Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 7

Monday 3d.

Wednesday 5th.

Tuesday. 4th. CFA Tuesday. 4th. CFA
Tuesday. 4th.

The night was a noisy one, with very little rest for any body. The injunctions in my grandfather’s letters were so very precisely kept that we had no cessation from guns, cannons, squibs and crackers besides the popping of small arms and the beating of drums and ringing of bells.1 But the day proved fairer than could last night have been anticipated.

We were not well through breakfast before the business of reception commenced and to get rid of it, I concluded to take a stroll about the town. It bears the marks of having been a very flourishing place, but 272not being so now. There is less however of stagnation than from the accounts I had been led to expect. The large houses though not kept in the manner in which wealth would do, yet look neat and in tolerable repair. The commercial part of the town looks rather desolate and they are trying to remedy the loss by building factories to be moved by steam power.

I returned in time just to see the firemen of the town arrayed to listen to Mr. Cushing, but lost the speech, then home. The next thing was the procession which was long and dusty. But I could not help being struck with the interest manifested in my father by men, women and children who stood to catch a glimpse of him as he passed. These are the rewards of public life. A consciousness of power over the minds of men, to use for good or ill according to the will of the mover.

We got into the church which was very full and after two or three patriotic airs on the Organ, with Adams and Liberty, a Hymn, a Prayer and the Declaration of Independence read by Mr. Cross, my father commenced his oration.2 It lasted an hour and a half and was marked by the usual vigour of style and excess of delivery which are peculiar to him. The leading thought seemed to be that the Declaration of Independence formed a new era in the progress of man’s perfection second only to the coming of Jesus and in fulfilment of his object in coming, that it founded government in right and not in power, and that the principles which flow from it are those declared in the prophecy of Isaiah announcing the liberty of the captives, freedom from bondage and the cessation of war.3

The Oration did not suit my taste at all because it seemed to me altogether rhetorical and very little founded in truth. The prospect in the United States is certainly not favorable to the perfection of the race of man, nor to the duration of the good Institutions we live under. Injudicious attempts to liberate the slaves that swarm in this land of liberty seem far more likely to lead us back to anarchy, or more certainly to war and bloodshed than to any political millenium. And the bonds of government are every where loosening to the manifest benefit of the unruly rather than to the encouragement of the peaceful. In many things I defer more to the authority of my grandfather whose political sagacity appears to have been the most striking characteristic of his life. He saw no cessation of war, still less much perfectibility while man is constituted as he has been known to be since the world began. And I think with him. However much therefore I may admire the power of my father’s composition, my judgment refuses to admit the reasoning.


The Oration was however very well received notwithstanding a strong leaning to the principles of the immediate Abolitionists, and though many appeared grave, none disapproved. We returned to Mr. Cushing’s to dine with a number of gentlemen whom I hardly knew by name. The Afternoon was devoted to a reception of all persons who desired to be introduced, a ceremony from which Mr. Cushing’s politeness relieved me. Evening, a visit to a party at the Town Hall, where the gentlemen and ladies of the town congregated to look at the lion. I found there one or two acquaintances with whom I talked.

My position was an extremely awkward one throughout the day and one which I hope and desire not to be put into often again. For however I may in former days as a young man have liked the notice which the being in a great man’s train secures one, now that I have a fixed character of my own, obscurity is far the most agreeable. After leaving the hall, we were carried to see the fireworks in the mall, a few rockets and then I was glad to get home and retire to bed.


JA’s injunctions on the proper commemoration of the day of independence were that “It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations” Adams Family Correspondence , 2:30).


A broadside containing the order of exercises is in the Adams Papers. R. T. Paine was the composer of “Adams and Liberty”; the Declaration was read by Robert Cross of Amesbury.


Autograph MS copies of the oration are in the Adams Papers and in the Library of the Newburyport Historical Society; the oration was printed in Newburyport as a pamphlet; also, extracts were printed in the Quincy Patriot, 19 Aug., p. 2, col. 1, and 26 Aug., p. 2, col. 4.