The Writings of Carl Schurz/Remarks before the Missouri General Assembly on being chosen U. S. Senator


Mr. President and Gentlemen of the General Assembly:—For the high honor and trust you have conferred upon me I give you my heartfelt thanks, but not on my personal account alone. Without attaching too great a significance to what you have done, I may say that my election to the Senate of the United States under the existing circumstances is an evidence of the liberal and progressive spirit moving the people of Missouri. You have broken through all those prejudices and set aside all those traditional considerations which formerly were almost decisive in determining the action of legislative bodies on questions like this. Locality, foreign birth, time of residence, all this spoke against me, and as an offset I had nothing to show but some faithful efforts in behalf of the cause of the Union, liberty and equal rights, and the generous confidence of many friends in my ability to render to the State and our common cause some service in the higher law-giving body of this Republic. By this act you have proclaimed to the world that the people of Missouri have risen above those prejudices and narrow-minded notions which are so apt to cloud the judgment of politicians, and that Missouri throws wide open her gates to all who have the heart and will and ability to coöperate in achieving the great destinies of the country, offering them a hearty welcome with full assurance of generous appreciation. It is therefore not so much for the high distinction with which you have honored me personally, as for this shining proof of a progressive spirit and large-minded liberality that I most sincerely thank you. And if I am proud of anything, it is that in an act of such significance I should have been found worthy to act as an humble instrument.

I shall not entertain you with pompous promises as to what I am going to do and to accomplish, but believe me when I say that I stand here with the profoundest consciousness of the duties and obligations I owe to you and to the country, and that I shall faithfully devote the best energies of my manhood to the great task of justifying your choice.

Gentlemen, we have vast and difficult problems to solve together. The civil war which lies behind us has delivered us of two great evils, but it has also loaded heavy burdens upon our shoulders. But, tremendous as these burdens may appear, I am convinced that with the wonderful natural resources of our country and the almost inexhaustible laboring force resting in the brains and arms of our people, they will be like a plaything in our hands as soon as we have once secured the development of things on a permanent basis, thus giving a solid peace to the Republic and enabling ourselves to combine all the energies of the Nation for the promotion of the general welfare.

In order to arrive at that permanent basis we must endeavor to close up the distracting agitations which have sprung from our civil conflict. The body-politic needs rest, but it can and it will have no undisturbed repose as long as there are classes of men who have to struggle for their rights. Our democratic system of government can stand with security only upon the foundation of impartial justice and right, equal to all. It is not in consideration of the loyalty of the negro alone that we strive to extend the right of suffrage to the colored people. It is our interest, no less than theirs; it is the general interest of society which demands that the laboring man, whatever his race or his color, should possess the political rights wherewith to defend his freedom, independence and manhood, and that all those stimulants of improvement should be furnished to him, which are calculated to raise him to the highest measure of usefulness. Thus we shall only be just to ourselves in being just to them.

To protect and secure the free development of the new order of things it has been found necessary to take away the power for mischief from the hands of those who during the great National crisis stood up against us as enemies to the good cause. This was necessary and therefore justifiable. A few days ago I declared here in your presence as my opinion—which I repeat now, only translating it from the language of defense into that of positive assertion—that the act of justice to loyal men stands first in rank, and that only such acts of grace to our late enemies are in order as will be consistent with the safety of the loyal people; that I will not consent to arm the late rebels with power in a manner which would enable them to deprive loyal men of their rights. By this declaration I mean to stand.

On the other hand, I am sure I express the feelings of the Radical party of Missouri when I say—and here again I am only amplifying what I stated a few days ago—that it is a sense of necessity and justice which moves us, and not rankling hate or desire for revenge. While we do not approve of the kind of forgiveness to the late enemies of the Republic which consists of forgetfulness of its friends, we mean to show that the dark fanaticism which will never forgive is foreign to our hearts, and that it is not our desire to humiliate but to improve and bring back to their duty those who have gone astray. I repeat again the words of General Grant: “We cannot go to them; they must come to us; but when they do come as improved men, we must not repel them.” More than that, we must invite and encourage them to improve and come. Let us make them understand that they have only to do full justice to all the friends of the Union, and they may count upon full mercy to themselves; that they have only to come to us as men sincerely loyal to the new order of things and we shall meet them with the open hand of welcome. Let us convince them that although we detest treason as heartily as ever we shall hail with shouts of gladness the day when the rights of all will be safe under the custody of all and when the last of the rebels can be received back into the communion of the loyal people. Let them be convinced of this, and I am confident that, although there may be many who, with dogged infatuation, will continue to hug their old idols, yet thousands of the young and vigorous, especially those who during the conflict never swerved from the way of honorable warfare, will soon be glad to recognize the opportunity to regain their own rights by respecting the rights of others, and to serve their own interests by serving the interests of all. Let us not indiscriminately condemn the well-disposed with the incorrigible, and thus force them to remain altogether as a class, but stimulate every germ of good there is in them; give those who are inclined to do right our generous encouragement; put a premium on good conduct and pay it promptly. Every payment thus made will prove a good investment, and as we approach the great consummation, many, many of our enemies will become willing to acknowledge that in being the true friends of the country we were their true friends and that whatever may have separated us in the past, common interest must bind us together in the future. Such a policy, far from endangering our ascendancy will only strengthen our moral power. It will not be a mere favor extended to rebels, but a service rendered to the people. There is no way in which harmony and peace and general prosperity can be better restored than by a policy calculated to identify the personal interests of the individual citizen with the common welfare and to enlist the energies of all in the common good.

My party friends, the great Republican organization to which we belong has, by its magnificent achievements, well deserved the power it now enjoys. But parties cannot live on reminiscences alone, however glorious. If the Republican party wants to preserve its ascendancy it must continue its usefulness; it cannot continue its usefulness unless it shows that it justly appreciates the requirements of the times and has the will and ability to provide for them. We must not continue to fix our eyes upon the party but turn them full upon the future. Our minds must not be absorbed by the passions and resentments sprung from the struggles which lie behind us, but be ready to grapple, untrammeled in their movements, with the problems which lie before us. These problems are manifold. We have to set our faces like flint against the corrupt practices which are poisoning our political life. We have to raise the standard of political morals by putting public trust only into the hands of the trustworthy, and being as severe in our judgment on our party friends as we are apt to be on our opponents. We have to raise the public credit by a scrupulous faithfulness to our obligations. We have to lighten our public burdens and develop the prosperity of the country, not merely by schemes of financial management, but by striking out from our constitutions and laws the trammels which clog the spirit of industrial enterprise, by opening the resources of the land through a network of railroad communications and by developing the intelligence and stimulating the public spirit of our people through an efficient system of education.

My Republican friends, we have already accomplished so much that we shall not recoil before any task, be it ever so great. And we can accomplish all this, if, instead of chaining ourselves down to the narrow gauge of party dogmatism, we adhere to its great rule of original Republicanism, to keep the main ends to be reached firmly in view, by admitting and encouraging in our ranks free thought, free inquiry, free discussion as to the means by which those ends are to be reached. Thus we shall not repel but attract all those whose hearts are open to the impulse of patriotism, and whose minds are able to under stand their own interests in connection with those of the whole. We shall make every man of intelligence and honest aspirations feel that he belongs to us, and that here is his place.

Indeed, whenever you cast your eyes over this great Republic where do you find a State that opens a wider field for a noble ambition than Missouri? With her unbounded resources, her vast prairies still untilled by the plow, her wooded hills, her mineral wealth still sleeping in the mountains, her magnificent water communications, her unparalleled geographical position, designating her as the central thoroughfare of the greatest highway of trade the world ever saw; her people—patriotic and highminded—composed of the vigorous elements of all civilized nations harmoniously blended—how can we fail to achieve a glorious future if we are only true to our great opportunities?

It is in this sense that I conceive it to be my duty to coöperate with you in the sphere in which you have so generously placed me. Let us unite then, with a common will and an honest purpose; with confidence in one another; with malice toward none, with charity for all; with in flexible firmness for the right—to heal the wounds of the past, to contribute our share to the glory of the Republic, and to make this great commonwealth in the fullest sense of the term what we are already proud of calling her—Free Missouri—the pioneer of liberal and progressive ideas, the empire State of the Mississippi valley, the heart of the American Union.

  1. Remarks before the joint session of the Missouri general assembly, Jefferson City, Jan. 20, 1869, copied from the Missouri Democrat, St. Louis, Jan. 21, 1869.