Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Thursday 29th.

Saturday 31st.

Friday 30th. CFA


Friday 30th. CFA
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-74sides 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 75amicably 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.


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).


The Adams family.


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).


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).