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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1

Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0001-0024

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-01-23

Friday. 23d.

This morning I performed my duties very soon and hastened to the House to hear the discussion continued. Mr. Cuthbert delivered a most violent speech against the resolution. He has a very bad voice but I thought pretty well of his argument except in his attributing { 61 } so much hostility to this country from England, which he exaggerated greatly in this case, as it is evident that it will be matter of necessity for England to join us in opposition to the holy alliance instead of sacrificing itself to it only from malice to us. It was preposterous ground.1 His manner is in the Southern style much contortion and a high pitch of a bad voice. I will not deny however that I was considerably interested by the heat of the man himself and his great desire to be felt in what he himself expressed.
Mr. Clay then rose to make some observations in support of the resolution. He argued that we should consult the general good feelings of the House and not the cold dictates of interest, that we could easily afford to sacrifice a beggarly invoice of figs and opium for the extension of the cause of liberty. This much in the strain with his argument on Mrs. Perry’s bill. He then said that no consequences would arise from our resolution which had been so much feared by gentlemen for he questioned very much whether the Grand Signior or the Emperor of Russia had ever heard or ever would hear of such a man as the mover of the resolution although he was a very distinguished man, much less would they notice this resolution. Here he agrees for this is to do the Greeks a great deal of good and the Turks are to be blind to the cause. He then went on in a more threatening tone, saying that some objections had been made to this on account of the source from which it came. He deprecated this as extremely ungenerous and cautioned them against pursuing such illiberal conduct, for if to assist the cause of suffering humanity was to be a Federalist then was he a Federalist.2 He then ascended still, finishing with a sweeping challenge of the whole House, daring them to go back to their constituents and to show a vote on this question against the resolution. He alluded to Mr. Bartlett in a very haughty manner expressing himself pleased with the speech of the “young member” and hoping next time to see more of an argumentative spree, that being a branch in which Mr. Clay himself is remarkable.
This was most unquestionably the most arrogant speech I ever heard delivered in the House, and at the same time one which he supposed would have the greatest effect there. Accustomed as he has been to rule the roost there, he supposed that nothing was wanting to effect a change but his voice. It was used too loud for [once?] and struck harshly upon every member of the House. He made Webster a federalist in his speech to show that he was a liberal minded man and well inclined to that party and he stormed at what he supposed the weak headed path in order that he should use his wonted influ• { 62 } ence. Mr. Cuthbert rose to repel the charge from himself and to find the speaker guilty of three inconsistencies at the same time demanding an explanation of him as to what he meant in a part of his remarks which appeared to be particularly intended for him. I shall not soon forget the attitude in which he demanded it and the tremendous ferocity with which he collected himself as he perceived none about to be given. Clay saw this and merely stated that he meant nothing personal to the gentleman although he should take back nothing of what had been said—a very lame conclusion. But he afterwards entered more largely into the subject,3 just as he was doing which I was forced to leave him, it being now considerably after the time which I had set to be at my Aunt Frye’s to dinner today. John remained. I ran home, and from thence to Mrs. Frye’s, my feelings having been excited to a most uncommon degree in the course of the debate. Mr. Randolph after several ineffectual attempts succeeded in obtaining the floor tomorrow.
We were all assembled except Monsieur and Madame who promised to come in the evening. They were all before me, even John who had come directly from the Capitol in a hack. Dinner was not ready and consequently I made nobody wait. He4 appears in very good spirits and she looks as well or better than I ever saw her. A remarkably affectionate woman I should think. Uncle and Aunt Smith were there also, the former with all his usual sententious generalities, the latter with loquacity sufficient to make up all deficiencies. She is a very amusing woman but one of your dangerous persons who are apt to talk of what they know not and in this way make mischief. Poor soul, she has been unfortunate and her story is a pitiful one,5 but she is still a delightful person for a companion and sport of an hour.
Dinner being over Monsieur and Madame soon came in, although she was very unwell indeed. I felt very anxious for the step which she had taken this evening as she really evidently suffered. Aunt Frye provided us with an ample oyster supper according to promise which was very much enjoyed by the real oyster eaters, that is Aunt Smith, Mary and myself. Poor Abby cannot see the pleasure which we take in this, and looks like a fish out of water. In fact that is almost always the case with her now as Johnson has fully characterized her by her “fire-side manners” a strong contrast with Mary’s—the former is the most affectionate disposition by far. It was a remarkable circumstance that Mr. S[mith] retired soon after dinner, on plea of sickness. After being well stuffed, I gave my seat to Aunt Smith and walked home with Monsieur and John.
{ 63 }
1. Cuthbert claimed that Great Britain was too wise to enter a Greek or Spanish war but would wait for the United States to weaken herself by such distant contests and would then “seize upon the crisis to attack” her ( Annals of Congress , 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1165–1170).
2. Clay’s actual words were: “If all Republicans must oppose this doctrine [of supporting Greek independence] and all Federalists advocate it, I for one, should cease to be a Republican, and would become a Federalist” (same, p. 1171).
3. The outcome of the short verbal altercation was that Clay stated he favored Webster’s original resolution but would not object to the incorporation of Poinsett’s proposal as an amendment (same, p. 1177–1178). For Poinsett’s proposal, see entry for 20 Jan., above.
4. CFA’s uncle Nathaniel Frye Jr.
5. Probably the reference is to Mrs. Frye, who had lost twin boys in 1818 in a premature birth and a baby girl the following year. Her surviving son, Thomas Baker Johnson Frye (1820–1889), became a physician (JQA, Diary, 20 Feb., 10 Mar. 1818, 1, 2 Aug. 1819; General Alumni Catalogue of George Washington University, Washington, 1917). See Adams Genealogy.