Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 2

Friday. October 12th.

Sunday 14th.

Saturday 13th. CFA


Saturday 13th. CFA
Saturday 13th.

Morning at the Office. I received two letters, one from my Mother at Washington,1 the other from my Father at New York. The former in her customary melancholy tone. God forbid I should ever feel any thing but affection towards her, but in a contest between my duty to one parent and to the other I must support the one as well as the 171other. But my Mother is now in such a condition that she cannot bear the truth, and her feelings are constantly carrying her into extremes which she repents when it is too late and when she attempts to hide them from herself. But on this subject I will not dilate. It has grieved me deeply and it has turned almost all the pleasure of my home into sorrow. Perhaps after all, the selfish philosophy is the safest. My father’s letter delighted me in as much as it opened a door to further, and as I hope, regular communication.2 The first of the two I answered on the spot as fully as possible, soothing as I could make it consistently with my duty to myself.

The remainder of the day I passed in Court hearing a small case of an Account for horse keeping. Defendant thought himself overcharged. The case was of little moment excepting that I saw the process of examining witnesses. After dinner I drove Abby to Winter Hill. Found a large party of Mr. Everett’s relations. His sisters and some others. After taking tea there, we went to Medford.




JQA wrote: “You asked me some days since, for advice, with an intimation, that if I would give it, there should be some attention paid to it. I promised that I would faithfully advise you and with a view exclusively to your own welfare. I ask you therefore to write me every week, and as far as I am able will answer your Letters” (JQA to CFA, 10 Oct. 1827, Adams Papers). Taking advantage of the invitation, CFA promptly replied (16 Oct. 1827) and thus began a correspondence which totaled forty letters from each writer before it was suspended on 27 July 1828. Unless otherwise noted, all these letters are in the Adams Papers. Since they are presently available in full in the microfilm edition of the Adams Papers and will be published in large measure in the Adams Family Correspondence , it is not necessary to summarize or quote the individual letters in these pages, except where such reference is needed to make the meaning of CFA’s diary clear.

Taken as a whole, this remarkable correspondence reveals much about both the President and his son. These were not, by and large, informal, personal letters, though inevitably they contain many references to health, to family matters, and to finances. Nor were they generally discussions of political affairs. Instead, JQA intended his letters to guide his son to success—and he assumed that CFA would, like his father and his grandfather, aspire to a public career. Charles should, therefore, assiduously improve himself. Carefully he should budget his time. One way of gaining extra hours, undisturbed by business or social demands, was to rise early. “If you can establish the practice of rising at six, or still better, at five o’clock, the year round,” JQA urged, “you will not want time for study” (10 Oct. 1827). “I will not say it is impossible that an early riser should be a vicious man,” he further argued. “But I do say that early rising is indissolubly connected with many of the most active virtues” (9 Dec. 1827).

The time thus gained CFA should spend in hard work, always remembering that “Genius is the child of Toil” (16 Dec. 1827). He should read the great letter writers, such as Pliny, Voltaire, and Pascal; he should study Bacon; he should read widely in American history, though the books on this subject were “little more than details of facts; told with little art, and without much philosophy” (4 Feb. 1828). Especially he must study the works of Cicero, beginning with De Officiis, examining it “1. As a System of Ethics. 2. As a literary composition. 3. Biographically” (10 Feb.1721828). To assist his son, JQA filled several letters with short historical and critical essays on Cicero’s more important orations.

Charles was an attentive but by no means uncritical listener to his father’s advice. The value of early rising, he soon decided, was much overrated, and he told JQA: “I cannot help thinking that there is an excess in this as in many other things and that the habit of witnessing the evident exhaustion under which you labour every evening has gone far to impress it upon my mind” (8 Jan. 1828). His father’s recommended books on American history he read eagerly, but they convinced him that Thomas Hutchinson’s Tory version of the pre-Revolutionary struggle was sounder than that of the American Whigs, including that upheld by his own grandfather. Repeatedly CFA maintained, in the face of JQA’s arguments, that the English Parliament did have the right to tax the colonies, adding, however, that a separation was probably inevitable since “the distance between the two nations . . . rendered a union absurd” (6 May 1828).

Even more disturbing to JQA was Charles’ contention that Cicero, “the individual whom you have pronounced your favourite,” was wanting in “firmness of character” (29 Jan. 1828) and was, therefore, inferior to Cato (8 April 1828). The President was so upset by Charles’ dissent that LCA had to warn her son: “even if his deductions are not entirely like yours on points of moral character, respect prejudices acquired by favorite studies and ... do not harshly and positively condemn them” (LCA to CFA, 17 April 1828, Adams Papers).

Behind these disagreements lay a more basic one: Charles was resisting his father’s plan to have him enter public life. “I do not expect to make a very great figure in the world,” CFA told his father. “I cannot get over my dislike to the idea of a political existence. It shackles the independence of mind and feeling which I have always perhaps extravagantly admired, and in this Country it destroys all social ties, all the finer but less intense enjoyments of existence” (22 Jan. 1828). Taking this as a slur upon his own career, JQA retorted sharply: “If you prefer to remain in private life, stand aloof—you may be sure not to be disturbed in your privacy” (26 March 1828).

Nevertheless, both men enjoyed their epistolary exchanges. To Charles the letters brought a closeness to his father which the Adams coldness forbade in direct personal intercourse. “I am sorry that you should think me likely to consider your letters tedious,” he assured JQA. “For I assure you, Sir, nothing can exceed the gratification with which I receive communications, (and of such a kind especially) from you” (13 Nov. 1827). The President, for his part, was pleased by Charles’ punctuality in writing every week, a practice so markedly in contrast with GWA’s carelessness as to correspondence and business (LCA to CFA, 20 Feb. 1828, Adams Papers). At the same time JQA found his son’s letters and questions a welcome opportunity to turn from the gloomy political scene to the literary pursuits which he so loved. “Your letters are becoming a necessary of life to me,” he assured Charles. “I have not in seven years read so much of classical literature, as since I began these Letters to you. And I might add I have not in seven years enjoyed so much luxurious entertainment” (25 Nov. 1827).