It’s exhilarating to stumble upon unexpected relationships. Reading The Education of Henry Adams on New Year’s Day, I found a surprising Emory connection in this memoir by a consummate Boston Yankee.
Great-grandson of John, grandson of John Quincy, and son of Lincoln’s minister to Great Britain, Henry Adams rose to his own heights of achievement and renown as a journalist, historian, and memoirist.
Boston-born, Harvard-educated, he made Washington, DC, his home for the last half of his long life. His mansion at Lafayette Square, now the site of the Hay-Adams Hotel, was a social gathering place for the most eminent intellectuals of his day.
During the Civil War, the young Adams served in London as private secretary to his father, Charles Francis Adams, whose job it was to keep the British from recognizing the Confederacy. While there, Henry briefly met a man whom he would get to know well in Washington after the war — L. Q. C. Lamar, Emory College class of 1845.
Georgian by birth, Lamar served as a Congressman from Mississippi before the Civil War but resigned when Mississippi seceded. The Confederate government sent him abroad as minister to Russia, with a brief stay in London. After the war and amnesty, Lamar again served in Congress. (See Emory Makers of History.)
Lamar’s defense of secession and slavery before the war is indefensible. His reputation now rests on his post-war efforts toward reconciliation between North and South and on his integrity at the risk of his political career (he is the only Deep Southerner profiled in JFK’s Profiles in Courage).
Henry Adams, writing in 1907, had this to say about Lamar, who died in 1893: He “had grown to be one of the calmest, most reasonable and most amiable Union men in the United States, and quite unusual in social charm. In 1860 he passed for the worst of Southern fire-eaters, but he was an eccentric by environment, not by nature; above all his Southern eccentricities, he had tact and humor. . . . He would have done better in London [than the Confederacy’s actual minister to Britain]. . . . London society would have delighted in him; his stories would have won success; his manners would have made him loved; his oratory would have swept every audience; even [those unsympathetic to the Confederacy] could never have resisted the temptation of having him to breakfast between Lord Shaftesbury and the Bishop of Oxford” (from Chapter XII).
It would have been fascinating indeed to hear these two — one a former slave owner, the other an ardent slavery-hater, both of the highest intelligence and mutual respect — in dinner conversation at Lafayette Square circa 1885.