The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography

By Henry Adams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII

DIPLOMACY (1861)

HARDLY a week passed when the newspapers announced that President Lincoln had selected Charles Francis Adams as his Minister to England. Once more, silently, Henry put Blackstone back on its shelf. As Friar Bacon's head sententiously announced many centuries before: Time had passed! The Civil Law lasted a brief day; the Common Law prolonged its shadowy existence for a week. The law, altogether, as path of education, vanished in April, 1861, leaving a million young men planted in the mud of a lawless world, to begin a new life without education at all. They asked few questions, but if they had asked millions they would have got no answers. No one could help. Looking back on this moment of crisis, nearly fifty years afterwards, one could only shake one's white beard in silent horror. Mr. Adams once more intimated that he thought himself entitled to the services of one of his sons, and he indicated Henry as the only one who could be spared from more serious duties. Henry packed his trunk again without a word. He could offer no protest. Ridiculous as he knew himself about to be in his new rôle, he was less ridiculous than his betters. He was at least no public official, like the thousands of improvised secretaries and generals who crowded their jealousies and intrigues on the President. He was not a vulture of carrion — patronage. He knew that his father's appointment was the result of Governor Seward's personal friendship; he did not then know that Senator Sumner had opposed it, or the reasons which Sumner alleged for thinking it unfit; but he could have supplied proofs enough had Sumner asked for them, the strongest and most decisive being that, in his opinion, Mr. Adams had chosen a private secretary far more unfit than his chief. That Mr. Adams was unfit might well be, since it was hard to find a fit

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