Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Wednesday 28th.

Friday 30th.

Thursday 29th. CFA


Thursday 29th. CFA
Thursday 29th.

Morning spent upstairs, then to the Capitol. Mr. Stevenson of Virginia delivering his sentiments against the passage of the bill on roads and canals. He argued in his usual furious, rantipole,1 manner much to my entertainment. He made an attack upon Mr. Clay, charging him with inconsistencies in his conduct, comparing his two speeches, one on the question concerning the United States Bank, delivered some years ago in the Senate, and the late one. He was very vehement, used the old Virginia argument of the unconstitutional point of it. On the whole there was some blinding sophistry and two or three ridiculous stories—to cast reflection on Mr. Clay.2 But I observed that it was received without the least difficulty, and that although once or twice he coloured a little it was not like his last foam.

Mr. Storrs followed him, on the opposite side, his argument was a very good one, although at present I do not recollect the course of it at this distance of time. It is quite difficult to do so, unless the person is so distinguished that I not only heard him with attention but read his speech afterwards. All these sketches are taken from memory. The manner of this gentleman is rather good than otherwise although there is something harsh in his voice. He argued “establish” meant to create and in this way, that in the context it was that Congress have power to establish post offices and post Roads. What does establish post offices mean? It means to make offices or create them where they were not before. If so the argument is clear, for the same word applies to both.3 He finished the sitting of the House today.

Returning home, I was obliged to dress in haste to be prepared for the company to dine to day. They consisted of Mr. Mills of Massachusetts, Senator. Messrs. Carter of South Carolina, Eddy of Rhode Island, Foot of Connecticut, Henry of Kentucky, Houston of Tennessee, Mallary of Vermont, Morgan of New York, Plumer of New Hampshire, Tucker of Virginia and Williams of North Carolina.4 The 73dinner was a very lively and agreable one. Mr. Williams was next to me; he is a violent enemy of the house and consequently I felt on my guard to him. Mr. Foot was opposite and Tucker next. It was remarkable what a number of the opposing parties there were making up this dinner. It is supposed that the three above mentioned are all enemies and that but four decided friends were at table.

There was a great deal of life in the conversation at our end of the table, particularly when the subject of roads and canals came up, all the members there being in direct opposition to the passage of the bill. Mr. Tucker would not argue upon the subject as he informed us that he reserved his reasons for the House. Mr. Williams called it absolute destruction to the constitution. In fact by talking and laughing they became so severe that the only two supporters of the bill sprung from table immediately after the ladies retired under pretence of an engagement, but really if one could judge from the colour of Houston’s face, it was from rage. They all then went upstairs, and after some lively conversation, went away. Blunt was here in the evening after they had gone and staid till eleven o’clock.


Wild or disorderly.


Congressman Stevenson argued that in 1811 Clay, then a Senator, had believed in strict construction, holding that the incorporation of the United States Bank was an unconstitutional assumption of powers not specifically delegated to the federal government. Now Clay and his followers maintained that the federal government had the necessary power to assist the building of canals and roads under the constitutional provision giving it the right to establish post offices and post roads and to regulate commerce ( Annals of Congress , 18 Cong., 1 sess., p. 1264–1282).


Congressman Henry Randolph Storrs (1787–1837), of New York, argued that the general government was created to promote grand national interests and that any grant of political power necessarily included the right of using all necessary means for accomplishing the object of that power. Consequently Congress had only to seek authority for supporting internal improvements in the general welfare clause of the Preamble and in the commerce clause (same, p. 1282–1291).


Congressmen not previously identified were: Elijah Hunt Mills (1776–1829); John Carter (1792–1850); Samuel Eddy (1769–1839); John Jordan Morgan (1770–1849); William Plumer Jr. (1789–1854); George Tucker (1775–1861); and Lewis Williams (1786–1842) ( Biog. Dir. Cong. ).