The Biographical Dictionary of America/Adams, Charles Francis (diplomatist)

ADAMS, Charles Francis, diplomatist, was born at Boston, Mass., Aug. 18, 1807; son of John Quincy and Louisa (Johnson) Adams. As was remarked of him by James Russell Lowell, "he was cradled in diplomacy," for when two years of age he was taken by his father, then recently appointed by President Madison minister to the Court of St. Petersburg, to that city, remaining there five years and becoming accustomed to the use of the French, German, and Russian languages. The appointment of his father as American minister to the Court of St. James, in 1815, caused Mr. Adams, then a boy of eight, to be placed in an English boarding-school. The hostile feeling between the United States and England at this time was strong, and anecdotes are told of the manner in which young Adams on several occasions stood up for his own country. On his return to America, two years later, he entered the Boston Latin school, where he was prepared for Harvard college, from which he was graduated in 1825. During his father's term as president of the United States, Charles Francis passed two years in Washington, and then, returning to Boston, read law in the office of Daniel Webster. He was admitted to the Suffolk bar in 1828, and a year later married Abigail Brown, the youngest daughter of Peter Chardon Brooks, said at the time to be the wealthiest man in New England. In 1841 Mr. Adams was elected a member of the popular branch of the Massachusetts legislature. He was thrice re-elected, and then transferred for two years to the State senate. He had up to this time been a member of the whig party, but he gradually severed his connection with that organization, and his office at 23 Court street, Boston, became the point of gathering for those of the party who were known as "Conscience Whigs," as contradistinguished from those classed as "Cotton Whigs." Mr. Adams at about this time became the editor of a newspaper, the Boston Daily Whig, through which he disseminated his views, conducting it with great labor and at considerable pecuniary loss to himself. In 1846 he was recognized as a leader in the Free-Soil party, then organized, and was nominated, with Martin Van Buren at the head of the ticket, for the vice-presidency. This party, eight years later, formed the nucleus of the republican party. In 1858 and 1860 Mr. Adams was elected a representative to Congress, and in March, 1861, was nominated by President Lincoln as minister to England. This position he filled until April, 1868. As the representative of the United States at the Court of St. James he is credited with having given the country the most distinguished diplomatic service it had ever received. The governing classes of Great Britain were for a large portion of his term of service but coldly civil to him, and were disposed to look upon him as serving not a country, but merely a section of a country, though for him personally they entertained and expressed great respect. His knowledge of constitutional law aided him in many critical cases, notably in that of Mason and Slidell, and his unflinching firmness, good judgment, and superior statesmanship enabled him to successfully maintain friendly relations between his own country and Great Britain. It is doubtful if his diplomatic services in the civil war have been fully appreciated in his own country. Subsequently, upon the execution of the treaty of Washington between the United States and Great Britain in 1871, he was appointed to represent the United States as a member of the Geneva arbitration provided for in that treaty. He served in this capacity during the summer of 1872, and was largely instrumental in obtaining an award from the tribunal favorable to his country. In the spring of 1872 he was brought into much political prominence as a possible candidate for the presidency in opposition to General Grant, then a candidate for re-election. His published reply to a prominent liberal republican, who had written to him on the subject that he could not consent to "peddle his services for power," was at that time considered the utterance of an aristocrat, and was used by the friends of Horace Greeley in securing his nomination. He received the degree of LL. D. from Harvard in 1864, and from Yale in 1873; was an overseer of Harvard, 1869-81, and president of the board, 1874-81; a member of the Massachusetts Historical society; of the American Philosophical society; of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences of which he was vice-president and president, and of the Antiquarian Society of London. His name was one of the thirty-seven in "Class M., Rulers and Statesmen," selected for a place in the Hall of Fame, New York university, and in October, 1900, received four votes. He died in Boston, Mass., Nov. 21, 1886.