Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 6

Wednesday. 8th.

Friday. 10th.

Thursday. 9th. CFA Thursday. 9th. CFA
Thursday. 9th.

Morning very fine and very warm. Our transitions here are always excessively rapid, from heat to cold and the reverse. I was engaged in a variety of occupations growing out of my preparations to go away. Diary and Accounts. Called at the Athenaeum and at the Advocate Office. The Atlas this morning had an article upon my father and his speech which I was desirous of transferring to the columns of the Advocate and getting the Editor to write such a comment upon it as would be effective upon my father.1 I could not find Mr. Hallett but I saw William Foster just from Washington. His Account corroborates that of others, the Van Buren party is in a false position and must break down. This is my belief.

Home, Livy. I drew the form of Lease for the farm taken by Harvey Field at Quincy. Afternoon, continued writing upon my Article. Mr. Hallett called in consequence of the note I left. He read me an Article about my father which he had drawn, and we talked over my request.2 I also read him what I was writing which he engaged to publish.3 He is embarrassed by Mr. Van Buren’s course, embarrassed by my father’s, embarrassed all round. How changed the prospect in one short year. I am glad I am not deep in for it. In the evening at home, continued writing.


On JQA’s recent speech in the House, the Daily Atlas praised its style, its “unambitious directness of eloquence, a vigorous, unadorned simplicity,” its “aptness of illustration,” “felicity of diction,” and the soundness of its constitutional arguments, which “stamp it with the impress of a masterly intellect.” However, the Atlas continued: “It is now generally understood at Washington that Mr. Adams will not support Mr. Van Buren for the Presidency.... The Whig party in Massachusetts he desires to break down, because it would not elect him to the Senate.... The Tory national party he wishes to break 407down, because it once broke down Mr. Adams.... To accomplish these two objects he is the friend of Mr. Van Buren in this state, and his enemy every where else. This is a kind of fast and loose game” (9 June, p. 2, col. 4).


The Daily Advocate reprinted in installments (9th, p. 2, cols. 1–3; 10th, p. 2, cols. 1–3; 13th June, p. 2, cols. 1–2) the text of JQA’s speech of 25 May from the National Intelligencer (note to entry for 30 May, above). Upon its conclusion, the highly laudatory editorial note by Hallett would appear (14 June, p. 2, col. 2).


CFA’s article, “The Slavery Question Truly Stated,” signed “An Independent Thinker,” which he had begun on 7 June, did appear in the Advocate on 24 and 25 June, p. 2, cols. 1–2. Two drafts in CFA’s hand are in the Adams Papers, M/CFA/24.12, Microfilms, Reel No. 319.

Much as the mobbing of William Lloyd Garrison had provoked William Ellery Channing to the writing of his Slavery (above, entry for 7 Feb.), the discomfiting situation that found Van Buren and Webster vying for the favor of the South, and the consequent passage of the so-called “incendiary publications” bill and the application by the House of the “gag rule,” provided the impulse for CFA’s article that was so similar in general position to Channing’s, if set within a more political, less ethical, frame. The writing of it required of CFA a broader definition of his stance than was customary for him:

“Of all the questions that afflict the United States,... Slavery is the most permanent.... Besides the general tendency which it has to be thrown up from the natural inconsistency which to the unsophisticated mind the idea of Slavery is perpetually presenting in contrast to the idea of Liberty held forth in our Institutions, there are two particular causes which operate to hasten agitation. The first of these is the connexion slavery has with the moral feeling of Christianity, which carries great weight with men ... who very reluctantly admit the binding force of a mere civil contract over their deliberate impressions of right. The second cause, is the disposition on the part of ambitious political adventurers to take advantage of these moral scruples when shown any where in the North, and by working with them upon the fears of the Slaveholding portion of the Union, to prejudice their minds against citizens of the free States whenever these become candidates for their suffrages.....

“The impulse given in France by the revolution of 1830, and in England by the general doctrines and success of the reform Ministry, reached across the Atlantic and was the main cause of the late revival among us of the efforts for Abolition... It took hold of the best and purest class of our population; upon those who ... felt that a great moral principle was involved, and without considering the obstacles ... rushed ... into what seemed to them the shortest road to its establishment.

“There are many who believe that the mode of meeting this feeling last summer adopted, was that best calculated to put it down. I am free to confess, I never was of the number.... The mistake of each and all was in ignorance of the passion they were combating. Temporary interests may be controlled by fear of the sovereign power.... But enthusiasm is not to be put down by multitudes – the flame will burn brighter and freer, the more furious the blast which is directed against it, particularly when it draws its nourishment from feelings akin to religious zeal....

“Any calm observer of the times during the last twenty years, could hardly have failed to observe that before the late extraordinary efforts were made, the cause of abolition had gone backwards.... To tell the honest truth, the tone of public opinion had gone too low for the character of the free States – They never should go farther than merely to tolerate slavery as a necessary evil, incident to the compact under which we all live. They have gone so far as to submit to infringements of rights positively secured to them by that very compact, rights always heretofore held sacred....

“The indifference amounting nearly to apathy, so prevalent in the North upon the topic of Slavery, was exactly the state of feeling most advantageous to the South, and most adverse to the pro-408gress of abolition. It was this indifference which provoked the abolitionists to those extraordinary exertions.... It was to wake up the North that Thompson and Garrison labored even at the hazard of their lives.... Yet strange to say, the slaveholder has been the first to throw away by excessive violence and unreasonable demands all the advantages which he had.... They snatched up with eagerness the violent resolutions of the Abolitionists, pointed to the incendiary papers which were ... furnished gratis to their hands.... For the purpose of entrapping the Northern candidates [for the Presidency], and making them appear enemies to the South, they instigated demands made purposely so unreasonable as to render denial nearly certain.... The friends of the candidates affected by them, manifested much too eager a desire to comply.... They united to hunt Thompson out of the country, and vied with each other in zeal to denounce ... the abominable incendiary abolitionists. The friends of the weaker candidate, Mr. Webster, determined ... to make up in fury for their deficiency in number, and resorted to personal violence and mobbing, that they might prove ... their superior title to sincerity, and therefore to confidence.... Party madness rapidly went beyond all limits.... The Southern demands ... went the length not merely of admitting the existence of Slavery, but establishing it upon the ruins of Liberty....

“The hurried and indecent mode in which they [the Pinckney resolutions] were forced through their passage in the House of Representatives, betrays an utter want of confidence in their soundness.... How then can they stand a scrutiny before the people, where discussion is still free? ... The persons who engage to reject petitions without reading, are bound by their engagement, but they cannot bind those whom the public voice may point out to take their places for the purpose of receiving such petitions.... A future Congress will restore the right of petition, so sure as the people know their rights, and knowing dare maintain them.... But if ... the cause of liberty of speech, so fearfully trampled down to effect the passage of Pinckney’s resolution, is also to be invaded, and all the persons who take up the argument in these are to be forthwith denounced as abolitionists, then ... before long the abolition cause, thus artificially matured, will be the cause of the great majority in the Free States....

“I am not myself an abolitionist, nor disposed to go a step out of my way merely to aid their cause. Whatever I may think of slavery in the abstract ... it is yet in my estimation one portion of a perfect contract to which I am for adhering, both in spirit and in letter. If the question of Slavery must come at all, let it come without hastening.... But if advantage is to be taken of the very instrument which secures our indifference; ... if the right to think, to write and to speak our opinions in the freest manner is to be taken away from us, then is the time come for a general stand.... The cause of Freedom is then to become secondary to the cause of Slavery, and our Declaration of Independence is to become a mockery and a show.... The violent and ambitious among the slaveholders have played upon a string in wantonness, which may yet answer to them in sounds of thunder.”