The Writings of Carl Schurz/To E. L. Godkin, March 31st, 1871


Washington, March 31, 1871.

Let me give you, confidentially, my views on the situation as it now stands, and, in return, let me ask for an expression of your opinions, in the same confidence, of course.

I know quite well that the economic question is going to play a great part in our politics, and I shall endeavor to perform my share of the labor,—but it is questionable—and here I express Mr. Trumbull's opinion as well as my own—whether it would be prudent for us, situated as we are, to put ourselves too prominently forward in connection with the “Free-Trade League.” The cause of “Revenue-Reform” is making excellent progress in Congress and I expect we shall be able to achieve a considerable success at the next session. But it is desirable for us to appear on the field of action as men who are not controlled by, and not even connected with, outside combinations. In such an attitude we shall be stronger. Moreover, we are now engaged in a piece of business which is very delicate as well as very important.

The Republican party is, as you well know, at present controlled in its official capacity by the office-mongers who go through thick and thin with the Administration and who find in the Administration their only rallying point and strength. Under their leadership the Republican party, which after all contains the best popular elements is rapidly going to perdition. In order to save the vitality of the Republican party that leadership must be broken up, and to accomplish this it is necessary that the party at large should be convinced of the impracticability of Grant's renomination. As soon as that is done, the cohesive force of the controlling office-monger element is gone. They will scatter and lose their power in the party to a great extent. Then the liberal and vigorous element of the Republican party, who alone can save its future usefulness, will have a chance to assume control of the organization and shape its future policy. We have already made considerable headway in that direction, and I expect to find the Chandlers and Conklings and Camerons, and still more those whom they lead, in a demoralized condition next winter after they have been exposed to the breeze of public opinion, in the country.

In this respect the removal of Sumner from the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee was an important affair, and—I hope you will pardon the suggestion—I was somewhat sorry to see the Nation throw cold water upon it. The repeated interference of the President in the affairs of the Legislature had become very offensive, and in the Sumner case it appeared in so cynical a shape and the submissive spirit of the Administration men so abject, that a strong demonstration was necessary. Besides, Sumner's knowledge and experience in matters connected with our foreign relations are almost indispensable to the Committee. He also shows a great deal more tact and reliable judgment in that branch than you would suppose from outside observation.

The debate on Sumner's San Domingo resolutions will certainly not remain without effect and, taking it altogether, we have good reason to hope that in a few months the track will be tolerably clear for the Liberals. In the meantime such organizations inside of the Republican party as we started in Missouri and as have now been established in Ohio under the leadership of ex-Secretary Cox, ought to be encouraged by the independent press. I expect to see similar things spring up in other States, and when the preliminary movements of the next Presidential election come on, such organizations may be strong enough to represent a formidable balance of power. In this manner, I think, much can be accomplished for civil service reform, revenue-reform and other good things, and we may be able to hold the patronage-politicians and corruptionists at bay.

I have given you now, as well as I can in a hurried way, the general drift of my ideas about the present situation of affairs, and I should be very happy to have your thoughts on the same subject.

I was glad to see the Nation strike so vigorously at the insane Ku-Klux legislation now under discussion in Congress. I hope we shall be able to defeat, if not the whole, at least the worst features of it.

I sent you my speech on the Sumner resolutions, and I think the tendency of some of the points it contains may appear clearer to you in the light of this note.