Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 7

356 Thursday. 7th. CFA Thursday. 7th. CFA
Thursday. 7th.

This morning was remarkably cut up. I first attended an auction at which I was desirous of buying some things, then spent time in reading the President’s Message which has come and which appears to me a virtual retreat from his high ground.1 It is however very adroitly covered, and we must wait to see whether the conservatives will regard it as enough.

Walk and occupied until I went home to read Herodotus. Afternoon, a tendency to head ach which came on worse and worse towards night. I managed however to counteract it today. La Science des Medailles. Evening, Mr. Brooks was here.

I went out to attend a meeting called without distinction of party to oppose Mr. Eliot’s election.2 Without feeling a particle of hostility to him personally and having now no motive, since his retracting his refusal to grant Faneuil Hall beyond a general dislike of the unremoved principle of that refusal, I yet felt it my duty to do my part in showing that that principle was not our’s. The court room was full, but there had been no previous concert, and inasmuch as the firemen appeared the principal persons engaged I left before it succeeded in effecting any organization. There seemed to be material enough for an opposition without any concert to bring it into action. Home. Mr. Brooks had not gone and Mr. Walsh came in. Conversation upon banking.

1.

The Van Buren message on currency and banks, delivered on the 5th, was printed in Boston papers on the 8th (Daily Advertiser, p. 1, cols. 1–6, p. 2, col. 1).

2.

Samuel A. Eliot, mayor of Boston, was seeking reelection.

Friday 8th. CFA Friday 8th. CFA
Friday 8th.

We have fine, clear weather now. I went to the Office and upon some commissions, then went down to Faneuil Hall to attend the meeting upon the Alton murder. The circumstances which have attended this Meeting rendered it a highly interesting one. The hall was very full, and not much time was needed to show that two parties existed in it. Dr. Channing was speaking when I went in. He looked to me somewhat agitated and anxious, but his manner was slow and drawling which produces more effect in the pulpit than here. His speech seemed to be a kind of justification of himself in moving the public meeting and in preparing the resolutions which he said he expected and wished to be known here and every where. He was followed by G. S. Hillard who in a brief and well turned speech explained the ground of the public meeting.

357 image 358

Thus far things were quiet but Mr. J. T. Austin thought proper to put in a bar to the proceedings. It did not seem clear to me what good object he could have had, for he produced no substantial course, and limited himself to insulting the motives and proceedings of the Abolitionists. This was easily enough done in a city corrupted heart and soul by the principles of slavery, and with a majority present almost ready to use force to bear him out right or wrong if necessary. His argument was that the mob of Alton was justified by the case. Lovejoy was acting against the safety of the people of Missouri, in a place on the border of the State where the law of that State could not touch him, that the laws of two States thus conflicting in a case of imminent danger the people rose up in their might and decided for themselves. They did in this case no more than our ancestors who threw overboard the tea in Boston harbour and who thinks of censuring them for a riot. The fact of a clergyman’s falling only showed that a clergyman was out of his place when meddling with the weapons of the flesh and that he died as a fool dieth. The course of the Abolition party was like that of a man who should insist upon the liberation of the wild animals of a Menagerie.

Such was the substance of a speech in Faneuil Hall in 1837 of the Attorney General of Massachusetts,1 applauded at every sentence by a large and powerful party of respectable men. I confess my nerves did not stand it very well and from that moment I went with the meeting. A Young Mr. Phillips followed with some very spirited and ready remarks which were too stinging not to arouse the feeling of the opponents,2 and more than once I thought strong symptoms of a riot to be impending. But he finished quickly and Mr. Bond got up with a mild view of the whole course of proceeding full of moderation and good practical sense. The resolutions were then voted though not without opposition and adjourned.

On the whole, it was the most excited public meeting I was ever present at. And I confess nothing could exceed the mixed amount of disgust and indignation which moved me at the doctrines of the learned expounder of mob law. As I went home, met Davis and walked with him into his Office for a short time. Talk about the whole matter. Then off to deal in Accounts.

Home. Herodotus and Evening, finishing the last sheet of my Essay. Then to Mr. Frothingham’s where my Wife was. Conversation and a little sacred music by him and his boys whom he is training in Chorus. A pretty sight and very tolerable execution.

359 1.

On James Trecothick Austin in another context, see vol. 5:369.

2.

The impromptu speech of Wendell Phillips, Harvard 1831, was notable not only for its impact upon his auditors but as the initial public effort in Boston of his long and effective career on behalf of abolitionism and other moral causes ( DAB ).