1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Adams, Charles Francis

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ADAMS, CHARLES FRANCIS (1807–1886), American diplomatist, son of John Quincy Adams, and grandson of John Adams, was born in Boston on the 18th of August 1807. His father, having been appointed minister to Russia, took him in 1809 to St Petersburg, where he acquired a perfect familiarity with French, learning it as his native tongue. After eight years spent in Russia and England, he attended the Boston Latin School for four years, and in 1825 graduated at Harvard. He lived two years in the executive mansion, Washington, during his father’s presidential term, studying law and moving in a society where he met Webster, Clay, Jackson and Randolph. Returning to Boston, he devoted ten years to business and study, and wrote for the North American Review. He also undertook the management of his father’s pecuniary affairs, and actively supported him in his contest in the House of Representatives for the right of petition and the anti-slavery cause. In 1835 he wrote an effective and widely read political pamphlet, entitled, after Edmund Burke’s more famous work, An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs. He was a member of the Massachusetts general court from 1840 to 1845, sitting for three years in the House of Representatives and for two years in the Senate; and in 1846–1848 he edited a party journal, the Boston Whig. In 1848 he was prominent in politics as a “Conscience Whig,” presiding over the Buffalo Convention which formed the Free Soil party and nominated Martin Van Buren for president and himself for vice-president. He was a Republican member of the Thirty-Sixth Congress, which assembled on the 5th of December 1859, and during the second session, from the 3rd of December 1860 to the 4th of March 1861, he represented Massachusetts in the Congressional Committee of Thirty-three at the time of the secession of seven of the Southern states. His selection by the chairman of this committee, Thomas Corwin, to present to the full committee certain propositions agreed upon by two-thirds of the Republican members, and his calm and able speech of the 31st of January 1861 in the House, served to make him conspicuous before congress and the country. Together with William H. Seward, he stood for the Republican policy of concession; and, while he was criticized severely and charged with inconsistency in view of his record as a “Conscience Whig,” he was of the same mind as President Lincoln, willing to concede non-essentials, but holding rigidly to the principle, properly understood, that there must be no extension of slavery. He believed that as the Republicans were the victors they ought to show a spirit of conciliation, and that the policy of righteousness was likewise one of expediency, since it would have for its result the holding of the border slave states with the North until the 4th of March, when the Republicans could take possession of the government at Washington. With the incoming of the new administration Secretary Seward secured for Adams the appointment of minister to Great Britain. So much sympathy was shown in England for the South that his path was beset with difficulties; but his mission was to prevent the interference of Great Britain in the struggle; and while the work of Lincoln, Seward and Sumner, and the cause of emancipation, tended to this end, the American minister was insistent and unyielding, and knew how to present his case forcibly and with dignity. He laboured with energy and discretion to prevent the sailing of the “Alabama”; and, when unsuccessful in this, he persistently urged upon the British government its responsibility for the destruction of American merchant vessels by the privateer. In his own diary he shows that underneath his calm exterior were serious trouble and keen anxiety; and, in fact, the strain which he underwent during the Civil War made itself felt in later years. Adams was instrumental in getting Lord John Russell to stop the “Alexandra,” and it was his industry and pertinacity in argument and remonstrance that induced Russell to order the detention in September 1863 of the two ironclad rams intended for the Confederate States. Adams remained in England until May 1868. His last important work was as a member, in 1871–1872, of the tribunal of arbitration at Geneva which disposed of the “Alabama” claims. His knowledge of the subject and his fairness of mind enabled him to render his country and the cause of international arbitration valuable service. He died at Boston on the 21st of November 1886.

He edited the works of John Adams (10 vols., 1850–1856), and the Memoirs of John Quincy Adams (12 vols., 1874–1877). See the excellent biography (Boston, 1900), in the “American Statesmen Series,” by his son, Charles Francis Adams, Jr.  (J. F. R.)