Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 7

Introduction Introduction
Charles Francis Adams, Diarist, 1836–1840

Volumes 7 and 8 of the Diary of Charles Francis Adams, encompassing the twenty-eighth to the thirty-second years of his age (June 1836 to February 1840), display the diarist’s growing certitude that he had begun to achieve what he had long sought, reputation in his own name. This he felt essential: “I am indifferent about every thing but my reputation, which I desire to fix upon a firm basis.... The reputation of the race rests in my generation with me.”1 The confidence in his success came not easily and lay outside the political sphere that had engaged him for a time.

Adams turned his pen largely away from support of parties and candidates, partly from the changed conditions he observed on the political scene. The fragile coalition between the Antimasonic and Democratic forces in Massachusetts, which Adams had helped to forge to put Van Buren in the presidency, had broken up; and the drift of the new administration to its southern supporters and to a heterodox economic policy left Adams without a party refuge. “The course of the Administration in yielding to the eccentricities of Mr. Calhoun has placed me very much upon the other side and yet I have an innate aversion to the dirty dictation of the Whigs of this place.” Further, from an analysis came the conviction, “I have no fancy for the parties which divide the Republic and do not now care ever to have much to do with either.” And even more generally, “Political life is not of itself at this time and in this country an object of reasonable desire so far as happiness is concerned.... The whisperings of vanity or ambition should not be allowed to overbear the injunctions of wisdom and prudence.” To these judgments is to be added his long-held conviction that his father’s continuing and ever-increasing prominence in public life placed severe limitations, at least for the time, upon his own freedom of political action.2

Adams’ writing for newspapers and periodicals did continue, and he added the lecture platform to the means he employed to express his xviviews on matters that engaged him and seemed worthy of public comment. His productivity in writing during these years was substantial. Fifty-five newspaper articles or “columns”3 in twenty-one series appeared in print, four of the series being reprinted in New York or Washington papers. Seven essays were published in periodicals, and at his own cost he brought out as pamphlets two longer compositions.4 Two papers written for delivery as public lectures were presented for twelve audiences.5 All his writings went through many drafts. Just beyond the limits of the present volumes lay the publication of the first of the works on family history that he would edit.6

The issues of greatest immediate moment in the years 1836–1840 to which Adams gave his attention were those relating to banking and currency. The economic crises and distress remarked repeatedly in the diarist’s journal, he held were largely chargeable to a refashioning of the banking system made necessary by the failure to recharter the Bank of the United States and to the consequent lack of direction in the management of the money supply. In arriving at these conclusions and in attempting to formulate a corrective program, Adams undertook to master the literature bearing upon economic questions. His studies in preparation included the reading of Gallatin, Bentham, Malthus, Sismondi, Condillac, John Law, and Dugald Stewart, as well as works in the field by J. B. Say, G. P. Scrope, H. F. Storch, and George Tucker. Thus prepared, and basing his position ultimately upon moral grounds, he embarked on a journalistic effort to answer in a thoroughly nonpartisan and objective way questions relating to a sound currency, payments in specie, and national and state banking practices.7 He developed his position on the issues with increasing success in ten series that ran to twenty-seven articles in newspapers, in two pamphlets, and in five essays in periodicals. The second of the pamphlets and all the essays carried his name, a measure of his growing confidence.

Adams’ unwillingness to accommodate himself in economic matters to the tides of opinion, either of party or faction, fed his existing sense of isolation in Boston. “My opinions agree nearly with those of no body xviihere” (12 Nov. 1838). When he was forced, by the divergence of their views on monetary policies, to break with the Advocate, which had earlier been his vehicle, he spoke of it as “the only remaining Newspaper in Boston in which I could publish my opinions” (14 July 1837). Even after finding in the Courier a reluctant substitute, he wrote, “Nothing but a strong sense of duty to myself induces me to persevere in a system productive of such discouragements” (28 Sept. 1838). Rightly or wrongly, he was convinced that avenues for the publication of his compositions were all but closed to him.

Adams also felt the remoteness of his views from those held by persons in Boston of his own social and economic class on the congeries of questions bearing upon slavery in the United States. He chose not to ignore the immorality of the institution through public silence; yet he condemned both Abolitionism and the harassment and violence directed against Abolitionists. Aside from two essay-reviews on historical subjects requested of him by the editor of the North American Review, the remainder of Adams’ journalistic efforts (nineteen articles in six series) in this period were devoted to these issues of conscience. On slavery itself and its evils, Adams was unequivocal: “Slavery is a great practical evil afflicting the human race and involving an extraordinary perversion of the moral sense.”8 Its existence corrupted society: “Indolence is the characteristic, and this indolence leads to negligence internally and externally” (29 April 1838). Moreover, he emphasized the extent to which the heedless efforts to protect and preserve the institution were contaminating the basic principles and policies of the nation. Those excesses had already included official toleration of blatant violations of the civil rights of men like William Lloyd Garrison, the passage of the “incendiary publications” bill, and the use of the “gag rule” to curb members of the House of Representatives.9 More immediate were the evident provocations against Mexico in the continuing efforts to annex Texas, and the widespread acceptance and justification of “mob rule” following the murder of Elijah Lovejoy in Alton, Illinois.

Without hesitation Adams condemned these manifestations of injustice.10 On occasion, his despair over the course of events led him to xviiiconclude that “Nothing can save this country from entire perversion morally and politically but the predominance of the Abolition principle” (24 May 1838). More characteristically, however, he staked out and maintained a position in opposition to the excesses both of the Abolitionists and of those committed to the perpetuation of the slave system: “Injudicious attempts to liberate the slaves that swarm in this land of liberty seem far more likely to lead us back to anarchy, or more certainly to war and bloodshed than to any political millenium” (4 July 1837). Moreover, because institutions could not achieve perfection, Adams felt constrained to endure for a time the fearful blight that was slavery, sanctioned as it was by the Constitution: The Abolitionists “move heaven and earth to accelerate the abolition of slavery. I stand by waiting its downfall by ... irresistible destiny ... and only resist attempts ... to harness my fellow-citizens and myself into the criminal work of pulling down the constitution.”11

Opposing the dogmas of the two polarities, he rejected any adherence to absolutes: “It does not occur to me that any individual need make himself wrong by pursuing the right and yet this seems the error which the few independent honest thinking men who are to be found among us, are apt to commit.”12 Where positions had become increasingly rigid, he advocated avoidance of extremes: “I was yet clearly in favour of discussion, and would by no means give to the principle of Slavery any thing more than the toleration which the Constitution had granted.” Nevertheless, while holding to an avoidance of extremes, Adams was able to recognize that the Abolitionists did have a distinct contribution to make to the antislavery effort:

The remedy for slavery is not to be found in arsenic or in lobelia and Thomsonian treatment. Extravagance instead of giving point to truth blunts its effect.... I am ... disposed to think well of the moral results which our Abolition movements may unintentionally produce, but this is a very different thing from throwing one’s self for ever and aye, headlong into them.13

Adams sensed that his ruggedly independent stance on public matters predisposed his opinions to neglect or prejudice in the Boston milieu. He remained convinced that the hostility they encountered was in xixgood part a hostility toward his family traceable to the independent and anti-party positions repeatedly taken by John and John Quincy Adams in their tempestuous careers. The almost automatic neglect or antagonism to which he felt his opinions subject, he translated into a conviction that he was personally unacceptable to his contemporaries. His “constitutional shyness” and “natural diffidence of temper” may have contributed to this conviction or been its result.14

Complaints of loneliness were frequent, but not always supported elsewhere in the text. On the occasion of his seventh wedding anniversary, he recorded that he had been “uninterruptedly happy,”15 and later Diary entries of these years reveal full participation in the events of Boston’s social calendar, although often dismissing the parties as time-wasting or insipid:

You probably know already through Abby’s letters that we have been out everywhere.... It has been so often urged upon me that I ought to go out, that it was wrong to shut myself up so at home, that I did myself injury by it, &ca., that although not convinced of the cogency of the reasoning brought to bear, I determined at least to take from my friends my refusal to do it as a cause of reproach. To this I was the more induced as Abby herself had become a little infected with the spirit which all of you entertained, and was not infrequently complaining that “I stuck” “too much at home,” and that she was becoming forgotten by the troop of fashionable friends. A serious misfortune indeed among us where fashionable friends are of such great value and service.

There seemed to be no reason to prevent the making of a fair experiment this winter, so I concluded that it should be made. I have refused no invitations and the result has been that either in small or in large in family visiting or in parties, the whole of my evenings have been consumed.16

Nevertheless, Adams’ belief that “I have few acquaintances and fewer friends” (2 Nov. 1836) was deeply felt. Critical to the development of this cast of thought was his estrangement from four close friends. The first, John Walsh, “modest, capable, and well educated xxwearing out his years in seeking a bare livelihood,” found no employment in Boston (10 Jan. 1837, note). The second, Alexander Hill Everett, in his frantic search for office became numbered among those politicians “who see expediency with both eyes, but principle and duty with only one” (5 Sept. 1836). Friendship foundered upon this judgment: “He wants a basis of morals. Duplicity and equivocation have lost him the first position in the State” (12 Nov. 1836). The third, Edmund Quincy, having “banished the intemperance of conviviality for the intemperance of Abolitionism,” became in addition “a red hot temperance man and indeed rather wild in most things just now.”17 The fourth, Thomas Kemper Davis, had been the closest to Adams of his friends. Together they conversed at length on literary matters—oratory, the theater, style—and on the principles that should govern political behavior. But Davis, acting upon the wish “to take a more active part in life,” permitted his democratic impulses to lead him to identification with party, to accept Calhoun as guide, and to allow “ultra opinions” to make “his manners ... less pleasing every hour.” His withdrawal from fellowship ensued.18

However we measure the depth of Adams’ feeling of social remoteness, it provoked no substantial change in the pattern of life he had established in the preceding years and by which he liked to live. Each year was all but equally divided between residence in Boston and Quincy. During the months spent in Quincy he returned to Boston more often than not for the habitual mornings at his office receiving “visitors of business or pleasure,” seeing to a variety of agency accounts, and keeping current his journal entries. A walk, then the midday meal at home preceded afternoon reading in ancient and modern languages and a period reserved for instruction of the oldest child. Evenings began with reading aloud to or by his wife; this was followed by further reading, usually on subjects related to the compositions on which he was currently engaged, or by writing. Although his essays were of the sort that necessitated the acquisition of extensive background and that went through numerous drafts, he seldom departed from the allotted hours in order to write or to extend the already heavy program of reading far into the night.

Adams did, however, interrupt the familiar procession of his tasks and projects by spending more time in travel than in earlier years. The present volumes begin with the record of his and his wife’s ambitious xxi image journey of 2,000 miles through New York State via the Hudson River and the Erie Canal to Niagara and then to Montreal and Quebec. A visit in Washington for more than a month and two trips of shorter duration to New York City are also recounted in these pages. The advent of steamboat and railroad was having its effect, creating, as he said, “such an instability in every thing,” and provoking his reaction that “the age is one of movement.”19

Additionally, quite normal developments within the family exacted new demands that modified the even tenor of many of Adams’ days. Three of the four children born by 1838 to Abigail Brooks and Charles Francis Adams had emerged from infancy. Increasingly, he felt that he must allot time not only to their instruction but also to games of “Loto” and cards, to walks in the fields, to swimming and fishing expeditions, and to trips to the theater and to see exotic animals, alive and stuffed. These activities and excursions he recorded without hint of impatience. When the children were away from a too-quiet house, Adams could write, “The noise of children is generally cheerful and excites that variety of sensations which make at once the occupation and the pleasure of life” (13 Sept. 1839). The birth in 1838 of their fourth child, Henry, brought for Abby an extended period of ill health and for Charles troubled concern and apprehension. When their oldest child, Louisa, was run over by a wagon and thought perhaps fatally injured, his concern for her day-by-day progress brought his ordinary activities to a stand. When Georgeanna Frances Adams, the younger of the two children of his dead brother John, and the favorite of Charles’ mother, died in Quincy, and when word was received that Lieutenant Thomas Boylston Adams Jr., the most promising of the sons of John Quincy Adams’ brother, had succumbed to a fever during the Florida war, there were more serious shocks to the ordered way.

The single development of the present years that intruded most upon Adams’ routine, however, came from his decision to build a summer residence in Quincy for his growing family. From architects’ plans to landscaping the grounds, he involved himself at every stage—calculating, hiring, supervising, exhorting, digging, planting. And worrying: “So very difficult it is to entrust any thing to another, even the best disposed” (5 July 1837).

These and other intrusions probably did not conduce to the attainment of “that evenness of mind which to me appears the point of all earthly happiness” (27 Sept. 1836). He did find entirely congenial em-xxiiployment, however, through an absorption in the arrangement and study of his family’s papers, looking toward their preservation and the ultimate publication of appropriate parts.20 The belief that he bore the whole burden “to sustain the credit of the name and family” had long since been inculcated by his father, as is made explicit here,21 and as the earlier published volumes of the Diary attest. His recognition of the responsibility is apparent in the passage from the Iliad as translated by Cowper and Pope that he chose as an epigraph for the manuscript volume of journal entries he began on 1 September 1837: “Tremble to disgrace / Thy brave progenitors” and “emulate the glories of our race.” Thus feelings of alienation from the local scene were damped on occasion by acknowledgment of the familial ties represented there: “This is my native land upon which my fathers have stood their ground since the country was peopled, and I will not desert it or even think a wish to be elsewhere. No other ground is like this for me however the case might be” (3 June 1838).

Although Adams did not surrender his belief that he lived in an unfriendly environment, he acquired in the course of these years increased confidence in his capacity to overcome that handicap and achieve standing:

During the past year I have done something towards earning for myself a reputation somewhat on a footing with that of those who have preceded me. And although my exertions receive no adventitious aid and experience much insidious hostility, they have not failed of their great purpose, the winning for me the good opinion of those whose good opinion is worth mentioning (1 Jan. 1838).

Self-assured, he asserted that he had gone “beyond the time for being smothered” and “beyond the day of discouragement.”22 This assurance arose from increasing evidence that the opinions he expressed in his journalistic pieces were winning respect among the influential both in and out of Boston and from offers to nominate him for state legislator and congressman, even though he felt compelled to decline them.23


Expanding self-confidence also sharpened his judgments of others. The ambiguities in the earlier response of son to father, discussed in volume 3 (p. xxxii–xxxvii), give way here to assessments, both favorable and unfavorable, that are more settled and perhaps more decisive. Charles Francis’ critiques of two addresses by John Quincy Adams serve to illustrate:

My father’s speech upon the question of Texas ... displays great acuteness and comprehensiveness of mind with less of declamation than has been usual with him. The tone is also more goodnatured and adapted to the temper of the house. It’s defect is that of Repetition consequent upon ... a rather too desultory and immethodical manner. On the whole, it will form one of the most important of all the acts of his life, and will have a great influence upon the future condition of the country, either fortunate or otherwise (2 Sept. 1838).

Even greater certitude underlies the son’s trenchant comment on one of his father’s Fourth of July orations:

It was marked by the usual vigour of style and excess of delivery which are peculiar to him. The leading thought seemed to be that the Declaration of Independence formed a new era in the progress of man’s perfection second only to the coming of Jesus, and in fulfilment of his object in coming, that it founded government in right and not in power and that the principles which flow from it are ... freedom from bondage and the cessation of war. The Oration did not suit my taste at all because it seemed to me altogether rhetorical and very little founded in truth (4 July 1837).

Further reflections on the same address led Charles Francis to measure dispassionately the qualities of both his grandfather and father:

In many things I defer more to the authority of my grandfather whose political sagacity appears to have been the most striking characteristic of his life. He saw no cessation of war, still less much perfectibility while man is constituted as he has been known to be since the world began. And I think with him. However much therefore I may admire the power of my father’s composition, my judgment refuses to admit the reasoning (same).

The traits of mind and judgment that he now brought to appraisals of parent and grandparent, Adams brought also, despite an abiding family loyalty, to estimates of some bitter and successful antagonists to an Adams. Thus, he characterized Alexander Hamilton, John Adams’ xxivprincipal detractor, as “certainly a great man if not in all respects a judicious one.”24

The degree to which the diarist had attained an unfettered critical capacity is evident from the cold light turned upon himself and his children as the bearers of a persistent familial vice:

My endeavour is and must be to cultivate humility because in that our family appears to be most wanting. When I look at my children as they now are and compare them with three generations of ancestors, who shall convince me that arrogance is not given to us as the object upon which to exercise all our virtuous resolutions? The haughty, domineering spirit impatient of control, or of contradiction—This defect is the ally of many useful qualifications, I know, but in the consciousness of it’s power, who can be desirous of seeking the opportunities or temptations for it’s display? Certainly, with due regard to the christian injunction, not I.25

The judgments of Charles Francis Adams as he entered upon his thirties reveal an aptitude for objective and temperate analysis confidently applied. Any deficiency in balance that remained to be overcome would seem to derive from his persistence in a course deliberately set, an overreliance upon the commonsensical and practical.26

The Manuscripts and the Editorial Method

Before the period covered by the present volumes, Charles Francis Adams had settled upon an appropriate form for the entries in his journal (see volume 1:xxxix–xl). From 1827 onward he was to follow a single form that would remain essentially unchanged and to continue without any significant break until 1880.

The journal entries, 12 June 183629 February 1840, the time spanned in the present volumes, are consecutively written in three manuscript-diary volumes. In the Adams Papers serial numbering they xxvare designated D/CFA/11, 12, and 13 (Microfilms, Reel Nos. 63–65). Adams gives to the volumes the numbers 10, 11, and 12. An explanation of the discrepancy between his numbering and the numbers assigned in the Adams Papers as they now stand is given in volume 1:xxxvii–xxxviii.

Manuscript volume 11 measures 10″ x 8″, and is bound in half calf with green boards. The spine is missing. Volume 12 measures 8 1/4 ″ x 6 3/4″, and its binding is full calf. The spine is missing. What remains of the paper label from the spine reads: “[Se]pt 1 / [18]37 / [De]c 31 / [18]38.” Volume 13 measures 10″ x 8″, and is bound in vellum. On the spine are a red leather label: “Diary,” and a paper label: “1 Jan / 1939 [sic] / 23 May / 1841.” Written on the front cover in GWA’s hand is “George Washington Adams. / Boston 10th October 1827.” The volumes contain respectively, 369, 342, and 372 pages.

From 12 June 1836 to 31 August 1837 the journal entries occupy all the pages remaining in D/CFA/11 following those containing the entries from 13 December 1835. Beginning on 1 September 1837 and continuing through the end of December 1838, the journal entries are continued through the whole of D/CFA/12. The thirteenth volume of the Diary (D/CFA/13) contains the journal entries for the period 1 January 1839–23 May 1841, of which the entries through February 1840 are included within the present volumes.

The editorial method followed in volumes 7 and 8 of the Diary of Charles Francis Adams has been that followed in the first two volumes with the modifications introduced in volumes 3 and 4. That method, including textual and annotational policy, and the modifications have been explained fully in the Introductions to the earlier volumes, 1:xl–xlvi and 3:xxxix–xl.

As he had done since May 1830, Adams regularly indicates for each page in these manuscript volumes a notation of place. The method employed to normalize the position of these place notations in the journal entries and to express typographically variants from his usual practice in the manuscript is explained at volume 3:xxxix–xl.

The statements made in the Introductions to the earlier volumes of the Diary of Charles Francis Adams (1:xlv and 3:xl) about the annotation of books and other publications mentioned in the Diary apply in volumes 7 and 8 according to the pattern of volumes 3 and 4.


Entry of 15 April 1837; see also entry of 1 Jan. 1837.


Entries of 12 Nov. 1838, 16 June 1837, 30 Oct. 1839: see also entry of 4 Feb. 1840.


The same number as in the years immediately preceding, see vol. 5:xxx; however, in the present period only nine of the articles concerned current politics.


One of these was an expanded version of the series “Mr. Webster and the Currency,” which had had newspaper publication (entry for 25 Feb. 1837); the other, Further Reflections upon the Currency, had not appeared in print previously.


The first, a history of the Northern Discoveries, was given three times; the second, based on the letters of Abigail Adams, was highly successful with each of nine audiences who heard it read, 23 Jan. 1838–19 Feb. 1840.


Letters of Mrs. Adams, Boston, 1840.


See Duberman, CFA , p. 56–60.


CFA to LCA, 25 Feb. 1838, Adams Papers.


See vol. 6:248–249, 294, 326, 399–400, 407–408.


CFA’s four articles opposing the slaveholding states’ purposes in agitating for the annexation of Texas appeared in the Quincy Patriot, 2 Sept.–7 Oct. 1837; his letter to the editor of the Boston Morning Post opposing the action of the mayor and council in denying the use of Faneuil Hall for a meeting to protest the Lovejoy murder was published on 4 Dec. 1837; see also entries of 26–27 Aug. and 2, 7–8 Dec. 1837.


[CFA], Letter to the Boston Courier, 17 Aug. 1838, quoted below in note to entry of that date.


CFA to JQA, 29 Jan. 1838, Adams Papers.


Entry of 7 July 1837; CFA to LCA, 25 Feb. 1838, Adams Papers, quoted in note to entry of 29 Jan. 1838. For further information on CFA’s position on slavery and Abolitionism during these years, see Duberman, CFA , p. 61–65.


See vol. 5:xxv–xxvi; entries of 2 Nov. 1836; 1 May, 4 Sept. 1839.


Entry of 3 Sept. 1836. And on his tenth anniversary he wrote that the years “have been happy far beyond what is the ordinary lot of mortals. Perhaps of all my good fortune ... the circumstance of my marriage was the greatest incident.... Of my Wife I need not speak as the passage of time has only contributed to make me prize her more highly. And my children are healthy and promising” (4 Sept. 1839).


CFA to LCA, 6 Feb. 1839, Adams Papers; see also entries of 28 Feb., 11 March 1839.


CFA to LCA, 6 Feb. 1839, Adams Papers; entry of 8 July 1839.


Entries of 14 June 1836; 6 March, 13 Nov. 1837; 24 Jan., 4 July, 19 Sept., 20 Dec. 1838; 13 Jan. 1840.


Entries of 12 July 1836, 20 Aug. 1839. See also those of 16, 30 June 1836; 27 April, 1 June, 7 Aug. 1838.


“I take great interest in ... the journals [of JA] because I feel as if it may lead me to something useful. And they are in themselves so interesting that they ought to be published, for safety’s sake if for nothing else”; entry of 24 June 1838. On undertaking the preparation of a volume of AA’s letters with a “biography summary,” he wrote, “It is a tribute due to excellence from her own family which she is not likely to receive excepting from me” (entry of 21 Aug. 1839).


JQA to CFA, 25 Jan. 1838, Adams Papers, quoted in note to entry of 29 Jan. 1838.


Entries of 18 April 1838; 18 July 1839. See also entry of 19 Aug. 1839. For the development of self-assurance in its earlier stages, see vol. 5:xxxi–xxxii.


Entries of 6 Sept. 1838; 30 Oct.4 Nov. 1839.


Entry of 28 July 1838. CFA’s admiration for Hamilton, as much as his disavowal of his grandfather’s unrelenting belligerence toward his antagonists, may also account for CFA’s practice when editing JA’s Works of excising the most bitter of JA’s passages on Hamilton. See note to entry of 11 Aug. 1838 and passages in JA, Diary and Autobiography cited there.


CFA to LCA, 25 Feb. 1838, Adams Papers.


See, for example, the comment on a sermon by Rev. John Sullivan Dwight: “A young man who has got as much of the mysticism of the new school as will be sufficient to destroy that practical use which is after all a characteristic of the English race and makes it superior to every other” (entry of 8 Dec. 1839); but see vol. 3:xxvii–xxxvii.