Charles Francis Adams Sr. (August 18, 1807 – November 21, 1886) was an American historical editor, writer, politician, and diplomat. As United States Minister to the United Kingdom during the American Civil War, Adams was crucial to Union efforts to prevent British recognition of the Confederate States of America and maintain European neutrality to the utmost extent. Adams also featured in national and state politics before and after the Civil War.
|United States Envoy to the United Kingdom|
May 16, 1861 – May 13, 1868
|Preceded by||George M. Dallas|
|Succeeded by||Reverdy Johnson|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Massachusetts's 3rd district
March 4, 1859 – May 1, 1861
|Preceded by||William S. Damrell|
|Succeeded by||Benjamin Thomas|
Charles Francis Adams
August 18, 1807
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||November 21, 1886 (aged 79)|
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Political party||Whig (Before 1848)|
Free Soil (1848–1854)
Liberal Republican (1870–1872)
Abigail Brown Brooks
|Children||7, including John, Charles, Henry, and Brooks|
|Parent(s)||John Quincy Adams|
|Relatives||See Adams family|
|Education||Harvard University (BA)|
Adams was the patriarch of one of the United States's most prominent political families: his father and grandfather were Presidents John Quincy Adams and John Adams, about whom he wrote a major biography. He had seven children, including John Quincy II, Charles Jr., Henry, and Brooks.
Adams served two terms in the Massachusetts State Senate before helping to found the abolitionist Free Soil Party in 1848; he was the party's vice-presidential candidate in the election of 1848 on a ticket with former president Martin Van Buren. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1858 and re-elected in 1860.
During the Civil War, Adams served as the United States Minister to the United Kingdom under Abraham Lincoln, where he played a key role in keeping the British government neutral and not diplomatically recognizing the Confederacy. After the War, he became alienated from the Republican Party and was successively a Liberal Republican, Anti-Mason, and Democrat. In 1876, he was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for Governor of Massachusetts.
Adams was born in Boston on August 18, 1807, and he was one of three sons and a daughter born to John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) and Louisa Catherine Johnson (1775–1852). His older brothers were George Washington Adams (1801–1829) and John Adams II (1803–1834). His sister, Louisa, was born in 1811 but died in 1812 while the family was in Russia. He was named in part after Francis Dana.
He attended Boston Latin School and Harvard College, where he graduated in 1825. He then studied law with Daniel Webster, attained admission to the bar, and practiced in Boston. He wrote numerous reviews of works about American and British history for the North American Review.
During the presidency of John Quincy Adams (1825–1829), Charles and his brothers John and George were all rivals for the same woman, their cousin Mary Catherine Hellen, who lived with the Adams family after the death of her parents. In 1828, John married Mary in a White House ceremony, and both Charles and George declined to attend.
In 1840, Adams was elected to three one-year terms in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and he served in the Massachusetts Senate from 1843 to 1845. In 1846, he purchased and became editor of the Boston Whig newspaper. In 1848, he was the unsuccessful nominee of the Free Soil Party for Vice President of the United States, running on a ticket with former president Martin Van Buren as the presidential nominee.
From the 1840s, Adams became one of the finest historical editors of his era. He developed his expertise in part because of the example of his father, who in 1829 had turned from politics (after his defeated bid for a second presidential term in 1828) to history and biography. John Quincy Adams began a biography of his father, John Adams, but wrote only a few chapters before resuming his political career in 1830 with his election to the U.S. House of Representatives.
The younger Adams, fresh from his edition of the letters of his grandmother Abigail Adams, Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams (1840), took up the project that his father had left uncompleted and between 1850 and 1856, turned out not just the two volumes of the biography but eight further volumes presenting editions of John Adams's Diary and Autobiography, his major political writings, and a selection of letters and speeches. The edition, titled The Works of John Adams, Esq., Second President of the United States, was the only edition of John Adams's writings until the family donated the cache of Adams papers to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1854 and authorized the creation of the Adams Papers project; the modern project had published accurate scholarly editions of John Adams's diary and autobiography, several volumes of Adams family correspondence, two volumes on the portraits of John and Abigail Adams and John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams, and the early years of the diary of Charles Francis Adams, who published a revised edition of the biography in 1871. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1857.
Congressman and diplomatEdit
As a Republican, Adams was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1858, where he chaired the Committee on Manufactures. He was re-elected in 1860, but resigned to become U.S. minister (ambassador) to the Court of St James's (Britain), a post previously held by his father and grandfather, from 1861 to 1868. Powerful Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner had wanted the position and so became alienated from Adams. Britain had already recognized Confederate belligerency, but Adams was instrumental in maintaining British neutrality and preventing British diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.
Part of his duties included correspondence with British civilians including Karl Marx and the International Workingmen's Association. Adams and his son, Henry Adams, who acted as his private secretary, also were kept busy monitoring Confederate diplomatic intrigues and the construction of rebel commerce raiders by British shipyards (like hull N°290, launched as Enrica from Liverpool but was soon transformed near the Azores Islands into sloop-of-war CSS Alabama).
His main success as a diplomat was keeping Britain neutral. He helped resolve the Trent Affair in 1861, in which an American naval officer violated British rights, with the help of Lincoln. With American blockade of the Confederacy growing increasingly successful, very little cotton now reached Europe except through Union channels. A strong element in Britain, including Chancellor of the Exchequer William Gladstone, wanted to intervene to help the Confederacy. Adams warned that meant war with the United States, as well as the cutting off American food exports, which comprised about a fourth of the British food supply. The American Navy, increasingly strong, would try to sink British shipping.
The British government pulled back from talk of war when the Confederate invasion of the North was defeated at Antietam, and Lincoln announced that he would issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Adams and his staff collected details on the shipbuilding issue, showing how warships built for the Confederacy caused widespread damage to the American merchant marine. The evidence became the basis of the postwar Alabama Claims. The claims went to arbitration, with Adams in charge of the American side. The British in 1872 agreed to pay $15 million in damages.
Meeting with Joseph SmithEdit
In 1844, while traveling with his cousin Josiah Quincy, Charles Francis Adams met Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints, in Nauvoo, Illinois, and received a copy of the Book of Mormon which had previously belonged to Smith's first wife, Emma Smith. The book is now in the archive collections of Adams National Historical Park. At the visit, Smith showed Adams and Quincy four Egyptian mummies and ancient papyri. Adams was not impressed by Smith, and wrote in his diary entry that day, "Such a man is a study not for himself, but as serving to show what turns the human mind will sometimes take. And herafter if I should live, I may compare the results of this delusion with the condition in which I saw it and its mountebank apostle."
Back in Boston, Adams declined the presidency of Harvard University, but became one of its overseers in 1869. In 1870 he built the first presidential library in the United States to honor his father John Quincy Adams. The Stone Library includes over 14,000 books written in twelve languages. The library is located on the property of the "Old House" (also known as "Peacefield") which is now part of Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts.
In 1876, Adams ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Massachusetts.
On September 3, 1829, he married Abigail Brown Brooks (1808–1889), whose father was shipping magnate Peter Chardon Brooks (1767–1849). She had two sisters, Charlotte, who was married to Edward Everett, a Massachusetts politician, and Ann, who was married to Nathaniel Frothingham, a Unitarian minister. Together, they were the parents of:
- Louisa Catherine Adams (1831–1870), who married Charles Kuhn
- John Quincy Adams II (1833–1894)
- Charles Francis Adams Jr. (1835–1915)
- Henry Brooks Adams (1838–1918)
- Arthur George Adams (1841–1846), who died young
- Mary Gardiner Adams (1845–1928), who married Dr. Henry Parker Quincy
- Peter Chardon Brooks Adams (1848–1927)
- Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, p. 6
- Johnson 1906, pp. 36–37
- Paul C. Nagel, The Adams Women: Abigail and Louisa Adams, Their Sisters and Daughters, 1999, pp. 236–238
- State Street Trust Company. Forty of Boston's historic houses. 1912.
- "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 1 April 2011.
- Norman B. Ferris, "An American Diplomatist Confronts Victorian Society, 1861" History Today (1965) 15#8 pp. 550–558.
- "Address of the International Working Men's Association to Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America". marxists.org. January 28, 1865. Retrieved October 22, 2013.
- Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 381.
- Maureen M. Robson, "The Alabama Claims and the Anglo‐American Reconciliation, 1865–71." Canadian Historical Review 42.1 (1961): 1–22.
- Adrian Cook, The Alabama Claims: American Politics and Anglo-American Relations, 1865–1872 (1975).
- "Charles Francis Adams Diary". boap.org. Retrieved 2022-09-09.
- See Thomas Nast's satirical cartoon of Charles Adams' campaign at . An explanation can be found in American Heritage Magazine, August 1958 Volume IX Number 5 p. 90.
- Varg, pp. 23–24
- Frothingham, p. 62
- "Charles Francis Adams. The Aged Statement Gone To His Rest. Passing Quietly Away Surrounded By His Family". The New York Times. November 21, 1886. Retrieved 2008-06-17.
Charles Francis Adams died at 1:57 o'clock this morning, at his residence, No. 57 Mount Vernon-street, in this city. He had not been well for some time and had suffered more or less for the past five years from some brain trouble, the result of overwork.
- MacLean, Maggie, "Abigail Brooks Adams", womenhistoryblog.com, August 18, 2015. Retrieved 2017-02-08.
- Adams, Jr., Charles Francis, Charles Francis Adams, Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1900.
- Butterfield, L. H. et al., eds., The Adams Papers (1961– ). Multivolume letterpress edition of all letters to and from major members of the Adams family, plus their diaries; still incomplete.
- Donald, Aida Dipace and Donald, David Herbert, eds., Diary of Charles Francis Adams (2 vols.). Harvard University Press, 1964.
- Duberman, Martin. Charles Francis Adams, 1807–1886. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1961, reissued by Stanford University Press, 1968.
- Egerton, Douglas R. Heirs of an Honored Name: The Decline of the Adams Family and the Rise of Modern America. Basic Books, 2019.
- Frothingham, Paul Revere (1925). Edward Everett, Orator and Statesman. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. OCLC 1517736.
- Johnson, Rossiter, ed. (1906). "Adams, Charles Francis". The Biographical Dictionary of America. Vol. 1. Boston: American Biographical Society. pp. 36–37. Retrieved October 22, 2020. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Varg, Paul (1992). Edward Everett: The Intellectual in the Turmoil of Politics. Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press. ISBN 978-0-945636-25-0. OCLC 24319483.
- United States Congress. "Charles Francis Adams Sr. (id: A0000321859)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved 2009-03-31.
- Appleton's Biography edited by Stanley L. Klos
- Works by Charles Francis Adams Sr. at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Charles Francis Adams Sr. at Internet Archive
- Charles Francis Adams, Sr. Civil War era diaries Digital Edition
- Nagel, Paul. Descent from Glory: Four Generations of the John Adams Family. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.
- Texas and the Massachusetts Resolutions, by Charles Francis Adams, published 1844, hosted by the Portal to Texas History
- Selected diplomatic Letters of the Lincoln administration at Ford's Theatre site, including several to or from Adams
- Mount Wollaston Cemetery Tour (includes grave image)