Charles Francis Adams Jr. was born on May 27, 1835, in Boston, Massachusetts, into a family with a long legacy in American public life (Father Charles Francis Adams Sr. (1807-1886).
He was an American author, historian, railroad and park commissioner, and philanthropist. He graduated from Harvard University in 1856 and then studied law in the office of Richard Henry Dana Jr. and was admitted to the bar in 1858. In 1895, he received an LL.D. degree from Harvard University. Adams served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. In 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Colonel Adams for the award of the rank of brevet (honorary) brigadier general, United States Volunteers. He served as the president of the Union Pacific Railroad from 1884 to 1890. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1871 and a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1891. After 1874, he devoted much of his time to the study of American history and became vice president of the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1890 and its president in 1895. He was also elected President of the American Historical Association in 1901. From 1893 to 1895, Adams was chairman of the Massachusetts Park Commission.
In 1865, he married Mary Hone Ogden (1843-1935). He died on March 20, 1915, in Washington, D.C.