Banquet to the Honorable Carl Schurz/Speech of Mr. Edward M. Shepard



It is a generous and seemly rivalry between my predecessors to-night over the measure of public homage due each of the citizens of whom they have spoken. I enter the rivalry very sure that I shall convince you that, high as the distinction is which must be accorded to every one of them, a still larger homage is due still another citizen of whom I shall speak. These righteous and moderate tributes to which we have listened must, indeed, all stand—that paid the memory of the young and fearless German patriot of whom we first heard,—that paid his competitor, the eloquent and unflinching enemy of human slavery,—that paid his other competitor, the disciplined and successful general,—that paid still another, the statesman who helped to organize peace and prosperity out of the ruins of war,—that paid still another, the sagacious and intrepid Senator,—and that paid still another, the trusted Cabinet Minister.

I pray all these citizens, honored guests of ours, to forgive me, however, if, at the risk of seeming ungraciousness, I ask them, each and every one, to yield place to him for whom I speak. Here, in truth, the last ought to be and is first. They and all of us must concede the true primacy among our guests to Carl Schurz, the wise, the determined, the persistent, the patient, the high-minded, and, surely more and more, the victorious adversary of political corruption. [Applause.]

No doubt it is a great distinction that, within the practical restraints and difficulties which lofty ideals or standards impose upon any public career, Mr. Schurz should have been called to the high offices which he has filled. But vastly more difficult is it for a statesman, leaving behind him all official and formal power as a useful but no longer needed preparation or training, and by sole virtue of the faith which great masses of his fellow countrymen have come to repose in his wise and uttermost loyalty to the best interests of their and his country, to acquire through his own character and personality a permanent, great and fruitful power over public opinion. Few men are there to-day in the United States who, without official power or patronage, having no benefit to confer upon any man or class of their countrymen, which they do not offer all alike,—unselfishly lead and control a great body of enlightened public sentiment? When a statesman comes to this in a democratic land like ours, he reaches the first place in the true hierarchy of public power. There is nothing beyond. And this rare distinction belongs of right to Carl Schurz. I avow that it is to me, in its usefulness and nobility, chief of all the distinctions which even he has achieved. [Applause.]

Nor could this almost unique power have been exercised by Mr. Schurz more beneficently than in the long, somewhat tedious, but steadily gaining attack on the spoils system. [Applause.] It was surely a great service to attack the administrative inefficiency, extravagance and corruption, to which the spoils system everywhere and inevitably leads. But, no doubt, the American Republic is rich and powerful and virtuous enough to endure administrative abuses without disintegration of its essential fabric, or of the political character of its people. The Republic,—that is to say, the Republic as we know and have inherited it,—could not, however, long survive if the corruption of the spoils system were to extend far beyond mere administration, and were at last to dominate the town meeting and poison every primary political activity. This would be a supreme calamity. To resist it has in our generation been a great and supreme duty of every far sighted and patriotic American. For nearly thirty years, and in royal measure, Mr. Schurz has performed this duty. In 1871 he introduced and advocated in the Senate a bill to establish the competitive method of admission to the civil service. It is, however, during the last fifteen years that he has given the richest and fullest vigor of his facilities to the remedy of Civil Service Reform. On the one hand, he has seen the danger, to which a democratic republic is subject if, with industries most complicated, and seemingly full of destructive rivalries, and growing enormously rich, its politics and public life are corrupted at their source; but, on the other hand, he has seen—and no man more clearly—that, if all the other vast powers of our American Republic could work under the harness or a sound public life, the future beneficence of the Republic would be unlimited and truly glorious. It is to accomplish this thing, to deal with the fundamental conditions of our political life upon which must be solved all those lesser political questions with which American parties and platforms deal, that our guest has devoted these elder, but still these young and always active years of his. In 1891 be became a member of the Executive Committee of the National Civil Service Reform Association; and from that time down his gifts of eloquent, luminous, convincing statement have been dedicated to this effort to exalt the politics of our land by destroying political corruption at its source. It is nearly seven years ago when, at the end of the beautiful and fruitful career of George William Curtis, the president of the National Association, Mr. Schurz took his place. From that time down he has borne the supreme burden of this great struggle.

Consider that the effort to accomplish this reform has held a conspicuous place in our national politics during the last twenty years, that it has compelled candidates for great offices and parties in their platforms to deal with it, and that it has made a really amazing progress; and you will be astonished to learn that the whole cost of the movement over the whole United States has been a few thousand dollars a year, no more than the annual salary paid to single officers by many corporations in this city. Is it not a wonder that so great a work could have been done, by so small a body of people? It is for this very wonder that it has been fashionable to sneer at the meetings of Civil Service reformers. It is quite true that such meetings usually consist of a handful of gentlemen in a parlor. But there it is lies the wonder of the leverage they have exercised in our public life. I suppose there is no test of ability more trustworthy than the power to accomplish great results with small resources. This ability has been the characteristic of every great soldier, of every great statesman. I challenge the history of our country for a more striking illustration of it than the work which Carl Schurz has, in the Civil Service reform field, done for the sound foundation of our political life. The proposed reform is, in reality, deep and organic, dealing with profound conditions. But it bears the disadvantage that it must proceed by technical steps, dealing with the machinery of examinations and promotions and appointments, schedules, lists, regulations and the like. Nothing but genius could vivify all this as our guest and those who have followed him have done.

And may I last speak of that question of the time of life which the very occasion of our gathering to-night presents. It is a fine inspiration, and it comes none too frequently, to observe courage, high-mindedness, energy and skill in political activity, united in earlier years with the belief that human struggle and force of will can make the world better. Our land has none too much of such inspiration; but it is rare indeed to find these faculties, with their creative and executing optimism undiminished in those years of life in which, though they be riper, energy is apt to decline. But with the energy, alas, too often declines the courageous belief that anything further can be done to make better the human conditions of our land. Most men in public life—yes, of a thousand or ten thousand men, all, save one—decline the stress of a difficult or long coming or unpopular cause—however vital to their country—after the sixtieth birthday has been reached. Indeed, a certain submissiveness to public wrong is then considered a sort of placid crown of honor. Nor ought we, perhaps, to complain, that after a record of brave and patriotic achievement has been honorably made for him in his earlier years, a statesman should wish the security and comfort of regular and stable party relations, should wish no controversy which might drive from him some or many of those who would otherwise hold him in respect or reverence. If, however, denying himself this natural indulgence, he fill his later years with persistent and fruitful labors for his countrymen, like those contributed by Carl Schurz to the cause of Civil Service Reform, he reaches a peculiar distinction, and deserves the supremest gratitude and honor of those he serves. Such a distinction was achieved by the American President, whose grandson presides over us to-night; and the same distinction in overflowing measure belongs to our honored guest. May his future years in that work be many, very many. May we have for many, many years to come, the same service in this great cause of political reform, the same eloquence, the same wise and creative energy, the same belief that the world can, and the same resolution that the world shall, be made better,—that belief without which no great thing is ever done for a nation.