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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0001-0031

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-01-30

Friday 30th.

After having spent the morning as usual I went to the House to hear Mr. Randolph in this bill of roads and canals. I went early to get a good seat, but was routed by ladies. I managed, however, to obtain a pretty good one, and heard him clearly deliver his sentiments on the bill. He makes beautiful speeches, there is more of real parliamentary eloquence in him than in any one in the House. He is be• { 74 } sides more of a classical man than I had any idea, as he made several very beautiful and very apt quotations in his remarks. He was very severe upon Mr. Madison, and from here turned on his old theme, Mr. Clay. He is a man with no argument, but a great deal of shrewd observation and cutting satire. He destroyed the effect of Mr. Storrs argument very much by observing that he could [not] listen to arguments founded on the word municipal;1 he had been sick of the word ever since the time &c. and then he told a story which turned all the point of the arguments, for Storrs’ was a strong one, into a joke. He repeated his complaints as to himself again, indeed commenced with an apology for having taken up the time of the House so often of late and made assurances that it should not happen so much hereafter. I am obliged to consider him a great man although he has been a violent opponent to my race.2
Mr. Clay followed him in answer to the attack yesterday and the one today. He argued but little analogy in the cases yesterday and the gentleman might make the most of what there was, as he would candidly inform him that he had changed his opinion, a right which Mr. Clay often has occasion to claim. He had grown old, he said and accompanied this with the motion of putting on a pair of spectacles, and was not so well able to perform these duties as he had been, he was out of health and could not speak well, all this in ridicule of Randolph’s manner. He said the gentleman had talked of his ancestors. He had no ancestors to boast; he had worked through the world as he could and was not prepared to lay any claim to merit but what he himself might advance. He continued in this course for considerable time and then came to a support of his argument. He said that Congress had the power if they pleased to tax America to the last cent, a proposition to which I could not agree as in that case where is the check upon the power of a few corrupted and influential men in that House.
He made some observations also upon the course of some few members in the House, who, he regretted to say, had not treated [him] with that fairness which he ought to expect. That he was placed before the nation in a situation which he could not avoid, and therefore he would confess that he felt angry at the baseness of those members, but he allowed that the House generally had treated him very handsomely in this respect. The speech was a violent one, a pleasant one for an auditor and as usual, an inconsistent one.3 At the close Mr. Hamilton announced to the House, that the late unhappy difference between two distinguished members, had been { 75 } amicably settled. Something remarkable as coming from the chairman of the committee on Military Affairs.
Returned home. Evening, Abby at Mrs. Forrest’s.4 Rest at home.
1. Randolph claimed that the current difficulty stemmed from “a fatal admission” of Madison, “which gave a sanction to the principle that the Government had the power to charter the present collossal Bank of the United States . . . and one other which I will not name [probably Madison’s recommendation of a constitutional amendment to permit internal improvements].” Fearing that the federal government had already given away one of its two great powers, the power of the purse, Randolph warned that broadening its war-making power by allowing the construction of roads under the guise of military necessity could lead to further extensions, even to the freeing of the slaves (Annals of Congress, 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1296–1311).
Storrs had argued that the central government not only had national powers but “municipal” ones as well—that is, that it could operate directly on its citizens. Randolph retorted: “I shall say nothing about that word municipal ... it has been like ratsbane in my mouth, ever since the late Ruler of France took shelter under that word, to pocket our money, and incarcerate our persons, with the most profound respect for our neutral rights” (same, p. 1302).
2. The Adams family.
3. Clay’s answer is an excellent example of his pragmatic approach in politics. He had, indeed, changed his mind on certain issues, but he explained that the necessity of developing the West and at the same time enhancing the prosperity of the whole nation demanded such a change (Annals of Congress, 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1311). The Kentuckian did not, in fact, argue that Congress could tax away the last dollar from every man; rather, he was unmasking the arguments of his opponents, who claimed that his very limited internal improvements proposals could lead to some vast, calamitous, future extension of federal power. By the same reasoning, Clay showed, the power to tax could hypothetically lead to the confiscation of every man’s property (same, p. 1316).
4. Presumably the wife of General Uriah Forrest, owner of Rosedale, a thousand-acre estate north of Georgetown (Wharton, Social Life in the Early Republic, p. 88).

Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0001-0032

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-01-31

Saturday 31st.

Exercises performed as usual. Madame and Mary went with Monsieur to Mrs. de Bresson’s funeral which took place today. To me at a distance it appeared a very long one. When they came home they had such long faces that they almost infected the house so that I was obliged to tell ridiculous stories about Cambridge to turn the feeling. Women are made of very irregular feelings for these laughed almost hysterically at my stories and although in very low spirits could not avoid paying attention to me. A man, had he been grieved, would have rejected all folly until the next day when his spirits return but a woman will grieve the next day and laugh if diverted. Their want of occupation gives them time and when they think of nothing else they lament.
However, I had been considerably shocked myself, and therefore went out and took a walk to the [Columbian] College, near which I { 76 } had not been for years. It appears to be a flourishing establishment and may at some future time be quite worthwhile but at present it is only a secondary affair. The afternoon was a pleasant one, but I could not help looking toward the eastern branch and thinking how low she was layed. So young. It might have been a blessing to her for it was said that her mind had been severely affected once or twice before. But still the shock was a severe one. And when I thought of all the heartless scandal that I had heard repeated over concerning her and the family I could not help loathing the common forms and the inhabitants of this mortal world.
I came home, more settled; the family appeared very chilly though. Madame has not been so well of late, which has damped us all, besides this occurrence. I do not think she is in such good spirits this winter as usual. Not so fond of society, she has become less ambitious of keeping the lead, probably because all her rivals have fallen before her. Mrs. Brown being the last one having disappeared. Johnson being sick too serves to depress the house. In fact Washington is not so delightful this winter from these causes, and because society is no novelty now, and my favoris never present.
After dinner, Monsieur and John went to hear Mr. Goodacre’s introduction to his astronomical lectures,1 while the rest of us stayed at home moping considerably.
1. Robert Goodacre published an Outline of Eight Lectures on Astronomy and of an Introductory Lecture Which Will Be Delivered in the Assembly Hall near the Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, Washington, 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/