Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 5

Friday. 22d.

Sunday. 24th.

Saturday. 23rd. CFA Saturday. 23rd. CFA
Saturday. 23rd.

My father wanted a long report of his upon the affairs of Harvard University copied today so that I was obliged to sit down early and work almost without cessation in order to accomplish it. The only relaxation I allowed myself was a bath at Mr. Greenleaf’s wharf with my father before dinner and an hour in the evening. The consequence was that my wrist was very tired. My father has become very much interested in the present condition of the College and has in consequence assumed the defence of the Government at the present crisis. This has brought him into conflict with several of his acquaintance and will probably cause him much anxiety. His report is a severe one upon the Circular of the Senior Class undoubtedly the most injurious step taken to the discipline of the College.1 Evening, Whist.

I confess I feel a very mixed sort of sensation when I reflect upon Cambridge. I remember days of slavery to disagreeable studies and of loneliness in feeling. Among all the young men I met there, not one did I find with a character at all congenial to mine. They were either dull, or riotous. Jolly companions or studious drones. My studies were considerable but not of that sort to gain mere rank. What might I not have been made had I had even but a single teacher who had felt one grain of interest in my success. Why should I feel interested in the College?2


The report of which JQA had CFA make a fair copy had been accepted unanimously the preceding day by the Overseers’ committee (Richard Sullivan to JQA, 22 Aug., Adams Papers) and when submitted to the Board of Overseers on the 25th would be adopted and ordered published. (In the Adams Papers is a corrected draft in JQA’s hand, Aug. 1834. It was printed, together with all relevant exhibits, as Proceedings of the Overseers of Harvard University relative to the Late Disturbances in that Seminary, Boston [1834].) This final Report conformed essentially to what JQA, following his appointment at the Overseers’ meeting on 31 July as chairman of the committee, had submitted at its first meeting on 8 August. In the interim, however, his draft report had been subjected to numerous vicissitudes. When he first read it to the committee 1 ¼ hours), “it did not meet the approval of any other member” and was judged “much too severe upon the Students.” Joining other members in opposing its harshness of language, ex-Governor Levi Lincoln and A. H. Everett had also objected to its substance (JQA, Diary, 8 Aug.). The committee’s own substitute, a patchwork acquiesced in by JQA, when submitted to the Overseers was ordered referred to a new committee (on which JQA was the only holdover) along with JQA’s original draft which the Overseers had requested to hear (Diary, 21 Aug.). The action of the new committee next day was to 367accept JQA’s draft, minimally modified, as its report. (CFA when much later selecting from his father’s diary for publication chose to include all the passages bearing on the matter without abridgement. JQA, Memoirs , 9:157–186 passim.) Although the report concerned itself only with recent disorders and with the means taken to restore order, at issue were matters of much greater significance and complexity. Because those matters bear upon so many relationships, both intrafamily and interfamily, of importance in CFA’s diary, an extended discussion of the report in its larger frame has been thought necessary. Despite its length, the discussion makes no effort to deal more than tangentially with the student rebellion itself.

The immediate difficulties which President Quincy was experiencing with the students had begun in May, triggered by an altercation between a Freshman and an inexperienced and unpopular tutor of Greek. In the course of the ensuing and ever-widening conflict between the Immediate Government and the students, protests and petitions were followed by severe retaliatory punishments; destruction of college property and the concomitant signs of rebellion were met with the dismissal of the Sophomore class for the year, rigorous action against the Juniors, and, in an effort to identify individual culprits, the invocation of the civil arm by referral to the Middlesex Grand Jury. Drawn in reluctantly, the Seniors issued a printed “Circular” which undertook to give a full report of the rebellion from the student point of view, thereby evoking wrath and fear in large and influential sections of the community and resulting in the signers being deprived of their degrees. (The events are recounted in Robert A. McCaughey, “The Usable Past: a Study of the Harvard College Rebellion of 1834,” William and Mary Law Review, 2:602–605 [Spring 1970], and more fully in the same author’s Josiah Quincy, 1772–1864: The Last Federalist, Cambridge, 1974, ch. 8.

Despite Quincy’s strengths in a number of facets of administration, strengths that would be abundantly evident in the eleven succeeding years of his presidency (McCaughey, The Last Federalist, ch. 9; Morison, Three Centuries of Harvard , p. 254–267), his endowments were not such as would make him successful in imposing discipline upon a student body accustomed to laxness and indulgence. The judgment from a later perspective that he showed a “complete misunderstanding of youth,” that his government was characterized by “alternate cuffing and caressing,” by abruptness and tactlessness in conferences, is probably justified ( Three Centuries of Harvard , p. 251–252). Quincy’s manner with students seemed even to his admirers open to objection. The reservation is evident in the otherwise eulogistic memorial tributes to Quincy from his colleagues in the Massachusetts Historical Society. Rev. George E. Ellis, to Quincy’s qualities of ardor and impetuosity, added “severity of sarcasm and rebuke” and remarked that “the question ... was often discussed, whether he had real strong sympathies for young men, — could deal with them by wise allowances and gentle tolerances.” R. H. Dana Jr., himself rusticated by Quincy in 1832 but later an admiring friend, posed the problem neatly by admitting that if bigotry meant an “undue confidence in and devotion to our opinions” and was “consistent with entire kindness and desire to do justice,” Quincy might be so called, and concluded, “We need not fear to meet complaints from those who have encountered him front to front, — that he was severe, and even bigoted.... Perhaps his temperament did not admit of his dealing with men and measures as the policy of political management requires” (MHS, Procs ., 1st ser., 7 [1863–1864]:387–388, 402–404). Emerson’s remark ( Journals and Notebooks, ed. Gilman, 9:381) that Quincy, despite “a sort of violent service he did the College, was a lubber and a grenadier among our clerks,” differed from these judgments chiefly in tone. Nor was there substantial difference in the list of his attributes drawn up by an anonymous and unfriendly critic at the time, though to those already noted were added a “general tendency of ... mind to ... inaccuracy,” a “lamentable want of memory,” and manners, “to those stu-368dents, in particular, who have come ... from the southern states ... any thing but conciliating” (Remarks Occasioned by the Publication of a Pamphlet Entitled Proceedings of the Overseers ... [pamphlet], Boston, 1834, p. 18, 31, 33). John Langdon Sibley in his “Private Journal” a few months after Quincy’s retirement (12 Jan. 1846, MH-Ar) also recorded that, along with abruptness in manners, “His memory, especially respecting people, was bad.” Even JQA, Quincy’s kinsman and staunchest of defenders (“my intimate friend for nearly fifty years; without interruption even by the most earnest and ardent opposition of political opinions ... unwavering”), with “the most unbounded confidence in his integrity,” and with a predisposition to find “among the Students a contumacious and insurgent Spirit,” admitted to his journal his “fear that from some of the peculiarities of Quincy’s temper, and from a hesitancy in his elocution the Students have lost the feeling of reverence for his character which is essential to the preservation of authority” (JQA, Diary, 26 July, 8, 19 Aug. 1834). See also Adams Genealogy.

Opposition to President Quincy within the College, however, had a longer history and was of greater extent than the student disorders in 1834. From the inception of his administration in 1829 his academic policies met with strong student resistance (McCaughey, “The Usable Past,” p. 597–601), and there were powerful forces in the faculty bent upon bringing him down. This opposition had multiple origins: the younger faculty, of whom Tutor Henry S. McKean was in the forefront, tended to take the student view; another group, of whom John Farrar, Hollis Professor of Mathematics, was one, had been strong partisans of President Kirkland, remained bitter over the circumstances of his resignation, and expressed it by an antagonism to his successor. Another element of opposition was composed of those who wished more emphasis given to curricular and instructional reform than the non-academic Quincy seemed interested in. The leader in this cause, as he had been in the Kirkland days, was George Ticknor, who wrote on his retirement in Jan. 1835: “I have been an active professor these fifteen years, and for thirteen years of the time I have been contending against a constant opposition to procure certain changes.... As long as I hoped to advance them, I continued attached to the College; when I gave up all hope, I determined to resign.... In my whole connection with it I ... [have been] actuated by a sense of duty to improve the institution.... So, I doubt not, are those who have the management of the College, and pursue the opposite course.... We differ, however, very largely, both as to what the College can be, and what it ought to be.” The most active figure among the faculty opposed to Quincy was Charles Theodore Follen, whose differences with Quincy, brought in to be a president who was a “business man,” were of several kinds. Wives too entered the fray. By 1836, when Quincy had reestablished a hold, not one of those whose names have been mentioned remained on the faculty. (McCaughey, The Last Federalist, ch. 9; George Ticknor, Life, Letters and Journals, 2 vols., Boston, 1877, 1:400–401; Edmund Quincy, Journal, 7 July 1834, MHi:Quincy Family Papers; JQA, Diary, 24 Aug. 1834; Charlotte Brooks Everett to Edward Everett, 8 April 1828, MHi:Everett MSS.)

However much opposition had been generated within the student body and faculty by Quincy’s personal attributes and policies, his unassailable confidence in his own course caused Quincy and members of his family to remain convinced that the rebellion was “encouraged systematically by external discontent”; that “those troubles were fanned from without, if not enkindled there” (Josiah Quincy, Journal, 8 Nov. 1846, 3 Nov. 1855, quoted in Edmund Quincy, Josiah Quincy , p. 491, 505; see also same, p. 454, 464; Sibley, Private Journal, 28 May 1868).

That there was widespread dislike of Quincy outside the College and that there were those ready to take advantage of any opening that presented itself is of course true. Quincy’s long political career as an ardent Federalist in Congress and as an activist mayor of 369Boston, coupled with a social manner which tended to make his political opponents become his enemies, had left a residue of ill-wishers including a substantial section of the Boston press. The same condition obtained in the sector more strongly motivated by religious considerations. There, disaffection for the Quincy administration resulted both from the failure of the College in the choice of Quincy as president to adhere to the long tradition of a clergyman in the office and from the occupancy of the chair by a Unitarian rather than an orthodox Trinitarian (Winsor, Memorial History of Boston , 3:231–233; Edmund Quincy, Josiah Quincy , p. 430; James Walker, “Memoir of Josiah Quincy,” MHS, Procs ., 1st ser., 9 [1866]:125).

Those in opposition to the College administration, including those whose purpose was to unseat Quincy, found in the meetings of the Board of Overseers the forum for the expression of their discontents. This was in natural consequence of the heavy ex officio representation on the Board from the State Senate and from the Congregational clergy. When early in 1829 the Corporation, dominated by Boston business interests in the persons of Nathaniel Bowditch and Ebenezer Francis and fearful of choosing a clergyman from either wing of a divided church, seized upon the opportunity presented by the unexpected termination of Quincy’s mayoralty to break the eight-month stalemate, the assent of the Overseers to Quincy was anything but certain. When confirmation came it was by a vote of 40 to 26. (McCaughey, The Last Federalist, ch. 8. Edward Everett to A. H. Everett, 20 Jan.; to ——, 21 Jan.; to Isaac Parker, 22 Jan. 1829, LbC [all in Everett MSS]. Edmund Quincy, Journal, 29 Jan. 1829, Quincy Family Papers.) A negative attitude toward Quincy and his policies persisted among Overseers, ready for expression when there was opportunity. One such was provided by the controversy in the Overseers over procedure in the award of an honorary degree to Andrew Jackson. On that occasion James Trecothick Austin, attorney general of the Commonwealth, and A. H. Everett had made common cause against Quincy (see above, entry for 27 June 1833, note; McCaughey, “The Usable Past,” p. 606–607).

When the handling of the student disorders of 1834 was scheduled for hearing before the Overseers, JQA, correctly sensing that another effort to bring Quincy down was imminent, while promising his full support had warned the President to be prepared to defend his course and that “his present situation is very critical.” Quincy, however, characteristically felt there was nothing for discussion: “the Law was plain” (JQA, Diary, 26 July). But his old adversaries, J. T. Austin and A. H. Everett, joined by George Blake (whom Quincy had twice defeated for mayor), and supported in a large section of the Boston press, were prepared to settle for nothing less than Quincy’s resignation.

Much later, Quincy on reading JQA’s journal entries for the period recognized fully the perils of his position: “a number of political rivals thought they had me at disadvantage.” He and his family, echoing JQA, continued to think that A. H. Everett, “this vermicular enemy,” was animated in his leadership by a determination to win for himself the presidency he had eagerly sought and been denied by Quincy’s election five years before. (JQA, Diary, 26 July, 8 Aug. 1834; Josiah Quincy, Journal, 3 Nov. 1855, quoted in Edmund Quincy, Josiah Quincy , p. 505; J. L. Sibley, Private Journal, 28 May 1868; McCaughey, “The Usable Past,” p. 605–606.) It seems unlikely, however, that A. H. Everett was looking to the office for himself in 1834. His own fortunes and reputation had declined markedly in the years since 1828 (see above, entries for 27 Sept. – 6 Nov. 1833passim) when his brother Edward, then unwilling to foreclose a young political career that seemed to carry infinite possibilities, had stepped aside to support Alexander’s candidacy. (Charlotte Everett to Edward Everett, 14 April; Edward Everett to ——, 9 May; to A. H. Everett, 11 June, 15 Sept., 15 Oct.; to J. E. Sprague, 11 Sept., LbC; to George Bancroft, 11 Sept., 6 Oct., LbC; to Joseph Story, 3 Oct.; to JQA, 30 Oct., LbC, 1828 [all in Everett MSS].) In 1834 Edward’s political ad-370 image vancement seemed estopped, a prestigious academic post was more alluring, and the chance a welcome one to unseat Quincy. Quincy it is true had offered to support Edward for the presidency immediately following Kirkland’s resignation (Peter C. Brooks to Edward Everett, 14 April 1828, Everett MSS), but when Quincy had been named by the Corporation Edward had opposed his confirmation to the last as “a ‘Notion’ of the first magnitude,” an insult added “to the injuries which the Corporation has so freely done the College” (Edward Everett to A. H. Everett, 20 Jan.; to ––, 21 Jan.; to Isaac Parker, 22 Jan., 1829, LbC [all in Everett MSS]). CFA was correct in identifying for his father the likely successor to Quincy in the probable event of his fall — Edward Everett (17 June 1834, LbC, Adams Papers).

To the offers of support for the vacancy that seemed to all to impend, Everett offered no discouragement this time. His father-in-law, expressing his own gratification at such a prospect, summarized, “The thing would, I believe, make Charlotte happy.... The college is in a sad state, and the common opinion seems to be that Mr. Quincy will not be happy in long remaining. There seems to be stilness now ... but it is of that sulky and silent kind that evidences discontent.... Your name and yours only, in one connection, have I heard mentioned.... I am somewhat aware of what the feelings of some were in times past. But I do not believe that things and opinions are now as they once were.... I am glad however at finding your own way of thinking somewhat different from what it once was” (Peter C. Brooks to Edward Everett, 25 June; see also Joseph E. Worcester to same, 23 June 1834 [both in Everett MSS]). On 16 Aug. Everett took a step he had been considering for almost a year. He resigned his seat in the current Congress and announced that he would not be a candidate for reelection. Neither Everett attended the meeting of the Overseers on 25 Aug. to hear and act on JQA’s Report (JQA, Diary, 26 Aug.; Everett, Diary, 16 Aug. 1834, Everett MSS).

The adoption by the Overseers of the Report was a distinct vindication of Quincy and essential to him in his fight to retain his post. Quincy and his family, however, tended to take the acceptance of the Report as concluding the whole matter. Both JQA and CFA recognized the Quincy response as perhaps too unqualified and premature. CFA, on Commencement Day, noted their “state of considerable elation and on the whole I did not wonder although perhaps I may differ in my opinion of the degree in which it was justified”; and JQA, when Quincy called on him with proof sheets of the Report, recorded Quincy’s “very high Spirits at the issue thus far of his troubles, and I hope understands that he is not yet out of them” (below, entry for 27 Aug.; JQA, Diary, 30 Aug.; see also McCaughey, “The Usable Past,” p. 607–609).

There were signs that suggested the Adamses were right. Edward Everett recorded in his Diary that he did not attend the exercises on Commencement nor the ΦΒΚ exercises the next day, both abstentions contrary to his custom. There may have been significance in the fact noted in the Columbian Centinel that on Commencement afternoon two Cambridge residences, that of the President and that of J. T. Buckingham (editor of the Boston Courier), “were thrown open ... for the reception of their friends and the friends of the University” (28 Aug., p. 2, col. 2). Those committed to the effort to induce Quincy’s resignation did not allow the publication on 8 Sept. of the Report in the Proceedings of the Overseers to go unanswered. Some opponents, seeking to make capital of the political unpopularity of JQA, attempted to blunt the effect of the Report by assailing its author as possessed of a “malignant heart.” “The mortifications and disappointments of his life have soured the old man’s temper — and he must needs disgorge his venom.” His Report is called a “fulsome eulogy of his relative, President Quincy”; characterized as “misrepresentations ... seasoned with caustic bitterness” (Remarks on a Pamphlet Entitled “Proceedings of the Board of Overseers of Harvard University, 1834” [printed leaflet 371without place or date, attached to Benjamin Waterhouse to JQA, 15 Oct. 1834, Adams Papers], p. 2, 4, 7). An opposite approach was adopted by another pamphleteer cited earlier in this note. This was “a Son of Harvard,” who treated the Report minimally (“written hastily,” “perchance penned by the Honorable Chairman during a few moments of leisure from the bustle of political life, with a prompter at his elbow”) while praising its author (“so profound a scholar, so skilful a rhetorician, so great a man”) and proceeded to his avowed object: “To show in as few words as may be, the entire unfitness of the present occupant of the Presidential chair for the station which he now holds.” Having concluded his case with an invocation of the names of Kirkland, Hedge, and Popkin, he becomes the advocate to urge that Quincy step down for a successor readily identifiable as Edward Everett: “In the late difficulties [Mr. Quincy] has come off conqueror. We advise him to retire in the moment of victory, to repose upon the laurels he has gained. He must have already discovered ... ‘that he is not in his right niche.’ Or, if he ... is not yet convinced of this fact, we will tell him plainly, that it is the belief of all, even of his greatest friends.... What else can the constant inuendos of the public journals, in regard to his expected resignation, mean? ... The man must be shortsighted, indeed, who cannot perceive their purport. The fact is, the public eye is resting upon one, who will undoubtedly be chosen to fill the presidential chair, the moment the resignation hinted at takes place. A son of Harvard — he is one of her greatest boasts. Known throughout the Union for his profound learning and his heart-thrilling eloquence; beloved for his dignified yet conciliating manners, honored for his independence, and revered for his purity of character. Every task that has yet been entrusted to his care ... has been performed ... to the admiration of the public. Every public act of his life reflects credit ... and every station that he has occupied he has adorned. Add to all this, his well-known domestic character. For the sake of his family he leaves the high seats of honor, preferring the enjoyment of domestic felicity to the flattering triumphs which awaited him in political life.” (Remarks Occasioned by the Publication of a Pamphlet Entitled Proceedings of the Overseers, p. 3, 4, 34–35.)

The storm did subside, however, and within a month Quincy’s tenure seemed safe to JQA, though he saw it incorrectly as not a happy one nor of long duration: “President Quincy ... called upon me. He spoke of the present condition of the University as satisfactory; but while his words were cheering, his tone was dejected. He can never regain his popularity with the Students, and the public treat him as they treat all old men, with cold neglect and insulting compassion. He is not made of stuff to struggle long against this” (JQA, Diary, 15 Oct. 1834). Everett’s announcement a week later that he had reconsidered his earlier intent to resign his seat but was firm in his decision not to seek reelection may suggest that he saw the situation similarly. In the following January he announced for governor, and he did not become president of Harvard until 1845.

Twelve years after the Rebellion and following his retirement from the presidency he had held so long, Quincy took occasion to express to JQA “my sense of obligation for the manner in which in 1834–35 ... he had come forward in an unqualified spirit in my defence. I told him I had never ceased to be grateful for the aid he afforded me on that occasion. He said he was conscious of the service he had rendered me, and had always considered the opportunity then afforded him of doing me justice as one of the happiest of his life.” Still later, after JQA’s death and when CFA had allowed Quincy the use of JQA’s Diary in preparing the Life of John Quincy Adams, published in 1858, Quincy reflected that rivals “would probably have given me great trouble had not Adams had the courage and the friendship to interpose in my behalf.... Until I had the reading of this diary, I never understood the malignity with which I was assailed, nor the laborious zeal with which I was defended by Mr. Adams” 372(Josiah Quincy, Journal, 8 Nov. 1846, 3 Nov. 1855, quoted in Edmund Quincy, Josiah Quincy , p. 491, 505).


CFA’s remarks here on his memories of his Harvard education echo similar sentiments he expressed elsewhere (see above, entries for 5 and 28 Aug. 1833) and also what Harvard’s historian asserts to have been the general view of alumni of the time: “Almost every graduate of the period 1825–60 has left on record his detestation of the system of instruction at Harvard.... The Faculty were not there to teach, but to see that boys got their lessons” (Morison, Three Centuries of Harvard , p. 260).

Despite CFA’s asserted lack of interest in Harvard and its problems, he did address himself to the subject in an essay early in the next year; see below, entries for 11 Feb. – 4 March 1835passim.