Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Journal. January. 1824. Thursday. 1st. CFA Journal. January. 1824. Thursday. 1st. CFA
Journal. January. 1824. Thursday. 1st.

It was a very rainy day and very discouraging to the good people of Washington and vicinity in their usual visit to the President. We went, however and found the rooms crowded to overflowing. And I had the pleasure of seeing almost all my old acquaintance at present in town. The change in society however is so great here that one will hardly find any number of persons in one winter whom he saw in the preceding. Attached as I became to the society last year the revulsion was not the most pleasant to my feelings. The young men were different and what is of more importance the young ladies were different—some great clumsy ugly looking girls had succeeded the charmers of the former winter. These thoughts made me melancholy in the midst of gaiety and to keep myself from the appearance of moping kept near the family.

The house was full and the crowd much enlivened by the music of the band. All the great characters were present except Mr. Crawford who is very ill. General Jackson was bowing away very low and appeared to excite admiration and attention. He is a very mild man in his manners, possessed of none of that ferocity which his enemies 26have been so eager to ascribe to him. Our good eastern people, some of them have a notion that he is a perfect tiger but good souls, in this as well as in many other things they are mistaken. Mr. Calhoun was evidently exerting himself to the utmost to be agreable and pleasant. His purposes appeared to me however to shine through too clearly to be mistaken by any one. Mr. Clay I did not see although I understood that he was there. Mrs. Monroe did not appear. He, good old gentleman, looked very much as usual, though to tell my humble opinion I do not think him a very dignified man. Mrs. Hay presided over the ladies, and looked very much as usual.1 Senators, Members and Gentry made up the rest of the company. Of these I shall not speak except to notice a very few of my acquaintance. Mrs. Peter was there with America and Sons. The first does not look so well, and is evidently going. America is prettier than she was but I got no opportunity to speak to her. Or at least I sought none. This was the case also as to Miss Selden, for after a very little conversation we separated and I only said a few words en passant afterwards. The Cottringers were none of them there owing to the weather, I presume, and to Harriet’s about to be marriage, a circumstance for which I was sorry.

After waiting sometime for the carriage and then witnessing an almost word omitted scene in which I was tempted to do what I should afterwards have repented, we returned home, having been there two hours and a half, and seen “all the world.” After a little conversation customary upon such a meeting, and all the little talk about this person and that and the other, we were reminded that it was time to dress for dinner, as Monsieur had company. So we retired and I did not return to the parlour till the company had assembled. It consisted of Senators and Members entirely. The most awkward situation that a young man can be put into in my mind, is to enter a room full of persons much older than yourself, and set down among them without the slightest acquaintance with any one. This is my fate generally, but custom has made it easy and with the help of darkness at the first shock my modesty has time to pass off. The fact is that one will soon find these members to be no better than any one else, after which he will get along very well.

The company consisted of Mr. Rufus King of New York, Mr. Talbot of Kentucky and Mr. Williams of Mississipi, Senators, Mr. J. S. Barbour of Virginia, Mr. Cuthbert of Georgia, Mr. Hobart of Massachusetts, “Our fair and loving Cousin,” Mr. Holcombe of New Jersey, Judge Isaacs of Tennessee, Messrs. Jennings of Indiana, Kidder 27of Maine, Letcher of Kentucky, Mangum of North Carolina, Marvin, Sharpe and Wood of New York.2 The dinner was rather an agreable one, I was much struck with the appearance and manners of Mr. King. He has always been in my mind one of the first men in this country, and seems to me now, to possess that sort of dignity which would make him my choice as President before ten Monroes.3 As to abilities there can be no possible comparison but unfortunately he is one of the victims to the vehement outcry raised against Federalists of late years and has now nothing to do but to retire soon from his seat in the Senate with the proud satisfaction of having spent the best part of his life in the service of his country. A lot enviable as it is, but not equal to the sum of his deserts.

I had the pleasure of the company of two western country gentlemen at my corner, Mr. Letcher and Judge Isaacs. New Members both who edified me with an account of “how they got into Congress,” evaded their constituents in certain points and so forth. He Letcher also gave me some account of Mr. Pope and his family which was far more amusing to me. I care not how the gentleman got into Congress except that I know if he carried his election against Mr. Pope which it is said is the case, I am sorry.4 We had some conversation too as to the Greek question and others, in the course of which he informed me that Mr. Clay would take probably no part in the debate. A circumstance which astonished me considerably. But as he lives with Clay I took him for good authority. Judge Isaacs diverted me very much and gave a good specimen of western manners. As the champagne glasses were set on the table he was asked to drink wine. He, supposing these to be measure only, filled his glass and drank it almost all. Finding out his mistake in the mean time, he stops and pours the rest directly into his wine glass and drinks it off so. After which he took care to get a taste of the Champagne to make up. Mr. Barbour is a new member, and appears to be a real Virginian with all their narrow prejudice, but at the same time somewhat of a good fellow. We arose immediately after the ladies retired, and taking the dinner into consideration generally it was rather pleasanter than usual. After drinking Coffee they went off. The usual conversation took place and story after story was told concerning almost nothing. It has often amused me to think of how little will serve to entertain a number. Some little peculiarities picked up from almost any individual, things which are so common that it is impossible to avoid noticing them, will be matter of laughter to a great many when put into an extravagant light. This is a place peculiarly fitted for sport 28of this kind, as one has mere report at command in sufficient quantities to bear him out. We separated at about eleven o’clock after having spent a busy and in spite of my reflections rather a pleasant day.


The President’s wife was the former Elizabeth Kortright, of New York. Mrs. George Hay, the former Eliza Monroe, was their daughter (Cresson, Monroe , p. 92, 93, 360).


In addition to Rufus King, who has been previously identified, the guests were: Isham Talbot (1773–1837); Thomas Hill Williams (1780–1840); John Strode Barbour (1790–1855); Albert Cuthbert (1785–1856); Aaron Hobart (1787–1858), a grandson of CFA’s great-uncle Elihu (brother of JA); George Holcombe (1786–1828); Jacob Isacks (d. 1832); Jonathan Jennings (1784–1834); David Kidder (1787–1860); Robert Perkins Letcher (1788–1861); Willie Person Mangum (1792–1861); Dudley Marvin (1786–1856), of New York; Peter Sharpe, of New York; and Silas Wood (1769–1847) ( Biog. Dir. Cong. ).


Rufus King had been the unsuccessful Federalist candidate for President in 1816 ( DAB ).


John Pope (1770–1845), who had a long and distinguished career in Kentucky politics, was the brother-in-law of LCA, having married Eliza Johnson (d. 1818) ( Biog. Dir. Cong. ; Bemis, JQA , 1:79–80, and note). See Adams Genealogy.

2d. CFA 2d. CFA

Spent the morning reading,1 which I was obliged to omit yesterday on account of the Drawing Room. Continued the Essays with which I am very much pleased as containing a great deal of observation although I do not think highly of it’s morality. But this last was not a preeminent quality in the author.

In the evening, we all went to Mrs. Wirt’s, to a ball.2 The rooms before the dancing begun were crowded to excess, and I do not think that I ever saw so many ladies in one room in my life. The ball room was opened and appeared to advantage at first but afterwards the lamps went out or faded so much as to give an ugly tinge to the room and the women. The room was also intolerably hot. There were but three cotillions in the whole room, which number could employ but just one third or less of the dancers in the room, and these pressed on so that dancing was not very pleasant. For my own part, I danced with Miss Vail,3 Miss Selden, Miss McKnight4 and America Peter, besides a very short dance with Miss Crowninshield as Papa forced her away before it was over.5

Miss Selden was as pleasant as she used to be and I enjoyed myself with her as much as formerly. Miss McKnight has rather improved and become very conversible, she was always remarkably ladylike. America Peter is just as she was and the very circumstance united with her character makes her rather insipid. She probably never will be very different. Miss Vail has been here so many Winters that she is now taken more because she can make up a cotillion than 29on account of any attraction. She is however rather an agreable woman, although for a French woman which she professes to be, it appears to me, that she is “excessivement stupide.”

Young Vail appeared very attentive to Miss Crowninshield all the evening and appeared very unwilling to give up her hand to me when it was due. And to get it back he made applications to Miss Wirt for a Spanish dance which he knew I never danced. This put me in such a passion that had not he given way I expect we should have had a scene. I succeeded but after all it was not worth the trouble. Spanish dances have come very much into fashion here through the influence of Miss Wirt and other young ladies. They are very pretty but require so much grace that it is impossible for me to risk any attitudes. So I do not practise them.

Miss Macomb6 is a very pretty young lady but owing to some mistake I lost an opportunity of being introduced to her this evening which I never since obtained. She is however so much engrossed by her lover that I do not much care for the loss.

Among others I met Dugan,7 and had some conversation. He informed me that the passage in the steam boat had been very rough, and that they did not get to New York till Sunday night, which made me glad that I had taken the other course. He appeared here with great modesty and if it was not for a little, simpering, lurking vanity in his composition I should like him well enough. As it is he is far preferable to the man he adores the worthy Mr. Nicolson.8 But of this man, my journal was not formed to treat. Young Vail I met again. There are so many of these that I must distinguish them. The eldest, I (if ever I have again occasion to speak of him) shall call broad face, the next, narrow face, and the youngest of whom I am now speaking, the midshipman. He received orders tonight to go off, and was making great lamentations about the matter.

But it became time to retire, and as our carriage was full we (John and myself) had to beg carriage seats of Blunt and accordingly we went home with him, or at least as far as our house. The great trouble attending the parties here in Washington is that the carriages always have difficulty in passing to the door. It is but seldom some unfortunate accident does not happen. We had an instance yesterday, and this evening another. Coachmen have a habit here of driving contrary ways to the same door which brings the carriage poles tilting with each other. This came very near injuring Mr. Crowninshield’s horses which caused him to swear most vociferously. And on our return, we were crossed by a pair of horses with the front wheels of 30a carriage only, on a full gallop. After a cup of tea at home we separated for the night.


He studied geography (D/CFA/1).


Mrs. William Wirt, the former Elizabeth Gamble, the wife of the Attorney General, who lived on G Street between 18th and 19th streets (Columbia Hist. Soc., Records , 19 [1916]:24).


Presumably a sister of Eugene and Aaron Vail, government clerks who were protégés of Senator Crawford, and Midshipman Edward M. Vail (Force, National Calendar, 1824, p. 66, 72, 153; Gouverneur, As I Remember , p. 282).


Ann McKnight, the orphaned niece of Commodore Stephen Decatur, was a good friend of Mary C. Hellen and later asked JQA to stand as father at her wedding (JQA, Diary, 13 April 1831).


Either Elizabeth or Mary Crowninshield, one of the daughters of Benjamin Williams Crowninshield (1772–1851), Secretary of the Navy under Presidents Madison and Monroe.


Daughter of General Alexander Macomb, who became commander in chief of the army in 1828.


Presumably Frederick J. Dugan, of Baltimore, a freshman at Harvard who appears to have been dismissed in March 1824 ( Harvard Annual Cat., 1823; Records of the College Faculty, 10:63, Harvard Archives).


Possibly Joseph H. Nicholson, of Baltimore, another Harvard freshman who appears to have been dismissed in March 1824 (same).