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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XV. Later Historians

§ 29. Charles Francis Adams

Three sons of Charles Francis Adams, grandsons of John Quincy Adams, became historians, and two of them, Charles Francis Adams, Jr. (1835–1915) and Henry Adams (1838–1918), fall within the limits assigned to this chapter. Both of them had the Puritan mind, so strong in their ancestry, as well as that independent Adams spirit which put the family, from John Adams to Henry, out of touch with the dominant thought of Boston. Turning to history, both of them became able critics of conventional views and won high respect from an age turning towards cosmopolitan ideals. The elder of the two, however, did not go all the way in revolt. New Englander he remained to the last. He loved Boston, although he rapped its knuckles at times, and he sought to reform its intellectual life. The younger clung to Boston for many years, giving himself to a phase of our history in which the town had a deep interest; but finally, having reached a stage of disillusionment, as he considered it, he broke local ties, turned toward the unanchored spaces of the remote past, and became a master in the realm of detached thinking.

After serving in the army until 1865 Charles Francis Adams, Jr., gave himself to the study of the railroad situation, writing and publishing articles that led to his appointment on the Massachusetts railroad commission in 1869. In the same year he published a remarkable essay, A Chapter in Erie, exposing the methods by which some of the leading railroad directors manipulated the stocks of their roads for their own benefit. He became a government director of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1882 and served as its president from 1884 to 1890. Retiring from this position he gave the remainder of his life to history. The results of his labours appeared in many books and pamphlets, the most important of which were Chapters of Erie and Other Essays—in collaboration with Henry Adams—(1871), Railroads, their Origin and Problems (1878), Notes on Railroad Accidents (1879), The New English Canaan of Thomas Morton (new edition with introduction, 1883), Richard Henry Dana, a Biography (2 vols., 1890), History of Quincy (1891), History of Braintree (1891), Three Episodes of Massachusetts History (2 vols., 1892), Massachusetts, its Historians and History (1893), Charles Francis Adams, the First (1900), Three Phi Beta Kappa Addresses (1907), Studies, Military and Diplomatic (1911), Trans-Atlantic Historical Solidarity (1913), and Charles Francis Adams, an Autobiography (1916).

He was not content to be merely an historian but did many things to promote historical interests. He was in constant demand for historical addresses. Several of his discourses were made in the South, where his appreciation of Southern character was warmly received, and his words did much to promote good feeling between the two sections. As vice-president and president of the Massachusetts Historical Society he was the leader of an important group of historians. It was in these extraliterary activities that he served history best.