The Writings of Carl Schurz/From Charles Francis Adams, Jr., February 7th, 1902

Boston, Feb. 7, 1902.

Thanks for your favor of the 3d, which has reached me at just the right time. I am even now engaged in putting the address you refer to through the press, as part of a volume.

I am greatly obliged to you for calling my attention so frankly to the more important point touched upon in your letter. If my statement in regard to Sumner left the impression of “contempt,” or dislike, upon your mind, it certainly conveyed something wholly apart from my design. It is, however, very difficult, in dealing with the foibles of a public man, to do it in such a way as not to give prominence to that part of your [one's] portrayal. Sumner's foibles were very pronounced. I came in forcible contact with them more than once in dealing with him myself; and my father and mother came in such very forcible contact with them as to sever their relations [with him]. From personal experience, I think there was great truth in George William Curtis's incisive remark, that, with Sumner, difference of opinion, on a question in which he was deeply interested, assumed in his mind the aspect of moral turpitude. This it was which led to his break with my father. He actually had the impertinence gravely to inform my mother one day that he believed “Mr. Adams meant to be honest.” I imagine he was infinitely surprised when he was practically thereupon turned out of the house. Certainly, he never entered it again.

It was exactly the same in his treatment of Dr. Palfrey.

It was the same in his relations with Dana.

Now, as respects General Grant, I believe that, owing to these foibles, as we will call them, on Sumner's part, the antagonism between them was radical. It would have broken out at any time when they chanced to be brought together in close contact. The two men were by nature different, and a clash was inevitable.

It was not so with Fish. If I understand Fish s character correctly, he had a good deal of that Dutch element in him which is now cropping out so strongly in South Africa. He was a quiet and easy-going man; but, when aroused, by being, as he thought, “put upon,” he became very formidable. Neither was it possible to placate him.

This play of character in Grant, Fish, Sumner and Motley, I found immensely interesting in the preparation of my address. It was the thing which gave life and individuality to it. Meanwhile, I certainly had no thought of leaving the impression of a feeling of “contempt” for Sumner. His foibles were more pronounced than those of any other one of the quartette, unless, perchance, Motley. Motley, however, was a much less interesting character. He cut no considerable figure.

I shall, however, in passing the paper through the press now enlarge and qualify in such a way as to remove, if possible, the impression to which you refer. It is not easy; but I admit at once it should be done.

As to the matter of the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the propriety of the occupant thereof being in accord with the Administration, we do not in reality disagree. It is always easy to state an extreme case. You do it in this instance. Of course, a reasonable difference of opinion is always permissible, and especially in such a case as that in question, between members of the same party. They may occasionally disagree on matters of even first-class moment, and yet that afford no sufficient ground for a change. Therefore, when you speak as you do in your letter, I merely say that those are ordinary cases, not to be taken into consideration. They arise under all conditions.

Meanwhile, I will suggest an extreme case on the other side, and you will at once agree with me. Supposing the Chairman of that Committee was not on speaking terms with either the President or Secretary. Though belonging to the same party, he had a personal feeling, resulting, perhaps, from his being a rival candidate for the Presidency, which led him to desire to thwart the Administration policy at every point, and that he lost no occasion for denouncing it. Matters of foreign policy of the first importance were then sent by the Department of State to the Senate, and there immediately pigeonholed, or so amended as to defeat the purpose for which they were designed. All this is supposable.

Surely, you do not mean to imply that, under such circumstances, if the supporters of the Administration controlled a majority in the Senate, the President could not properly urge on his friends that the Committee in question be so changed as to admit of public business being transacted, and to cause the Administration to have a fair chance to carry out a policy!

The correct rule, of course, lies midway between extremes. It is, as I take it, that, in this particular case above all others, the Administration has a right to ask of its friends, when in control of the Senate, that the Committee in question shall be so constituted as to enable relations consistent with the reasonable transaction of business to exist between the President, the Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Committee, to the end that, on crucial questions of policy at least, public interests may not be prejudiced, and the Administration may have a fair show.

I am confident you will concur in this proposition. The alternative is obvious. Public business could not be carried on.

Meanwhile, so far as Sumner is concerned, if he had not been deposed just when he was, the country would have witnessed the extraordinary spectacle of the Chairman of the Committee in question openly going over to the opposition in face of a Senate friendly to the Administration. The case would then have become clear. In any event Sumner was not entitled to be at the head of the Committee after the election of 1872. He had joined the opposition. He belonged, not below the gangway, but on the other side of the House.

He had practically done this at the time he was deposed; and the fact was notorious.

In accordance with your request, I return you a typewritten copy of your letter.