The Education of Henry Adams HTML version

The Battle Of The Rams (1863)
MINISTER ADAMS troubled himself little about what he did not see of an enemy. His
son, a nervous animal, made life a terror by seeing too much. Minister Adams played his
hand as it came, and seldom credited his opponents with greater intelligence than his
own. Earl Russell suited him; perhaps a certain personal sympathy united them; and
indeed Henry Adams never saw Russell without being amused by his droll likeness to
John Quincy Adams. Apart from this shadowy personal relation, no doubt the Minister
was diplomatically right; he had nothing to lose and everything to gain by making a
friend of the Foreign Secretary, and whether Russell were true or false mattered less,
because, in either case, the American Legation could act only as though he were false.
Had the Minister known Russell's determined effort to betray and ruin him in October,
1862, he could have scarcely used stronger expressions than he did in 1863. Russell must
have been greatly annoyed by Sir Robert Collier's hint of collusion with the rebel agents
in the Alabama Case, but he hardened himself to hear the same innuendo repeated in
nearly every note from the Legation. As time went on, Russell was compelled, though
slowly, to treat the American Minister as serious. He admitted nothing so unwillingly, for
the nullity or fatuity of the Washington Government was his idee fixe; but after the
failure of his last effort for joint intervention on November 12, 1862, only one week
elapsed before he received a note from Minister Adams repeating his charges about the
Alabama, and asking in very plain language for redress. Perhaps Russell's mind was
naturally slow to understand the force of sudden attack, or perhaps age had affected it;
this was one of the points that greatly interested a student, but young men have a passion
for regarding their elders as senile, which was only in part warranted in this instance by
observing that Russell's generation were mostly senile from youth. They had never got
beyond 1815 Both Palmerston and Russell were in this case. Their senility was
congenital, like Gladstone's Oxford training and High Church illusions, which caused
wild eccentricities in his judgment. Russell could not conceive that he had misunderstood
and mismanaged Minister Adams from the start, and when after November 12 he found
himself on the defensive, with Mr Adams taking daily a stronger tone, he showed mere
confusion and helplessness.
Thus, whatever the theory, the action of diplomacy had to be the same. Minister Adams
was obliged to imply collusion between Russell and the rebels. He could not even stop at
criminal negligence. If, by an access of courtesy, the Minister were civil enough to admit
that the escape of the Alabama had been due to criminal negligence, he could make no
such concession in regard to the ironclad rams which the Lairds were building; for no one
could be so simple as to believe that two armored ships-of-war could be built publicly,
under the eyes of the Government, and go to sea like the Alabama, without active and
incessant collusion. The longer Earl Russell kept on his mask of assumed ignorance, the
more violently in the end, the Minister would have to tear it off. Whatever Mr. Adams
might personally think of Earl Russell, he must take the greatest possible diplomatic
liberties with him if this crisis were allowed to arrive.