Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Monday 19th.

Wednesday 21st.

Tuesday 20th. CFA


Tuesday 20th. CFA
Tuesday 20th.

After the usual morning exercise I went to the Capitol and found 53Mr. 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. 54He 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.


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 55expressing “deep interest” and “sympathy” for the Greek cause ( Annals of Congress , 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1104–1111).


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).


Thus in MS.


For Randolph’s speech see Annals of Congress , 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1111–1113, 1114.


Of Daniel Webster.


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).


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).


For Dwight’s speech see same, p. 1116–1126. CFA invented the quotation he attributed to Dwight.