The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Charles Sumner, September 30th, 1871


St. Louis, Sept. 30, 1871.

My dear Friend: I send you a copy of my Nashville speech as it appeared in the Republican Banner of that city. It is so horribly disfigured by typographical errors that I do not like to look at it myself. In some passages the sense is entirely changed—for instance “Senate” for “South” etc.—but at any rate you can make out the drift of the argument.

Grant and his faction carry at present everything before them by force majeure. The organization of the Republican party is almost entirely in the hands of the officeholders and ruled by selfish interest. In all you say about Grant, you are unquestionably right. You ask me, what can be done to avert the calamity of another four years of such rule? I answer, we must act with energy. I am fully determined not to sit still. I doubt now whether we can prevent his nomination. The men who surround him stop at nothing. But I shall not support him. Neither shall I support the Democrats. Far from it. But I think,—in fact I firmly believe,—in case of Grant's nomination we shall have a third movement on foot strong enough to beat both him and the Democrats. I have commenced already to organize it, and when the time comes, I think it will be ready for action.

My speech will show you how, in my opinion, the Southern people can be led upon the road of well-doing. The effect of my uncompromising defense of the Republican policy of reconstruction and of the candid advice I gave, was astonishing. Especially the young men were touched to the heart. Have you seen the letter [of September 21st] addressed to me by the 220 Confederate officers and soldiers? I am convinced that [that] language came from sincere feelings. I know human nature and am not easily deceived. You ask me, whether I think the time has come for a general amnesty? I am profoundly convinced that a general amnesty would bring forth many similar manifestations. The political disabilities, involving a point d'honneur, stand in the way of the coöperation of many well-meaning people in putting down the Ku-Klux outrages and similar excesses.

A very large number of Southerners, especially young men who have become disgusted with their old leaders, care nothing about the Democratic party; but they detest Grant. They are sincerely willing to uphold the new order of things in every direction, if they are generously treated. I enclose the heading of a subscription list, the program of an association which I started when at Nashville. It will be composed of Republicans and former rebels—in fact of all who are willing to work for the objects stated. How do you like that platform? Does it not contain everything you ever fought for? Well, this organization will soon make its public appearance—and I would ask you not to mention the subject to anybody until you see it referred to in the papers. It is intended to establish similar associations all over the South and corresponding ones in the Northern States, and during the winter this can be accomplished. Before the time for holding the Republican National Convention arrives, this will be a power fit to absorb the best elements of both parties,—and there is the prospect of beating the Democrats on one and the personal-government-men on the other side. If I could only impart to you my convictions—and they are very carefully formed and sincere—of the right manner of treating the Southern question, how glad I would be! You ought to be the great leader of this movement which will create the party of the future. It is the only manner in which the equal rights of all can be permanently secured in the South. All your Ku-Klux [laws] and enforcement-laws avail nothing, if we do not find the means to control public opinion, and this is the way to do it. A great many men of property and enterprise in the Southern States begin to feel that they must protect the equal rights of all citizens, put down disturbances, in one word, maintain the new order of things, in order to protect their own interests. A great many of the young men desire now to build up their own future in the same direction. We must encourage them in their efforts, instead of repelling them by distrust and insult. Far from intending to give up or to compromise a single principle we ever contended for, this is the way in which their triumph can be permanently secured.

I know that in the efforts I am now making, I have the hearty sympathy of large masses of people, not only Democrats by any means, but Republicans who are not corrupted by the patronage or frightened by official terrorism. Here in the West you can observe clearly how this movement is disintegrating the Democratic party. Our action in this State last fall has disorganized that party altogether. The late rebels are doing admirably well. They pronounce themselves without reserve for the new order of things; the old Democratic leaders can do so little with them that they despair of their own party.

Now, I am working for substantial results, and I see many cheering signs of the times. The great evil we have to overcome is that party spirit which turns everything to selfish advantage and has created a sort of terrorism to which but too many submit.

Before the public, it seems, I am working alone in the direction I have taken. I should be glad to hear a sympathetic voice now and then, but in any event I shall struggle on, supported by the consciousness of fighting for a good cause and by strong hopes. I should be very glad to hear from you on these things. . . .