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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1

Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0001-0008

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-01-08

Thursday. 8th.

We were busily employed during the whole course of the day in arranging the supper table and the rooms below. It does not appear to me that I had one minute’s rest during the day. A Supper table was laid with seventy covers, but as the crowd was to be so great the people were to eat standing. The rooms were all to be opened except Madame’s, which was to be used as a punch room, as it opened into the Supper room. The chalking below, took the whole { 34 } day, and had a pretty effect. We took an early dinner at a little after four, and were prepared at six all except the lighting up. Company flocked in so early, that they could hardly get through with this in season. And it was not till the upper rooms (only two were opened at first) were crowded to suffocation almost, that the lower ones were thrown open.1
Now the ladies must be carried down, so I meeting Miss Vail first, immediately offered my arm and down we went among the first. The effect was very beautiful. The rooms all round were hung with wreaths stuck with roses, and in each festoon a small illumination lamp was fixed, and at the angles, large bouquets. The pillars also, were wreathed all up in order to match. At the extreme, Monsieur’s book case was stationed it being thought too heavy for removal but it was covered with green, and on the top were placed a whole forest of flower pots with pretty flowers, and between them were illumination lamps. The lustre was woven with green and from the top there hung a festoon which attached itself to the top of each pillar. This was the appearance of three rooms. The floors were chalked with eagles, flowers etc.
The general, to whom all this was given, appeared and won his way through every thing, the hero of the evening. Every body wanted to see him, every body to speak to him. He is tall and rather thin with an exceedingly wrinkled and narrow face a little stern but not commonly expressing the quality he is so noted for. For myself after dancing rather a stupid set with Miss Vail I was very glad to get off and begin to look about me. So I went upstairs for a little conversation, found up there, Mary and Miss McKnight together talking so I just stood and talked with them for a little while. And walking about as well as I could through the crowd I happened to meet Mrs. Thornton2 puffing and blowing at the heat who upon seeing me, immediately tacked me to Miss Calvert whom I never had the pleasure of seeing before, and begged me to go down which I accordingly did. After a great deal of trouble to find a place I got one in the second room. In the mean time to divert her I carried her around the rooms and excited my talkative powers to the utmost but if ever stupidity existed I think it must be here. She is young and new, which may be some reason, but I should scarcely imagine this to be enough for such a lack of power. She knew no body and therefore stood silent when I did not speak to her. This was very tiresome to me and I cursed Mrs. Thornton. Finally though she happened to meet a boarding school acquaintance and then had tongue enough to talk, but from the { 35 } sample of their conversation which I was obliged to overhear, I did not think much of it. The dance appeared long to me and I was very heartily glad when the end of it put a stop to so hard a task upon my civility.
I was impatient also on another account. Mr. and Mrs. Brent, the new married couple, whose wedding on Tuesday night I forgot to mention, had just come in, with Anne and Cornelia “en attendance.” One of them, Anne, I immediately seized upon, and after some exertion obtained a place for her in the dance. This cottillion was as much too short as the other was too long, for I was so happy in seeing one of my “favoris”3 again that I did not mind the minutes as they passed. She is rather a silent girl than otherwise, but there is a sort of feeling of voluptuousness around her that always makes me delighted to dance with her. She is one of those women whose very looks and eye cannot help discovering to a man that her passions are always making strange work within. I promised myself another dance with her, which owing to the crowd I did not obtain. After a short interval, I met Cornelia and had a great deal of very pleasant conversation with her. She talks more than her sister and is more beautiful but so young yet that she has not attained to that power over my feelings which Anne has. I asked her many questions as to the billet of ladies sent me to dream on with the wedding cake and had almost said she would have come nearer to my dreams if she had sent her own name, but I thought it would have been too much of a compliment and perhaps, a truth. With perseverance, we managed to obtain a place in a cottillion, and danced a long dance which appeared so short to me that every set, I swore we had danced one less than before, until I found people out becoming offended, (justly perhaps) when I gave way. She did look uncommonly beautiful this evening.
It became now almost supper time and as I had not spoken to Miss Selden the whole evening I went up to her, and had a pleasant conversation with her. The ladies and gentlemen were most of them unaware at least downstairs that the supper room was open. Consequently I took the advantage, and when her dance was over, slipped her arm in mine and carried her upstairs. Although the room was very crowded I managed to push through all opposition and we walked all round the supper observing every thing and every body. She is very pleasant and full of fire and life. She introduced me to Mrs. Miller the half sister of Mr. Crawford as [if] I was to see a curiosity. The old lady was rather amusing and overpowered us by the profusion { 36 } of her “honey.” Professor Everett was here but as I was not honoured with a bow, I gave none.
We returned downstairs and then had a very pleasant dance, for by this time the room had become very thin on account of the news of Supper. This continual exercise had fatigued me exceedingly, and had I not been enlivened by music and wine, I do not think I could have got through it. Being now somewhat excited by these causes I danced with Miss McKnight, a young lady whom I had the pleasure of dancing with at Mrs. Wirt’s and who is an old acquaintance. The fact is that I take no pleasure in any except the old acquaintance and have been introduced to but two new ladies this Winter Miss Calvert and Miss Crowninshield, neither of whom have given me any wish or desire to become acquainted with more. This was the last cottillion which I danced as I found the fatigue fast growing upon me. So I went back to the tables to talk with Johnson in a corner.
Thus passed the evening and the company by this time were going off in crowds, so that the dances were changed to reels. As I felt as if I had not finished the evening, I again selected Miss Selden and we danced or at least I walked a reel, for I was perfectly done up, and in consequence ordered the music to stop long before it was wished. After making my excuses to her I went upstairs and threw myself on the sofa perfectly exhausted. Miss Cranch4 staid here according to invitation. I had been hunting for her all the evening, without success. The tables exhibited a picture of devastation, for I never saw a place in my life in which there is more eating at balls than here. Even some ladies have a marvellous faculty of destroying good things. I dragged myself to bed, complaining even of the trouble of undressing myself.
1. JQA handsomely returned Andrew Jackson’s invitation (see entry for 4 Jan., above) by giving an elaborate ball in his honor on the anniversary of the victory at New Orleans. One thousand guests were invited, including all members of both houses of Congress but two (Alexander Smyth and John Floyd, who had offended the Secretary of State). Speaker Clay and Secretary of War Calhoun attended, but President Monroe excused himself to avoid giving an impression of favoring anyone for the succession.
Women were brilliantly gowned, and all the men except JQA wore full-dress attire—blue coats, gilt buttons, white or buff waistcoats, white neckties, high chokers, white trousers, silk stockings, and pumps. House decorations were made of tissue paper and evergreens, and the floors were chalked with eagles, flags, and a motto, “Welcome to the Hero of New Orleans.” See JQA, Diary, 6 and 8 Jan. 1824; Mary S. Lockwood, Historic Homes in Washington, N.Y., 1889, p. 72; Gouverneur, As I Remember, p. 279–282; James, Andrew Jackson, p. 384.
2. Mrs. William Thornton, the former Anna Maria Brodeau, wife of the noted doctor and architect (DAB).
3. CFA repeatedly uses this expression, which in French is the masculine form (feminine: “favorites”), for the girls he liked best as social companions.
4. Elizabeth Eliot Cranch (1805– { 37 } 1860), daughter of Judge William Cranch (JQA, Diary, 6 Feb. 1824); she later married Rufus Dawes. See Adams Genealogy.

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

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-01-09


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, 2018.