Charles Francis Adams (CFA) (1807–1886), third son of John Quincy and Louisa Catherine (Johnson) Adams, served as a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1858 until 1861 when, as the Civil War erupted, Pres. Abraham Lincoln appointed him minister to the Court of St. James’s—a post held in previous decades by his father, John Quincy Adams, and grandfather John Adams. On 1 May 1861, CFA set sail from East Boston, along with his wife, Abigail Brooks Adams, and their children Brooks, Henry, and Mary.
CFA and family arrived in London on the very day Great Britain recognized the Confederacy as a belligerent. Right away he was tasked with maintaining British neutrality and preventing the formation of Southern sympathies in the Court of St. James’s. Despite his cosmopolitan upbringing (he spent much of his early life on diplomatic missions with his father), CFA found court life awkward. Nevertheless, he met a veritable who’s-who: Prince Albert; Lord Russell, the past and future Prime Minister; and Charles Dickens are just a few of the associates who appear in these entries.
These diaries, which follow CFA from January 1861 through April 1865, are a remarkable—and so far underused—resource. They offer an American’s perspective on the Civil War from abroad as well as insights into CFA’s staunch antislavery views, his interesting, complicated take on Pres. Lincoln, and his uncertainty about Reconstruction. CFA’s manuscript diaries are part of the Adams Family Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society. See the collection guide for more information.
Some examples from this digital edition
My fear now is that the breach is complete. Perhaps this is not in the end to be regretted so much, as the Slave States always have been troublesome and dictatorial partners. … Mr Lincoln has plunged us into a war.15 April 1861
No man who dips his hand in this blood will remember it with satisfaction.15 November 1861
Mr. Lincoln has certainly in some respects acquitted himself with honor, and his management of the difficult crisis to the country may give him a high place in history. But nothing could ever make him a gentleman, or a sagacious administrator in the selection of agents.30 March 1865
o the country, the loss of Lincoln is hardly reparable. ... For his own fame the President could not have selected a more happy close. The just doubts about his capacity for reconstruction are scattered to the winds in the solemnity of the termination. From that moment his fame becomes like that of Washington the priceless treasure of the nation.26 April 1865