The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Björnstjerne Björnson, September 22d, 1898


Bolton Landing, Sept. 22, 1898.

I have read your open letter, published in the New York Herald of September 13th, with the liveliest interest. To be personally addressed by the renowned poet of Norway is to me an unexpected honor. You say that if you were “a German, more especially a German journalist, and a politician in America,” you would advocate an “alliance” between America and England and the adoption by the United States of a colonial policy with great armaments. If you were situated as I am you might, perhaps, think differently. I am proud of my German origin, but that origin has nothing to do with my views of American policies. I have been for more than forty years a citizen of this Republic. The citizenship of only a small minority of Americans is as old as mine. I am, therefore, more accustomed than you possibly can be, when forming opinions upon such problems as are now confronting us, to regard the maintenance of those free institutions which Abraham Lincoln defined as the “government of the people, by the people and for the people,” as entitled to the highest consideration.

I believe that this Republic, in that sense, can endure so long as it remains true to the principles upon which it was founded, but that it will morally decay if it abandons them. I believe that this democracy, the government of, by and for the people, is not fitted for a colonial policy, which means conquest by force, or, as President McKinley called it, “criminal aggression,” and arbitrary rule over subject populations. I believe that, if it attempts such a policy on a large scale, its inevitable degeneracy will hurt the progress of civilization more than it can possibly further that progress by planting its flag upon foreign soil on which its fundamental principles of government cannot live.

I hail the existing friendliness of feeling between the United States and Great Britain with the warmest satisfaction and am willing to join any demonstration of American sentiment responsive to the cordial sentiments at present manifesting themselves in England. I ardently hope that this friendship will last. But I seriously doubt whether it would last long if the United States and England formed a partnership with a view to the extension of their respective dominion or influence. I see good reason for apprehending that such a partnership would not only not secure the peace of the world, but become ultimately very dangerous to the preservation of peace among the partners themselves. On this subject I have expressed my opinions more elaborately in an article which will appear in the October number of the Atlantic. Let me hope that you will not think me presumptuous if I submit that paper to your consideration.

You refer to the Czar's peace proclamation as an inspiring event of great promise. The full realization of the Czar's peace-program would indeed be a measureless blessing to mankind. So far the American people have enjoyed the inestimable privilege of being exempt from the curse of an increasingly burdensome militarism. They were proud, and had good reason for being proud, not of possessing great and costly armaments, but of not needing any. The Czar's plea is for disarmament. It virtually declares the bankruptcy of militarism. And at this moment you call upon the American people, the only great nation that has so far enjoyed substantially unarmed peace, to adopt a policy which will oblige it to maintain great armies and navies, and thus to put upon its own back the very burden against which the Czar's solemn warning is directed.

What would be the consequence if your wish were fulfilled? An increase of European armaments to offset or outdo the increase of American armaments; and then another increase of American armaments to offset or outdo European armaments, and so on in short an in definite aggravation of the very evil to which the Czar admonishes the world to put an end. This is not the kind of peace policy which, as a faithful citizen of this Republic and as one who wishes to further human civilization, I can advise the American people to adopt.