CHARLES FRANCIS ADAMS, the third son of John Quincy and Louisa Catherine (Johnson) Adams, was born 18 August 1807, in Boston. His early childhood was spent, for the most part, abroad—six years in St. Petersburg (1809-1815) and two in England (1815-1817)—where his father had diplomatic appointments. He graduated from Harvard in 1825 and spent two years in Washingtonduring his father's presidency. Following his engagement in 1827 to Abigail Brown Brooks of Medford, Massachusetts, Adams returned to Boston to read law in Daniel Webster's office. He and Abigail were married 3 September 1829.
The early deaths of his two older brothers, George Washington Adams and John Adams 2d, meant that it was left to Charles Francis to carry on the family’s tradition of public service and prominence in American government. Adams began to take an active role in politics in the 1830s by contributing pieces on local and national affairs to Boston newspapers and the North American Review. His next step was election to the Massachusetts legislature, serving three years in the House (1841-1843) and two in the Senate (1844-1845) and emerging as a recognized antislavery leader in the state and among the Conscience Whigs. In 1846 he became the editor and a proprietor of the Boston Daily Whig, the unofficial voice of the Conscience Whigs. Although he was the vice-presidential candidate of the newly formed Free Soil Party in 1848, a decade passed before he held elected office again.
He served as a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1858 until 1861 when, on the eve of the Civil War, President Lincoln appointed him minister to the Court of St. James's. He arrived in London on the very day Great Britain recognized the Confederacy as a belligerent. In 1863 Adams convinced the British government to prevent Confederate ironclad ships, built in Liverpool, from leaving port, thereby maintaining British neutrality. He resigned his post in 1868.
In 1871 and 1872, Adams was one of five arbitrators appointed to settle outstanding claims of theUnited States against Great Britain. The "Alabama claims" concerned damages to American shipping by Confederate raiders, such as the Alabama, built in Britain. Adams successfully argued the American cause for direct damages and the United States was awarded $15,500,000.
Charles Francis Adams was an accomplished editor and published numerous volumes based on the family papers. These include Letters of Mrs. Adams (1840), Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author (1850-1856), and Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848 (1874-1877).
Charles Francis Adams died in Boston on 21 November 1886.