The Writings of Carl Schurz/From Charles Francis Adams, Jr., October 20th, 1900

Boston, Oct. 20, 1900.

It is now three weeks since you framed the incisive indictment of the McKinley Administration and of "“imperialism,” contained in your New York address before the Cooper Union. The canvass has since then developed, and the tide now appears to be setting strongly toward President McKinley's reëlection. The whole tone of discussion shows, however, that the great body of those thus drifting do not favor imperialism, nor are they disposed to condone the many and grievous shortcomings of the Administration in other respects. It is with them a question of the “paramount issue,” and the choice of evils in dealing with it.

A large number of voters believe, as I myself believe, that serious financial complications may well arise within the next four years not dissimilar to those experienced during the second Cleveland Administration. We apprehend that should such occur it will be in spite of any legislation upon the statute-book, and in that contingency it would be in the power of Mr. Bryan, resolved, as he declares himself to be, to bring the country if possible to a bimetallic 16-to-1 basis, to accomplish great mischief in a misguided effort to that end, even though he might fail in the attempt.

Time and custom are in our belief more essential to the firm establishment of the gold basis than further statutory enactments. It is not yet rooted, and with the possibilities of the future before us we are most reluctant to see Mr. Bryan, with his well-known views and tenacious disposition, installed in the Presidential chair. However much we may sympathize in the views respecting imperialism you so strongly set forth, we therefore find ourselves as a choice of evils either compelled to vote once more for President McKinley or to stand idle while others elect him.

There is, however, one probable outcome of the present canvass as to which you and we are in perfect unison. It is now obvious—so obvious, indeed, as hardly to be even denied—that the weak point in the Republican line of battle is the control of the next House of Representatives. A very slight if well-directed effort might well cause a House to be elected controlled by an opposition majority. This, even with a reëlected Administration, would, I submit, bring about every practical result the opponents of imperialism have in view.

On the other hand, were Mr. Bryan elected with a small majority in his favor in the House of Representatives—and he could hope for no more—those who feel as I do have not the slightest faith that any thing would be done looking to the abandonment of the policy of the Administration so far as the Philippines are concerned. We have every reason to believe that a large portion of the Democratic party in New York City, in the South and in the mining States, from which Mr. Bryan's chief support must come, are at heart ardent expansionists, and as respects dependencies would abandon nothing.

It would be in the power of this section to check Mr. Bryan exactly as seven years ago Senator Gorman, at the head of a similar Democratic faction, checked and set at naught the efforts of President Cleveland on the tariff issue. Even should Mr. Bryan be elected it therefore seems to us almost inevitable that nothing will be done to undo what has now been partially accomplished.

But should President McKinley be reëlected, with an opposition majority in the House of Representatives, that opposition majority could most assuredly be counted upon to act as an opposition majority always does act, in direct hostility to the Administration. Imperialism would then become a party issue.

Moreover, it appears to me, as it does to many others, that, in case of the reëlection of President McKinley, an opposition House of Representatives would, from almost every point of view, be a National safeguard. It would place a most salutary check on the proposed permanent increase of the Army; it would put a shipping subsidy bill out of the question; it would exercise a close and critical supervision over every act of the Administration; it would bring to light the misdeeds and abuses incident to the system of dependencies now carefully hidden from notice; it would at once consolidate and educate an opposition; finally, it would make it impossible for the Administration even for a moment to assert that its policy during the last four years had been approved by the country.

On the other hand, the defeat of Mr. Bryan will close the silver debate. His party this year most reluctantly accepted the issue of “16-to-1,” and the overthrow at the polls of its exponent would finally extinguish that heresy, making of it a laughing stock.

So far as the free-coinage-of-silver question, therefore, is concerned, the election of an opposition House would involve no danger. By unanimous consent, that question would be relegated to the graveyard of issues dead beyond thought of resurrection.

I think it not unreasonable to say that, where one man, who would at any time have voted for the reëlection of President McKinley, could now be induced to vote for Mr. Bryan, at least ten men would see the advantage to be found in an opposition House of Representatives, and could be induced to act accordingly. Large numbers of voters, who will not go to the length of voting for all that “Bryanism” includes and implies, are very desirous of indicating in some effective way their dissent from “McKinleyism.” No way of so doing is equally effective with that now pointed out. It does not seem to me too late for you to exert your great influence toward bringing this result about. An effective thrust at the open joint in the armor of imperialism would prove mortal.

Under these circumstances, I now write in hopes that some course may suggest itself to you, even at this late stage of the canvass, through which the desired turn can be given to men's thoughts and votes. In political as in military strategy it is an elementary principle to concentrate attack on the weak point in the enemy's line.