The Writings of Carl Schurz/Editor's Preface


It is rare that a life so picturesque and varied as Carl Schurz's can be so fully traced in its own records. He carefully prepared everything that he said or wrote, if for publication, and he usually preserved a copy or the draft. It was also his habit to save the letters he received. At all periods of his life in America some member of his family—Mrs. Schurz for nearly a quarter of a century—supplemented and arranged the collections. This material forms more than the basis of the now extensive and important Schurz papers.

Of his personal letters Mr. Schurz rarely kept copies, unless they touched some public or private question of special importance. Thanks to the all but invariable kindness and generosity of his surviving friends or their heirs, copies of many hundreds of his private letters have been made and preserved. A volume containing twelve of the best of his early speeches, 1858-64, was published by Lippincott in 1865; but it has long been out of print and is hard to find except in the largest libraries.

It has been the aim of the Editor to select for the present work what will best illustrate Mr. Schurz's political career his thoughts and acts as orator and reformer, diplomatist, Senator, Secretary of the Interior, and as publicist in the largest and best sense. Purely personal, journalistic and military matters have, as a rule, been excluded for lack of space or because not appropriate to the scope of these volumes. A few exceptions have been made for special and perhaps obvious reasons. They at least give occasional variety and color and afford a change from politics and reform. Especially for the period 1852-66, when the youthful Schurz was finding and cultivating fields for usefulness, biographical details were needed to supply the proper setting. These were all the more necessary as most of his manuscripts of that time were destroyed by fire. Happily, he had a large correspondence in German with relatives and intimate friends in which he described his aims and activities. Much of it has been published in Volume III of his Lebenserinnerungen, and translations from many of these letters have been made for this work by Miss Schurz and Miss Juessen, jointly.

Mr. Schurz's letters to Presidents and Presidential candidates from Lincoln to Roosevelt, both inclusive, and to others conspicuous in public affairs between 1857 and 1906, were numerous and often of great moment. Many answers he received were illuminating and instructive. As fully as circumstances would permit, this latter material also has been drawn upon for its inherent value and be cause it makes Mr. Schurz's letters more perspicuous. And the needs of the student and of the historian have been kept in mind. The historian rightly demands perfect frankness and the avoidance of all concealment. Nothing could be easier in the present case than to grant these, for in the life of Carl Schurz there was nothing to conceal.

In order to make the best use of the space, it has been found necessary not only to choose between documents but also to leave out unimportant sentences and paragraphs in the documents chosen. Where the choice had to be made between speeches of about equal value, the speech that is unprinted or less accessible has been preferred. Of the twelve speeches printed in the collection of 1865, four have been reprinted; and of the speeches in the Senate, room has been found for all having conspicuous historical value—numerous enough to supply the needs of all but a few special students. In most letters the salutations and the endings, such as “Dear Sir,” “Very truly yours,” “With thanks,” etc., have been dropped out. In all other cases, except in the translations three dots indicate the omission of one or more sentences; when a paragraph of more than two or three sentences is omitted, the dots extend across the page. For the translations from the German letters a special rule has been adopted. As the passages chosen are rarely more than excerpts, taken from personal and private letters, they have been treated as such, and signs of omission have not often been used. Yet, in a few cases, dots have been inserted, lest the casual reader might otherwise assume that the excerpt was a whole letter.

In such works as James Madison's it may be very important to make the reproduction of the text literal, including abbreviations, misspellings, slips and errors of all sorts. But to do this in a collection of Webster's or Burke's or Gallatin's writings would be both injurious and absurd. As it is known, Carl Schurz, our American Burke, was one of the most careful and accurate of writers, and his mastery of English has perhaps never been and may never be surpassed by any German beginning to learn it after reaching manhood. Yet in what he wrote during the first twenty years of his life in the United States one occasionally meets with a construction, and especially the location of an adverb, that, if not German, is also not quite English. Although perhaps most readers would pass these unnoticed, the Editor feels that if he had undertaken to change them he would to that extent have favorably misrepresented what some persons might have considered essentially characteristic of the author.

In regard to spelling, to capitalization, to punctuation best suited to bring out the intended meaning, and to slips of different kinds which have no special significance and may perhaps have been due to a careless copyist or printer long ago in regard to these things only such liberties have been taken as the most conservative usage demands, for the sake of uniformity and to produce the desired effect.[1]

To the resolution not to depart from the rule of general thanks, one exception must be made. Dr. Herbert Putnam's intelligent and generous aid to students and scholars has made the Library of Congress the most attractive place in the world to persons engaged in literary or scientific work. The large resources of the Library have greatly facilitated the present task.

Frederic Bancroft. 

Washington, D. C., January, 1913.

  1. See p. 211 n., post., for more on this point and about special exceptions.