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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1

Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0001-0019

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-01-19

Monday 19th.

After going over my maps rather hastily to day, I got into the Carriage with Madame, Abby and John to go to the Capitol in order to hear Mr. Webster in support of his Greek resolution the expectations for which are raised to the highest pitch.1 Mrs. Sullivan called amazingly early as usual for Mary. We ourselves were very early indeed, to obtain seats. A young man stands but little chance for ladies have the right of turning him out. I was lucky this time however, for by getting between two ladies, I was not encroached upon. The Crowninshields were there before us and Madame and John sat with them. America Peter came also, and John was routed to a place behind a pillar, to give her his seat. But he told me that in the most important point he was well enough, he could hear, and as for the rest he was compensated by the pleasure of teazing the younger Crowninshield, making her confess that she was very tired although it was Mr. Webster.
His speech was a good one, it could not have been bad, but in a consideration of the subject it appears to me that it could not have been any thing but a failure. He made the most of his subject and employed a digression or two to assist him but all would not do. He commenced by saying that he was sorry that he should be unable to reach the height formed for him by public opinion, then entered into a discussion of the principles of the holy Alliance, from the time in which it was first formed. He argued that to stop their plans we ought to support this nation, but at the same time disclaimed all idea of positive interference. He said that this measure { 52 } was an innocent one, it would be of no injury to us and might be of considerable service to them, as an expression of approbation, and of sympathy in their sufferings.
The President was enabled by this resolution to decide at what time it should be carried into effect so that he might delay it if he thought fit, but he for his own part would strongly recommend that it should be done immediately. He then entered into an account of the massacres and barbarities committed by the Turks and mentioned the circumstance of the copper utensils of the Greeks in the island of Scio lying about on the wharves of Boston with great effect and finished off with a vehement and eloquent appeal to the feelings of the audience in favour of a people persecuted by the Turks and by the world, who had been looking this way for a ray of cheering comfort and supplicating us only to hold out our hand to grasp theirs and assure them that we felt for them and approved their cause.
He finished and the House adjourned soon after. On the whole I consider his speech as good a one as could be delivered on his subject. The arguments of policy are all against him in fact and consequently he musters up the holy alliance as a show to frighten us. But when with this very holy alliance we have taken the ground that they must not come here to meddle with the concerns of this continent it is somewhat singular that we should in the next minute go directly into their mouths and talk to them about the propriety of our assisting Greece.2 Had some conversation with John and Monsieur on the subject, who does not appear to think Mr. Webster prudent in more than one respect.3
We spent the evening very quietly at home, the young ladies do not say much about the speech, I imagine they agreed with Miss Crowninshield. John applied for tea and we retired.
1. See entry for 25 Dec. 1823, and note, above. For Webster’s speech see Annals of Congress, 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1085–1099.
2. CFA is referring to the Monroe Doctrine, promulgated on 2 December 1823 by the President as part of his Annual Message. Shaped in large part by JQA, the Monroe Doctrine warned Europe against any new colonization in the Americas and reaffirmed United States policy “not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of ... [Europe’s] powers.” For a full discussion of the several parts of the Monroe Doctrine, see Bemis, JQA, 1:382–393.
3. JQA opposed Webster’s resolution because it meddled with the duties of the Executive department and used public opinion to embarrass the administration (JQA, Diary, 17 Jan. 1824).

Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0001-0020

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-01-20

Tuesday 20th.

After the usual morning exercise I went to the Capitol and found { 53 } Mr. Poinsett speaking against Mr. Webster’s resolution. His voice is weak and it appears to be exertion for him to speak, his action is so monotonous also that he soon lost all the interest of the hearers. I came so late that it was not possible to obtain the course of his argument consequently I did not attend to him.1 When he sat down Mr. Randolph rose, a thing altogether unexpected although very much wished. He has abstained from speaking for two years and has again awakened curiosity very much. He rose he said altogether unprepared but he could not help raising his voice against a step, which he believed to be ruinous to this country in every respect. He adverted to a resolution offered by Mr. Clay this morning pledging the House to support the President in any steps which he should think proper to take in order to secure the independence of the South American States,2 in terms of great severity towards the mover, as being as dangerous to the peace of this country as any steps across the Atlantic. We should not look out of our own home and not waste our strength in affairs with foreign nations. The exertion however appeared to exhaust him considerably and after stating that the mental power could not go on with its usual activity when any physical exertion was necessary, so that he found himself obliged to sit down.3 In the course of his speech he exhibited a good deal of testiness and irritation. But on the whole it was one of the most striking, simple and affecting addresses that I have ever heard. The idea of fallen greatness brought pity into action and when he said, “Sir I feel I am not what I was,” it was only exhibiting some thing still of his former powers.4
Mr. Clay rose and answered Mr. Randolph so far as it concerned him as being mover of the resolution to which that gentleman had alluded, why he could not tell, for he imagined that subject to have nothing whatever to do with the one before the House. He assured the gentleman that the resolution should be called up at a fitting time, and when it was he would be glad to hear whatever the honourable gentleman might urge against it but until then he saw no reason why it should be disturbed. Being up he made some observations in defence of the resolution,5 saying that it was nonsense to talk about consequences, that it was an innocent resolution, and it was comforting the Greeks. He was no advocate for a cold and pence calculating policy but it was his belief that government was conducted best in which the feelings of generosity were consulted. A strong contrast to this same gentleman’s speech on Mrs. Perry’s bill, which I gave some description of. It was a hasty speech but a very fine one. { 54 } He is a remarkable speaker, and in this sort of desultory debate shows himself to very great advantage.
Mr. Cuthbert of Georgia rose and observed that he wished for delay to make up his mind. The Speaker had assured us that there was no danger but he was confident that he with his gallant and enterprising spirit would not desire to defend so warmly a proposition which in this case would be of so little importance. He thought that if this could be certainly proved there was no use of debate. But it had not been proved so he moved to adjourn.6 Mr. Foote of Connecticut moved that the subject be referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations as he thought that it was a proper subject for their consideration to let them report on. Both motions were decided in the negative.7 Col. Dwight then made a speech in defence of the resolution. This man is one of the most conceited, foolish fops that I have ever met with. He had prepared this long ago for I heard his argument on Christmas day in the discussion at the dinner, only with much more effect than here afterwards. He is what I may call a pretty speaker and learnt it when he was at school, he makes neat gestures and varies his voice very prettily but with no more effect than a child. “Fifty churches and a hundred villages reared their heads in this lovely spot consecrated to the Muses”—such was his style throughout with so much force that it made me laugh. He finished, put on his coat, and went off as if he had done something which had weighed upon his mind considerably. The House satisfied by this time no longer refused their assent to the motion to adjourn.8 I then returned home having been very much amused all day.
In the Evening Madame had one of her parties. I danced but little as it was at home. As John was anxious to have me make up a set I danced with Cornelia Cottringer, and as usual could not help having a pleasant half hour with her. I saw more of Anne too than I have done since I have been here, danced with her, she looked pale and unwell but was in better spirits than usual and talked more. She is very satirical and inclined to laugh at every body. I also danced with Miss Crowninshield who diverted me much by her expressions of admiration and astonishment at a man next to her by the name of Webster. Which made me laugh so that he was going to take it for an insult. This was the pleasantest party I attended in the whole course of the winter.
1. Congressman Joel Roberts Poinsett (1788–1851), of South Carolina, opposed Webster’s proposal to send an American agent to Greece, because if he were mistreated by the Turks war could result. Instead he favored a resolution { 55 } expressing “deep interest” and “sympathy” for the Greek cause (Annals of Congress, 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1104–1111).
2. Clay’s resolution read: “That the people of these States would not see, without serious inquietude, any forcible interposition by the Allied Powers of Europe in behalf of Spain, to reduce to their former subjection those parts of the continent of America which have proclaimed and established for themselves, respectively, independent Governments, and which have been solemnly recognized by the United States” (same, p. 1004, 1114–1115).
3. Thus in MS.
4. For Randolph’s speech see Annals of Congress, 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1111–1113, 1114.
5. Of Daniel Webster.
6. Congressman Albert Cuthbert (1785–1856), of Georgia, spoke twice during the debate, but his motion to delay action lost by a vote of 84–89 (Annals of Congress, 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1115–1116).
7. Samuel Augustus Foote (1780–1846) appears not to have made a motion but merely expressed a wish that the resolutions should be referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations (same, p. 1115).
8. For Dwight’s speech see same, p. 1116–1126. CFA invented the quotation he attributed to Dwight.
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.