The Writings of Carl Schurz/From Benjamin H. Bristow, April 14th, 1877

Louisville, Ky., April 14, 1877.

I thank you sincerely for your kind invitation to communicate freely with you. It has not been, and is not now, my purpose to vex the ears of members of the Administration with recitals of the cruel and grievous wrongs that have been done me; keenly as they are felt by my family and myself, I do not feel at liberty to ask others to share our feelings. It is a long, long story which could not be told within reasonable limits. The substance and essence of it all is this. I committed the political blunder of attempting to introduce and carry on reformatory measures in an Administration which was under influences altogether adverse to all reform, and for this cause incurred the displeasure of the men whose friends were touched, and the sincere hostility of the Executive head of the Nation who was made to believe by cunning and unscrupulous men that I was moved by selfish and unworthy motives. The result was that the brave and true officers who stood by me in my humble efforts at reform and honest Administration were driven from office along with me in disgrace, while every dishonest official whether convicted in public judgment or condemned to imprisonment by judicial sentence received Executive pardon and—with a solitary exception—continued to bask in the sunshine of Presidential favor. Not only this—but after I was out of office I was pursued with bitterness and mendacity, and even the money appropriated by Congress for the “detection and punishment of frauds on the Government” was used to persecute me and my friends; and officers very well know[n] to be at least in suspicious intimacy with the thieves whose crimes I had exposed were promoted to higher positions and charged with the duty of destroying my character. It seems incredible that these things should have been done, and yet I have measured my words carefully and have not stated them as strongly as I might. In looking back over the past twelve months the only thing I have to regret is that I did not yield to my own impulse to enter upon vigorous public defence of myself. I was persuaded by friends that it was better to maintain dignified silence under such attacks and let time bring my vindication. But I am now strongly of opinion that they were mistaken, and that it is better for one who is attacked on account of his public acts to make his own defense, regardless of effect on party politics. However, the opportunity to do so in my case is now in the past and it is idle to grieve over it.

What now gives me greatest concern is my desire to see justice done to the brave and true men who lost their official heads in battling for reform. I have not written to the President or any member of his Cabinet on this subject for the reason that the men to whom I refer are well known in the Departments and to the country, and nothing that I might say could make their wrongs more manifest; and besides I prefer that each case shall be considered on its merits, if [at] all.

But I did not sit down to write you on this subject and have said much more than I intended to write any member of the Administration.

Of course I need not say to you that I have been greatly gratified by the President's inaugural address and his course on the Southern question. It was perfectly clear to me ten years ago that the unsteady and uncertain policy of the then President would lead to disastrous failure, in the business of reconstruction. A change of policy was demanded by the highest considerations of patriotism and the material interest of both sections; and I think the President has taken the only road that was open to him. We cannot afford to perpetuate the rule of any set of men—good or bad—by continued use of the bayonet. Personally I have had strong sympathy with Chamberlain whom I have regarded as able and honest, but of course it would not do to let one man, however good and true, stand in the way of sound Constitutional views, or of “permanent pacification” of the South.

It seems to me that the true question now before the President is not whether Packard or Nicholls received a majority of votes, but whether he shall continue to use the Army as a permanent factor in the Administration of the State government. My only doubt about the President's course is as to the policy of sending a commission to Louisiana, or postponing at all his manifest purpose to withdraw the troops. But I am on the outside and only judge from external appearances; there may be reasons for sending a commission to Louisiana which are not known to me. It is due to perfect candor to say that I do not feel so hopeful of success in building up the Republican party in the South as some of our friends; nevertheless I hope the President will move straight forward in the policy already indicated, first because it is right, and second because it will have [a] beneficial effect on the whole county [country], and third, because it will strengthen the party [in the] North. I do not fail to perceive the disposition of certain would-be leaders in the North with a few insignificant and worthless carpet-baggers from the South to raise the standard of revolt; but steady and quiet courage in carrying out the Southern policy will restrain, if it does not entirely suppress, their efforts. When the thing is done there will be nothing to fight about—so long as it is open they will mistake every cautious delay for infirmity of purpose and gather some strength which other wise they would not have. Nothing wins the approval of our people as quickly as genuine pluck in doing promptly what one believes to be right.

But I fear this first infliction may cause you to regret your invitation to me to write you freely, and now that I have written so long a letter, have half a mind to destroy it but since it is written perhaps it is just as well to leave the work of destruction to you.