March 1861: "Mr Lincoln then rose and proceeded to read his address in a clear, distinct voice which was heard by every body"

By Elaine Grublin

Charles Francis Adams diary 24, entry for 4 March 1861, (3 unnumbered pages)

Charles Francis Adams diary 24, entry for 4 March 1861, (3 unnumbered pages)

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    In this diary entry, Charles Francis Adams (1807-1886) reflects on events in Washington on the day of Lincoln's first inaugural address, 4 March 1861. Adams describes last minute activities in the House of Representatives, reflects on his role as a member of Congress, and gives an eyewitness account of the inauguration and inaugural ball, including commentary on Lincoln's character.

    Born in Boston on 18 August 1807, Charles Francis Adams was the youngest child of President John Quincy Adams and his wife Louisa Catherine. He had a distinguished career as a statesman and a scholar, serving in the Massachusetts General Court as both a representative (1841-1843) and senator (1844-1845), and as a member of the United States House of Representatives (1859-1861). In March 1861, Abraham Lincoln appointed Adams to a diplomatic post as minister to Great Britain. He held this position from March 1861 until May 1868, playing a key role in diplomatic relations between the United States and Great Britain over the course of the Civil War. Incidentally, he was the third generation of Adams men to hold this post. As a scholar, Adams wrote several articles for the North American Review and prepared edited editions of the papers of his grandparents John and Abigail Adams and of his father, John Quincy Adams, for publication. He also completed biographies of both John and John Quincy Adams.

    In the period between Lincoln's election and inauguration, Charles Francis Adams played a leading role in Congress’ attempts to contain the impending national crisis. In December of 1860 he was appointed to represent Massachusetts on the Committee of Thirty-Three, a committee of representatives from each state charged with proposing compromise measures for debate in the House. Adams emerged as a leader in this group, giving his support to the proposal of Henry Winter Davis of Maryland to immediately admit New Mexico as a state open to slavery, and personally suggesting an amendment to the Constitution declaring that the federal government could not attempt to emancipate slaves in any state where slavery existed. The efforts of the Committee of Thirty-Three, and its counterpart in the Senate, the Committee of Thirteen, proved fruitless in the end. Although they did succeed in maintaining peace and preventing the border states from seceding before Lincoln’s inauguration, no lasting compromise could be reached.

    Suggestions for Further Reading

    This entry is from one of thirty-six volumes comprising Charles Francis Adams’ diary. These volumes are part of the Adams Family Papers held by the Massachusetts Historical Society.

    Adams, Charles Francis, Jr. Charles Francis Adams. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1900.

    Duberman, Charles B. Charles Francis Adams, 1807-1886. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1961.

    Jaffa, Harry V. A New Birth of Freedom. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2000.

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