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Charles Francis Adams Sr.

Charles Francis Adams Sr.

American historical editor, politician and diplomat
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American historical editor, politician and diplomat
Countries United States of America
Occupations Politician Lawyer Diplomat
A.K.A. Charles Francis Adams
Gender male
Birth August 18, 1807 (Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, U.S.A.)
Death November 21, 1886 (Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, U.S.A.)
Politics Whig Party, Republican Party
Mother: Louisa Adams
Father: John Quincy Adams
Siblings: John Adams IIGeorge Washington Adams
Children: John Quincy Adams IIHenry AdamsCharles Francis AdamsJr.Brooks Adams
Education Harvard University, Boston Latin School
Charles Francis Adams Sr.
The details

Charles Francis Adams Sr. (August 18, 1807 – November 21, 1886) was an American historical editor, politician and diplomat. He was a son of President John Quincy Adams and grandson of President John Adams, of whom he wrote a major biography.

Adams served in the Massachusetts State Senate, before running unsuccessfully as vice-presidential candidate for the Free Soil Party in the election of 1848 on a ticket with former President Martin Van Buren. 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 Britain neutral while southern agents were trying to achieve official recognition of the Confederacy. That meant conducting dialogue with both sides and monitoring the British connection in the supply of commerce raiders.

He became an overseer of Harvard University, and built Adams National Historical Park, a library in honor of his father in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Early life

Adams was born in Boston on August 18, 1807. 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 attended Boston Latin School and Harvard College, where he graduated in 1825. He then studied law with Daniel Webster and practiced in Boston. He wrote numerous reviews of works about American and British history for the North American Review.

Charles and his brothers, John and George, were all rivals for the same woman, Mary Catherine Hellen, their cousin who lived with the Adams family after the death of her parents. In 1828, his brother John married Mary Hellen at a ceremony in the White House, and both Charles and George declined to attend.


Van Buren/Adams campaign poster.
Adams lived on Mount Vernon Street, Beacon Hill, Boston, 1842–1886.

In 1841, Adams was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives and, later, served in the state senate in 1844 and 1845. In 1846, he purchased and edited the journal Boston Whig. Shortly thereafter, he was the unsuccessful nominee of the Free Soil Party for Vice President of the United States, along with former president Martin Van Buren, in 1848.

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. The senior Adams began a life 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, 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 1954 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.

Federal political career

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 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 the hull N°290, launched as "Enrica" from Liverpool but which was soon transformed near the Azores Islands into sloop-of-war CSS Alabama).

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") at Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Adams served as U.S. arbiter on the 1871–72 international commission to settle the "Alabama" claims that met in Geneva. He is considered one of the main contributors on this seminal work in forwarding the concept of world law through arbitration.

During the 1876 electoral college controversy, Adams sided with Democrat Samuel J. Tilden over Republican Rutherford B. Hayes for the presidency.

Personal life

Mr. and Mrs. Adams on the porch at Peacefield in Quincy
Portrait of Adams in 1867 by William Morris Hunt

On September 3, 1829, he married Abigail Brown Brooks (1808–1889), the daughter of 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 Adams (1841–1846), who died young
  • Mary Gardiner Adams (1845–1928), who married Dr. Henry Parker Quincy
  • Peter Chardon Brooks Adams (1848–1927)

Adams died in Boston on November 21, 1886, and was interred in Mount Wollaston Cemetery, Quincy. He was the last surviving child of John Quincy Adams.

His wife Abigail's "health and spirits" worsened after her husband's death, and she died at Peacefield on June 6, 1889.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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