The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Charles Sumner, June 5th, 1865


Bethlehem, Pa., June 5, 1865.

The President's proclamation concerning the provisional government of North Carolina must have convinced you that the policy of the Administration with regard to the negro-suffrage question is far from being satisfactorily settled. I had a long conversation with Mr. Johnson about it immediately before I left Washington. He showed me the “Executive order” in the original draft, and I urged him with all possible energy not to do [take] any step that could not be retraced until the situation would have fully disclosed itself. I saw very soon that he had committed himself in favor of making Mr. Holden provisional governor; I then made an effort to persuade him to strike out that one passage limiting the right of suffrage to those qualified by the provisions of the old North Carolina constitution. He listened so attentively that I was almost sure he would heed my advice. I proposed to him to appoint some sensible and reliable person to supervise the political action of our military commanders in the South, to work out instructions, to superintend their execution, to keep the Government advised of what is going on, etc. The proposition pleased him exceedingly, and he even went so far as to ask me, whether I would return to Washington at his bidding to aid him in this matter. I replied that, although my plans run in another direction, I would sacrifice two or three months for this object. I left and did [have] not hear[d] from him since, but the Executive order shows the drift of things. Southern delegations are crowding into Washington, and I fear the President permits his judgment to be controlled by their representations. I doubt whether any member of the Cabinet asserts his influence in a contrary direction. The Union men of the South are almost all governed by their old prejudices, and no good can be expected from them. If they are permitted to be the principal advisers of the President, the South will soon be again in the hands of the pro-slavery element.

I would entreat you to go to Washington as soon as you conveniently can. The President's opinions are quite unsettled on the most vital points. I fear he has not that clearness of purpose and firmness of character he was supposed to have. If he were still in Tennessee, his struggles with his old enemies would arouse his combativeness, and that would sustain him. But that element is wanting in his present situation.

I see Wendell Phillips has made a speech in favor of downright repudiation, and the opposition press is already accusing you of entertaining the same sentiments. An expression you used in your eulogy on Lincoln is quoted in support of the charge. I think it is important that you should avail yourself of the first opportunity to repel this imputation. That is one of the things which no man who wants to exercise an influence must be suspected of favoring.

Unless the President calls me, which I think he will not, I shall soon go to St. Louis and try to start a large journalistic enterprise. St. Louis, by its geographical situation, is destined to exercise an immense influence from Galena to New Orleans and from Louisville to the Rocky Mountains. There is the place for a great paper. What do you think of the plan? And if you approve of it, who are, in your opinion, the public men in Missouri likely to go into it?

Now pardon me for taxing your friendship a little. The war has exhausted me a little in a financial point of view, and I must try to make some money next winter by lecturing. Do you know a suitable person who would be able and willing to arrange for me a number of engagements in New England and northern New York, that would cover some six or seven weeks? Years ago, Mr. Charles Slack did that business for me, but I do not know whether he is still in Boston.

I shall remain here two or three weeks longer. May I expect an answer from you here?