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Diary of Charles Francis Adams, 1861

Sunday 13th

13 January 1861

Tuesday 15th

15 January 1861
14 January 1861
Monday 14th

We had been invited by Mr Corwin to meet in Committee at ten o’clock. I attended with some punctuality, but as usual it was nearly twelve o’clock before a quorum was collected. Mr Corwin had forgotten his own hour. The first thing was the proposal of a modification of the practice of reclaiming fugitives from justice. This was a new bill transferring the power of return from the Governors of States to the District and circuit Judges. It struck me as open to much dangerous abuse, abut we had little time to examine it and it was finally adopted a rather close vote. I was very too busy making a new draught of a report explaining my own course, to pay much attention to the reading of Mr Corwin’s report, which was the less necessary that I had heard it already. After a few verbal corrections, the final question then came up, on the adoption of the various measures as a whole. And here followed one of the most curious scenes that ever occurred in the annals of legislation. Twenty nine members were present, being all excepting Mr Houston of Alabama, whose state has voted for secession, on Friday, the very day when he was declining to vote on my resolution. It soon became clear that there was no majority to be depended upon to adopt the measures—and equally clear that there was none ready to vote to break up without any report at all. The question was how to steer between these extremes. Mr Rust of Arkansas seemed to be bent upon destruction, and yet his measures strangely failed of their object. Others seemed equally anxious to sustain the report, and yet every plan to extricate it was found to command no majority. A game of tactics went on until at last it became clear that nothing could be recommended, and that nothing would be rejected. Still the papers were left on the table of the Committee undisposed of. Mr Corwin declared that he should introduce them on his own responsibility, if not other plan would avail. At last after many failures, Mr Millson who seemed deeply anxious for a decision drew up a form of resolution which directed the Chairman to discuss the business of the Committee to report the measures adopted with his news of them. Thus no one was committed and yet the object was gained. It was carried by sixteen to thirteen. I refused to vote until I saw how the majority of the slaveholders voted, and then I gave a negative. It was then agreed that any person disposed to make a report for himself should have liberty to put it in.52 Thus closed this queer struggle. It seemed to me that every man of the twenty nine, however much opposed he seemed to this end of it, was uncommonly resigned to his fate. There may be a great deal of hostility to the Union among the people. There was none whatever in this Committee. We then went into the House. Although it was late Mr Corwin’s rising seemed to be hailed with the greatest satisfaction from the opposite side. The rules were suspended by acclamation, and the report was accepted and ordered to be printed. Thus commenced the second act of the drama. The subject was specially assigned for Monday next. Now I fear I must make a speech, at some stage or other of the debate. Home to dinner. Mr Sedgewick was with us. In the evening, not being satisfied with my report as I had drawn it, I worked hard to put it into a new shape.

Cite web page as:

Charles Francis Adams, Sr., [date of entry], diary, in Charles Francis Adams, Sr.: The Civil War Diaries (Unverified Transcriptions). Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2015. http://www.masshist.org/publications/cfa-civil-war/view?id=DCA61d014