Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 6

Sunday. 29th.

Tuesday. 31st.

399 Monday. 30th. CFA Monday. 30th. CFA
Monday. 30th.

It rained more today than since the clouds set in and in the evening it cleared away without any change of wind. I went to the Office and passed my time as usual. Diary of which I made a long record. Walk.

My father appears to have taken the lead in a tremendous battle about the question of Slavery which ended in his being entirely silenced.1 There is something curious and amusing in this process. The people have for years past been driven so hard into popular excitements that they have become for the most part callous. Well, we must see it all out. The world does not stop.

Home where I read Livy, the fury of the second Punic War. Well, they had excitements in those days of a different character. Afternoon, Mackintosh. There is something very charming in his moderation. Perhaps it prevented his greater political success, but it was the cause of his good tempered literary style. This did not go so far however as to distort facts or breed confusion between good and bad.

Evening partly at home. I called for an hour at Mrs. Pickman’s to see Miss Julia DeWint who has recovered from her illness. She is the pleasantest of the family, whom I have seen. Eliz. C. Adams left us today to go to her Aunt’s, Mrs. Foster’s.

1.

The series of debates in the House of Representatives from 18 to 26 May on the slavery issue was touched off by the unanimous report from the select committee to whom all abolition petitions were referred, presented by Henry L. Pinckney of South Carolina, which proposed three resolutions: that Congress possesses no power under the Constitution to interfere with slavery “in the states of this Confederacy”; that Congress ought not to interfere with slavery in the District of Columbia or in the territories; and that “all petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions and other papers relating in any way to the subject of slavery, or the abolition of slavery, should without being referred especially, be laid on the table, and that no further action should be had thereon.” On the first resolution, after preventing JQA and all other members from presenting arguments, the House adopted overwhelmingly the committee’s recommendation, with JQA and William Slade among the nine opposing.

On 25 May, before the vote on the second and third resolutions and while the House was in committee of the whole, JQA took advantage of the parliamentary opening to gain the floor and to deliver without hindrance a speech in which he predicted that the efforts to maintain and extend slavery against all prudent warnings would result not only in a war with Mexico, with Great Britain, and perhaps with France, but also in a war between masters and their slaves, and ultimately in a civil war.

The House on the 26th proceeded to vote on the second and third resolutions with debate prohibited. When JQA’s name was reached in the roll call on the third resolution, “he rose and said, ‘I hold this resolution to be a violation of the Constitution of the United States, of the rules of this House, and of the rights of my constituents.’ These words were pronounced amidst very loud cries for order.” With only this outburst to protest it, the first of a succes-400sion of “gag rules” (against which JQA would struggle until Dec. 1844) was adopted, 117–68.

JQA’s speech of 25 May was printed in the National Intelligencer, 2 June, p. 2, cols. 1–6; the debates were reported in same, 26 May, p. 3, cols. 2–3, and in Daily Centinel and Gazette, 30 May, p. 2, col. 1. The whole episode is fully treated in Bemis, JQA , 2:335–340; see also, JQA, Diary, 18, 25, 26 May 1836.