lolling against the par-
tition as he talked with my father or those about him, with
a face and head in no way striking, who would have put his
hand on that man — small and insignificant — as the first
statesman in the country?"

The very next day Dr. Palfrey chanced to dine with us
at Quincy, on his way to Plymouth, where he proposed to
spend a few days in walking along the shore, to familiarize
himself with it in connection with his history. Sumner came
out the day after, a curious contrast to Seward, wdth his



6o Charles Francis Adams

fine presence and lofty carriage, his careful, well-arranged
dress, and his deep, rich voice. Sumner was always a dis-
tinguished-looking man; he had a bearing and presence. He
was then in excellent spirits, "but evidently disgusted at
not being more completely backed up by his party in the
matter of his recent speech, the 'Barbarism of Slavery.'"
He does not doubt the success of the party; but fears for its
principles, if those composing it continue so timid in sup-
port of them. He talked much of Seward, and of the ne-
cessity of his taking the lead in Lincoln's Cabinet. He told
us that Seward was much mollified now; but, on his press-
ing on him that necessity towards the close of the session
Seward had exclaimed that "not all the angels in Heaven
nor all the demons in Hell could induce him to subject his
name for ratification to the votes of twenty-four men on
that side of the Senate — indicating the side on which the
Democratic Senators sat."

My journey that autumn through the West in the train
of Governor Seward was a noticeable episode in life, and
had on me a most invigorating effect. I was then somewhat
run down in bodily health, as well as mentally demoralized.
Worn out waiting for that legal practice which to me never
came, I was in great need of change. I was in fact stag-
nating. We — that is, my father and I — left Quincy on
Monday, September 3d, joined Mr. Seward's party at Kal-
amazoo, Michigan, on Friday; went with him to Chicago,
Milwaukee and Madison; thence to Dubuque, where my
father left the party, and went home. We got to Quincy,
Illinois, by rail from Mendota; then crossed Missouri to St.
Joseph, in i860 the extreme western end of the railroad
system. We went by steamboat from St. Joseph to Leaven-



Law and Politics 6 1

worth; and from Leavenworth we drove by ambulance to
Lawrence. Returning over the same track, we puffed up the
dreary Missouri one dull, rainy day late in September, back
to St. Joseph, whence we crossed to St. Louis by rail. From
St. Louis we went by way of Springfield to Chicago; and
at Springfield Mr. Lincoln came into the car, accompanied
by Senator Trumbull, of Illinois, to pay his respects to Gov-
ernor Seward. From Chicago we went to Cleveland, and
thence to Buffalo. IMy journey ended at Auburn, where I
passed a Sunday at Governor Seward's house, getting home
on the 9th of October; and a very discontented, homesick
young barrister I was when I found myself once more back
in my dismal, clientless oifice!

During this, to me, most memorable trip Governor Sew-
ard evinced a uniform kindness and consideration which were
extraordinary, and are now unaccountable. It was a singular
party; and one not altogether to be commended to a young
man. Next to Seward the principal character was General
James W. Nye — "Nye of Nevada"; and he was a charac-
ter! He was then a man of only forty-six, a coarse, genial,
humorous. New York lawyer, stump-speaker and politician.
He had with him his daughter, a pretty, bright girl of only
seventeen, with whom I became very intimate during the
trip ; though I never saw her afterwards until she recognized
me in a railway car twenty-five years later, and sent her
husband to ask me to come over to where she was sitting,
and renew our acquaintance. The General was excellent
company, and full of stories and experiences, for he had seen
all phases of life; but his conversation was by no means al-
ways edifying, and he was a decidedly free liver. Indeed,
the consumption of liquors and cigars during that trip was



62 Charles Francis Adams



out of all cess. I, however, was young, and in no way encum-
bered with scruples. Seward smoked the whole time; indeed
my diary of the trip from Mendota to Quincy — a night
journey by rail — says: "The early morning sun shone on
Seward, wrapped in a strange and indescribable Syrian
cashmere cloak, and my humble self, pufhng our morning
cigars in a baggage-car, having rendered ourselves, as he
expressed it, 'independent on this tobacco question.'"
When it came to drinking, Seward was, for a man of sixty,
a free liver; and at times his brandy-and-water would excite
him, and set his tongue going with dangerous volubility; but
I never saw him more aifected than that — never anything
approaching drunkenness. He simply liked the stimulus,
and was very fond of champagne; and when he was loaded,
his tongue wagged. He was a very considerate, delightful
travelling companion; and, so far as accomplishing work
was concerned, his faculty was extraordinary. Seeing him
the whole time I never could understand where, when or how
he then prepared the really remarkable speeches he deliv-
ered in rapid succession.

That of i860 was my first trip into the great region west of
Niagara. I have since been over the same ground too often
to try even to take account of the times, and it has become
monotonous, even terribly tedious; I was young in i860,
and it was all new and fresh — my first taste of travel. Trav-
elling was, however, in its most commonplace and uninter-
esting estate; for the stage-coach and ambulance had dis-
appeared, while the railroad appliances were crude, and
toilet accommodations in their infancy. The picturesque-
ness of travel was gone; its comforts had not come. There
were, for instance, no private cars, and the most that any



Law and Politics 6 3



railroad company could do was to put an ordinary day-
coach at Governor Seward's special service. This was quite
frequently the case; but the eating-houses were wretched,
and the hotels overgrown taverns. The single picturesque
episode I saw was by night, on the upper Mississippi. It
was the wooding-up of river-boats by torch-light, and a
genuine spectacle — the flames of the pine-knots blazing
up from the great side braziers lighting the tree-clad shores
and the red shirts of the hurrying roustabouts. But apart
from this, and the constant racing and manoeuvring of the
river-boats to get the lead of each other, the travel by water
was decidedly tedious, far more so than that by rail, which,
in its turn, was bad enough.

Kansas was the most interesting of the regions we visited.
It was just after the "border-ruflian" excitement, and the
Territory had not yet become a State. Kansas, the always
either bleeding or starving, had ceased to be a bone of con-
tention between the sections, the slave interest silently ad-
mitting itself defeated; but the scenes of the border-ruffian
outrages were pointed out and their memory was still fresh.
Kansas was in i860 but sparsely settled, and the unfortu-
nate inhabitants were suffering under a prolonged and very
destructive drought. There seemed no end to their misfor-
tunes. I believe there was not at that time a mile of railroad
west of the Missouri; so our journey beyond the river, made
by ambulance, was delightful as a variety. The river was,
I remember, so low that we forded the Kaw at Lawrence,
the water not rising to the horses' bellies. I did not go be-
yond Lawrence.

I have spoken of the meeting between Lincoln and Sew-
ard at Springfield, as our party was passing through Illinois,



64 Charles Francis Adams

on the way from St. Louis to Chicago. My diary contained
an account of it. It was the first time I ever saw Lincoln;
afterwards I heard him deUver his inaugural; was presented
to him at a White House reception; and, finally, as an officer
of a cavalry regiment in the Army of the Potomac, passed
in review before him once in Virginia. Save that once at
Springfield, I never really spoke to him. We went through
to Chicago on the regular train, nor did they give Governor
Seward a car for himself; when we got to Springfield the train
was quite full, and our party were occupying seats as ordi-
nary passengers. "Mr. Lincoln and Judge Trumbull," my
diary records, "came on board the train. Judge Trumbull
I had met before in Washington, and again in St. Louis the
previous day; but 'old Abe' was a revelation. There he was,
tall, shambling, plain and good-natured. He seemed shy
to a degree, and very awkward in manner; as if he felt out
of place, and had a realizing sense that properly the posi-
tions should be reversed. Seward too appeared constrained."
Judge Trumbull, between whom and Seward the true sena-
torial ill-will and cold distrust existed, did the introducing,
we all standing in the aisle of the car; for no arrangement had
been made for stopping the train, and we none of us left it.
There was no demonstration; not a pretence of a reception.
It was exactly as if a couple of ordinary business men had
come down to a station to meet some travellers passing
through, and exchange a few words during a five-minutes
stop. "Governor Seward, with his usual thoughtfulness on
such occasions, introduced Mr. Lincoln to all the members
of the party, and to me among the others. The only remark
Lincoln made to me was — 'A son of Charles Francis
Adams.? I am glad to see you, Sir'; but at the same time I



Law and Politics 65

saw a look of Interest. Lincoln's face is a good one, and he
has proved his skill as a debater; but, if I could judge from
a passing glance at a moment when the man was obviously
embarrassed, I should say that his eye never belonged to a
man great in action; it is neither the quick sharp eye of a
man of sudden and penetrating nature, nor the slow firm
eye of one of decided will; but it is a mild, dreamy, medita-
tive eye which one would scarcely expect to see in a suc-
cessful chief magistrate in these days of the republic. Mais
nous verronsr

A few days later, on our way from Chicago to Cleveland,
we ran across another prominent public man of that period

— a statesman of the American and western type. It was
characteristic — characteristic both of the Individuals and
of the times; though, of course, I am no longer in touch, I
doubt if it could happen now. Governor Seward went from
Chicago to Cleveland by night, and I had my first experi-
ence of the sleeping-car as it had at that time been developed.
It was a singularly crude, tentative affair, constructed on the
pattern of the canal-boat cabin; that Is, with a tier of per-
manent berths on each side of the aisle, practically three
shelves, one above the other, as I remember. Anyhow, after
smoking In the baggage-car — the only pretence of a smoker

— we wriggled into the recesses respectively assigned us;
and actually fell asleep, though fully dressed. When we got
to Toledo, I was suddenly waked up by a sound of loud
cheering, and looked for a midnight reception, for the coun-
try was then throbbing with excitement. "Instead of a re-
ception I heard some one rush into the car, and inquire in a
loud voice, 'Where 's Seward!' The Governor's berth was
pointed out, the inquirer stating that he was Mr. Douglas,



66 Charles Francis Adams

and he at once rushed up to it, thrust the curtains aside,
and exclaimed, 'Come, Governor, they want to see you;
come out and speak to the boys!' To this Seward replied
in a drowsy voice, 'How are you, Judge? No; I can't go out.
I'm sleepy.' 'Well, what of that?' said Douglas; 'they get
me out when I'm sleepy.' Seward, however, simply said he
shouldn't go out; to which Douglas replied, 'Well! if you
don't want to you shan't,' and withdrew. All this time it
never entered my head that the intruder was no other than
'the little Giant' of Illinois, then and in that way conduct-
ing his Presidential campaign. He had a bottle of whiskey
with him, and, as he left the car, he stopped to take a drink;
and, next morning, I was told he was plainly drunk." He
had been having a Democratic meeting at Toledo, and the
cheering was incident thereto. I asked Seward about it.
He simply said that it was Douglas's "idea of political cour-
tesy; but he [Seward] did n't mean to let Douglas exhibit
him to his [Douglas's] followers, just to make a little politi-
cal capital for himself. So far as Douglas himself was con-
cerned, Seward told me that they had always been on the
most friendly terms. I remarked that Douglas's conduct
on the floor of the Senate did not always square with that
fact. 'No,' he replied, 'but Douglas always did what you
refer to for political effect. Personally, we have always been
on the most friendly terms.' " So, on this occasion, Douglas,
a Presidential candidate, had, more than half drunk, rushed
into that car at midnight, whiskey-bottle In hand, to drag
Seward, the Premier to be, out of his sleeping-berth, to show
him in a railroad station to his (Douglas's) political heelers !
Our last campaign meeting was at Buffalo; where, I re-
member, when brought forward as I perpetually was —



Law and Politics 6 7



generally under the idea on the part of the audience that it
was my father — I made my chief oratorical success of the
trip, really getting out of a very false position quite well.
Saturday, the 6th of October, we got to Auburn ; and it was
really pleasant to see Governor Seward as we approached
the journey's end. It suggested to me poor old Walter
Scott when he drew near to Abbotsford on his return from
Italy shortly before his death. So Seward now showed a
great deal of genuine, kindly human nature. "He seemed
to enlarge, and to dwell with real affection on every object
along the road. He told me of the country, and gave me the
names of the lakes and bridges ; and, when we stopped at
way stations, he would get out of the train, and look about
with a homeish air, exchanging greetings with almost every
man he met. He seemed to know the whole country-side. At
Cayuga, the local bar-keeper seemed to know him well, and,
with a grin, produced four pike, fresh from the Lake. *Ah!'
said Seward, 'just what I want!' and, paying for them, he
turned them over to me. At Auburn, where we arrived about
nine o'clock, a noisy throng was waiting for him on the arrival
of the train. It was not a reception, but merely a friendly
welcome home. They rushed about him and would let him
do nothing for himself, until he, greatly pleased, was hustled
into a coach, and so ended his journey at his own door."

Seward, in fact, never appeared so well as at home, in
Auburn. He was there really and unaffectedly simple. He
walked the streets exchanging greetings with every one;
and, as he sat at home In his office, every one came in with-
out form or ceremony, and to every one the same welcome
was extended. It was, too, all genuine — the relations were
kindly, unaffected, neighborly. His family relations were



68 Charles Francis Adams

admirable. With his wife and daughter, he was affection-
ate, considerate, unselfish. At Auburn he really left on the
stranger an impression of individuality approaching great-
ness. On the whole, looking back at that experience, I think
I must have acquitted myself more creditably than my
diary — now destroyed — would lead me to suppose. Cer-
tainly, Seward and Nye bore with me pleasantly, and I saw
and talked with them on terms of great freedom. My diary
contained many long memoranda of conversations, but
they would have no value; so I do not preserve them. One
entry only seemed to carry a lesson — and not in any way a
novel one — in connection with what has since occurred.
"At breakfast General Nye asked me about my grand-
father's diary, when would it be published, etc.? Seward
seemed to think it a dangerous experiment; and expressed a
hearty concurrence in my remark that the great thing con-
cerning that diary was 'Who was to edit it.'*' For on the
editor must depend the great question of extracts, and the
light in which the diarist would be shown. 'Nothing,' said
he, 'is so dangerous to the reputation of a public man as a
diary. Look at Evelyn.^ A most respectable man; a Secre-
tary of State for Charles II, and see what a picture he has
left of himself: "Got up this morning and put on my best
mulberry suit, which cost me ten pounds, and went to the
office; coming home saw a crowd collected, and, on enquiry
found it was to witness the execution of Sir Henry Vane; he
had a large boil on his neck, which he particularly requested
the executioner not to touch; about fifty persons in attend-

* Pepys was intended, and Seward has made up his quotation to suit his
purpose. Some of it may be found in Pepys' account of the execution of Sir
Henry Vane, in Diary (Bright), ii. 263.



Law and Politics 6 9



ance"; and so on. How would I appear if I had kept a
diary, and recorded all my cursing and swearing on the 19th
of May last? ' " — a closing reference to the Chicago Con-
vention of i860 and the nomination of Lincoln.

As between Evelyn and Pepys, it must be conceded, the
future Secretary was a trifle mixed; nor was his selection of
an example of frivolous diary-keeping exactly happy, for
there are not many eye-witness records of events more in-
teresting than Pepys' account of the execution of Vane.

Of the rest of the memorable Presidential canvass of
i860, it would be useless here to say more. It still stands out
in my memory with awful clearness; and for me it was dis-
tinctly educational. It was a demonstrative campaign, and,
in recalling its events, a lurid glare seems reflected from the
light of innumerable torches against an ominous gathering
of heavy lowering clouds. Nor is this a case of present im-
agination casting a shadow backwards; it was an actuality.
The campaign of i860 was essentially a midnight demon-
stration — it was the "Wide-awake" canvass of rockets,
illuminations and torch-light processions. Every night was
marked by its tumult, shouting, marching and counter-
marching, the reverberation of explosives and the rush of
rockets and Roman candles. The future was reflected on
the skies. But of the tremendous nature of that future, we
then had no conception. We all dwelt in a fool's Paradise.
It is a source of amazement now to realize our own short-
sightedness; for, however much people may since have edu-
cated themselves to believe that they foresaw everything,
and looked for exactly what afterwards took place, it is all
pure self-deception — cases of wisdom after the event. We
were, all around, of an average blindness. I know it was so



7 o Charles Francis Adams

in the case of Seward and my father; as it was absolutely so
in that of Sumner. We knew nothing of the South, had no
realizing sense of the intensity of feeling which there pre-
vailed; we fully believed it would all end in gasconade. We
fell into the rather serious error of under-estimating our
antagonist. For instance, here is my diary entry made ten
days after the election — the i8th of November, the elec-
tion having been on the yth: "After election came its results
— its effect on the South. Hardly were the returns in, when
there came mutterings of secession from the Slave States,
which swelled immediately into a shout. This, however, is
an old story; and we take it philosophically. The only diffi-
culty is that it has led to a money pressure, and may result
in a panic. The South is in a bad way; for it has got to face
a financial and a political crisis at the same time, the one
aggravating the other. My own impression is that the ex-
periment of secession is about to be tried; and I hope it will
be, for the country is weary of the threat. My impression
also is that the experiment will cost the States which try it
about ten millions of dollars, and that it will fail ignomini-
ously. We shall see! Meanwhile we are calm; and, but for
the money pressure, I believe every one would say: 'Let the
experiment be tried.' " Two months later I wrote: "Po-
litically, the world is busy. My letters from Washington
[which have disappeared since] will some day be of value;
but it is strange how the back is proportioned to the burden.
A few months ago the word 'Disunion' threw us into a cold
tremor; but now, the secession of a State is an event of
hardly importance enough for a paragraph in a newspaper.
At last the Northern spirit is roused, and I think there will
be trouble before we back down. The action of the seceding



Law and Politics 7 1



Slave States has put them wholly in the wrong; and, day
by day, my Impression is growing that the crisis is past, that
it is mostly sound and fury in the South, that the victory
is going to rest with us, and that there will be no fight."

All this was, however, pure self-deception — whistling to
keep the courage up. In truth it was a wretched time. Ter-
ribly anxious, we watched the daily papers with feverish
interest, snatching at every straw. For instance, on the 9th
of February I wrote: "Tuesday [four days previous] a great
sense of relief passed over the whole community as it heard
that Virginia had, almost unanimously, spoken against dis-
union. In the morning we got a few returns, enough to give
us the general complexion of the result; and, I confess, my
heart went up into my mouth, as I read those returns, for
I felt that the tide of secession was at last turned, and I felt
confident, and still am confident, that the ebb will be no less
rapid than was the flow. Decisive news reached us in the
afternoon. I was skating on Jamaica Pond, all by myself,
when I noticed the throng of skaters flocking together on the
further side of the Pond, and almost immediately they began
to shout and cheer with all their souls. Some one had come
out bringing a paper with fuller and final returns. The
tears almost stood in my eyes; and I skated oflF to be alone,
for I realized that the crisis was actually passed."



Ill

WASHINGTON, 1861

That winter I went on to Washington on the i8th of Feb-
ruary, and remained until the 13th of March, staying over
Lincoln's inauguration, of which I was a witness. An in-
tensely interesting period, we all in a way realized its nature.
And yet I now wonder at our lack of prescience and general
incapacity. North and South, to realize even in a remote
degree the imminence as well as magnitude of the impend-


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Online LibraryCharles Francis AdamsCharles Francis Adams, 1835-1915; an autobiography; → online text (page 9 of 21)