Charles F. Adams Sr., US Congress, Ambassador

Is your surname Adams?

Research the Adams family

Charles F. Adams Sr., US Congress, Ambassador's Geni Profile

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

Charles Francis Adams, Sr.

Birthplace: Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States
Death: November 21, 1886 (79)
Quincy, Norfolk, Massachusetts, United States
Place of Burial: Quincy, Norfolk, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Hon. John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the USA and Louisa Catherine Adams
Husband of Abigail Brown Adams
Father of Louisa Kuhn (Adams); John Quincy Adams, II; Brevet Brig. Gen. Charles Francis Adams, II; Henry Brooks Adams; Arthur Adams and 3 others
Brother of George Washington Adams; John Quincy Adams, Jr.; Thomas Hollis Adams; Carolina Adams and Louisa Catherine Adams

Occupation: Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Congressman, Lawyer; State & U.S. Houses, Ambassador Ct of St James., Diplomat, public official & Author, Lawyer, diplomat, author, U.S. Representative from Massachusetts
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Charles F. Adams Sr., US Congress, Ambassador

Charles Francis Adams, Sr. (August 18, 1807-November 21, 1886), a lifelong Unitarian, was an antislavery politician who later opposed radical reconstruction of the South. As ambassador to Britain during the Civil War he helped to prevent conflict between the United States and Europe. He prepared for publication the papers and writings of his father, John Quincy Adams, and of his grandparents, John and Abigail Adams.

The third son of Louisa Catherine Johnson and John Quincy Adams, Charles Francis was born in Boston and baptized at First Church by William Emerson, father of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Two years later, he accompanied his parents when his father became minister to Russia. Charles was educated in French, German, and Russian as well as English. He lived in St. Petersburg during Napoleon's invasion of Russia and moved to Paris at the time of Napoleon's return from Elba. While his father was minister to England, 1815-17, he attended an English public school. During the years John Quincy Adams served as Secretary of State in the Monroe administration, Charles studied at Boston Latin School, 1817-19; a school in Washington, D.C., 1819-21; and Harvard College, 1821-25.

In 1826 Charles met and fell in love with Abigail Brooks, the youngest daughter of wealthy Unitarian Peter Chardon Brooks and Anna Gorham, daughter of the first president of the Continental Congress. During the period of their engagement, 1827-29, Charles read law at the office of Daniel Webster. He passed the bar examination in 1829, but had few law clients. After his older, emotionally troubled brother George died, Charles took over management of the family's business, for which service his father provided him an allowance. When he and Abigail married, her father gave them a townhouse on Beacon Hill. They had seven children, of whom six survived. Among their children were Union Pacific Railroad president Charles Francis Adams, Jr., historians Henry Adams and Brooks Adams, and Massachusetts Democratic politician, John Quincy Adams II (1833-1894). The latter's son, Charles Francis II (1866-1954), a Unitarian, served as Secretary of the Navy in the Herbert Hoover administration.

Continuing the family interest in history, in 1831 Adams wrote a history review for North American Review. He criticized "the modern fashion of what is called philosophical history" as "it admits of the perversion of facts, to suit the prejudices of each particular writer." He eventually made a number of contributions to the Review, including a substantial article on Aaron Burr in 1839 and one on the Puritans in 1840.

Adams entered politics in 1832 as a member of the Massachusetts Antimasonic party. He thought that Masonry's "exclusive character, its secret character, its assumption of a sacred character, and inflicting of penalties" were "at variance with the foundation of society and government of morality and religion." His antimasonic articles in the Boston Advocate, 1832-33, led to his being chosen a delegate to the Massachusetts Antimasonic state conventions in 1833 and 1834. Although he supported Democratic presidential candidate Martin Van Buren in 1836, after the Antimasons were absorbed by Democrats, Adams for several years turned away from political affiliation.

A Burkean conservative, distrusting the tyranny of majorities, Adams was infuriated by the 1835 spectacle of a mob dragging abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison naked through Boston streets. His concern for civil liberties mounted with the passage in 1836 of the gag rule in the United States Congress, forbidding anti-slavery petitions, and the 1837 murder of Illinois abolitionist editor, Elijah Lovejoy. While he opposed the institution of slavery, Adams nevertheless believed blacks inferior to whites.

Because of Adams's antislavery and articles he had written in the Boston Courier 1840 critical of President Martin Van Buren, the Whig party asked him to run for the Massachusetts General Court (legislature). He served as representative, 1840-43, and then as senator, 1843-45. Beginning with the 1843 session, he led the struggle against slavery in the state legislature. That year he successfully petitioned the General Court to prevent the state from returning fugitive slaves and he brought about passage of a resolution opposing the annexation of Texas as a slave state. After the national Whig party in 1845 endorsed the admission of Texas, he separated himself from the majority "Cotton Whigs," and associated only with the antislavery "Conscience Whigs." In 1848 he joined the Free Soil party, composed of former Conscience Whigs and other abolitionists. He chaired their national convention that year and the new party nominated him for vice president. After his unsuccessful candidacy, Charles temporarily withdrew from active politics, devoting himself to writing and business.

During this period, he underwrote and edited the Boston Daily Whig, 1846-48; published Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams, 1840-48, including his own introductory memoir; and completed The Works of John Adams, 2nd President of the United States, With a Life of the Author, 1850-56, his edition of his grandfather's papers in ten volumes and his own two-volume biography.

In 1844, spurred by Abigail's religious crisis and Charles's increase of seriousness after a near-death experience, the Adamses began family Bible studies and, guided by Abigail's brother-in-law, Unitarian minister, Nathaniel Frothingham, private prayer sessions. They soon joined Frothingham's church, First Church in Boston. When in the summer the family stayed in Quincy, Massachusetts, they attended the Unitarian church there. William Lunt, the Quincy minister and a family friend, was greatly respected by Charles. The Adams family spent most of every Sunday in church. "My father had the old New England sense of duty in religious observances," wrote Charles, Jr., who unlike his father, dreaded Sundays. "The Sabbath and church going were institutions."

Adams did not agree with the Transcendentalists that human nature could be perfected. Nevertheless, he thought human wisdom "the most desirable thing we can attain." He believed God good and thought that religion should be cheerful. To live a good life, in his view, was to follow the Golden Rule and to do one's duty. A moderate in religion, he disliked religious display, enthusiasm, and intolerance. He cared for the certainties of conduct and not the mysteries of metaphysics. Commenting on one of Frothingham's sermons Adams said, "The doctrines of the Bible are all simple, but the ingenuity of man, has perpetually attached theories to them which obscure and mystify and do injury. Theology has sprung from these theories. Theology is not religion—as an instance the doctrine of the atonement from the simple story of the passion of Christ."

Following the Kansas-Nebraska Act, 1854, and the Anthony Burns case that same year, Adams looked for a new party alignment to address sectional problems. He firmly rejected approaches by the nativist American (or Know Nothing) Party. In 1856 he became a Republican and was a delegate to their convention in Philadelphia. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1858 and 1860. During the crisis caused by the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, he was appointed to the Committee of Thirty-Three, a special House committee to address the state of the country.

In 1861, on the advice of Adams's political ally, Secretary of State William Henry Seward, President Lincoln appointed Adams Ambassador to the court of St. James. The Adamses left for Britain shortly after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter. When they arrived in London, Britain had recently issued a proclamation of neutrality, recognizing the Confederacy as a belligerent power and, in so doing, granting it the right to purchase arms and commission privateers. Adams and the Lincoln administration worried that this was a step towards British diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy as a new nation. Adams quickly developed a good working relationship with British foreign secretary Lord John Russell. Unfortunately Russell, like many of his countrymen, believed the Southern secession an accomplished fact.

Trouble erupted when an American naval vessel seized two Confederate diplomats, James M. Matson and John Slidell, from the British mail ship Trent. In incidents like this one Adams maintained his composure, relayed his government's statements and instructions in ways that were relatively palatable to the British, and helped to prevent a war between Britain and the United States. One of his major tasks was to alert the British government that the Confederacy was building vessels in British shipyards that were to be armed as commerce raiders. Among these was a ship, later known as the Alabama, which inflicted great damage on Northern shipping. In 1863 Adams threatened war in order to prevent two Confederate-built ironclad rams from leaving the Liverpool shipyards. Russell, who had already been looking for a legal expedient to detain the ships, settled the incident by buying them for the British government. James Russell Lowell praised Adams's role as ambassador to Britain, saying, "None of our generals etc. did us better or more trying service than he in his forlorn outpost of London."

When Adams returned home in 1868, Irish Americans demonstrated against him for his supposed neglect of Fenians claiming American citizenship who were being held in British jails. (Although it was true that he did not help active Irish revolutionaries, he aided those American Fenians willing to leave the British Isles.) His opposition to forced reconstruction of the South and to Negro suffrage had alienated him from the then-dominant Radical Republicans. He avoided any possibility of a potential Democratic Party presidential draft by arranging to arrive home after their convention.

Adams returned to diplomatic service in 1871 to negotiate Civil War damage claims against Britain. President Ulysses S. Grant reluctantly appointed Adams—although the natural choice, he was by then a Democrat—to a commission of five arbitrators in Geneva, Switzerland. There, Adams was instrumental in breaking a stalemate in the negotiations. The tribunal absolved Britain from indirect damages, but awarded the United States 15.5 million dollars for the losses caused by the Alabama and other Confederate raiders.

While a new party, the Liberal Republicans, was meeting in Cincinnati, Adams was enroute to Europe for the Alabama conference. He was willing to consider running for president on their ticket, but not willing to campaign for the nomination. Even so, as the convention began, it seemed probable that he would be chosen. A seventh ballot groundswell, however, selected Horace Greeley, the Universalist New York Tribune editor. Adams was glad to be out of the running.

In 1874 Adams accepted the chair of the Board of Overseers of Harvard University. Reformers in vain promoted his candidacy as president in 1876. The Democrats nominated him for governor that year. While delighted by this honor, he feared winning and, fortunately for him, did not. In retirement he edited the Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848, 1874-77, and revised his biography of John Adams.

As a congressman Adams had rented a pew at the Unitarian church in Washington. In old age he attended either First Parish, Quincy in the summer, or King's Chapel, which represented a liturgical compromise between his father's Congregational-style Unitarianism and his mother's Episcopalianism.

In The Education of Henry Adams, Adams's son Henry fashioned a portrait of his father's character: "Charles Francis Adams was singular for mental poise—absence of self-assertion or self-consciousness—the faculty of standing apart without seeming aware that he was alone—a balance of mind and temper that neither challenged nor avoided notice, nor admitted question of superiority or inferiority, of jealousy, of personal motives, from any source, even under great pressure."

Adams's papers are at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, Massachusetts. These are also on microfilm in many other libraries. Some of these primary materials have been published as L.H. Butterfield, et al., eds., Diary of Charles Francis Adams (1964-93) and Worthington Chauncy Ford, A Cycle of Adams Letters, 1861-1865 (1920). Among Adams's published works, not mentioned above, are An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1835); Reflections upon the Present State of the Currency in the United States (1837); Texas and the Massachusetts Resolutions (1844); What Makes Slavery a Question of National Concern (1855); The Struggle for Neutrality in America (1870); An Address on the Life, Character and Services of William Henry Seward (1873); The Progress of Liberty in a Hundred Years (1876); and many articles in North American Review.

Biographies include Charles Francis Adams, Jr., Charles Francis Adams (1900); Martin B. Duberman, Charles Francis Adams 1807-1886 (1961); and the entry by Kinley Brauer in American National Biography (1999). There are a number of collective biographies of the Adams family: Jack Shepard, The Adams Chronicles: Four Generations of Greatness (1975); Francis Russell, Adams, An American Dynasty (1976); and Paul C. Nagel, Adams Women (1989) and Descent From Glory (1983). See also Octavius Brooks Frothingham, Boston Unitarianism, 1820-1850 (1890); Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (1907, many later editions); and Charles Francis Adams, 1835-1915: An Autobiography (1916).,_Sr.

Charles Francis Adams, Sr. (August 18, 1807 – November 21, 1886), the son of President John Quincy Adams and Louisa Catherine Johnson-Adams and the grandson of President John Adams and Abigail Adams, was an American lawyer, politician, diplomat and writer.

Van Buren/Adams campaign poster

Van Buren/Adams campaign poster

He was born in Boston, and 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.

Adams was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1831, served in the state senate 1835–1840, founded and edited the journal Boston Whig in 1846, and was the unsuccessful nominee of the Free Soil Party for Vice President of the United States in 1848.

As a Republican, Adams was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1858, where he chaired the Committee on Manufactures. He resigned to become Lincoln's minister (ambassador) to the Court of St. James (Britain) 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. 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.

Back in Boston, Adams declined the presidency of Harvard University, but became one of its overseers in 1869. In 1870 Charles Francis Adams 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 in the "Old House" at Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Charles Francis Adams died in Boston and was interred in Mount Wollaston Cemetery, Quincy. Mass


Biographical sketch presented by The Adams Papers editorial project CHARLES FRANCIS ADAMS, the third son of John Quincy and Louisa Catherine (Johnson) Adams, was born 18 August 1807, in Boston. His early childhood was spent, for the most part, abroad—six years in St. Petersburg (1809-1815) and two in England (1815-1817)—where his father had diplomatic appointments. He graduated from Harvard in 1825 and spent two years in Washington during his father's presidency. Following his engagement in 1827 to Abigail Brown Brooks of Medford, Massachusetts, Adams returned to Boston to read law in Daniel Webster's office. He and Abigail were married 3 September 1829. Adams began to take an active role in politics in the 1830s by contributing pieces on local and national affairs to Boston newspapers and the North American Review. His next step was election to the Massachusetts legislature, serving three years in the House (1841-1843) and two in the Senate (1844-1845) and emerging as a recognized antislavery leader in the state and among the Conscience Whigs. In 1846 he became the editor and a proprietor of the Boston Daily Whig, the unofficial voice of the Conscience Whigs. Although he was the vice-presidential candidate of the newly formed Free Soil Party in 1848, a decade passed before he held elected office again. He served as a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1858 until 1861 when, on the eve of the Civil War, President Lincoln appointed him minister to the Court of St. James's. He arrived in London on the very day Great Britain recognized the Confederacy as a belligerent. In 1863 Adams convinced the British government to prevent Confederate ironclad ships, built in Liverpool, from leaving port, thereby maintaining British neutrality. He resigned his post in 1868. In 1871 and 1872, Adams was one of five arbitrators appointed to settle outstanding claims of the United States against Great Britain. The "Alabama claims" concerned damages to American shipping by Confederate raiders, such as the Alabama, built in Britain. Adams successfully argued the American cause for direct damages and the United States was awarded $15,500,000. Charles Francis Adams was an accomplished editor and published numerous volumes based on the family papers. These include Letters of Mrs. Adams (1840), Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author (1850-1856), and Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848 (1874-1877). Charles Francis Adams died in Boston on 21 November 1886. SOURCE: Massachusetts Historical Society online at


Charles Francis Adams,the only child of John Quincy Adams, born on August 18, 1807, was born in Boston, Massachusetts.Charles at age two, went with his parents to St. Petersburg, Russia, when his father received the appointment of Minister to Russia. He spent six years in russia, and learned to speak Russian, German and French. In 1814, Charles and his mother journeyed to Paris to meet his father. The family then took up their residence in London, when his father was appointed U.S. Minister to Great Britain. Charles Francis, a boy of eight, was thus introduced to the brilliant diplomatic scene in which his grand father also had been a distinguished actor, and which he himself, in a new era of difficulty undreamt of in the days of the revolution, was to perform an equally conspicuous part. Charles was placed at an English boarding school, struggled with learning, and battled with schoolmates in defence of America. In 1817, when the family returned to America, Charles became a pupil of the celebrated Boston Latin School, where he was prepared for admission to Harvard College. He graduated from Harvard in 1825. As his father was president at this time, Charles passed the next two years in Washington, returning to Boston in 1827 to engage in the study of the law in the office of the Honorable Daniel Webster. He was admitted to the bar in 1828. In 1830, Charles was nominated Representative from Boston to the Massachusetts Legislature which he declined, much to the disappointment of his father. The invitation being renewed the next year he accepted it, and was elected and served, by successive elections, for the next three years in the House of Representatives, and for two years after in the Senate. Opposition to slavery was a duty which he inherited from his father, and the year 1848, in which President Adams died, saw his son the candidate of the new Free-Soil party for Vice President on the ticket with Martin Van Buren as President. Previous to the election, he edited for several years a political daily paper in Boston advocating the principles which were afterwards incorporated in the Republican creed. He contributed articles to the "North American Review" and "Christian Examiner." In 1840 he published two volumes of the Letters of his grandmother, Mrs. Abigail Adams, accompanied by a biographical sketch from his pen, and the following year edited a similar collection of the Letters of John Adams addressed to his wife. The Life of John Adams was released by his grandson in 1856. In 1859 Mr. Adams was elected a member of the national House of Representatives, and took his seat at the opening of the 36th Congress, at its first session, in December, 1860. Mr. Adams was a firm believer in the Union of States. He was against Slave labor. Before the conflict of the Civil War broke out, Mr. Adams, was called by President Lincoln to represent the nation as Minister Plenipotentiary at the Court of St. James. He accepted and resigned his seat in the House of Representatives.

"Had 7 children" - Ken's notes

view all 17

Charles F. Adams Sr., US Congress, Ambassador's Timeline

August 18, 1807
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States
August 13, 1831
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
September 22, 1833
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States
May 17, 1835
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
February 16, 1838
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States
July 23, 1841
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts
February 19, 1846
Norfolk, Massachusetts, USA, Quincy, Norfolk County, MA, United States
June 24, 1848
Quincy, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States