1860: Joseph T. Adams to Friend “Wat”

This letter was written by Joseph T. Adams, a clerk in the Office of Second Comptroller of the US Treasury in the District of Columbia. Joseph was from Massachusetts and seems to have spent considerable time in Boston. From newspaper notices, we know that as a young man he studied law in the Office of [P. W.] Radcliff & [John L.] Mason of the New York City and, in 1824, opened his own office at 33 Wall Street. He eventually became a correspondent/editor for a Boston newspaper [Columbian Centinel] and a close friend of Richard “Bobby” Taylor (1826-1879), the President’s son, which allowed him to secure an appointment as collector of the port of New Bedford. Adams was at New Bedford during Polk’s presidency and wrote several articles in support of Polk’s expansion policies. After June 1848, Adams left New Bedford and seems to have returned to Boston and by the mid-1850s had secured a position as a clerk in the Treasurer’s Office in Washington—a position that he managed to retain for a couple of decades.

He was married to Susan J. [unknown] and had at least one daughter named Ellen (“Nelly”) Grace Derby Adams (1849-1917). Nelly married USN Lt. Andrew Dunlap of Ovid, New York, in 1875 in Boston.

Unfortunately I cannot find any biography or census records that would help me tie up the loose ends of this biographical sketch.


Washington [D. C.]
8 February 1860

Friend Wat,

I understand that the name of Gen. [James Scollay] Whitney for Collector [of the port of Boston] was yesterday sent to the Senate, and I suppose an attempt will be made to have it passed upon immediately, but it may be postponed a while, in consequence of rivalries among the Democratic Senators, but it will no doubt pass ultimately. I am going to speak to him in favor of George & want you to help at the proper time.

[  ] Woodbury, Capen, Gen. Whitney, Benett, Sidney, [Fletcher] Webster, R. Bartlett & others are here, as also President [Cornelius Conway] Felton [of Harvard], & Austin is expected every day. Capen is working hard for his P. Office and it is said has persuaded the President in its favor. But it will depend on Congress & there is a powerful factious opposition to Old Buchanan in the House & some in the Senate. On these accounts, nominations and legislation are more uncertain than I have ever known them before. The secret of the election of [John Weiss] Forney is his deadly hostility to the President and a curious scene will be presented when Forney goes to the White House on some message from the House. ¹

Miss Harriet Lane, President Buchanan’s niece, presided over the bachelor’s social affairs

The President had a crowded reception last night. Lord [Richard] Lyons—the British Minister—was dancing attention to Miss [Harriet] Lane & it it rumored that they are engaged.

Col. [Hendrick Bradley] Wright has been here as is supposed for the Collectors p[osition] or something else, but I suppose Old Buchanan has not forgotten his political campaigning in Pennsylvania for [Zachary] Taylor in 1848. [Caleb] Cushing is here most of the time and is on hand whenever there are such fish about, [such] as French Missions &c.  I don’t believe either of these worthies stands much chance with the present powers.

It has been rumored here that Fletcher Webster is in danger of removal but I can trace it out to no reliable source.

A friend of mine here is thinking of going to Boston in a few days by whom I could receive the cards which Carlton promised to procure for me & for which I gave him a dollar when I was last in Boston. As him to get them ready (good ones) in case they should be called for in a few days.

Yours very truly, — Joseph T. Adams

¹ John Weiss Forney worked hard to get James Buchanan elected President in 1856 but Buchanan did not reward him with a cabinet post, feeling Forney’s appointment would not be popular with the South. Failing to win a seat in the Senate in 1857, Forney turned to journalism and published the Sunday Morning Chronicle in Washington D. C. As publisher he initially showed support for the Buchanan administration but when “Buck” refused to support the admission of Kansas into the Union upon the adoption of the Lecimpton Constitution, he changed parties and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican and served from 3 February 1860 to 3 July 1861. He later served in the U.S. Senate.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s