Banquet to the Honorable Carl Schurz/Speech of the Honorable Moorfield Storey



Mr. President and Gentlemen: It was my fortune, as Mr. Sumner's secretary, to have been for two years somewhat familiar with the Senate of the United States when Mr. Schurz entered that body on March 4th, 1869, in what I have since learned to consider the bloom of his youth.

It was a critical time in our country's history. It was a period of reaction. After the strain of the war, men had turned with relief to the pursuits of peace. The intense earnestness, the high moral purpose of the anti-slavery contest, were yielding to dreams of ease and wealth; to the feeling that we had earned repose, which General Grant expressed when he said “Let us have peace.”

It was a period of demoralization. In the South society was overturned. The character and intelligence of the community were disfranchised, while men just emancipated and largely inspired and controlled by corrupt adventurers, ruled the States where but now they had been slaves. In the North the Republican party, flushed with triumph, was at its zenith. Respect for the constitutional limitations of power which are recognized in times of peace had been weakened by war and its methods. The most successful soldier of the time had just been elected President, and was surrounding himself with counsellors of whom some were little trained in civil affairs, and few were likely to oppose his will. Once before, under General Jackson, similar conditions in some respects prevailed, and in each case the standards of our government were lowered.

The Senate reflected the conditions of the country; of the men who lead the Republican party in its days of struggle—Sumner, Fessenden, Trumbull, Grimes and others—a few remained, but their service was drawing to its close. New leaders, Conkling, Carpenter, and men of like opinions and methods, dominated the counsels of the Senate. The seats which belonged to the Southern States were filled, but those who occupied them represented neither the South, for which they sat, nor the North, from which in most cases they came. They were the fruit of revolution, and represented truly their own fortunes. Of opposition to the Republicans, there was practically none. I well remember that when a vote was announced, 42 to 8, on some party question, Senator Nye turned to me and said, “A fair working majority.” The mental ability of the Senate, was great, but its moral strength was sensibly weakened. There had come into public life leaders “whose political horizon was bounded by the struggles of the Rebellion; whose whole political stock in trade consisted in the battle cries of the Civil War,” to quote from our guest of to-night. The result was an atmosphere peculiarly unfavorable to statesmanship and independence in politics, and peculiarly favorable to partisanship and corruption.

Yet never was a legislative body confronted with more difficult and important questions than the Senate during Mr. Schurz's term. The new amendments to the Constitution were to be enforced, that the rights of loyal men, black and white, might be secured against fraud and violence, for these were the days of the Ku Klux Klan. On the other hand, the restoration of the Union was to be completed, that the intelligence of the South might be restored to its just influence, and the rights of citizens no longer be denied by a military commander, for this was the period when soldiers of the United States invaded the Legislature of Louisiana.

Questions of foreign policy, far reaching in their effect and delicate in character, were presented, for it was then that President Grant sought to force the annexation of San Domingo upon his unwilling countrymen; and when, in disregard of the Constitution, he used the naval power of the United States against a friendly state to keep in a power a government that was willing to sell its people and their country.

This was the period when inflation so nearly triumphed and financial heresies of all kinds were accepted in Congress. It was then that the abuses of patronage became so great as to create the public opinion which later wrung from reluctant politicians some measure of civil service reform. It was then that a Senator who had clearly bought his seat was denied admission to the Senate. It was the time of the French Arms Investigation, of the Whiskey Ring, of the Safe Burglary Conspiracy, and many another scandal which called for investigation and exposure.

Upon all the questions which arose during his term Mr. Schurz made himself felt. He brought into the Senate a fresh moral force, and as we read his speeches we cannot fail to recognize with fresh admiration the unvarying wisdom, the far-seeing statesmanship, the unflinching courage, the high purpose, with which he met them all. The singular clearness of statement, which has never deserted him, his wonderful command of English, the unfailing calmness and dignity with which he encountered and returned the attacks of his opponents, made him the first debater in the Senate, and an orator second to none. But he never descended to anything unworthy, and you may search his speeches in vain for any appeal to low motive, for any trace of thought for his personal fortunes.

To appreciate his course in the Senate we must put ourselves again in the atmosphere of the time, and realize that he was forced to resist and criticize the President, whose election he had labored hard to secure, and the party which absolutely controlled the politics of the country—to meet and disregard the wrath which drove Charles Sumner from the Committee on Foreign Relations, and which punished opposition as personal hostility. While Mr. Schurz sat in the Senate the measures and methods which he opposed brought the Republican party from unexampled power in 1869 to overwhelming defeat five years later, and it triumphed in 1876, if at all, only because it returned to the standards and the principles which he had supported.

It is difficult in his presence to say all that I would of Mr. Schurz's remarkable career in the Senate, but it was there that he established his title to lead the men, wherever they may be, who put the interests of their country above the thoughts of self, and who wage unending war with the evils of the day.

It was there that he showed first to the whole country the great qualities which we have learned to appreciate better in every year of his life, that he set before us the high standard of patriotism to which he has ever since been true. It was there that he began to win the confidence, the respect, the admiration, the affection which have grown with his years, and which are shared by thousands of his fellow-countrymen, of whom we who sit at these tables are but an insignificant part. It was there that he met the maxim, “Our country, right or wrong,” when given as the patriot's motto, with the true interpretation, “I believe in ‘my country, right or wrong;’ when it is right, to be kept right, and when it is wrong, to be set right.”

This is the ideal patriotism, and when we think of the men who opposed him and whose names are now forgotten, and when we hear their arguments repeated by their successors of to-day, it is a great pleasure to look about these tables and to realize how certainly true patriotism and true character alone win lasting regard. I could wish that some of those who now forget the teachings of the fathers could look into this room, and, reading in our faces the verdict of posterity, would turn to study the career of Mr. Schurz, and learn from it the lesson “Sic itur ad astra.” [Applause.]