Banquet to the Honorable Carl Schurz/Speech of Doctor A. Jacobi



From the tenor of the proposed toasts, Mr. Chairman, I conclude that none should be devoid of some connection with the guest of the evening. But I feel that, in spite of his courage, he may well be overawed by this celebration.

Whoever knows him well, is aware that, the more he is extolled, the more he will suffer. That is why, in order to alleviate his distress, I propose not to speak of him, but, for a change, of myself, and of some reminiscences of my own. [Laughter.] For that purpose, you will permit me to carry you back the trifle of half a century.

In the year 1848, when J. K. Polk was President of the United States, Wisconsin was made a State, the Mormons went into exile around the Great Salt Lake, when the Free Soil party was founded and gold was discovered in California; in that same year Italy began to shake the chains forged by its own many rulers and the Austrian foreigner; the Hungarians threatened the gates of Vienna in their efforts to gain independence; Louis Philippe hastily left his throne and his country; Frederick William the Fourth trembled while the German Parliament began its short-lived existence, and Czar Nicholas stood aghast.

The revolutionary wave rolling over Europe shook all classes of Germany. Many feared, more hoped, and the best part of the nation stood up to fight against absolutism and for the idea of unification.

All walks of life, all ages, were represented amongst the arms and brains struggling for what was first crushed because it was popular and national, and decades after partly permitted and partly accomplished because it was irrepressible. That period of working and fighting was a stern lesson in democracy; class differences were wiped out, old and young, learning and ignorance, professions and trades, rich and poor, hoped and suffered for the same end—stood side by side on the barricades and on the field, were imprisoned and maltreated alike—were stricken down together in battle or on the places of execution—laughed and wept together. Not universal prosperity but common distress draws men and peoples together, and teaches community of interests. That is the way nations are born of clans and mobs.

Naturally, it was the youth of the country, and principally the educated youth, with the ideals of Roman valor and of Helenic philosophy inculcated into and working in their minds, that were caught in the avalanche of the revolutionary spirit.

The universities, while furnishing their volunteers to fight on the barricades, and others to secure the Germanization of the Northern provinces, sent delegates to a Students' Congress to the Wartburg, which had long been the poetical symbol of German strength and idealism. When our delegate (I was at that time a student in the University of Greifswald) reported to us of the enthusiasm pervading this Congress of young men, and the earnestness and vigor displayed in their meetings, amongst the names he mentioned foremost because of their attainments, enthusiasm and faultless eloquence, was that of Carl Schurz of Bonn. [Applause.] That was my first acquaintance with him, who, at that early time, was characterized by our spokesman as the knight without fear and without reproach. [Applause.]

In the early part of 1849 his name reached me when in Göttingen. After perpetual mission work on the shores of the Rhine in the service of the revolutionary idea, he and Professor Gottfried Kinkel, philosopher, poet, orator, planned an attack on an arsenal, were unsuccessful, and fled to the Palatinate and Baden, to join the revolution which was to protect the endangered German Parliament against the armies of conquering Prussia. To meet him I found impossible, for the police gobbled up everybody whose face was turned to the south. I could but follow his career from battlefield to battlefield, and finally to Rastatt, where, in July, 1849, the bulk of the revolutionary army was caught in a trap. Many of his comrades were then shot, amongst them students, savans, army officers, government officials, members of parliament. His friend and teacher had been caught and was landed in a State prison, as they thought, for life. Schurz, however, preferred to escape through a subterranean sewer from the belly of the fortress. As he was an officer in a prominent position, his fate, if he had been caught, would not have been doubtful.

Then we, who were in our precarious homes, heard of and from the exiles in Switzerland, France and England; of him always in the glowing terms of appreciation and admiration. He was uppermost in the estimation of his fellow refugees, and his name was on many lips. I give a single example, characteristic of the time.

One hot summer afternoon in 1850, without a knock at my top story door in Bonn, there entered a big weather-worn knapsack, carried on the back of what looked like a travelling mechanic. The tramp had hollow cheeks, big whiskers, was begrimed and fatigued, no shoes on his feet, a big cane in his hand. I knew that ilk; he wanted a bed for once, and food and safety. My first question, “Who are you?” was answered, “Schimmelpfennig.” Some of you may remember his name as that of the Brigadier-General who, under Sherman, was the first to enter Charleston. [Applause.] He had been a leader on the battlefields, was an exile and now an emissary in what was to us a holy cause. That is the way Mr. Schurz's friends skulked and starved at that time. Fifteen dollars, Mr. Treasurer, would have been a bloated competency for fifteen weeks. [Laughter.] His very first question was, “Heard of Schurz?” “No.” “Will soon hear of him.” A few days after, when he had left, his hunger being appeased and his safety becoming doubtful, I received notice that a stranger wanted to see me, after the setting of the moon, in an out of the way summer house outside of the town. There I found a tall, curly-headed, jovial, easy-going, serious young fellow, with eyes at once confiding and searching. What he had to say, I learned; what he concealed, I did not ask; but, before I left him to his solitude, I well remembered how thoroughly my Greifswald friend had pictured him.

A few weeks after I met him on a railroad, both of us going north, I to the seat of war in Schleswig-Holstein, he in the direction of Berlin. I could only tell him “look out,” and he did look out and far ahead.

What this trip meant I shall tell you. His teacher and friend, Kinkel, was a prisoner for life in Spandau. The gifts of the philosopher, poet and orator were utilized in spinning wool in the service of the Prussian monarchy. After long and dangerous preparations Schurz got him out of the State prison, and took him, after a journey replete with perils and anxieties, to the land of the free Britons, the refuge of the persecuted of all of us. [Applause.] That daring feat has immortalized him in the popular annals of Germany. Unaccountable it was. Twenty-five years afterwards Bismarck declared it to be an act of fearlessness and resolution; but nothing that ever became known of the real facts could convince the poetical fancy of the German people that the salvation of Kinkel was else but miraculous.

There was a young Siegfried who, in the midst of the beaten and despondent people, attacked the dragon of the Prussian police and slew him. As Blondel sang the lion-hearted Richard out of his dungeon, so Schurz, the legend goes, made his presence known by turning street organist, grinding melodies known to and appreciated by Kinkel. When all Carl Schurz has been, or done, will no longer be remembered in all its particulars, the millions of Germany will rehearse the legend of the young hero who stepped into the hyena's den and snatched his friend out of the clutches of cruel dungeon keepers. [Applause and cheers.] The myth is alive, as it was fifty years ago.

It was revived by his occasional appearance on German soil. Before what they called an amnesty for us was thought of, there appeared, in 1861, in the German newspapers, the official notice that the United States Minister in Spain, Mr. Carl Schurz, would pass through the country on his way to his American home, and the police were warned not to disturb him, this time. [Laughter and applause.]

Another time the papers and the people would relate with hushed exultation how the irreconcilable revolutionist was hobnobbing with demi-god Bismarck, and with the Crown Prince and the Emperor.

After his final escape I heard but rarely of him, and for a short time only; but, as there was no man or woman in any walk of life but adored him, and tried to know all about him, rehearsed his past and was interested in his present, so the only news a State prison convict whispered some day to the lone political State prisoner in his cell was that Carl Schurz was in America; that longed-for republican paradise; that combination, we fondly imagined, of Rome and Hellas; and there I shall now leave him.

The myth of the millions of Germany, to you, to us, he became and is real. What he has been to this, our country, is contained in the history of our last forty years, and will surely be told to-night. I know he would rather be absent, as he was spared being present at the celebration held in Berlin last week. But these are great qualities besides modesty, and, as he is modest, so he has often proved his endurance. In that spirit he should endure this evening, and remember that its main object and outcome is not so much personal, as it is destined to prove a lesson to the people, and principally to the young generation, which has to learn, that a man who has no riches, no longer a political place, no trust to sustain him, no newspaper to do his bidding, no machine to grind out his orders, can still be, or rather is, for that very reason, uppermost in the admiration and reverence of the best men of the nation; [cheers and applause;] feared, it is true, by many; loved by many more, both for his own sake and for the enemies he had to make, and respected by all.

The toast, Mr. Chairman, called for the consideration of “The storm and stress period of young Germany,” and, I take it, particularly of the life of Mr. Schurz. There is such a period in the life of every people. As we had our storm and stress in the Revolution and in the antislavery movement, so the last absolutely spontaneous storm and stress of Germany was the revolution of 1848. Is there such a period in Carl Schurz's life? Either there was no such period, or it lasted all his life, for that life has been spent in fearless and incessant combat on the battlefield, the platform, in the council of the nation, in literature, always in the interests of his ideals, to this very day of his triumphant recognition. [Applause.]

There is surely a peculiar harmony in the life work of this man. In adolescence the compass of his life was set in one direction; no magnet was ever powerful enough to cause a deviation. A clear brain, a warm heart, the knowledge of his duty, the appreciation of what was right, the unselfishness which sacrifices one's all to the commonwealth, the incorruptibility by what would be a temptation to any but the godlike amongst men, have made this celebration possible, and the offer of this homage by men known to all America, of all parties and of opposing opinions. [Bravo.] By him they will be received with greatful earnestness, I know, mixed with the sense of undergoing an ordeal. Encouragement he needs not, for nobody has known better than he and taught all his life that, though it suffice for the average man to do no wrong, he whose wagon was ever hitched to a star, looks at duty from an ideal point of view, unswerved by the inducements, motives or passions of smaller men. You know, Mr. Chairman, what Plutarch says of Aristides:

“Admirable was the mental equilibrium of the man in all changes of his public relations. He never prided himself on account of honors, and remained tranquil and self-possessed under provocations and insult. He always deemed himself under obligations to his country, and declared he owed it the same zeal under all circumstances, and worked for it without pecuniary advantage, or honor, or appreciation.”

Such was Aristides in Hellas, such is Carl Schurz in America. [Applause.]