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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.

Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0001-0025

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-01-24

Saturday. 24th.

My usual numbers of maps being finished this morning as well as Bacon who has been found and resumed. Madame was also much better this morning although her health does not appear so good as it has been. I then went to the House expecting much entertainment today. Mr. Randolph had commenced, and I never knew the House so much crowded in my life. Ladies were admitted in the floor of the hall and it was impossible to get in at the side doors of the gallery. After a long trial I succeeded in obtaining a moderately good place and heard the latter part of his remarks. There is so little connection in his arguments that it is impossible to condense them or make a summary. He has still the power of ridicule and exerted it today with a good deal of force. He is too apt to talk of his past services and what he was

“Fallen, fallen, fallen, fallen

Fallen from his high estate”

which excites pity and finally ridicule in the minds of his hearers for he is not old enough to carry proof of what he says with him, and therefore raises the idea of that mental malady with which he is already known to have been attacked. But we look at him as a crumbled pillar, mourning over the loss of it’s own beauty and jealous of the more modern and perhaps less pure ones. He again attacked the South American resolution1 and made some pretty pointed remarks at Mr. Webster. Perhaps said he, some learned Theban is waiting without the walls for the appointment to the agency, clearly referring to Professor Everett who is here, it is supposed, for the purpose of obtaining this mission in case it is determined upon.
{ 64 }
He continued speaking for about an hour and a half with his usual power and fluency occasionally reverting to former times. His age has come upon him early and he will soon do nothing but “fight all his battles o’er again.” Mr. Webster followed him and answered all the gentlemen who had spoken on the other side. He retorted playfully and severely upon Bartlett, sharply upon Wood and noticed occasionally all the rest.
I think myself that it was a better speech than the former. He ridicules the idea of danger, supposes it an unmeaning resolution or nearly so, and says that it does not force the President to any measure which he would not approve. He laughs at the declamation about war, assures them that there is no danger, but with all this it appeared to me that he felt as if he had got into a scrape which he might as well be out of.
Webster made a severe allusion to Bartlett by quoting Don Quixote in his tilt with the Wind mill—and some remarks upon Mr. Wood and his late examination of Grotius.2 Mr. Fuller then took the other side and quoted out of the same romance, by making an analogy between the boy who was whipped by his master, and relieved by the knight, while present but as soon as gone whipped doubly—and the state of Greece and Turkey with respect to this country. He argued also that the President had not yet even recommended a step of this kind, and it was not worthwhile to do any thing until he did. It was evident that he supposed it not worthwhile or dangerous. In fact the argument on this side is so conclusive in every point of view that even the supporters of the cause do not pretend to argue but to feel. Not exactly a correct guide in government.
But now we had the pleasure of a little warmer work. Mr. Bartlett made some remarks in answer to Clay’s observations yesterday with most tremendous force. Mr. Webster’s attack he turned off admirably by referring to the pride he felt in having to boast him a fellow townsman, and that although he had been <unhappily> the cause of some bitter remarks, yet he could scarcely deem it unfortunate or disagreable to himself as it had afforded the opportunity of displaying such bright corruscations of his3 wit as to seize even his admiration. For Mr. Clay, he prepared another dose, informed him that his advise was altogether gratuitous and unasked for, that he was of an age to select his own instructors in political integrity, however young he might be, whenever he felt that he had occasion for any. He repelled the charge of opposing Mr. Webster because he was a Federalist, saying that it was just as unfounded as if he was in his turn { 65 } to charge the Speaker with making speeches to collect golden opinions, outside of the walls of that House. As to the Speaker’s charge, if it was meant for him, he threw it back upon him as “unjust, ungenerous, untrue.” He then adverted to the Speaker’s threat, assuring him that he dare go back to his constituents as boldly as any gentleman in that House, let his vote be what it would. That he would make as poor a slave to the Grand [Seignior] as any man, and then made some severe remarks upon Clay in reference to his conduct in wishing to obtain a certain high situation. The remarks were cutting to the extreme and all proper except insofar as they did not [dash?] too much when he struck upon the last thing. Had he not forced it a little higher than proper, his strictures otherwise were most admirably just and well applied.
They stung Clay to the quick, and he answered in the most furiously passionate manner. In his former remarks he said he had treated the young member with more moderation than at the time he deserved. Nay he had even praised him, and lavished compliments for which he had been thus repaid. He had never heard of the gentleman before; he doubted whether the House had; he was altogether a new Member he believed to every one. He then replied with great violence to the charge of catching golden opinions for a certain office.4 He said it was ungenerous to advert to it; he was placed where he could not help himself and it was improper for any one to take advantage of it. Here he was twice stopped by the chair, which decided him out of order as he was answering what had not been said, on the contrary that he5 had expressly disavowed such an attack. This capped the climax and made him rave like a mad bull. “Yes Sir,” said he, “I know he has disavowed it,” stamping his foot, “but how has he done it, if a person should tell me black is white am I to believe it though he should swear, contrary to the evidence of my own senses.”6 He closed by saying that he had some private words for the gentleman, as he could not condescend to trouble the House with the terms which he felt himself obliged to use towards him, and that as far as referred to the accusations upon him personally he cast them back on the shoulders of him whence they came with indignation and contempt. The House finding it burning too hot then adjourned.
I came home with my feelings very much excited. I must confess, I thought Clay by his violence had exposed himself and that Bartlett had nobly shown himself perfectly independent of all the personal influence and weight which Clay possesses. The latter inflicted a { 66 } severe blow upon himself and gave the former an opportunity to rise. We were employed all the afternoon and evening talking about it, and conjecturing the probability of a challenge as Blunt, who spent the evening here, said that some difficulty was likely to arise, and that the quarrel was evidently embracing sectional prejudices and that the East supported Bartlett against the West and Clay. This [is] a queer young man and a little of a bore here, but being a New York intriguer he is here a good deal. We all separated quite early, my feelings having been strongly worked upon today.7
1. See entry for 20 Jan., and note, above.
2. “No one pretends,” Webster said, “that there is any just cause of war contained in it [his resolution]. Even the gentleman from New York [George Wood], who has read Grotius so recently, has not shown any cause for war” (Annals of Congress, 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1195).
3. Webster’s.
4. Bartlett had said that it might be insinuated—however “unjustly”—that Clay had “a great personal and political object in view ... to ‘buy golden opinions from all sorts of men’" (Annals of Congress, 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1200–1201).
5. Bartlett.
6. Clay’s actual words were: “If a man says a thing is black, and then tells me he meant by that to say that it was white, I know how to understand him” (Annals of Congress, 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1202).
7. The Adams boys then attended a party at the home of the Washington postmaster, Thomas J. Munroe (JQA, Diary, 24 Jan. 1824).
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/