Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 4

Friday. 26.

Sunday. 28th.

Saturday. 27th. CFA


Saturday. 27th. CFA
Saturday. 27th.

Clear morning and milder than it has been. I remained at Quincy in consequence of my father’s having engaged a meeting of the Supervisors of the Temple and School fund here at twelve o’clock. How the time passed previous to that hour I can hardly say myself. I passed part of it in writing my Diary which had fallen backward some days and part in continuing the Causes Celebres, that part relating the story of the Sieur Rousseau. At twelve, all the Supervisors came, viz. Mr. Quincy, Mr. T. Greenleaf, Mr. Miller, Mr. Beale, and my father. 386After transacting considerable business relating to the affairs of the Corporation,1 we were joined by Messrs. D. and P. Greenleaf and Mr. Whitney which party dined here. After dinner, Mr. Beale spent an hour.

Evening quiet. Conversation until eleven o’clock with my father. One of the few which I catch in the course of a Summer, which are worth remembering. Consideration of the civil and the common law. Reasons of the superiority of the latter — A law of liberty and of purity. The civil Law looks entirely to the government of one man. It is a fair specimen of the sovereignty of a paternal king. The other is the Law of equals. The civil Law has no trial by Jury, no habeas Corpus, it is lenient in the construction of obligations, it is less observant of pure morality. Instances, the penalty of a bond, and the bastardy of children born before marriage. The one is a law of mercy, the other, of rigor. Some observations upon the character of modern study. The avoidance of labour seems to be the great end proposed. Nobody can arrive at greatness who makes that the object of life, hence the superficial character of modern acquirement. Fisher Ames said, Blackstone’s book was the spinning jenny of the Law.2 Blackstone was the most perfect specimen of method extant. Mr. Quincy the other day had depreciated Wood’s Institutes, not so bad a book as he made it out to be.3 Both had taken their arrangement from Justinian. The Roman Law had it’s origin from the Greeks, and there is a striking coincidence between that of the latter and the Levitical law. All originated in Egypt. There is a difference however between Greece and Rome. The former especially at Athens was much more of a Government of law, and depended less upon individual authority. Gibbon calls the Roman Republic the proudest aristocracy that ever existed. A digression to the character of Cicero, his low birth, his immense difficulties in rising to an equality with Caesar, Pompey, Catiline &ca. should be taken into account in considering his compliances. On the whole, a very interesting and profitable conversation.


Among the items of corporate business accomplished was the election and swearing in of CFA as clerk of the Adams Temple and School Fund. Because he was not a resident of the town of Quincy he was not eligible to become one of the supervisors (JQA, Diary, 27 Oct.).


JQA’s appreciation of Fisher Ames’ metaphor on Blackstone’s Commentaries is perhaps a confirmation of what JQA had long maintained was in fact his attitude toward Ames: admiration for the man and his talents as an orator and image-maker, strong dissent from his political views, especially his later ones from which much of New England Federalism derived. See JQA’s American Principles. A Review of Works of Fisher Ames, Boston, 1809. See also the notice of Ames in DAB .


Thomas Wood, An Institute of the Laws of England, 4 vols., London, 1720.