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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1

Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0001-0023

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-01-22

Journal. January. 1824. Thursday 22d.

After the usual exercises in the morning I went to the House of Representatives to hear the continuation of the discussion of this question. Mr. Bartlett of New Hampshire was speaking, and as he had no reputation I must freely confess that at first I paid but little attention. He soon attracted my notice, by his clear argument and by his wit.1 Indeed I have not heard such a speech in the House, yet. He argued it on two grounds—either it was dangerous to the United States or it was not. If it was, no person would be willing to vote for the measure—if it was not, it was hardly worthwhile to honour the Greeks with “words, mere words.” His ridicule was apt and piercing—particularly in his allusion to the conduct of the mover of this, in the late war.2 He said he could boast of no “new lights” on this subject. That he had been ready to defend his country at all times but he could not go upon this Quixotic expedition. He concluded with saying that if we wished really to patronize schemes, we had better turn to our countryman John Cleves Symmes3 or to the inventor of the “flying machine” and wing our way to glory and immortality. The House appeared very much struck with the speech and collected around him although a new member, very eagerly. I was so pleased that I hastened over to the other side to hear him more distinctly, but he soon finished.
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I have read the speech frequently since and seldom recollect a finer hit. A few remarks made upon our system of wordy valour to support his argument that the resolution taken merely as an expression of kindness was unnecessary, were admirable. “We were already too much celebrated for our wordy valour,” he said. “When we wish to take a town or capture a province we send a proclamation, when we defend our own borders, we send a proclamation, when the enemy attacks our capitol we run for our lives, but we send a proclamation.” This was the more amusing as one of our most famous generals in that line, Alexander Smyth,4 has a seat in the House, from Virginia. Mr. Rankin5 arose after he finished and made some remarks which as they did not appear over and above entertaining, I spent the time in conversing with Weed, a young marine officer, and a remarkably agreable young man.6 I have seen something of him of late and have been very much pleased with him. Mr. Farrelly from Pennsylvania then made some observations in so voluble a manner that I did not pretend to keep up with him.7
The debate had now got into such hands, that John and Weed left the House to go and pay Mrs. Livingston8 a visit while I remained to hear General Houston of Tennessee9 make his maiden speech. It was in the Western style, full of rant, fustian and declamation. I had not formed a favourable opinion of the man as I understood that he despised books and thought himself above them. So one would judge from the specimen of his grammar and language given today. But as he is a great Western man and the leader of the delegation, I suppose it is fit that nothing should be said. I admired his gestures and white top boots, laughed at his flowers, wondered at his power of varying his accents from regular dictionaries and retired at the close wonderfully edified. The House also adjourned immediately.
Returning home, I was just in time to dress and be ready for dinner. Madame not being well did not come in nor did the young ladies. The party consisted of Mr. Findlay of Pennsylvania, the only Senator, Messrs. Allison of Pennsylvania, Brent of the department of State, Cobb of Georgia, Crafts of Vermont, Gatlin of North Carolina, Locke of Massachusetts, Neale of Maryland, O’Brien of Maine, Ten Eyck of New York, Whitman of Connecticut and Wickliffe of Kentucky, Members, besides Mr. Richards, delegate from Michigan, and Mr. Gallatin who is at present here.10 A member had declined consequently Father asked Messrs. Brent and Gallatin extraordinary. Had it not been for the latter gentleman, the dinner would have passed off in the most stupid manner to be imagined, and as it was, { 59 } a stranger would have supposed that if these were fair samples of our House of Representatives, we had not much to boast.
Among those who declined was Mr. Bartlett, with whom they in general expressed themselves very much pleased, Mr. Cobb particularly was quite enthusiastic. He is a very rough but rather an original and pleasant man. Mr. Neale was the only gentleman among the members. Findlay was disgusting beyond all example, but being nothing but a Pennsylvania tavern keeper, it is not astonishing. The matter of surprize is that any candidate for office at all should not have the liberty of selecting his own society and not depend upon the broad vulgarities of the coarsest man. I am not much of a democrat, but I do say that education forms a limit which it is impossible for the most zealous republican to oppose or attempt to break down. Mr. Gatlin who was my neighbour appeared no better than he should be, and the man who was next to him, God knows who, had never seen a grape before, and consequently made suitable enquiries and exclamations. Mr. Richards is a very gentlemanly man in appearance but cannot talk English fluently. I hope he did not understand it sufficiently to feel the repeated allusions of the worthy Pennsylvanian Senator, to Spanish priests, as he happens to be a priest himself.
These men disgusted us all, even my father was out of patience. Mr. Gallatin’s wit was thrown away upon hogs and I should scarcely have blamed him had he taken his invitation to meet such company as an insult to his character. For my part, I felt ashamed the whole evening and was very happy when I heard the hint to rise given by my father. They soon went away, some of them not knowing the custom of coffee took French leave. John and I immediately stepped into the Carriage and drove off to Miss Brent’s, a party being given to the bride, this evening.
The rooms are quite small, but the dancing as far as it went, was lively. I danced with Miss Selden and Cornelia Cottringer. The former appeared in high spirits, and talked and laughed very fast. I danced the Spanish dance with Anne Cottringer, this being my first appearance in it, as I had quite a prejudice to it, but it was too tempting to refuse being so near her, and the voluptuous manner in which she waltzes amply paid me for the trial. America Peter fails very much in this, but I should wish no partners here except Anne and Miss Selden perhaps Fanny Monroe11 although I have a mortal aversion to her appearance and therefore never would suffer an introduction to her. Weed was very amusing this evening.
A cold supper was laid downstairs in the solid fashion of the { 60 } ancients. To which I observed Mrs. Miller making very great devotion. She insisted on having some ham from the Virginia side. Miss Selden being from that state is her particular protegé, and so it is throughout. John and this young lady made a very ridiculous figure walking together the last part of this evening and gave rise to some observations one or two of which I heard. For myself, we being but two, I offered a seat to one of the Cottringers but got politely cut by the “matron” of the party. She thought she smelt a rat I presume but I was innocent as a lamb—at any rate we transported Mr. and Miss Selden and after dropping them we arrived safe at home.
1. CFA’s report of the speech by “Anti-Democratic” Congressman Ichabod Bartlett (1786–1853) is generally good, though he recorded the Representative’s actual words with only approximate accuracy and changed the order in which his arguments were made ( Annals of Congress , 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1150–1155).
2. Bartlett’s allusion to Webster’s alleged opposition to the War of 1812 was omitted in the printed version of his speech.
3. John Cleves Symmes advocated the theory “that the earth is a hollow sphere, open at the Poles” (JQA, Memoirs , 7:168).
4. Alexander Smyth (1765–1830), who represented Virginia in Congress from 1817 to 1825, had been inspector general of the army in 1812–1813. After boastfully claiming he could conquer Canada, he was forced to abandon the projected invasion because the army was so poorly trained and so ill-equipped, and he was much ridiculed for his bombast ( DAB ).
5. Christopher Rankin (1788–1826), of Mississippi, opposed Webster’s resolution ( Annals of Congress , 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1158–1160).
6. Presumably Elijah J. Weed, first lieutenant in the quartermaster department of the Marine Corps, who was stationed in Washington (Force, National Calendar, 1824, p. 157).
7. In fact Patrick Farrelly (1770–1826) preceded Rankin and approved the Greek resolution ( Annals of Congress , 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1155–1158).
8. Possibly Mrs. Edward Livingston, the former Louise Moreau de Lassy ( DAB , under her husband’s name).
9. Samuel Houston (1793–1863), most famous for his later exploits in the Texas revolution, supported Webster’s resolution ( Annals of Congress , 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1160–1163).
10. The guests not previously identified were: William Findlay (1768–1846); James Allison Jr. (1772–1854); Daniel Brent, chief clerk in the State Department from 1817 to 1833; Samuel Chandler Crafts (1768–1853); Alfred Moore Gatlin (1790–1824); John Locke (1764–1855); Raphael Neal (d. 1833); Jeremiah O’Brien (1778–1858); Egbert Ten Eyck (1779–1844); Lemuel Whitman (1780–1841); Gabriel Richard (1767–1832); and the famous Albert Gallatin (1761–1849). For the Congressmen, see Biog. Dir. Cong. ; for Brent, see Bemis, JQA , 2:158, and note.
11. A niece of the President (Anne Hollingsworth Wharton, Social Life in the Early Republic, Phila., 1902, p. 215, note).