The Education of Henry Adams HTML version

Political Morality (1862)
ON Moran's promotion to be Secretary, Mr. Seward inquired whether Minister Adams
would like the place of Assistant Secretary for his son. It was the first -- and last -- office
ever offered him, if indeed he could claim what was offered in fact to his father. To them
both, the change seemed useless. Any young man could make some sort of Assistant
Secretary; only one, just at that moment, could make an Assistant Son. More than half his
duties were domestic; they sometimes required long absences; they always required
independence of the Government service. His position was abnormal. The British
Government by courtesy allowed the son to go to Court as Attache, though he was never
attached, and after five or six years' toleration, the decision was declared irregular. In the
Legation, as private secretary, he was liable to do Secretary's work. In society, when
official, he was attached to the Minister; when unofficial, he was a young man without
any position at all. As the years went on, he began to find advantages in having no
position at all except that of young man. Gradually he aspired to become a gentleman;
just a member of society like the rest. The position was irregular; at that time many
positions were irregular; yet it lent itself to a sort of irregular education that seemed to be
the only sort of education the young man was ever to get.
Such as it was, few young men had more. The spring and summer of 1863 saw a great
change in Secretary Seward's management of foreign affairs. Under the stimulus of
danger, he too got education. He felt, at last, that his official representatives abroad
needed support. Officially he could give them nothing but despatches, which were of no
great value to any one; and at best the mere weight of an office had little to do with the
public. Governments were made to deal with Governments, not with private individuals
or with the opinions of foreign society. In order to affect European opinion, the weight of
American opinion had to be brought to bear personally, and had to be backed by the
weight of American interests. Mr. Seward set vigorously to work and sent over every
important American on whom he could lay his hands. All came to the Legation more or
less intimately, and Henry Adams had a chance to see them all, bankers or bishops, who
did their work quietly and well, though, to the outsider, the work seemed wasted and the
"influential classes" more indurated with prejudice than ever. The waste was only
apparent; the work all told in the end, and meanwhile it helped education.
Two or three of these gentlemen were sent over to aid the Minister and to cooperate
with him. The most interesting of these was Thurlow Weed, who came to do what the
private secretary himself had attempted two years before, with boyish ignorance of his
own powers. Mr. Weed took charge of the press, and began, to the amused astonishment
of the secretaries, by making what the Legation had learned to accept as the invariable
mistake of every amateur diplomat; he wrote letters to the London Times. Mistake or not,
Mr. Weed soon got into his hands the threads of management, and did quietly and
smoothly all that was to be done. With his work the private secretary had no connection;
it was he that interested. Thurlow Weed was a complete American education in himself.
His mind was naturally strong and beautifully balanced; his temper never seemed ruffled;
his manners were carefully perfect in the style of benevolent simplicity, the tradition of