The Writings of Carl Schurz/From James A. Garfield, July 22d, 1880

Mentor, O., July 22, 1880.

My dear Schurz: Yours of the 20th inst. from Indianapolis came duly to hand—and was read with interest. I thank you for your frank and faithful criticism; and with equal frankness let me say that I do not think my letter of acceptance is a surrender of any essential point gained by the present Administration. On the subject of finance, I did not dream that any one could doubt my attitude, for on every phase of the subject I have stood on the skirmish line against all forms of soft money and bastard silver fallacy. The only fear my friends have had was that I should be too radical. So good and sound a man as Senator Hoar wrote me urging that I avoid suggestions which would create apprehensions of violent change. The key to sound money is, I think, contained in my phrase, to maintain the equality of all our dollars.” Can any sound-money man suggest a more radical creed? Remember I was not writing an inaugural message, nor an exhaustive essay on finance; but a brief campaign summary of Republican doctrine.

On the subject of civil service, there is more room for difference of judgment, because there are real differences of opinion among Republicans. I think I may say, without immodesty, that no member of Congress has said or done more in behalf of real reform in that service than I have. But I have been saying, for several years past, that the pressure of public opinion should be brought to bear upon Congress, rather than upon the President, to make any reform in that direction effective. If the President will sketch the outline of a bill fixing a tenure of office for all minor offices, and prescribing the grounds on which removals are to be made, and in a message urge its passage, he will concentrate the weight of public opinion upon Congress, and some action will at last be compelled. So long as he makes the fight with Congress a concrete one, involving the personality of each appointee, Congress, or rather the Senate will beat him half the time or more. If he makes it a fight of general principles with no personality involved in the contest, he can win. In short, in my letter of acceptance, I have sought to shift the battleground from the person of the appointee to the principles on which the office shall be held. Of course, I may be in error; but I think I am right. If any one thinks I have surrendered to Congressional dictation, other than by legislation, such a one will find himself greatly mistaken if the trial comes. I shall be sorry if the President is grieved at the clause of my letter to which you refer. But I have never doubted that one portion of his order no. 1 was a mistake, and was an invasion of the proper rights of those who hold Federal offices to take part in the nomination of candidates to office. In a district like mine where nomination is equivalent to election, the right to participate in the proceedings of a caucus is more important than the right to vote. The popular understanding of the order has made the holding of a local Federal office a badge of political disability. This should not be. If the order had been confined to the great centers, like New York, where office holders from all quarters were concentrated, and were used to control local caucuses in which they had had no right to participate, it would have met general approval. It was that phase of the case I sought to touch in my letter. I thought my position was not only right in itself, but would remove the only real objection to the order, and at the same time advance the cause of civil service reform.

Here, as on the financial questions, I have not attempted to go into details; but have left myself free to propose such a plan as will embody the necessary elements of a permanent and effective reform. I recognize the strength which the Administration has given to the party by its singularly fine record. They have had my cordial support—in the midst of some contradiction—and I have no purpose to let the party down from the high standard of recent work. I do not think Horace White is justified in treating my letter as a surrender to the machine. He ought to remember that all the pressure and pride of my public life are behind me to project into future action what I have so long advocated; and that I have distinctly referred to my public record for my opinions. If you will read an article which I wrote for the Atlantic Monthly for July, 1877, you will see how fully I discuss the subject of civil service. Some of these gentlemen treat my letter as though I had never spoken before. You can do much to prevent their taking this view of it, and, as you know me better than they, I shall hope for your assistance.

I have read your Indianapolis speech with great satisfaction. You do it great wrong when you speak of it as a poor one. It has the clear and incisive spirit which characterizes all your utterances, and its repetition at the leading centers of political life will do great good. I have made no terms of concession with the New York wing; but have trusted to time and the pressure of the campaign. My freedom is in no way crippled, beyond the committals fairly made in the letter of acceptance; and I do not think that is inconsistent with my past record. Certainly I did not intend it should be. I return White's letter, as you request. I hope you will write me freely and often—and, especially, let me know what the outlook is on the Pacific coast.