The Writings of Carl Schurz/From E. L. Godkin, June 28th, 1872

Lenox, Mass., June 28, 1872.

I have carefully considered all you say about Greeley, and I can assure you nothing would give me more pleasure than the thought that I might in some way be enabled to support you in supporting him, because you will believe me when I say that you are the one man in American politics who inspires me with some hope about them.

But I maturely considered what I could and would do about Greeley, when he was first nominated. If any possibility of standing by him had offered itself, I would, in view of the part I had taken in creating the state of public feeling which had led to the Convention, have seized upon it eagerly. But I saw no such chance, and the more I think about him, the more satisfied I am that I can have nothing to do with him. The conference in New York confirmed me in this opinion.

If you got the pledges you speak of from Greeley, and he broke them, as I believe he would, it would be no consolation to me that our opposition would immediately be raised up against him. I have gone through this once, and to go through it again would utterly destroy what little influence I possess, even if my reason allowed me to entertain the idea. I supported Grant with far better guaranties than Greeley offers, and he made fine promises and broke them, and good appointments and reversed them, and I have, in consequence, been for three years in opposition. I cannot afford to go through this process again. Greeley would have to change his whole nature, at the age of sixty-two, in order not to deceive and betray you, and you will not be able to atone for your support of him under present circumstances, by then arraying yourself against him. You will simply bring your judgment into discredit, and lay yourself open to the suspicion of having been disappointed by him in some personal way, and politics will be in a far worse condition than they were in the spring of 1872, because the small band of reformers who then inspired the country with some hope, will have fallen into disrepute and become ridiculous. Moreover, Greeley's conduct in taking this nomination, and the arts by which he is seeking to promote his election, satisfy me that he is more dishonest than I thought he was.

I understand perfectly the difference there is in your position and mine. It is very difficult for you, or any man who is practically engaged in politics, to make up his mind to allow himself to be thrown out of the current whatever it be, and thus to be rendered, at least temporarily, powerless. But I cannot divest myself of the idea that you are to some extent sacrificing the future to the present in accepting Greeley under any circumstances. The Cincinnati Convention did a great deal for your reputation and influence, but it was through the fact that you were plainly disappointed—that you were no party to the wretched folly which nominated Greeley, and that you sought really to elevate politics. In fact it carried you far towards that moral position which, when combined with such oratorical gifts as you have, gives a man an unshakable hold on the people and forces him on any party which wishes to succeed. It has given Sumner, donkey as he is, the wonderful weight which he has possessed for twenty years. I am afraid—pardon me as a sincere friend and admirer for saying so—that by taking up “anything to beat Grant,” you are going to set yourself back, for the long run, however successful the expedient may be temporarily. Four years to a man as young as you is nothing, and the foundation of the really new party will not come for four years. Greeley's Administration will be nothing but a series of wretched intrigues, out of which no new organization can grow. It will make a great difference to you, whether when the foundations of the new party come to be laid, as the foundations of all new parties must be laid in solid and positive principle and conviction, you come to the work with an unquestioned reputation for the highest principle, added to your power as an orator, or come simply as a man so hostile to Grant that he tried to make [a] “reform President” out of poor old Greeley and failed miserably.

What I seek is not a sham break-up of parties, such as the Greeley movement promises, but a real break-up, involving something more than the construction of a new party machine out of the pieces of the old ones. But I see no hope of this from electing Greeley. Bowles, White and the rest are to me preaching the very doctrines now, against which we have been all thundering for three years. They are accepting blindly a grossly unfit candidate at the hands of a bellowing Convention and are going to support him solely because he is “available”; not because they have the smallest reason to expect from him any support of their principles, but because he promises a change of officers, and they are denouncing as silly and dishonest all those who, having supported the Cincinnati Convention for better things, now refuse to “fall into line,” as they call it. If this be not the old “party tyranny,” pray what is it?

I shall look for your speech with great interest and trust it may not appear till I get back from my holidays. I am going off yachting for three weeks, heartsick of politics.

Be assured of my continued esteem and my earnest good wishes. I am so persuaded of the possibilities of every kind that is good, which are open to you, that I am intensely anxious you should make no mistake. This must be my excuse for the freedom with which I am writing. Keep yourself for the great party of the future, if you can, and believe me

Very cordially yours.