William Everett.

Address in commemoration of the life and services of Charles Francis Adams delivered in the Stone Temple at Quincy, 4 July, 1887 online

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Online LibraryWilliam EverettAddress in commemoration of the life and services of Charles Francis Adams delivered in the Stone Temple at Quincy, 4 July, 1887 → online text (page 2 of 5)
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we sliouW never think who were a man's
parents. But every government that ever
existed on earth is a government of men, —
by the law when it suits them, against the
law when it does not suit them; and the
hereditary principle, the idea of breed, is
one that humanity cannot get rid of, in spite
of all democratic or socialistic or philosophic
constitutions to the end of time.

The American people, like every other
people that ever lived, cannot help looking
with interest to the descendants of their
great men ; they cannot help hoping to see
their fathers' virtues revived ; and if they fol-
lowed out their generous instincts, whether
Saxon or Celtic, they would love, no matter
what the law was, to see the sons occupying
their fathers' places. They very often will
have it so ; the natural confidence that like

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begets like overleaps the solemn renuncia-
tion of unnatural pedants or envious social-
ists. But Americans are afraid of their
own impulses; they are in awe of these
solemnly enunciated maxims ; they do not
dare to think that Mr. Jefferson can have
been mistaken ; and so when they see them-
selves likely to trust a man for the sake of
his name and blood, they hedge round the
preference with all proper republican and
democratic distrust of aristocracy. They
carefully inform the descendant of the heroes
exactly what his ancestors' virtues were, what
his duty to their memory demands, what they
would have had him do, as though he were
wholly ignorant on such points. And while
thus sedulously explaining to him what a
load of ancestral duties is entailed on him,
they remind him carefully that an American

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has no ancestral rights ; that while his blood
or name may set him on a compulsory pin-
nacle of notoriety, he need not suppose that
it entitles him to any confidence. It may
be safely asserted that thousands, not to say
millions, in the United States, as soon as
our friend's existence was known, agreed in
thinking it would be his duty to put himself
in competition for the Presidency, as suc-
cessor to his ancestors, and at the same time
their duty to prevent his ever succeeding
them in it.

At all events, Mr. Adams did not imme-
diately make any effort to enter upon that
political life which seemed to have a hered-
itary claim upon him. Shortly after the end
of his fathers presidency, on the 3d of
September, 1829, he was married to Abigail
Brown, youngest daughter of the Hon. Peter

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Chardon Brooks. Of this marriage there
have been five sons and two daughters, of
whom four sons and one daughter are liv-
ing, and ten grandchildren surviving out of
twelve. Affectionate respect for the living
forbids our doing more than name this con-
nection as the source of overflowing sym-
pathy and support through every happiness
and every care.

Mr. Adams was admitted to the bar, but
was not engaged in active practice, partly
owing to that singular sentiment among us
which keeps law business out of the hands
of wealthy mens sons, and then blames
them for living on their fathers' income.
But Mr. Adams was never idle; he was
fond of literature, an untiring student and
reader; and he possessed two elegant tastes
which afford endless food for one of keen and

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delicate perceptions. He was a collector and
student of coins, — that peculiarly fascinating
line of research which teaches art and his-
tory at once as no other can, — and he had
a lively and cultivated musical taste, going
again and again with undiminished delight
to the best performances, vocal and instru-
mental. After the fourth or fifth hearing of
the opera of " Sonnambula," he says in his
diary, " I shall remember the moments spent
in hearing these notes as the pleasantest of
my life. How far superior to low rooms
and dark consultations for political arrange-
ments!" But he was eminently a man of
books, — a reader and a writer. In neither
department was he so all-devouring and un-
remitting as his father, who would seem
never to have laid his pen aside. But he
loved to read; he loved to study, and he

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loved to put down the thoughts to which
his studies gave rise. His literary taste was
that of the period when he was born, — that
of which Edmund Burke was at once the
most eminent cultivator and the highest
model. He loved the classics, — meaning
by that word not merely the Latin and Greek
classics, but those few picked authors, in all
languages and times, which by the attraction
of their style and the elevation of their sen-
timents have taken their place as models
in literature when their contemporaries have
been forgotten. He loved those works that
deal with man, — his story, his nature, his
prospects. History, ancient and modern,
biography, politics, mental and moral philos-
ophy, poetry, and the more refined and
elevated works of fiction, were to him a
never-failing source of occupation and de-

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light. He did not neglect the tale of art
and adventure; but he cared little for the
great developments of natural science, nor
did he love modern speculations in theology.
He found interest and work enough in fol-
lowing out such lines of thought as the
ablest minds with which he was acquainted
had laid down for him. He did not wish
either to read or to write what was crifde and
uncomposed, for the sake of some supposed
originality of thought or audacity of specu-
lation, which might turn out after all to be
new, merely in that it had been said long
ago and deservedly forgotten. His range of
reading may appear narrow, and his style of
writing austere ; but he would wait long for
a critic, if none criticised him but those who
knew more or could write better.

Engaged and happy in these pursuits.

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Mr. Adams was reluctant to mingle in po-
litical strife. But it could hardly be avoided.
His father's position in Congress from 1830
on, made it inevitable that he should watch
the contests with the administrations of Jack-
son and Van Buren most seriously. His very
first contribution to political literature exhil>-
ited that absolute independence of mind, and
refusal to bow to party dictation, that he
maintained to the last. He ranked with his
father as a Whig. But in 1834, when Mr.
Webster took ground against General Jack-
son's removal of his Secretaries as an inva-
sion of the rights of the Senate, Mr. Adams
had the courage to oppose him with a pam-
phlet, for which he borrowed from Burke the
title, "An appeal from the new to the old
Whigs," contesting Mr. Webster's views of
the right of removal from office, and declar-

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ing that it vests under the Constitution in
the President alone. This view, although
unpopular at the time from Mr, Webster's
paramount authority, and rejected by the .
Senate in its contest with President Johnson,
is now generally recognized by statesmen and
sanctioned by the courts. Mr. Adams fol-
lowed up this pamphlet in 1837 by others on
the currency, also attacking Mr. Webster's*
views. They exhibit precisely the political
temper and style of his later years.

Mr. Adams's fellow-citizens of Boston
were early attracted to him as a suitable
representative in the Legislature ; but what
he had seen of public life — the "mud of
politics," he calls it — gave him no reason to
desire the nomination, and he declined it.
It was repeated in 1840 and accepted. Pres-
ident John Quincy Adams had no idea that

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any citizen had a right to refuse such a
place if his fellow-citizens wanted him. Ac-
cordingly our friend was for three years in
succession a member of the House of Rep-
resentatives, and for t^o years a Senator
from SufiFolk County, at the last of these
elections standing first on the poll.

Of this occupation he wrote emphatically,
" I pursue politics as a duty, not as a
pleasure." The ordinary legislation seemed
to him petty and wearisome, — a drudgery
which he did thoroughly, as he did every-
thing, but with little or no mental spring.
But his fellow-citizens were amply satisfied,
and planned higher things.

It was about this time that Mr. Adams
came to live among you, building and occu-
pying the house which stands just below his
son's on yonder hill, in a position of unsur-

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passed loveliness. He was thus able to be
within call of his venerable parents during
the recess of Congress. At first averse to
a country life, he soon became passionately
fond of it, and delighted to watch all the
phases of opening and withering Nature.
It is not for me to tell of all the services
he rendered to you in the forty years of
his stay here, broken only by those absences
when your hearts followed him ; enough that
he became as true a Quincy man as any of
his ancestors, back to the settlement.

Mr. Adams counted in the Legislature as
a Whig. The Whig party had formed itself
out of a variety of elements ; and when the
immediate grounds of their coalescence,—
opposition to General Jackson and Mr. Van
Buren, — had passed away, causes of differ-
ence appeared between its older and younger

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leaders. Mr. Adams, as was natural in his
fathers son, did not place entire confidence
in the principles or the judgment of some
of the great Whig chiefs. But he was al-
ways true to the Whig principle, as he
understood the meaning of the name. That
name meant more to him than it might to
a less thoughtful and less cultivated man.
In his view the Whigs of 1836 and 1840
were the direct descendants of the Whigs
of the Revolution, — of Burke and Fox in
England, of James Otis and Josiah Quincy
in America. It was not merely for a pro-
tective tarifif, or a National Bank; not
merely to repeal the Sub-treasury Act, or
defeat the Expunging Resolution, that Mr.
Adams was a Whig. The maintenance of
the people's will as expressed by their repre-
sentatives against all executive encroach-

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ments; the ultimate recourse to the people
themselves when both executive and legisla-
ture proved recreant; the constant doctrine
that liberty is at the basis of all Anglo-Saxon
governments, and that the interests of the
whole nation are beyond any local demands,
— these principles, which belonged to Sidney
and Russell, to Locke and Somers, had been
handed down from them through Camden
and Chatham to the men of the Revolution ;
and they were Mr. Adams's views in 1842
exactly as they were John Hampden's in
1642. The question of putting these prin-
ciples to one practical application after an-
other was the issue constantly before him;
and no party expediency, no popular name
could make him call anything Whig which
was not really so to him. His political ca-
rreer, at its most energetic period, was acting

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out the title of Burke's pamphlet which he
had borrowed for his own, — " An appeal
from the new to the old Whigs."

Towards the close of President Tyler's
term, the pressure became strong for the
admission of Texas into the Union. The
Massachusetts Whigs were indignant at
what they felt was an outrage to law,
whether municipal or international, and to
freedom, whether American or universal.
Mr. Adams, in ihe Legislature of 1845, drew
up the resolutions which protested against
the admission. It seems to me this is a very
remarkable paper, which may be read, after
the lapse of more than forty years, abso-
lutely without party feeling. It declares
that the right to admit foreign states into
the Union is a power never delegated by
Massachusetts to Congress, and hence that

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it remains with the people, and can only be
exercised in such manner as they shall ap-
point. The last resolution is this: —

'' Resolvedy that the people ^of Massachusetts
will never consent to use the powers reserved
to themselves to admit Texas, or any other State
or Territory without the Union, on other terms
than the perfect equality of freemen ; and while
slavery or slave representation form any part of
the claims or conditions of admission, Texas, with
their consent, can never be admitted."

It was very soon after this that Mr.
Adams felt that the Whig party at the
North was becoming insensible to the en-
croachments of slavery, and that it was
absolutely necessary to arouse its slumber-
ing conscience. He had hitherto acted as
a warm opponent of all such encroachment,
but it was in the party and not outside of
it. He had not ranked as an Abolitionist

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or a Liberty man, or a supporter of Mr.
Birney. He had desired Mr. Clay's election
in 1844. But now he felt that something
mpst be done, — that the regular Whig or-
gans would not do what he wanted. There
came into his soul the old question and an-
swer of the king of Israel and the prophet,
— "*Who shall set in order the battle.^'
and he answered, * Thou ! ' " Mr. Adams
himself became the chief proprietor and edi-
tor of a new paper called " The Whig," for
the express purpose of maintaining what
he believed to be the true Whig sentiments
on the subject of slavery. His labors in this
work, — a work for which he had not had
the least training, and which contained no sin-
gle congenial element, except that he was rea-
sonably ready with his pen, — were enormous ;
they can be understood only by reading his

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diary at the time. To say that he performed
them under discouragement is no word.
He deliberately endangered, nay, sacrificed
the closest intimacies of his familiar circle,
the confidence of his oldest political asso-
ciates; he disregarded utterly the whims,
the prejudices, the traditions, the tastes of
hundreds of acquaintances, who could not
comprehend the whole business from begin-
ning to end. All party discipline, all social
fastidiousness, all mercantile expediency,
united to throw cold water, or rather aqua
fortis, on such a scheme, — the absurd idea
that the head of his legislative ticket in
the winning party of the state should set
to work and deliberately risk, not to say ad-
vocate, its division, on such a question as
the creation of a few more slave states in
the South. Self-seeking politicians probably

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rejoiced that a candidate so terribly in their
way had deliberately wrecked his prospects
for advancement. But many men as disin-
terested as Mr. Adams himself could not
understand why he should throw away his
chances of the highest usefulness. They
used — I know they used — that very com-
mon argument, that he could have done so
much more good by staying where he was,-
and using his influence for freedom inside
the party lines.

Friends, I am not here expressing my
own opinion: the opinion of one who was
only six years old at the time is of little
value now. It is worth while to consult
the journals of the time for the opinion
held of Mr. Adams by his contemporaries.
Worth while, I say ; for the story is seldom
told correctly now by those who look back

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over forty years, and crowd together their
memories of events that reached over a third
of the time. If I said now what I was
taught to say then, I should not be likely
to please many of those by whose request
I am here.

There is no need of reviving controversy.
The dissensions in the Massachusetts Whig
party of 1846, which went far beneath the
political strata down into the very depths
of social intercourse, are remembered by
fewer and fewer persons every year, and
their history must soon be got from docu-
ments alone. But the part which Mr.
Adams took in them arose from a habit
of thought, a temper of mind, a principle
of action which was his own, — not exclu-
sively, but shared by very few in the his-
tory of statecraft. Many find it impossible to

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believe that this principle ever can be made
an habitual rule of action for the majority
of political men. Mr. Adams believed in
doing what is right because it is right. He
believed in national morality; in ordering
and guiding our legislative and executive
and international relations by the rules of
conscience, as the loftiest and sternest au-
thorities on that subject have settled them ;
by the Ten Commandments and the Sermon
on the Mount, or by any higher revelation
that the God of Righteousness may have
yet in store for mankind. He looked up
to the great documents by which liberty
and government in England and America
have their boundaries indicated, — Magna
Charta and the Bill of Rights, the Declara-
tion of Independence and the Constitution of
the United States, — as weighty, venerable,

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authoritative, but as possessing all these
qualities because, as he believed, they were
in harmony with precepts of a more awful
gravity and more eternal authority. I have
no doubt that Mr. Adams has again and
again had quoted of him the celebrated
line which Goldsmith, too partially as I
think, uttered of Burke, — " Too fond of
the right to pursue the expedient." Mr.
Adams would have answered to this, that
any man who drew any distinction between
the right and the expedient, or who thought
there could be any expediency except that
which was right, was simply short-sighted, to
say no worse. He would have said it was
merely a question of time; and that what
was maintained to be right by the minority
now, would in time be maintained to be not
merely right, but necessary, by the majority.

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after all experiments with so-called expediency
had failed.

It was in accordance with this idea of right
that Mr. Adams guided his political, or
extra-political, way from 1845 to 1848. His
path might be hard or easy, popular or un-
popular, successful or unsuccessful. It might
be among friends or among enernies, or it
might be nearly or quite alone. He might
be listened to, applauded, attacked, neglected:
his great anxiety was that he should be
heard. His only question to himself was,
"What is right.?" or rather, "What is right
for me } How do I read my own duty in the
light of my training and my conscience ? "

In 1844 Mr. Adams was one of the most
popular leaders in the State; in 1846 it was
far otherwise. His venerable father died
in February 1848, and that event wrought

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more changes than one in his life. In the
same year he accepted the nomination of the
Free Soil party as Vice-President with Mr.
Van Buren for President. This acceptance
subjected him to every conceivable criti-
cism, serious or sportive, friendly or malig-
nant, directed alike at his principles and
his judgment. It was all one to him. He
believed himself to be in the right. He
entered into the contests of that year with
an eagerness, a passion even, like that of
his grandfather, — a passion hardly to be
credited by those who saw him only in his
later day. The election passed; it ended,
as he doubtless expected, in defeat ; and he
retired to his comparative obscurity as calmly
as he had left it. His new party was not
content with the position in politics he had
wished it to assume; it entered into alli-

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ances, it advocated measures which he could
not approve ; and he said so. He addressed
his fellow-citizens against the proposed Con-
stitution of 1853 as unhesitatingly as he had
against the nomination of General Taylor.
Neither the majority party nor the minority
party could make him go with it one inch be-
yond what he believed to be right. Accord-
ingly when the Republican party, of which
he was destined to be a shining star, was or-
ganized in 1855, it was not immediately that
Mr. Adams was drawn from his retirement
and placed as a leader of the growing senti-
ment of the North. It was not till 1858, ten
years after the death of his father had made
a vacancy in your district, that your fellow-
citizen was called to be a Representative
in Congress, which of all political positions
was most completely that of his choice.

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No congress ever met in the United
States at a more distressing period than
that which was organized in December
1859. The civil war had not yet come;
but the storm-clouds had gathered ; they
were growing blacker and blacker, and sink-
ing lower and lower, all charged with the
electric excitement that was ready, as soon
as the fatal links were once connected, to
burst in the lightnings and thunders of war,
and descend in the showers of sorrow. The
air was heavy and sultry in the hush before
the storm. Throughout the first session
little or nothing was done. Mr. Adams was
waiting with the rest, — acquainting himself
with the strange unnatural life at Washing-
ton and with the leaders of political opinion
all over the country, who had met at its
centre to review their forces for the coming

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Presidential campaign, — a campaign which
they felt would be serious as none ever was
before. That North and South must come
into collision, that the clouds must break and
dissolve, was the feeling of many in both
sections ; others hoped that a vigorous wind
might arise, from one or another quarter, to
blow the darkness all away and leave the
heavens clear. Mr. Adams had no question
of the duty of the Republican party to pre-
sent an undivided front to the various sec-
tions of its opponents ; and he had no doubt
who should be selected as standard-bearer.
His conviction had been growing for many
years that Mr. Seward held more completely
than any public man the key to the situa-
tion, — that he alone had the penetration,
the knowledge, the energy, the probity that
were now required to steer the ship of state

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through storm or sunshine into still waters.
Retaining his own absolute independence
of mind, his own unflinching convictions of
the right, to which anything like dictation
was impossible, Mr. Adams yet looked to
Mr. Seward as a leader, with a confidence
and a loyalty that were as cordial as they
were sober. It was undoubtedly a serious
disappointment to him when Mr. Lincoln
was nominated; yet he unhesitatingly joined
his leader in a campaign trip through several
states in behalf of the successful candidate.

After the election, whereat he was himself
re-elected to Congress, Mr. Adams returned
to Washington. The first clap of the storm
was at hand. Before Congress had sat three
weeks South Carolina seceded, and several
other states followed in rapid succession.
Yet some held off, and their representatives

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were still in Washington, joining in all the
proceedings of Congress- The Cabinet was
rapidly disintegrating; President Buchanan
thoroughly unnerved and helpless. Mr. Lin-
coln was at his home, and had given no
definite indications of what policy he would
pursue. The representatives of the victo-
rious party had none of them realized the
tension of the political atmosphere; and
when the storm finally burst, they were
scarcely able to meet it with'decision. They
were ready to do anything and everything
to save the Union ; there was no want of pa-
triotism ; there was little violence and much
soberness ; but, alas ! very few of them, even
in this terrible hour for the nation, could
throw off the notion that patriotism meant
party, and that party meant office. The all-
important question what they should do in

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the few weeks that yet remained ta Presi-
dent Buchanan had its answer obscured and
distorted by the other question, what they
should be under President Lincoln ; and so
all their councils became uncertain and
vacillating. Nor must it be omitted that
many of them, though* they were more disin-'
teres ted, were even less discerning, and could
not be persuaded, any more than their op-
posing brethren at the South, that the most
fanatical sentiments should not be pushed ta
the most violent action.

Mr. Adams went to Washington neither
as an office-seeker nor a fanatic. He be*
lieved in the Constitution and the Union,
and he did not see any reason why the
North should renounce them because the
South had done so. It was precisely be-
cause he had taken the ground of no corn-

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2 4 5

Online LibraryWilliam EverettAddress in commemoration of the life and services of Charles Francis Adams delivered in the Stone Temple at Quincy, 4 July, 1887 → online text (page 2 of 5)