Charles Francis Adams.

'Tis Sixty Years Since Address of Charles Francis Adams; Founders' Day, January 16, 1913 online

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In the single hour self-allotted for my part in this occasion there is
much ground to cover, - the time is short, and I have far to go. Did I
now, therefore, submit all I had proposed to say when I accepted your
invitation, there would remain no space for preliminaries. Yet something
of that character is in place. I will try to make it brief.[1]

As the legend or text of what I have in mind to submit, I have given the
words "'Tis Sixty Years Since." As some here doubtless recall, this is
the second or subordinate title of Walter Scott's first novel,
"Waverley," which brought him fame. Given to the world in 1814, - hard on
a century ago, - "Waverley" told of the last Stuart effort to recover the
crown of Great Britain, - that of "The '45." It so chances that Scott's
period of retrospect is also just now most appropriate in my case,
inasmuch as I entered Harvard as a student in the year 1853 - "sixty
years since!" It may fairly be asserted that school life ends, and what
may in contradistinction thereto be termed thinking and acting life
begins, the day the young man passes the threshold of the institution of
more advanced education. For him, life's responsibilities then begin.
Prior to that confused, thenceforth things with him become
consecutive, - a sequence. Insensibly he puts away childish things.

[1] Owing to its length, this "Address" was compressed in delivery,
occupying one hour only. It is here printed in the form in which it was
prepared, - the parts omitted in delivery being included.

In those days, as I presume now, the college youth harkened to inspired
voices. Sir Walter Scott belonged to a previous generation. Having held
the close attention of a delighted world as the most successful
story-teller of his own or any preceding period, he had passed off the
stage; but only a short twenty years before. Other voices no less
inspired had followed; and, living, spoke to us. Perhaps my scheme
to-day is best expressed by one of these.

When just beginning to attract the attention of the English-speaking
world, Alfred Tennyson gave forth his poem of "Locksley Hall," - very
familiar to those of my younger days. Written years before, at the time
of publication he was thirty-three. In 1886, a man of seventy-five, he
composed a sequel to his earlier effort, - the utterance entitled
"Locksley Hall Sixty Years After." He then, you will remember, reviewed
his young man's dreams, - dreams of the period when he

" ... dip't into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be,"

- threescore years later contrasting in sombre verse an old man's stern
realities with the bright anticipations of youth. Such is my purpose
to-day. "Wandering back to living boyhood," to the time when I first
simultaneously passed the Harvard threshold and the threshold of
responsible life, I propose to compare the ideals and actualities of the
present with the ideals, anticipations and dreams of a past now
somewhat remote.

To say that in life and in the order of life's events it is the
unexpected which is apt to occur, is a commonplace. That it has been so
in my own case, I shall presently show. Meanwhile, not least among the
unexpected things is my presence here to-day. If, when I entered Harvard
in 1853, it had been suggested that in 1913, I, - born of the New England
Sanhedrim, a Brahmin Yankee by blood, tradition and environment - had it
been suggested that I, being such, would sixty years later stand by
invitation here in Columbia before the faculty and students of the
University of South Carolina, I should under circumstances then existing
have pronounced the suggestion as beyond reasonable credence. Here,
however, I am; and here, from this as my rostrum, I propose to-day to
deliver a message, - such as it is.

And yet, though such a future outcome, if then foretold, would have
seemed scarcely possible of occurrence, there, after all, were certain
conditions which would have rendered the contingency even at that time
not only possible, but in accordance with the everlasting fitness of
things. For, curiously enough, personal relations of a certain character
held with this institution would have given me, even in 1853, a sense of
acquaintance with it such as individually I had with no other
institution of similar character throughout the entire land. It in this
wise came about. At that period, preceding as it did the deluge about to
ensue, it was the hereditary custom of certain families more especially
of South Carolina and of Louisiana, - but of South Carolina in
particular - to send their youth to Harvard, there to receive a college
education. It thus chanced that among my associates at Harvard were not
a few who bore names long familiarly and honorably known to Carolinian
records, - Barnwell and Preston, Rhett and Alston, Parkman and Eliot; and
among these were some I knew well, and even intimately. Gone now with
the generation and even the civilization to which they belonged, I doubt
if any of them survive. Indeed only recently I chanced on a grimly
suggestive mention of one who had left on me the memory of a character
and personality singularly pure, high-toned and manly, - permeated with a
sense of moral and personal obligation. I have always understood he died
five years later at Sharpsburg, as you call it, or Antietam, as it was
named by us, in face-to-face conflict with a Massachusetts regiment
largely officered by Harvard men of his time and even class, - his own
familiar friends. This is the record, the reference being to a marriage
service held at St. Paul's church in Richmond, in the late autumn of
1862: "An indefinable feeling of gloom was thrown over a most auspicious
event when the bride's youngest sister glided through a side door just
before the processional. Tottering to a chancel pew, she threw herself
upon the cushions, her slight frame racked with sobs. Scarcely a year
before, the wedding march had been played for her, and a joyous throng
saw her wedded to gallant Breck Parkman. Before another twelvemonth
rolled around the groom was killed at the front."[2] Samuel Breck
Parkman was in the Harvard class following that to which I belonged.
Graduating in 1857, fifty-five years later I next saw his name in the
connection just given. It recorded an incident of not infrequent
occurrence in those dark and cruel days.

It was, however, in Breck Parkman and his like that I first became
conscious of certain phases of the South Carolina character which
subsequently I learned to bear in high respect.

So far as this University of South Carolina was concerned, it also so
chanced that, by the merest accident, I, a very young man, was thrown
into close personal relations with one of the most eminent of your
professors, - Francis Lieber. Few here, I suppose, now personally
remember Francis Lieber. To most it gives indeed a certain sense of
remoteness to meet one who, as in my case, once held close and even
intimate relations with a German emigrant, distinguished as a publicist,
who as a youth had lain, wounded and helpless, a Prussian recruit, on
the field above Namur. Occurring in June, 1815, two days after Waterloo,
the affair at Namur will soon be a century gone. Of those engaged in
it, the last obeyed the fell sergeant's summons a half score years ago.
It seems remote; but at the time of which I speak Waterloo was
appreciably nearer those in active life than are Shiloh and Gettysburg
now. The Waterloo campaign was then but thirty-eight years removed,
whereas those last are fifty now; and, while Lieber was at Waterloo, I
was myself at Gettysburg.

[2] DeLeon, "Belles, Beaux and Brains of the Sixties," p. 158.

Subsequently, later in life, it was again my privilege to hold close
relations with another Columbian, - an alumnus of this University as it
then was - in whom I had opportunity to study some of the strongest and
most respect-commanding traits of the Southern character. I refer to one
here freshly remembered, - Alexander Cheves Haskell, - soldier, jurist,
banker and scholar, one of a septet of brothers sent into the field by a
South Carolina mother calm and tender of heart, but in silent suffering
unsurpassed by any recorded in the annals whether of Judea or of Rome.
It was the fourth of the seven Haskells I knew, one typical throughout,
in my belief, of what was best in your Carolinian development. With him,
as I have said, I was closely and even intimately associated through
years, and in him I had occasion to note that almost austere type
represented in its highest development in the person and attributes of
Calhoun. Of strongly marked descent, Haskell was, as I have always
supposed, of a family and race in which could be observed those virile
Scotch-Irish and Presbyterian qualities which found their
representative types in the two Jacksons, - Andrew, and him known in
history as "Stonewall." To Alec Haskell I shall in this discourse again
have occasion to refer.

Thus, though in 1853, and for long years subsequent thereto, it would
not have entered my mind as among the probabilities that I should ever
stand here, reviewing the past after the manner of Tennyson in his
"Locksley Hall Sixty Years After," yet if there was any place in the
South, or, I may say, in the entire country, where, as a matter of
association, I might naturally have looked so to stand, it would have
been where now I find myself.

But I must hasten on; for, as I have said, if I am to accomplish even a
part of my purpose, I have no time wherein to linger.

Not long ago I chanced, in a country ramble, to be conversing with an
eminent foreigner, known, and favorably known, to all Americans. In the
course of leisurely exchange of ideas between us, he suddenly asked if I
could suggest any explanation of the fact that not only were the
publicists who had the greatest vogue in our college days now to a large
extent discredited, but that almost every view and theory advanced by
them, and which we had accepted as fixed and settled, was, where not
actually challenged, silently ignored. Nor did the assertion admit of
denial; for, looking back through the vista of threescore years, of the
principles of what may be called "public polity" then advanced as
indisputable, few to-day meet with general acceptance. To review the
record from this point of view is curious.

When in 1853 I entered Harvard, so far as this country and its polity
were concerned certain things were matters of contention, while others
were accepted as axiomatic, - the basic truths of our system. Among the
former - the subjects of active contention - were the question of Slavery,
then grimly assuming shape, and that of Nationality intertwined
therewith. Subordinate to this was the issue of Free Trade and
Protection, with the school of so-called American political economy
arrayed against that of Adam Smith. Beyond these as political ideals
were the tenets and theories of Jeffersonian Democracy. That the world
had heretofore been governed too much was loudly acclaimed, and the
largest possible individualism was preached, not only as a privilege but
as a right. The area of government action was to be confined within the
narrowest practical limits, and ample scope was to be allowed to each to
develop in the way most natural to himself, provided only he did not
infringe upon the rights of others. Materially, we were then reaching
out to subdue a continent, - a doctrine of Manifest Destiny was in vogue.
Beyond this, however, and most important now to be borne in mind,
compared with the present the control of man over natural agencies and
latent forces was scarcely begun. Not yet had the railroad crossed the
Missouri; electricity, just bridled, was still unharnessed.

I have now passed in rapid review what may perhaps without exaggeration
be referred to as an array of conditions and theories, ideals and
policies. It remains to refer to the actual results which have come
about during these sixty years as respects them, or because of them;
and, finally, to reach if possible conclusions as to the causes which
have affected what may not inaptly be termed a process of general
evolution. Having thus, so to speak, diagnosed the situation, the
changes the situation exacts are to be measured, and a forecast
ventured. An ambitious programme, I am well enough aware that the not
very considerable reputation I have established for myself hardly
warrants me in attempting it. This, I premise.

Let us, in the first place, recur in somewhat greater detail to the
various policies and ideals I have referred to as in vogue in the
year 1853.

First and foremost, overshadowing all else, was the political issue
raised by African slavery, then ominously assuming shape. The clouds
foreboding the coming tempest were gathering thick and heavy; and,
moreover, they were even then illumined by electric flashes, accompanied
by a mutter of distant thunder. Though we of the North certainly did not
appreciate its gravity, the situation was portentous in the extreme.

Involved in this problem of African slavery was the incidental issue of
Free Trade and Protection, - apparently only economical and industrial in
character, but in reality fundamentally crucial. And behind this lay
the constitutional question, involving as it did not only the
conflicting theories of a strict or liberal construction of the
fundamental law, but nationality also, - the right of a Sovereign State
to withdraw from the Union created in 1787, and developed through two

These may be termed concrete political issues, as opposed to basic
truths generally accepted and theories individually entertained. The
theories were constitutional, social, economical. Constitutionally, they
turned upon the obligations of citizenship. There was no such thing then
as a citizen of the United States of and by itself. The citizen of the
United States was such simply because of his citizenship of a Sovereign
State, - whether Massachusetts or Virginia or South Carolina; and, of
course, an instrument based upon a divided sovereignty admitted of
almost infinitely diverse interpretation. It is a scriptural aphorism
that no man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and
love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other.
And in the fulness of time it literally with us so came about. The
accepted economical theories of the period were to a large extent
corollaries of the fundamental proposition, and differing material and
social conditions. Beyond all this, and coming still under the head of
individual theories, was the doctrine enunciated by Thomas Jefferson in
the Declaration of Independence, - the doctrine that all men were created
equal, - meaning, of course, equal before the law. But the theorist and
humanitarian of the North, accepting the fundamental principle laid down
in the Declaration, gave to it a far wider application than had been
intended by its authors, - a breadth of application it would not bear.
Such science as he had being of scriptural origin, he interpreted the
word "equal" as signifying equal in the possibilities of their
attributes, - physical, moral, intellectual; and in so doing, he of
course ignored the first principles of ethnology. It was, I now realize,
a somewhat wild-eyed school of philosophy, that of which I myself was a
youthful disciple.

But, on the other hand, beside these, between 1850 and 1860 a class of
trained and more cautious thinkers, observers, scientists and
theologians was coming to the front. Their investigations, though we did
not then foresee it, were a generation later destined gently to subvert
the accepted fundamentals of religious and economical thought, literary
performance, and material existence. The work they had in hand to do was
for the next fifteen years to be subordinate, so far as this country was
concerned, to the solution of the terrible political problems which were
first insistent on settlement; yet, as is now apparent, an initial
movement was on foot which foreboded a revolution world-wide in its
nature, and one in comparison with which the issues of slavery and
American constitutionality became practically insignificant, - in a word,
local and passing incidents.

Finally, it remains to consider specifically the political theories
then in vogue in their relation to the individual. In this country, it
was the period of the equality of man and individuality in the
development of the type. It was generally believed that the world had
hitherto been governed too much, - that the day of caste, and even class,
was over and gone; and finally, that America was a species of vast
modern melting-pot of humanity, in which, within a comparatively short
period of time, the characteristics of all branches of Indo-Aryan origin
would resolve themselves. A new type would emerge, - the American. These
theories were also in their consequences far-reaching. Practically, 1853
antedates all our present industrial organizations so loudly in
evidence, - the multifarious trades-unions which now divide the
population of the United States into what are known as the "masses" and
the "classes." As recently as a century ago, it used to be said of the
French army under the Empire, that every soldier carried the baton of
the Field-Marshal in his knapsack. And this ideal of equality and
individuality was fixed in the American mind.

Not that I for a moment mean to imply that in my belief the middle of
the last century, or the twenty years anterior to the Civil War, was a
species of golden age in our American annals. On the contrary, it was,
as I remember it, a phase of development very open to criticism; and
that in many respects. It was crude, self-conscious and self-assertive;
provincial and formative, rather than formed. Socially and materially
we were, compared with the present era of motors and parlor-cars, in the
"one-hoss shay" and stove-heated railroad-coach stage. Nevertheless,
what is now referred to as "predatory wealth" had not yet begun to
accumulate in few hands; much greater equality of condition prevailed;
nor was the "wage-earner" referred to as constituting a class distinct
from the holders of property. Thus the individual was then
encouraged, - whether in literature, in commerce, or in politics. In
other words, there being a free field, one man was held to be in all
respects the equal of the rest. Especially was what I have said true of
the Northern, or so-called Free States, as contrasted with the States of
the South, where the presence of African slavery distinctly affected
individual theories, no matter where or to what extent entertained.

Such, briefly and comprehensively stated, having been the situation in
1853, it remains to consider the practical outcome thereof during the
sixty years it has been my fortune to take part, either as an actor or
as an observer, in the great process of evolution. It is curious to note
the extent to which the unexpected has come about. In the first place,
consider the all-absorbing mid-century political issue, that involving
the race question, to which I first referred, - the issue which divided
the South from the North, and which, eight years only after I had
entered college, carried me from the walks of civil life into the
calling of arms.

And here I enter on a field of discussion both difficult and dangerous;
and, for reasons too obvious to require statement, what I am about to
say will be listened to with no inconsiderable apprehension as to what
next may be forthcoming. Nevertheless, this is a necessary part of my
theme; and I propose to say what I have in mind to say, setting forth
with all possible frankness the more mature conclusions reached with the
passage of years. Let it be received in the spirit in which it
is offered.

So far, then, as the institution of slavery is concerned, in its
relations to ownership and property in those of the human species, - I
have seen no reason whatever to revise or in any way to alter the
theories and principles I entertained in 1853, and in the maintenance of
which I subsequently bore arms between 1861 and 1865. Economically,
socially, and from the point of view of abstract political justice, I
hold that the institution of slavery, as it existed in this country
prior to the year 1865, was in no respect either desirable or
justifiable. That it had its good and even its elevating side, so far at
least as the African is concerned, I am not here to deny. On the
contrary, I see and recognize those features of the institution far more
clearly now than I should have said would have been possible in 1853.
That the institution in itself, under conditions then existing, tended
to the elevation of the less advanced race, I frankly admit I did not
then think. On the other hand, that it exercised a most pernicious
influence upon those of the more advanced race, and especially upon
that large majority of the more advanced race who were not themselves
owners of slaves, - of that I have become with time ever more and more
satisfied. The noticeable feature, however, so far as I individually am
concerned, has been the entire change of view as respects certain of the
fundamental propositions at the base of our whole American political and
social edifice brought about by a more careful and intelligent
ethnological study. I refer to the political equality of man, and to
that race absorption to which I have alluded, - that belief that any
foreign element introduced into the American social system and body
politic would speedily be absorbed therein, and in a brief space
thoroughly assimilated. In this all-important respect I do not hesitate
to say we theorists and abstractionists of the North, throughout that
long anti-slavery discussion which ended with the 1861 clash of arms,
were thoroughly wrong. In utter disregard of fundamental, scientific
facts, we theoretically believed that all men - no matter what might be
the color of their skin, or the texture of their hair - were, if placed
under exactly similar conditions, in essentials the same. In other
words, we indulged in the curious and, as is now admitted, utterly
erroneous theory that the African was, so to speak, an Anglo-Saxon, or,
if you will, a Yankee "who had never had a chance," - a fellow-man who
was guilty, as we chose to express it, of a skin not colored like our
own. In other words, though carved in ebony, he also was in the image
of God.

Following out this theory, under the lead of men to whom scientific
analysis and observation were anathema if opposed to accepted cardinal
political theories as enunciated in the Declaration as read by them, the
African was not only emancipated, but so far as the letter of the law,
as expressed in an amended Constitution, would establish the fact, the
quondam slave was in all respects placed on an equality, political,
legal and moral, with those of the more advanced race.

I do not hesitate here, - as one who largely entertained the theoretical
views I have expressed, - I do not hesitate here to say, as the result of
sixty years of more careful study and scientific observation, the
theories then entertained by us were not only fundamentally wrong, but
they further involved a problem in the presence of which I confess
to-day I stand appalled.

It is said, - whether truthfully or not, - that when some years ago John
Morley, the English writer and thinker, was in this country, on
returning to England he remarked that the African race question, as now
existing in the United States, presented a problem as nearly, to his
mind, insoluble as any human problem well could be. I do not care
whether Lord Morley made this statement or did not make it. I am
prepared, however, to say that, individually, so far as my present
judgment goes, it is a correct presentation. To us in the North, the
African is a comparatively negligible factor. So far as Massachusetts,
for instance, or the city of Boston more especially, are concerned, as
a problem it is solving itself. Proportionately, the African infusion is
becoming less - never large, it is incomparably less now than it was in
the days of my own youth. Thus manifestly a negligible factor, it is
also one tending to extinction. Indeed, it would be fairly open to
question whether a single Afro-American of unmixed Ethiopian descent
could now be found in Boston. That the problem presents itself with a
wholly different aspect here in Carolina is manifest. The difference too
is radical; it goes to the heart of the mystery.

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Online LibraryCharles Francis Adams'Tis Sixty Years Since Address of Charles Francis Adams; Founders' Day, January 16, 1913 → online text (page 1 of 5)