Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Friday. 23d.

Sunday 25th.

Saturday. 24th. CFA


Saturday. 24th. CFA
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.


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 65to 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 66severe 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


See entry for 20 Jan., and note, above.


“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).




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).




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).


The Adams boys then attended a party at the home of the Washington postmaster, Thomas J. Munroe (JQA, Diary, 24 Jan. 1824).