Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Friday. 16th. CFA Friday. 16th. CFA
Friday. 16th.

After reading my maps and having a pleasant morning conversation after breakfast on the state of parties I went to the Capitol and heard Mr. McDuffie of South Carolina deliver an argument in favour of his amendment to the Constitution respecting the election of President and Vice President of the United States.1 This man has been famous to this day only for possessing talents to be shown in future and for a most ridiculous affair of a duel with a man by the name of Cumming, in which they reviled each other for cowards for some time, met four times, twice without coming to any conclusion and twice seriously in which Mr. McDuffie was wounded both times.2 He is supposed to be an able man and is now coming out. His delivery is not popular however as I perceived the galleries thinning off as he proceeded until there was hardly a person left. I do not think him a catching orator by any means.

He commenced by telling them that he disclaimed any thing like personal or interested observations, and this might be known by the fact that this could not be passed time enough to bear upon the next election. He then tried to prove the necessity of the measure and traced to the time when complaints had first been made against this part of the constitution. He argued against the final decision in the House of Representatives as it is now laid down from three reasons. First that it was destroying the expression of the will of the majority as the smallest states had a voice equal to the largest, and by this 46means, a number of small states connected together might force a president upon far the greater number of the nation. Sectional feeling might influence these states to act together on any great interest, by which means the expression of the popular voice would be entirely disowned. Secondly, he argued that Members might be influenced by bribery which once getting a hold in this House would ruin the independence of the nation. He meant nothing disrespectful to the House, but he must describe nature not as we wish it to be, but as it is. Men would be influenced by prospects and while this was the case it could not but be an unfair mode of decision. Thirdly. If they were not bribed, almost every man was influenced in some degree, by feelings of friendship to individuals, the most just man on earth could not restrain them, his feelings would blind him to the faults of his candidate and the virtues of the opposing ones, so that he would not give a fair vote on the subject. He concluded by saying that whatever fame other men might wish, he would rest satisfied with the portion of fame allotted to him if this bill was sanctioned and became a law.

On the whole it was a sound speech but not a very interesting one, he used no figures or dashes but simply stated a course of argument which must convince every one of one point, that a change is necessary. But whether Mr. McDuffie’s amendment is the best, is a question which admits of much more doubt. It is to divide the population of the United States into a certain number of districts each of which is to choose an elector and a certain number of these will elect a president and vice president. He supported this not as perfect but as the best to be got. The former arguments though will apply with equal force against this, consequently, it would be better if any change be made to refer it without any mediation to the people directly, and in this way the people which is the important matter, will have the decision of the question in their own hands where it belongs. He sat down and the House adjourned immediately so I returned home very well satisfied with Mr. McDuffie although I do not think him the great genius he is said to be.

After dinner we went to Aunt Frye’s, that is to say four of us, John and Monsieur at home, and Miss Cranch gone yesterday which I forgot to mention in it’s proper place. Major General Brown and three daughters or two I forget which with Mrs. B.3 and Major Kirby4 were there, also Mrs. Thomson5 and her daughter Mrs. Hersant,6 who really is almost too far advanced in her pregnancy to go out at all but she buffets it through our most crowded parties. The younger part 47of us sat down and played loto, a most amazingly stupid game, so we got away as soon as possible. I could not have the conscience to speak to Mrs. Hersant consequently avoided the room. We went home early after having spent a very “mediocre” evening.


On 5 December 1823 George McDuffie, a Calhounite, had asked for the appointment of a special committee to consider amending the Constitution. The plan, presented on 22 December, proposed that: (1) each state should be divided into as many districts as would equal the number of Representatives to which the state was entitled, and each district would choose one elector to vote for the President and the Vice President, and that the electors thus appointed in each state would choose the two additional electors to which the state was entitled; (2) if no candidate won a majority on the first ballot, the electors should meet immediately in their respective states and vote for one of the two persons having the highest number of votes; (3) only in the unusual event that no candidate was then able to obtain a majority of votes (McDuffie explained in a supporting speech) would Congress, voting as one body with one vote for each member, choose a President.

Calhoun’s political prospects inspired McDuffie’s amendments. Calhoun’s friends knew that he was not likely to receive the votes of the large states (committed that year to JQA or to Crawford) or of a caucus (dominated by Crawfordites that session), so they planned for the future. The votes of the people, unobstructed by political mechanisms, could elect Calhoun, they hoped. Although discussed in Congress until 1827, the proposed amendment was never approved. See Annals of Congress , 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 801, 1067–1082; U.S., House of Representatives, Report [of the Select Committee on Amending the Constitution], 18 Cong., 1 sess., Vol. I, No. 8; Herbert V. Ames, The Proposed Amendments to the Constitution of the United States (Amer. Hist. Assoc., Annual Report for 1896, Vol. II), p. 84, 89, 108, 338, 340, 342, which, however, does not accurately report McDuffie’s intentions as outlined in his speech of 16 Jan. 1824; and Bemis, JQA , 2:11–30.


McDuffie’s duel with William Cumming, of Georgia, grew out of the rivalry between Calhoun and Crawford for the Presidency in 1821–1822. Injured in the spine, McDuffie was never again a well man ( DAB ).


Jacob Jennings Brown (1775–1828) and his wife, the former Pamelia Williams ( DAB ).


Major Edmund Kirby (Heitman, Register U.S. Army ).


Possibly Mrs. Smith Thompson, whose husband was appointed a judge after his service in Monroe’s cabinet as Secretary of the Navy (JQA, Diary, 21 Jan. 1824; Bemis, JQA , 2:390).


Mrs. Hersant’s husband was a member of the French legation in Washington (JQA, Diary, 11 Feb. 1820).

Saturday. 17th. CFA Saturday. 17th. CFA
Saturday. 17th.

Spent this morning at home, and read my maps. As there was no House of Representatives, I was obliged to amuse myself as I could. I agreed to accompany Madame and the Girls to Mr. King’s painting rooms1 after their return from Georgetown whither they went in the Carriage with John. They did not return till late and Mr. Cheves2 was introduced and received, but this was so good an opportunity that I did not wish it lost so we went. The pictures, some of them are excellent, others only moderate and others bad. That of Cyr. King of Maine3 is said to be good, Mr. Wirt’s is good, General Brown’s 48and a number of others are remarkably fine. I think my father’s a good one, but by no means so good as I think one could be made.4 His eyes are placed in such a way that one appears directly over his nose. He has some very sweet fruit pieces, which would adorn a summer house or even a dinner parlour very much. Some voluptuous pieces also which it would not do to notice before ladies. One in particular which appeared to be Joseph and the wife of Potiphar although we could not see for a veil which John and myself attempted to raise, when we discovered the deception. It was very accurate.

We went down into his painting room, he was copying his portrait of Mr. Webster, which is one of his best likenesses as it appears to me. The eyebrows and expression of the eyes is very admirably copied. There was also a portrait of John Mason, not finished but nearly so, which was a remarkable likeness. One of Mrs. Mason also.5 As Mr. King appeared to be very busy with his picture we left him soon and Madame returned home with John and I, the girls set off to go and take a walk for the first time this winter.

On reaching the steps of our house, we met Ned Wyer who insisted upon it, Madame should fulfil her promise of going to see his house and his mineral collection. As this was a good opportunity and nothing to do we went over. He has hired a house of one story in height opposite to our house and lives in glorious independence nobody knows how. His rooms are neat and well kept. He showed us every thing, his shells and minerals, some of which are certainly very handsome. He wants to sell them but rates them so high he never will be able to part with them. To day he manifested the love of giving away for which he is so noted—and made me think that in a little while he would have no collection to sell. After an Examination of all things we retired home, dined and on the return of Madame and ladies from Mrs. Thornton’s had an oyster supper.


Charles Bird King (1785–1862), a native of Rhode Island, had a studio and gallery on the east side of 12th Street between E and F streets, N.W. Besides the portrait of JQA mentioned below in this entry, King later executed portraits of CFA and Abigail Brooks, both of which are reproduced as illustrations in this diary. He is best known, however, for the long and historically valuable series of portraits of Indian chiefs that he painted in the 1820’s and 1830’s by commission from the War Department. See Groce and Wallace, Dict. Amer. Artists ; John C. Ewers, “Charles Bird King, Painter of Indian Visitors to the National Capital,” Smithsonian Institution, Annual Report for 1953, Washington, 1954, p. 463–473.


Langdon Cheves (1776–1857), a former South Carolina Congressman, was serving on an arbitration commission set up in 1822 to settle claims of American citizens for slaves carried off by the British soldiers in the War of 1812 (Lanman, Biographical Annals , p. 625).


Cyrus King (1772–1817), the half-brother of Rufus King, was a former Federalist Congressman ( Biog. Dir. Cong. ).

49 4.

This portrait was the second of two attempts by King to get a satisfactory likeness of JQA in 1819. It had been commissioned by Joseph Delaplaine for his National Portrait Gallery in Philadelphia and was sent there in 1821 or 1822. It is now in the Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Newport, R.I. See JQA, Diary, June-Aug. 1819; correspondence between Delaplaine and JA and between Delaplaine and JQA, Adams Papers.


Gen. John Mason, the son of George Mason of Revolutionary fame, and his wife, the former Anna Maria Murray (Mason, Life and Correspondence , p. 7–9).