The Writings of Carl Schurz/To B. B. Cahoon, February 5th, 1889


New York, Feb. 5, 1889.

Your kind letter of January 31st is before me. I can well understand your desire, after the death of your dear wife, to seek new scenes and a new activity. But when you ask me to give you my views on the project of which your letter informs me, I am somewhat at a loss what to advise. If the position you think of were freely offered to you without your being a suitor for it, it might be acceptable, notwithstanding the uncertainty of tenure. It might be looked upon as a pleasant change and an interesting experience. But unless I greatly misapprehend the signs of the times, there will be a scramble for every place under the Government that is considered desirable. Now, I know what a scramble is, having seen several; and, knowing what it is, I shall never advise a friend of mine to enter into one, as long as he can gain a living or make himself useful in any other way. I have seen men of uncommon ability and high character, whom a laudable ambition had led to Washington in pursuit of place, curse the day when they had started upon their errand. They found themselves entangled in a competition which sometimes grievously offended their self-respect; but the worst of it was that, being once in, they felt themselves obliged to go on, and even when victorious, they frequently could not shake off the consciousness of having achieved their success at too heavy a cost. If it were only a competition of ability and character, it would be well enough. You seem to think that it is, for only thus can I explain your suggestion that I should write a letter to Mr. Harrison stating what I know of you. Your surmise that it would be a genuine pleasure to me to testify to your high character and qualifications, as I know them, is certainly correct. But you have forgotten that the “regular party politician” hates me more than most others; that a letter from me would be far more apt to hurt you than to help you; and that it would be held up only as a proof of signal impudence on my part, if I, in ever so indirect a way, attempted to meddle with the distribution of the spoil after a Republican victory. And all this because the scramble for office is not a competition of ability and character, but a competition of influence.

Considering all this, and also your personal wishes, I should be glad to see a place such as you desire and deserve come to you upon the strength of the evidences of your worth which can be brought to the knowledge of the Executive; but I should be sorry to see you exposed to those experiences which an active personal pursuit of office under circumstances like the present usually brings with it.

In saying this to you as frankly as I do, I give you, as I think, a proof of the genuineness of my friendship, and what I know of you justifies me in thinking that you will receive it so.