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The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Adams, Charles Francis

< The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)

ADAMS, Charles Francis, American statesman, son of President John Quincy Adams; b. in Boston, 18 Aug. 1807; d there 21 Nov. 1886. At the age of two he was taken by his father to Saint Petersburg; in 1815 went with his mother thence to Paris; the same year his father was made minister to England, and he was placed in an English boarding-school. In 1817 both returned to America; he was placed in the Boston Latin School, and in 1825 he was graduated at Harvard. His father had just been inaugurated President, and he spent two years in Washington; then returned to Boston, studied law with Daniel Webster and was called to the bar in 1828, but never practised — engaging in literature and political writing in magazines and pamphlets, and editing John and Abigail Adams' letters (1840-41). He was Representative in the legislature 1841-44, State Senator 1844-46, as a Whig; heading the “Conscience Whig” wing, he edited the Boston Whig, 1846-48, was chairman of the Free-Soil Convention at Buffalo in 1848, and was nominated for Vice-President on the ticket with Martin Van Buren. In 1850-56 he edited John Adams' ‘Works’ in 10 volumes. He joined the Republican party on its organization in 1855, and in 1858 was sent to Congress, and re-elected in 1860. In 1861 Lincoln sent him to England as minister, as his father and grandfather had been before him. But even their problems were trivial beside his, when the very existence of the Union perhaps depended on how far the English upper classes could drag the government in evasion of international obligations and covert help to the South. The seizure of Mason and Slidell on the Trent nearly precipitated war; the fitting out of cruisers to destroy United States commerce was put a stop to only after the escape of the Alabama (q.v.) in the face of Mr. Adams' representations, and his declaration to Earl Russell, then foreign secretary, that permitting the Laird rams also to leave Birkenhead was “war.” Napoleon III's persistent efforts to seduce the English government into a joint intervention in favor of the Confederacy had to be checkmated: and the rancorous hostility of one section and the coldness of the remainder of the best society made it a lonely and trying place, which for seven years he filled with a dignified resolution of immeasurable importance to his country. Returning to America in 1868, he was elected president of Harvard the next year, but declined; for several years, however, he was president of its board of overseers. In 1871 he was the United States representative on the board of arbitrators at Geneva to settle the Alabama Claims (q.v.); in 1872 he nearly obtained the nomination as Democratic-Independent candidate for the presidency, which Horace Greeley secured. In 1874-77 he edited the ‘Memoirs of John Quincy Adams’ in 12 volumes.