Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Tuesday 3d.

Thursday. 5th.

Wednesday 4th. CFA


Wednesday 4th. CFA
Wednesday 4th.

Spent the day at home, again, although the family all went except Madame to the Supreme Court which opened this week, to hear Mr. Webster argue on the Steam boat Case. A very interesting contention between the proprietors of an extensive grant over the waters of New York, given by the legislature and the owner of a boat which [fol. 80] [fol. 80] [fol. 80] [fol. 80] 81 they had seized and condemned. It is a case of great importance involving a question of state rights which has some bearing on the method of reading our constitution. Mr. Webster and Mr. Wirt are in support of the owner who is the plaintiff and Messrs. Emmett and Oakley of New York are in defence of the proprietors, consequently it is expected that there will be great specimens of argument on both sides.1

Mrs. Sullivan, who is a great lady on occasions of this kind, volunteered to take up two of our ladies to hear the debate, which they accepted. Consequently she came for them, according to her usual custom immediately after breakfast, which was quite teasing to our poor girls. Mary and Miss McKnight went with her. It is highly amusing to observe the parties in which the girls form themselves, Mary and Miss McKnight forming the representatives of the South in life and perhaps in temper while Abby and Miss Cranch, who possessing perhaps more feeling, have none of those alluring fascinating ways which so much grace a woman but the mumpish,2 sentimental, homely silence of New England. In my choice I think I could give up some of the affection for a little more of the vivacity. Perhaps a blending of the two characters would make the most perfect one imaginable. Johnson and John walked up.

The latter now came down saying his boot hurt him which it did. The ladies also came in, but not in the best spirits imaginable as they had been constrained to sit and hear the dry arguments of the law detailed off to them, Mrs. Sullivan having no mercy. She is or apes to be a “bas bleu” and makes herself appear very foolish. In fact she must be a very weak woman, or she would not attempt to gain so much notice. Mr. Webster closed and Mr. Oakley commenced in reply. The girls made a great many lamentations and John I thought was not altogether sorry that his boot pinched him insupportably. Mr. Webster’s speech was however very highly thought of.

In the Evening, all the girls went with John and Monsieur to the Drawing Room, which was held to night for the second time this season, Johnson, Madame and I remaining at home. For my part having been once I did not think it worthwhile to go again as there is but little pleasure in the visits. In fact I do not think they could well be made more stiff than they are at present. Mr. J. W. Taylor of New York came this evening to see Monsieur and as he was not at home, he walked upstairs and took tea with us. He is rather a pleasant man and with considerable abilities of a certain sort. His influence in the House is pretty extensive having been chosen Speaker 82once and talked of often. His visit tonight appeared to be to Monsieur particularly as he went down for private conversation when he returned.3


In the celebrated case of Gibbons v. Ogden (9 Wheaton 1), Thomas Addis Emmet and Thomas J. Oakley appeared against Daniel Webster and William Wirt. The case, rising from a monopoly granted by the New York legislature for the operation of steamboats in state waters, resulted in a Supreme Court decision which gave a broad construction of congressional power under the commerce clause.


Sullenly angry or depressed.


Speaker John W. Taylor (1784–1854) reported that Senator Jesse B. Thomas was again proposing that the caucus nominate Crawford for President and JQA for Vice President. Because of Crawford’s ill health, Thomas argued, the duties of the Presidency might fall to the Vice President, and doubtless Crawford’s friends would support JQA in the next election. JQA declined to place the North below the South or to countenance any caucus nomination. See JQA, Diary, 4 Feb. 1824, and entry for 15 Jan., and note, above.