Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 5

Thursday. 27th. CFA Thursday. 27th. CFA
Thursday. 27th.

Fine morning but it clouded up, and we had occasional heavy showers through the day. After doubting a little while, I concluded 115to go to town, and accomplish what I had left undone. Accordingly I passed my time in finishing the draught of the power of Attorney begun yesterday, bringing down my Quarterly Accounts to this time, and copying out the draught of an Account Current for Monday. I also had a little time for Judge Marshall’s last volume. If I always passed my hours in Boston as usefully, I should be more content to go there. Returned home without having experienced any interruptions in my labours, excepting Jackson the Painter, and Mr. Kuhn to collect my heavy subscription to the blind Asylum.1 I am glad it is paid, and I hope I can say it was done cheerfully.

Found Dr. Waterhouse here upon a visit to dine. He grows old.2 To day his conversation was principally upon the reception of General Jackson at Cambridge and the conferring upon him the degree of L.L.D. This is a step taken by the College rather from the spirit of worldly compliance than from a sense of right. My father is somewhat indignant at it, which is not surprising although in him the motive is very liable to be misunderstood. It wanted only this to fill the climax of absurdity in General Jackson’s elevation.3

I read the rest of Horace’s Art of Poetry, which is sound throughout with perhaps only two or three trifling exceptions. No single Essay that I know of has done more to exhaust a subject. Subsequent writers have been content to follow. Evening, St. John, the ladies took tea at Weymouth. I read the Observer. Not quite well.


The successful campaign concluded, Col. Perkins had deeded his home to the Institution (Columbian Centinel, 15 June, p. 2, col. 7). Kuhn was probably George H. Kuhn (vol. 4:388).


Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, approaching eighty, had been a close friend of JA and of JQA for more than fifty years. A man of wide learning, he had earlier been professor of physic at Harvard and at seventy-nine had importuned JQA to support his appointment to the chair of Natural History there. CFA had earlier found pleasure in listening to the conversation of the old friends that was likely to touch on a variety of literary or scientific subjects (vol. 4:90, above, and Adams Family Correspondence , 4:xiii–xiv, 32–34; see also, Waterhouse to JQA, 17 April 1833 [Adams Papers]; JQA, Diary, 18 June 1833).


During President Jackson’s visit to Boston and to Cambridge JQA and CFA had resolutely absented themselves from all events planned in connection with it. JQA’s self-exile in Quincy indicated no lack of interest in all that occurred during Jackson’s stay, and Waterhouse’s account of the ceremonies in Cambridge elicited a warm response. JQA’s account in his diary of that part of the conversation with Waterhouse is included in John Spencer Bassett’s “Notes on Jackson’s Visit to New England, June 1833” (MHS, Procs. , 56 [1922–1923]: 244–260).

JQA’s opposition to the award of the honorary degree had earlier been vigorously expressed to President Quincy of Harvard when he had come to the Old House to inquire of JQA’s willingness to attend: “I said that the personal Relations in which President Jackson had chosen to place himself with me were such that I could hold no intercourse of a friendly character with him.... And independent of that, as 116myself an affectionate child of our alma Mater, I would not be present to witness her disgrace in conferring her highest Literary honours upon a barbarian, who could not write a sentence of Grammar, and hardly could spell his own name.” To Quincy’s account of the Corporation’s reasons JQA reacted, “I was not satisfied with these reasons, but it is college ratiocination and College Sentiment. Time serving and Sycophancy are qualities of all learned and Scientific Institutions. More than 50 years since the College gave this degree ... to a Frenchman by the name of Valnais, about as fit for it as Andrew Jackson ... I had some good humoured discussion with Mr. Quincy upon this occurrence, but adhered to my determination to stay at home” (Diary, 18 June; later repeated in similar language in the letter from JQA to CFA cited below).

Reports of the incongruities of the occasion were relished in the Adams household, particularly those relating to Jackson’s behavior and response: “I understand he behaved with great dignity during the Latin Oration and never moved a muscle of his face during the recital, an excellent proof that he relished the striking and complimentary parts of it to the satisfaction of Mr. Q. and the Learned Body. I send John a Squib in the form of an Improvisation which I wrote ...

Discerning old Harvard presents the degree

Old Hickory asks pray what means LLD? The Corporate Sages afraid of excess Reserve for themselves that of A.S.S.”

(LCA to Mrs. JA2, 6 July, Adams Papers)

Outside the family, too, a good deal of ribald comment was provoked, especially from the pen of Major Jack Downing (for example, Columbian Centinel, 19 Aug., p. 1, cols. 5–7).

The award of the degree, however, produced more serious consequences for President Quincy. At an Overseers’ meeting early in 1834, J. T. Austin and A. H. Everett sought to embarrass the President by raising the question whether the Overseers had been given proper and timely notice of the meeting set to confirm the action of the Corporation. A committee of inquiry was appointed, and the matter was not finally disposed of until 13 February (Columbian Centinel, 13 Jan., p. 1, col. 6–p. 2, col. 1; 14 Feb., p. 2, col. 5; 19 Feb., p. 2, cols. 1–3). In the interim the Centinel printed on the authority of the Charlestown Aurora a rumor that “it is not improbable that Mr. Quincy may retire from the Presidency of Harvard College” (3 Feb., p. 2, col. 1). These actions would seem to have provided part of the basis for Quincy’s conviction that the Everetts had sought to oust him, probably with the hope that he would be replaced by Edward Everett (see below, entry for 23 Aug. 1834, note).

JQA, opposed as he had been to the action taken in the matter of the degree, nevertheless rose to Quincy’s defense, as he would again later in the year in the matter of the student riots: “I see with great concern that another stream of disputation has opened from a fountain bitter as wormwood and gall. The discussion at the Board of Overseers upon the Diploma which has polluted the Catalogue of our Alma Mater with the name of Andrew Jackson, is reported in the Daily Advocate and has deeply afflicted me. The more so, because the debate discovers the spirit of chicanery against President Quincy, assailing him, not on the really questionable ground of his conduct on that occasion, but on the mere omission of the formality of giving due notice.... His real error was in consenting to confer the degree upon a man every way unworthy of it. He gave me notice of the meeting personally, and I told him I would not be present to see ... that prostration of Learning at the feet of Power.... And through the whole of that Presidential tour, where was there one single voice of remonstrance heard against the baseness of that servility and adulation, cringing while its object, like a skunk, scattered his stench as he went ... continually alternating between the visit to the close stool and the reception of some fulsome address?” (JQA to CFA, 18 Jan. 1834, Adams Papers.)

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