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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0001-0009

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-01-09

9th.

Arose this morning very late owing to the lateness of the hour last evening when we retired. As I had not been to the House of Representatives I determined to go to day. John and Johnson went with me. Met Wyer1 who appeared to be in an extasy with the party last night. Blunt also appeared much pleased. Inquired as to Madame’s misfortune. In the latter part of the evening one of the illumination lamps cracked and dropped its contents directly upon her dress. It was very late though and of no importance. The number of people I imagine to have been there, amounted to between nine and eleven hundred.
We came to the House in time, for we witnessed a most interesting discussion arising out of a motion for the appropriation of a sum of money to the widowed mother of Commodore Perry. Mr. Hamilton who brought in the bill, supported it in a short and it appeared to me rather laboured speech. He attempted to be eloquent but failed. There was no argument in the discussion as it was rather an appeal to the feelings of the House than reasoning in it’s favour. I have read his speech since and am inclined to think much better of it in writing than I did when he delivered it. He appeared to have laboured it too much and although in the subsequent part of the debate it was lauded to the skies I knew too well the system of alternate puffing which exists here to mind their words. Mr. Henry of Kentucky followed him on the same side in an appeal of the same sort.
Mr. Wickliffe made some remarks on the impolicy of the measure as it was forming a larger class of pensioners than the country was able or willing to support and consequently to try the strength of the House on the subject he moved to strike out the enacting clause of the bill. Mr. Fuller made some remarks which I could not hear. Mr. Stevenson then rose and delivered a speech which he intended to be a great one but which appeared to me to be nothing but fustian rant from it’s commencement to the close. He has in great perfection the raving stamping manner of the Southern Orators, a manner which to me is every thing disagreable. Mr. Cobb made some observations in answer, in which I thought I discovered his malignant spirit with great ease. He is a radical however.
Mr. Clay then rose and made some remarks, many of which were very forcible. He argued that it was forming a dangerous precedent, { 38 } which at some time or other would involve the nation in a debt as deep as that of England. That if we made an appropriation in this case we ought to make an appropriation for the mother or widow of every Officer or private soldier whenever one should happen to die. He said that whatever his feelings might urge him to do, he must restrain himself within the sober and strict limits of prudence. That we cannot be governed by generosity in states for we should be led to ruin. This is a good argument but we shall see how consistent he is very soon. He also showed some spite to General Jackson in his speech by some very severe remarks crying out, heroes, God knows we had heroes enough already for nowadays every man was a hero. These observations offended a great many here and with reason for it showed that he was galled by the increasing popularity of this gentleman.
Mr. McDuffie supported the bill and opposed the amendment, arguing that it was politic and generous at the same time. And in answer to Mr. Clay said that Officers ought to have this money appropriated before soldiers as they could be the only ones supposed to be excited by any noble feelings, the soldiers being only mercenaries. An argument which appeared a marvellous flimsy one to me. Mr. Hamilton retorted severely upon Mr. Clay. But I was so displeased with his first speech I did not attend much to the second. Mr. Randolph asked Clay a question. Did he not [word omitted] for an appropriation for the same purpose two years ago, to which he replied that he had, but that one fault committed was no reason for his committing another, that he had been carried away, a reason which excused him, but did not say much for his firmness or consistency. But this is only a slight matter. The amendment was carried by a large majority and to “save appearances” as Randolph said the bill was recommitted.2 We came home very much gratified by what we had the pleasure of hearing. We spent the evening quietly at home, and then retired, at a very early hour.
1. Edward Wyer, who had served as American consul at Riga during JQA’s mission to Russia, was now stationed in Hamburg. An occasional dispatch bearer in the State Department, he became a confidential legman for JQA and a go-between in the later negotiations to throw Clay’s presidential support to JQA (U.S. Official Register, 1825, p. 13; Bemis, JQA, 2:24, 37, 42).
2. CFA confused the order of the debates on the bill for the relief of Sarah Perry, but his memory of the content of the speeches was generally good. Briefly, Fuller of Massachusetts, James Hamilton Jr. (1786–1857), of South Carolina, and Robert Pryor Henry (1788–1826), of Kentucky, asked that Mrs. Perry be pensioned in gratitude for the deeds of her son, Oliver Hazard Perry (see DAB), and in consideration of her need. Charles Anderson Wickliffe (1788–1869), of Kentucky, moved to strike out the enacting clause of the bill, and { 39 } Thomas Willis Cobb (1784–1830), of Georgia, supported him, arguing that the pension system ought to be severely limited and adding, gratuitously, that unchecked impulses might eventuate in pensioning families even of common soldiers. George McDuffie (1790–1851), of South Carolina, dismissed Cobb’s inference with the observation that officers added luster to a nation through military renown and deserved our gratitude, while soldiers were only mercenaries and did not. At this point Andrew Stevenson (1784–1857), of Virginia, made his emotional appeal in support of the nation’s heroes, and Clay retorted, “Every man now is a hero.” John Randolph, of Virginia, then asked Clay why he had voted for an earlier bill to relieve Perry’s family; Clay replied; and Hamilton made his second plea. See Annals of Congress, 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 965–984.
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/