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Definition: Adams, Charles Francis from Chambers Biographical Dictionary


US diplomat and author

Born in Boston, he was the son of John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the USA, grandson of John Adams, second president, and father of Henry Brooks Adams. He was admitted to the Bar in 1828. He was a member of the US House of Representatives as the congressman for Massachusetts (1858-61). During the Civil War he was Minister to Great Britain (1861-68), and from 1871 to 1872 was one of the US arbitrators on the Alabama claims. He published the life and works of his grandfather (Works of John Adams, 1850-56) and father (Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, 1874-77), and edited the Letters of his grandmother, Abigail Adams.

Summary Article: Adams, Charles Francis Sr.
from The Civil War Naval Encyclopedia

Birth Date: August 18, 1807

Death Date: November 21, 1886

Attorney, politician, diplomat, and author. Charles Francis Adams Sr. was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on August 18, 1807, into one of the great political families of the early United States. He was the son of President John Quincy Adams, the grandson of founding father and President John Adams, and the father of Charles Francis Adams Jr., a Union Army officer and railroad magnate. Attending Harvard College, from which he graduated in 1825, he read law under the direction of the famed lawyer Daniel Webster and began practicing law in Boston.

In 1831 Adams successfully ran for a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. From 1835 to 1840 he served in the state senate. A Whig, Adams was repulsed by slavery but did not adhere to the agenda of hard-line abolitionists who advocated immediate emancipation of African American slaves. The Whig Party split in 1848, and the so-called Free-Soil Whigs nominated Adams as vice president. The split resulted in a Democratic victory that year. Adams later joined the Republican Party, running for the U.S. House of Representatives and serving in that body from 1859 to 1861.

In the early winter of 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln appointed Adams minister to Great Britain, then the most delicate and important U.S. diplomatic post abroad. Adams arrived in London in May 1861, just weeks after the Civil War had begun. His primary task was to keep the British from granting diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy, which would help prevent the South from forming military alliances with other nations. His task was a difficult one since many in Europe and in Britain, especially among the upper classes, favored the Confederacy, at least early on. Another integral part of his job was to stop the British from selling arms and other war materiel to the Confederacy. In so doing, Adams had to convince the British government that such sales violated Britain's stated neutrality in the war.

As were his father and grandfather, Adams was a natural diplomat and a skilled politician. Thus, it did not take long for him to convince British foreign minister Lord John Russell that the British should discontinue their practice of meeting with Confederate officials. When the Trent Affair erupted in November 1861, Adams managed to convince Secretary of State William Seward to release the two Confederate agents involved in the matter—James Mason and John Slidell—because the Union's imprisonment of them had turned British opinion further against the United States.

Adams was less successful in blocking British sales of warships to the Confederacy. Unable to halt the sale of ships known as commerce raiders—particularly the formidable CSS Alabama, built by John Laird and Sons at Liverpool and launched in May 1862—to the Confederacy, Adams was at last able to convince London not to sell two ironclad Laird Rams to the South. Adams's strong, steady, and levelheaded diplomacy during the war contributed greatly to keeping Britain, and the rest of Europe, out of the conflict.

Adams remained in London until 1868. During the later part of his tenure, he helped compile detailed diplomatic correspondence that would help the United States claim damages from Great Britain caused by commerce raiders sold to the Confederacy. During arbitration to settle the so-called Alabama Claims, Adams emerged from retirement to help represent the United States, the result of which was the 1871 Treaty of Washington. The following year, the United States was awarded $15.5 million in damages. In his retirement, Adams edited the diaries of his father, John Quincy Adams; served as an overseer for Harvard College; and helped to establish the first presidential library in his father's honor in Quincy, Massachusetts. Adams died on November 21, 1886, in Boston.

See also

Alabama, CSS; Alabama Claims; Commerce Raiding, Confederate; Laird Rams; Mason, James Murray; Peterhoff Crisis; Slidell, John; Trent Affair; Wilkes, Charles

  • Duberman, Martin B. Charles Francis Adams, 1807–1886. Stanford University Press Stanford, CA, 1968.
  • Warren, Gordon H. Fountain of Discontent: The Affair and Freedom of the Seas. Northeastern University Press Trent Boston, 1981.
  • Pierpaoli, Paul G. Jr.
    Copyright 2011 by ABC-CLIO, LLC

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