Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 5

Wednesday. 2d.

Friday. 4th.

Thursday. 3d. CFA Thursday. 3d. CFA
Thursday. 3d.

Fine day. I went to the Office. Occupied in Accounts. My brother John came in for a little while. He mentioned to me a transaction that has occurred, involving considerable difficulty. Col. Quincy has foolishly made a publication about a letter published by A. H. Everett the other day to J. B. Davis by which a shadow of discredit has been thrown upon the genuineness of it. My father is of course much provoked, and has written to Quincy who is in a flurry about the matter.1 I went down to see Mr. Hallet, editor of the Advocate and learnt at his Office, that the Worcester Convention had nominated Mr. John Davis of Worcester.2 This saves the party from present annihilation—And releases my father from the very critical situation he held.

I went to Quincy to dine. John and his Wife had returned from their visit to town. My purpose was to see the Tenants in which I did not succeed. I conversed with my father upon this subject of the letter, and concluded it would be advisable for me to take some steps in it. 184This must be done. I thought over it and after my return home in the evening, drew up something in the nature of a reply.3 How disgusting such sort of political warfare is. John and his Wife left Quincy on their return home.

1.

Ten days earlier there had appeared in Boston newspapers extracts from a letter from JQA to B. Cowell which seemed to justify the charge that JQA advocated support only for candidates who could certify their antimasonry. Everett asked for permission to publish the entire letter to show the charge false, but JQA instead turned over to Everett for publication, copy of a letter JQA had written in April 1832 to John Brazer Davis, since deceased, assuring him that in a letter to Gov. Lincoln JQA had supported Davis in his effort to gain appointment as county attorney for Suffolk, and stating unequivocally his belief that “Your Masonic degrees, do not in my mind form the slightest disqualification to the fulfilment of every duty public or private to the performance of which you may be called. My Anti-Masonry is earnest, ardent and deeply rooted — but it is to the Institution, as at present existing — to its Oaths — its Penalties — its Obligations, and their practical operation as disclosed to the world. It applies to no Individual, understanding and acting upon Masonic principles as I am very sure you always have done, and will do. If there be in the Spirit of Anti-masonry, any thing of persecution, I disclaim all participation in it.”

In publishing the letter, Everett stated incorrectly that the letter had been found among Davis’ papers after his death. Col. Josiah Quincy, Davis’ executor, upon inquiry from Davis’ heirs, asserted in a letter he turned over to the newspapers despite an explanation to him from JQA, that he had not seen such a letter among Davis’ papers. The effect of Quincy’s letter, which he stoutly maintained was contrary to his intent, was to cast doubt upon the authenticity of JQA’s letter to Davis. JQA in his letter to Quincy offered the explanation he had earlier given him that contrary to Everett’s assertion, the letter had been found in a writing desk of Davis’ that had been sold after his death, and that the purchaser had returned the letter to JQA, its sender. In the press the writing desk came to be referred to as “wash-stand,” and the letter became known as the “wash-stand letter.” It was the occasion for much ribald comment in the National Republican papers, of which lines from a long poem, “The Washstand,” will serve as example: “Ye anxious crowds who struggle to obtain Your highest hopes, but struggle on in vain, Write letters — private — secret — confidential — Then make them public, should it be essential. ’Tis well to finish what is well begun, And wise, most wise, to look to number one. Should ugly spots of conscience hang about, GO to thy WASHSTAND — TRY TO WASH THEM OUT.”

The complicated course of the story can be traced in JQA, Diary, 23, 26, 29 Sept., 2 Oct.; A. H. Everett to JQA, 23, 25, 28 Sept., Adams Papers; JQA to Josiah Quincy Jr., 2 Oct. 1833, MHi: Quincy Autograph Coll.; JQA to J. B. Davis, 6 April 1832, MHi: Quincy Autograph Coll.; Columbian Centinel, 1 Oct., p. 2, col. 1–2; 2 Oct., p. 2, col. 1; 1 Nov. 1833, p. 2, col. 3. On John Brazer Davis, see vol. 3:63; 4:140–141, 208.

2.

The National Republican nominee for governor was John Davis of Worcester; for lieut. governor, S. T. Armstrong of Boston (Columbian Centinel, 4 Oct., p. 2, col. 1).

3.

What seems to be a draft of CFA’s reply in his hand, addressed to the Editor of the Boston Daily Advertiser, undated, and setting forth the circumstances attendant upon the writing of JQA’s letter to Davis, its return to JQA after Davis’ death, and its publication, is in MHi: Quincy Autograph Collection.