Character Analysis Charles Francis Adams


Charles Francis is an especially strong influence on Henry because the son serves as his father's private secretary for several months in Washington, where the elder Adams is a member of the House of Representatives (1860-1861), and remains in the same position when his father becomes Minister to England (1861-1868). What impresses Henry most is his father's strong, honest character, which carries him through crises small and large.

The reader's first significant view of the elder Adams' influence is during the trip to Washington with Henry in 1850. Charles Francis allows Henry to see slavery for what it is, as much as a twelve-year-old outsider can, and to reach his own conclusions. Henry is shocked and upset, wishing that he could flee to free territory along with the slaves. In the same chapter, the reader witnesses Henry's first political disillusionment. The Free Soil Party, to which his father belongs at the time, negotiates a bargain to support a proslavery democrat for the office of governor of Massachusetts in exchange for democratic support of the Free Soil candidate for United States senator. This is Henry's "first lesson in practical politics" and a shocking one. His one consolation is that his father will have no part of it.

That sort of bold integrity serves the father well. His greatest achievement, in the eyes of history as well as his son's, is his effective management of the politically explosive situation in England during Charles Francis's tenure as Minister. As soon as he arrives in England, shortly after the beginning of the U. S. Civil War (1861-1865), the Minister learns that England is not supporting the Union, as he expected, but has avowed neutrality. The Minister receives this disturbing news with stoic calm. He is especially adroit at keeping England from formally recognizing the Confederacy and cuts off attempts at aid to the South. For example, when the war in the States is very much in doubt, the Confederacy contracts for two ironclad warships to be built by William Laird & Son in Liverpool. Minister Adams learns of it and sends a series of notes to British Foreign Secretary Lord Russell, protesting the situation. On September 1, 1863, Russell writes the Minister that he cannot interfere with the building of the ships in any way. However, during that summer, the Union has established an upper hand in the war, with victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Adams plays his improved position with candor, responding to Russell in the strongest possible terms: "It would be superfluous in me to point out to your Lordship that this is war!" The situation is resolved. Henry is proud of his father; the men who have preceded him in this distinguished family do shape Henry's character.