Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Tuesday 13th.

Thursday. 15th.

14th. CFA


14th. CFA

This day, as we heard Mr. Clay was going to speak and answer Mr. Barbour who spoke yesterday, we, (all the family) went to hear him. He had commenced before we got there so that it was hardly possible to obtain a seat even for the ladies. John had something of a task and so had I, for there were four ladies to attend to, in a great crowd. After settling them, by dint of perseverance we obtained something a little like a place to hear but not to see. From what I was able to gather it was a fine speech, and put up with more argument than he generally condescends to use. He supported Mr. Hemphill’s bill and opposed Mr. Barbour’s motion of yesterday to strike out the enacting clause. He gave Mr. Barbour a number of slight dashes but nothing of the bitter sarcasm which he is so fond of using on these occasions. He argued the words of the constitution thus: “Congress shall have power to establish post offices and post roads.” In this he argued the word established meant to create and Congress had the power to make roads in any state or territory which it should think fit. This is about the whole subject of discussion as the other part insists that Congress has no right to do any thing but select the road on which the mail is to be run and assign post offices.

It is a question in which there is a show of reason on each side. And I am rather inclined to think myself that the words were intended as the Virginians construed them, but if so I think the constitution should be amended for at the time of the formation of the constitution we had no inland states to demand assistance in the way of roads or canals. Mr. Clay stated this argument and exposed the condition of the West, in a very handsome manner, and was commencing a very handsome appeal to the feelings when Mr. Barbour got up for the purpose of explaining away ostensibly, but really to break it up which he did. After speaking for about two hours and a half he sat down and the question was taken as to Mr. Barbour’s amendment and lost ayes 116. Noes about 80. Immediately after which the House adjourned and we went home. On the whole very much pleased indeed. Mr. C. is one of the first speakers in this country, in manner, voice, gesture and simplicity of language. The flexibility and variety of his tones is astonishing.1

In the evening, we did intend having an oyster supper, but were 43interrupted by Messieurs Connell2 and Blunt who came and spent the evening. So we were obliged to delay it.


Clay’s speech on Hemphill’s bill to provide surveys and plans for a system of roads and canals was one of his great efforts to promote internal improvements. In closing he argued eloquently that “the bill on your table is no Western bill. It is emphatically a national bill, comprehending all, looking to the interests of the whole” ( Annals of Congress , 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1040). This was also the view of JQA, who would not have agreed with his son’s view that the Constitution needed amending in order to launch such a program.

The vote on Barbour’s motion to strike the enacting clause was 74–109; the amendment for $30,000 won with 105 yeas, while the vote of the Committee of the Whole House to report on engrossing the bill for a third reading was 114–82 (same, p. 1041).


John Connell, a messenger in the Treasury Department (JQA, Diary, 18 Jan. 1824; U.S. Official Register, 1825, p. 17).