soldier with rifle american civil war THE

Charles Francis Adams

Adams looking at you

Charles F. Adams was born in 1807, in Boston, Massachusetts. His father was John Quincy Adams, his grand father, John Adams. Adams graduated from Harvard in 1825 and developed into a lawyer, writer, and newspaper publisher. In 1858 he was elected to the House of Representatives where he remained until March 1861 when President Lincoln appointed him Ambassador to Great Britain. Given his status as an Adams of Massachusetts it is an historical surprise to find that the congressional resolution of February 28, 1861, to amend the Constitution to make slavery perpetual in America originated, in the House, with him.

There exist in the historical record four sources of original material that document his connection to the proposed amendment, three of which will be presented here for the student to ponder: among these the Journal of the House Committee of Thirty-Three is not available to the channel as a copy of it has not be found, but it exists somewhere and it is for the serious student to find it. The journal is probably the best evidence of exactly when, during the second session of the Thirty-Sixth Congress, Adams introduced the original language of the proposed amendment in the committee. What is available here, is the "report" Adams introduced in the House, of his voting position on the resolutions the committee offered, Adams' speech made in the House on January 31, 1861, regarding his voting position, his diary entries for the period December 1860 through March 1861, and letters that passed between himself and his son, Charles F. Adams, Jr, during the first two years of the war. The material will be presented in abbreviated form with little comment, leaving it to the student to make his or her own conclusions regarding the mind-set of the man; that is, what in the world was he thinking, endorsing the proposition of perpetual slavery in America. It is the channel's view that the record shows Adams as an example of the fact that the whole white people of the antebellum Union were racists, even a white man from Massachusetts named Adams.

The Language of Adams' Proposed Amendement

"No amendment to this constitution having for its object any interference within the States with the relation between their citizens and those described in section two of the first article of the Constitution as `all other persons,' shall originate with any State that does not recognize the relation within its own limits, or shall be valid without the assent of every one of the States composing the Union."

As Adams wrote it, the proposed amendment has two qualifications; first, that if a slave state proposes an amendment to abolish slavery, and, second, if all the States in the Union at the time the proposal is made ratify it, then and only then can the supreme law of the land be changed to abolish slavery in America.

In his committee report and in his speech on the House floor, on January 31, 1861, Adams alludes to the proposed amendment, giving the impression—if you read between the lines—that though he originally proposed the amendment in the early stages of the committee's meetings, because some members refused to agree on a resolution that the coming change in Administration should occur peaceably, he refused to vote for the proposition at the committee's end. Notwithstanding this, in his diary entry of March 4, 1861—the diary's authenticity being a question for the student to decide—Adams admits the origin of the proposed amendment, though not the final language used, came from him.

Adams' Report, January 17, 1861

NY Tribune

The Majority Report, abbreviated

Adams Report, Abbreviated

Adam's House Speech Made January 31, 1861

Adams house speech

Note: In 1905, Adams wrote, "[S]uccess was made possible by the undisputed naval and maritime supremacy of the Union Government. Cut off from the outer world and all exterior sources of supply, reduced to a state of inanition by the blockade, the Confederacy was pounded to death." (Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Second Series, XIX, 311-356 (1905).)

From the diary entries set forth below, the following scenario can be constructed as objective fact: Abraham Lincoln arrived in Washington the evening of February 23, 1861. He was met at the train station by William Seward and others and taken to the Willard Hotel. The next day, February 24, Adams went to the hotel to meet Lincoln for the first time. Adams sat for some time with Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, waiting for an audience with Lincoln. After some appreciable time passed, Adams saw Lincoln emerge from a hotel suite in the company of Ohio Congressman, Thomas Corwin, and Ohio Senator, Benjamin Wade. On February 26, Corwin made a motion in the House, during the members' consideration of the resolution proposing amendment to the Constitution, to substitute the language of the amendment as it came from the Committee of Thirty-Three with the language of the amendment that Seward had obtained from California Senator Gwin in December 1860.

Based on these supposed facts, the reasonable inference can be drawn that the final choice of the amendment's language was Lincoln's. Why did Lincoln choose the one over the other? No one can say with certainty, as Lincoln's known writings do not reveal his state of mind at this time. One explanation arises out of the fact that, with Adams' language there is left open the possibility that the amendment can be rescinded by subsequent amendment, thus leaving the legislatures which must ratify the language with the knowledge that their ratification does not shut the door on the Africans completely. It may have been, then, Lincoln's mind-set that he wanted the members of the State legislatures to know that, if they ratified the amendment, there was no way back, that the decision was final for all time, and he thought this fact would back the legislators blink, shy, and not ratify it. There is no other rational explanation for Lincoln choosing the Gwin/Seward language over Adams' language that the channel can see. Unless, of course, Lincoln and his party were really willing to seriously risk incorporating perpetual slavery into the Union's supreme law.

Adams Diary Entries, Abbreviated

January 7, 1861

Adams diary Jan 7

January 21, 1861

January 31, 1861

February 5, 1861

February 11, 1861

February 16, 1861

February 20, 1861

February 21, 1861

February 23, 1861

February 24, 1861

February 26, 1861

February 27, 1861

February 28, 1861

March 2, 1861

March 3, 1861

March 4, 1861

Note: Adams in this excerpt alludes to the fact that, in his Address, Lincoln endorsed the proposed amendment as making an irrevocable change in the supreme law of the Union, and that it was Lincoln managing the process of the amendment's passage through the Congress since his arrival in Washington on February 23, 1861.

Note: In this continuing excerpt from his supposed March 4 diary entry, Adams is admitting that the idea of the amendment in the House Committee originated with him, but he does not acknowlege here, or anywhere, the fact that the original language he proposed to the committee was changed by Lincoln at the last moment.

The Diary Entry Supposedly in Adams' Handwriting

A Cycle of Adams Letters: 1861-1865

Charles F. Adams Jr. to his Father, May 27, 1861

"I got here to Quincy today. What will be done with us now, no one seems to know. . . We are going into this war too heavily to have it last long, but it will be an awful drag while it does last, and all who are under short sail must go down. A great deal of money has got to be lost and all who have, have got to lose some. . ."

Charles F. Adams Jr. to his Father, June 10, 1861

"About this war business. A great change has come over my feelings since you left. . . I now feel a strong inclination to go off. I am twenty-six and can decide for myself, but I have great regard for your feelings. I saw Governor Andrews and he promised me that, if another regiment is sent from Massachusetts, he would give me a company."

Charles F. Adams to his Son, June 21, 1861

"The general impression here is that there will be no war. . . People do not quite understand Americans or their politics. They think this is a hasty quarrel. . . They do not comprehend the connection which slavery has with it, because we do not at once preach emancipation. Hence they go to the other extreme and argue that it is not an element of the struggle. On the other hand I now look to something of a war. We are in it and cannot get out. The slaveholding politicians must go down or there will be no permanent peace."

Henry Adams to Charles Jr., July 2, 1861

"[Father] is unwilling to decide anything about your going to war. His idea is that the war will be short and that you will only destroy all your habits of business without gaining anything."

Charles F. Adams Jr. to his Father, July 23, 1861

"I don't see any good in my saying anything about the disastrous battle [at Bull Run] of yesterday. . . The result was a tremendous and unaccountable panic. . . I do not see how foreign nations can refuse to acknowledge the Confederacy now, for they are a government de facto and this result looks very much as though they can maintain themselves as such. . . Their ultimate independence is I think assured, but this defeat tends more and more to throw the war into the hands of the radicals, and if it lasts a year, it will be a war of abolition."

Charles Adams to his Son, August 16, 1861

"We are waking up to the awful reality of it. Unless we can have a principle to contend for, the money question will shake us to pieces. I am for this reason anxious to grapple with the slave question at once. I wish to settle it in the District of Columbia, to dispose of it in Maryland, and wherever else we have a hold in the slave states."

Charles F. Adams to his Son, September 7, 1861

"The feeling here which at one time was leaning our way has been very much changed by the disaster at Bull Run. Great Britain always looks to her own interest as a paramount law of her action in foreign affairs. She might deal quite summarily with us, were it not for the European complications which are growing more and more embarassing. There are clouds which keep England and France leaning against each other in order to stand up at all."

Charles F. Adams Jr. to his Father, November 20, 1861

"I don't know whether you will be surprised or disgusted or annoyed or distressed by the information that I have gone into the army, but such is the fact. Before this reaches you I shall be an officer in the First Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. . . I have all along felt that it was my place to represent the family in the army in this struggle. I do not think myself a soldier by nature. As I said before, I do not think it right that our family, so prominent in this matter when it was a contest of words, should be wholly unrepresented when it has grown to a conflict of blows. You say there is neither glory nor honor to be won. I answer, that it cannot be otherwise than right for me to fight to maintain that which my ancestors passed their whole lives in establishing. . . ."

Charles F. Adams Jr. to his Father, Beaufort, S.C. March 11, 1862

"What I see here only confirms my previous impressions gathered mainly from Olmstead. . . We can do nothing for these people until the cotton monopoly is broken down and a new state of political economy forces the cotton producer here to employ a new and cheaper machinery. Missionaries have arrived. They had better keep away; things are not ripe for them and yet they are trying to force the course of nature.

Adams Jr sittingWe have now some 7,000 masterless slaves within our line and in less than two months we shall have nearer 70,000, and what are we to do with them? I have not thought sufficiently to express an opinion. My present impression is in favor of a semi-military system for present. District the territory, oblige the young to go to school, punish rigidly all thieving and violence, and then teach them all the first great lession, that they must work to live; establish low wages and let the blacks support themselves or starve. The first lesson must be: work or starve.

They are just such as the white has made them. They are intelligent enough, but their intelligence too often takes the form of low cunning. They lie and steal and are fearfully lazy; but they will work for money and indeed are anxious to get work. They are dreadful hypocrites and tomorrow will say to their masters, as a rule, what today they say to us.

As a whole my conclusion is that the race might be [successful?], if man were what he should be; but he being what he is, [the African's chance at success?], will be destroyed the moment the world realizes what a field for white immigration the South affords. The inferior will disappear—how no man can tell—before the more vigorous race. The world has seen this happen before many times and this, though the newest, will not be the last instance. This war, I think, begins the new erea from which, while freedom has much, the African has little to hope.

Charles F. Adams Jr. to his Father, Port Royal Island, S.C. April 6, 1862

"Just now I am on picket and detailed to build a road. So this morning I diversified my cavalry pursuits by driving a gang of niggers on my new road. I had ten slaves and drove by example. In heavy boots and spurs, I handled a spade by the side of my sable brethren in the midst of a rice-field in swamp. I am happy to say the Africans worked well, but the African has about as much idea of a shovel and its uses as a wild Irishman might have of a cotton-hoe.

Google Map

Here I am on the Milne Plantation in the heart of Port Royal Island. Some twenty negroes of every age, lazy, submissive, and as the white man has made them, are hanging about the plantation buildings just as though they were not the teterrimna causa of this consuming bella.

You cannot ride fifteen minutes over this island, without stumbling over the two great facts of the day, pickets and contrabands. The contrabands were slaves yesterday and may be again tomorrow. No man seems to realize that here, in this little island, all around us, has begun the solution of this tremendous "nigger" question. Some ten thousand quondam slaves are thrown upon the hands of an unforunate Government; they are the forerunners of hundreds of thousands more. . . .

The scheme, so far as I can see any, seems to be for the Government. . . to hold itself a sort of guardian to the slave in his indefinite state of transition, exacting from him that amount of labor which he owes to the community and the cotton market. I do not envy the slaves its operation. Something must be done for these poor people at once. They are indolent, shiftless, unable to take care of themselves and plundered by every comer—in short, they are slaves. For the present they must be provided for.

The war is killing slavery. Not by any legal quibble of contrabands or doubtful theory of confiscation, but by stimulating free trade. Northern men with Northern ideas are swarming down onto the South. They see the money to be made. But how is it with the African? Slavery must perish and nobody will regret it, but what is to become of the African? They have many good qualities, they are good tempered, patient, docile, willing to learn and easily directed; but they are slavish and all that the word slavish implies. They will lie and cheat and steal; they are hypocritical and cunning; they are not brave, and they are not fierce. My view of their future is not encouraging. Their freedom will be the freedom of antiquated and unprofitable machines.

Africans at plantation

My impression from what I see is that Emancipation as a Government measure would be a terrible calamithy to the Africans as a race; that rapid emancipation will destroy their value as agricultural machines, the only transition to freedom that might work is to proportion in length the processs of freedom to the length of their captivity, such a one in fact as destroyed villeinage in the wreck of the fedual system."

Note: On June 9, 1862, with the right wing of McClellan's army about to cross the Chickahominy and connnect to his left wing, which had secured itself on the plateau in front of Richmond, General Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia, and by July 16, having induced McClellan's retreat to James River, was moving north toward the Manassas Plain. On August 30, Pope's Army of Virginia would be routed at Bull Run, and Lee would move into Maryland and engage McClellan in battle at the Antietam.

Charles F. Adams Jr. to his Father, Hilton Head S.C., July 16, 1862

"How do you look at this terrible fighting in Virginia? Not, I mean, in a military or even immediate point of view, but in its remote bearing on our country's future? For myself I must confess I begin to be frightened. The questions of the future seem to me too great for us to grapple with successfully, and I have really begun to fear anarchy and disorganization for years to come. If we succeed in our attempt at subjugation, I see only an immense territory and a savage and ignorant populance to be held down by force, the enigma of slavery to be settled by us somehow, right or wrong, and, most dangerous of all, a spirit of blind, revengeful fanaticism in the North which will force our country into any position—be it bankrupt, despotic, or what not—in its blind efforts to destroy slavery and the South.

The course of Sumner, Wade, Stanton, etc, have ruined us, I fear, in the war, by making success subservient to their preconceived plans of negro good, instead of allowing the movement to develop itself. As to the Africans being soldiers, they are more harm than good. The idea of arming the Africans as soldiers must be abandoned. It has completely demoralized the army and it makes me sick to hear New England men talk on the subject of the negros here and all who would aid them, Such prejudice and narrow bigotry I never met in Southerners. There is no abolitionism, or I fear, even emancipation in the army here."

Comment: For the young Americans of African descent reading this, recognize the great place your ancestors occupied in the development of the Nation, from a loose confederation of British Crown colonies in the wilderness turned, technically, by revolution, into "States;" and then, by the frustrating struggle of the whole white people of the Union to accept them into their communities as citizens, has come from their contribution the consolidated Nation-State of Americans descending now from every strand of the human race, embracing together the peculiar American belief that, as long as we control the Government, and it not controlling us, we will always be equal and free in the endeavor of life to try our skills in the pursuit of liberty and happiness: knowing in the nature of things there will always be winners and losers. As P.T. Barnum put it, in his 1880 autobiography—Struggle and Triumph—"Rich boys get poor; poor boys get rich."

After President Lincoln recalled McClellan's army from the Peninsula, in August 1862, and John Pope was engaged with General Lee's army at Bull Run, Charles Francis Adams Jr.'s cavalry regiment—the First Massachusetts Volunteers—was ordered to Alexanderia, arriving there just after Pope's army was routed in the field and fled to the forts in front of Washington. Adams led his company of the regiment through the Antietam Campaign and, thereafter, led it in its cavalry operations during the Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville campaigns. In January 1864, he joined Meade's Headquarters cavalry escort and remained with it through the campaign of 1864 that took the Army of the Potomac from the Rapidan to the James. After the end of the Gettysburg Campaign, while in Loudoun County in Northern Virginia, Adams wrote his father the following:

"I am lost in astonishment at the strength the North is developing. Can the South stand up against it? War is a dangerous game and the South has all that desperate courage which makes one a majority; so, while there is a single chance left, I feel no safety. But for the last few days I had dwelt much during long marches on our relative positions as compared with two years ago. Do you realize what prodigious victories we have won this summer?

Men and money are the sinews of war. While we have reduced gold fifty per cent in five months, we have settled the question of a negro soldiery, and at last enforced the draft, thus opening an unlimited supply of recruits. Two years have thus brought us to just what we never had before, plenty of money and plenty of men. The negro regiment question is our greatest victory of the war so far, and, I can assure you, that in the army, these are so much of a success that they will soon be the fashion."

Adams Jr imageWhat a difference two years of war make: When Adams was in Carolina, hanging about the island plantations, coming in contact with the Africans up close and personal, with no hardship going on, no murderous engagements with Confederate cavalry or infantry, he had his impressions of the Africans and his views of their uselessness to the white men struggling to conquer white men. But, now, in July 1863, after sharing in the horrible conditions of the battle operations of Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, he is singing a distinctly different tune. It reflects the changed view of the entire army, of the troopers and the soldiers who were living the experience, marching the dust-choked roads, fighting in the forests and the fields; dirty, hungry, exhausted white men, who have come by the experience of war to appreciate the value of a black skin.

"Europe looked to see us exhausted and calling for mediation, without money and without recruits," Adams went on in his letter to his father, "and behold! The whole African race comes forward to fill our ranks at just the moment when, by a wise conscription, we are for the first time strong enough without them, and all this time the very war which was to destroy us reduces gold from 175 to 125. At last, oh Lord! At last!" One wonders whether Martin Luther King read Adams' letter.

How Historians White-Wash History

In the courtroom, the fact that John Francis Adams was the author of the original language that came out of the House Committe of Thirty-Three as a proposed constitution amendment, the purpose of which was to make slavery perpetual in America, would be undisputed in the evidence. But, as the quotations provided below demonstrate the historian class slips past this fact with either no comment or provides a narrative that is ambiguous, that shifts or defuses the responsibility of authorship among a crowd.

For example, here is how Martin B. Duberman, Professor of History Emertius, skims past the fact in his biography of Charles Francis Adams, in 1961.

"The Committe. . . , on the 11th of December, began to hold daily sessions. . . . In preparation for the December 27th meeting, . . . [a] subcommittee of four members of which Adams was one, was appointed to settle details. . . Adams felt it was incumbent upon the Republicans to offer an alternative measure (in place of the Crittenden Proposition]. They also decided to couple with the [measure] a recommendation for an amendment to the Constitution securing the slaves states from attempts at emancipation by the Federal Government.

The following day the Republican members of the Committee met in caucus to consider these two propositions. Two thirds of them agreed that the measures should be presented to the full Committee the following day, and it was proposed that Adams introduce them. . . [T]he Republican caucus agreed to let him rework the resolutions to suit himself, and Adams finally yielded to their pressure. . . But as there seemed less difference of opinion on the constitutional amendment forbidding Federal interference with slavery where it already existed, Adams suggested presenting that proposition in full committee at once." (See, Duberman, Charles Francis Adams: 1807-1886 Houghton Mifflin Co., 1960, pp. 227-248.)

In 1913, Charles Francis Adams Jr. delivered his "autobiography" to the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Society caused it to be published in 1916. There narrative, in pertinent part, reads as follows:

"I went to Washington on the 18th of February, and remained until the 13th of March. . . On the 22th [of February], a dull, murky day, Henry and I dined at Arlington, with the family of General Lee (as a guest of Rooney Lee). He was not there. On the 25th, I was in the gallery of the House as the Committee report was under discussion. The evening of the 28th I passed with Andrew Johnson. . . He talked freely of political questions. The constitutional amendment framed by my father [and which Lincoln expressly approved in his inaugural of the following week], he said, was enough for him to go home and sustain himself in Tennessee. . . .

Lincoln's inauguration came with a sudden changer of weather. From the Senate gallery I saw Lincoln walk in, arm in arm with Buchanan. . . The outgoing president was, to my mind, undeniably the most presentable man of the two; his tall, large figure, and white head, looked well beside Mr. Lincoln's lank, angular form and hirsute face, and the dress of the President-elect did not indicate that knowledge of the proprieties of the place which was desirable. At home I found my father in high glee over the endorsement that Lincoln gave him, and he was declaring the party saved" (See, Adams Jr. Charles Francis Adams Houghton Mifflin Co, 1916, pp. 73-99.)

Note: In his autobiography, while he narratives at length his service in the army, from his time in Carolina, to his regiments arrival at Washington, in September 1862, and its consequent experiences through the rest of the war with the Army of the Potomac, Adams says not a word about his experience with the Africans at the Milne Plantation, nor does he express any view of his assessment of their chances as free persons in the race of life.

Selected Bibiography

Mark M. Krug, Lyman Trumbull: Conservative Radical, A.S. Barnes Co. 1965

Horace White, The Life of Lyman Trumbull Houghton Mifflin Co. 1913

Danel W. Crofts, Lincoln & The Politics of Slavery UNC Press 2016

Chapman Coleman, The Life of John J. Crittenden, Vol II, Da Capo Press, 1970

Frederic Bancroft, The Life of William H. Seward, Vol II, Peter Smith 1967

The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Rutgers University Press, 1953.

John Adams by Stuart

John Adams
John Quincy Adams image

John Quincy Adams