The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Friedrich Althaus, February 6th, 1857


Watertown, February 6, 1857.[1]

If I did not know what an obstinate and incorrigible European you are, your last letter would have destroyed my doubts. When did you Europeans rise so high that you can superciliously regard a fight with brutality? When have you fought anything else? To be sure, you tell me: “The deeds of certain individuals in Kansas are, if possible, more barbarous than any atrocities of European despotism.” How can you think so? The murders that have been perpetrated aside from skirmishes, are terrible enough, but they are very few in number. In view of the political principles of the Union, they were the most shocking things that demoralization could be capable of. But who that is familiar with the latest history of the two continents would compare them with the long list of legally sanctioned murders committed in Baden, Hungary, Lombardy, France, Naples etc., quite apart from the horrors that were perpetrated privately and praised publicly? It is true that the hated penal code of the slaveholding legislature of Kansas, is barbarous; but although these laws were systematically sinned against, where could the autocrat have been found that would have dared to brave public opinion in the United States to the extent of enforcing even one of these laws? Of all those offenders who were arrested for the violation of these laws, only a few were sentenced, and of all that were sentenced none were punished according to this code. Those laws were stillborn. You say: “The victory of the slavery party in the election of Buchanan has, indeed, brought America to the very same level as continental Europe.” Oddly enough, this victory is due principally to recent European immigrants. Apart from this, I have no more ardent wish than that you might for a few months see our political life with your own eyes. Never has the anti-slavery agitation been carried on with less disturbance and more earnestness; any attempt to put the slightest check upon the freedom of the press would be greeted with derisive laughter. Even in the South the radicals carry their heads high and show greater boldness than ever before. Never has the work in Kansas, in favor of the free-State cause, been more effective, and never were the chances for success so favorable. The pro-slavery people are abandoning the territory in hordes because they have given up the game; and the free-State people who are streaming in already outnumber them eight to one. Even Pierce is perplexed and would gladly give up the last resource of the slavery party, the legislature of Kansas, if that were possible. Only abolish the test oath, and Kansas is saved. Meantime, there may be a lively skirmish, but the North will not give up Kansas. And the improved conditions came directly after the election of Buchanan. You write: “Such occurrences as the attack upon Sumner will be repeated frequently against the few who still retain the courage to express their opinions in opposition to the victorious party.” Have you, by any chance, read extracts of the debate over the message of President Pierce? When have the Free-Soilers shown themselves more fearless in their attacks and more cutting and unsparing in their criticisms? Sumner's famous speech was mildness and consideration itself compared with the things the slaveholders have been made to hear since the 4th of November. And how tame the latter have grown! The arrogant speeches have become strangely rare and Preston Brooks of South Carolina has died suddenly—of croup, as the children of the world say; struck down by the hand of God, say the pious Abolitionists, and that is also my opinion. This change of conditions certainly is in strange contrast with the results of the election, but its cause is nevertheless to be sought in that result. The slaveholders never thought it possible for the North to be united. Now the most zealous fire-eaters are unpleasantly surprised by the overwhelming majorities won by Frémont in the North, and they have subsided considerably. The census of 1860 will show the enormous growth of Northern preponderance since 1850, and that will “settle the matter,” as the saying is here. In a word, my friend, if you compare the Free-Soil votes of 1852 with those of 1856, and contemplate the developments that followed the election, you will find that the reaction in which we are engaged is directed against slavery. A rebellion is preparing in the Democratic party, and possibly Buchanan will be the gravestone of the country gentry, as Fillmore is that of the Whig party. The fact is, there has never been a more victorious defeat than that which the Republican party suffered last year, and never has a beaten army gained so many advantages after a lost battle. Since you have adapted yourselves to existing circumstances, you Europeans cannot imagine a party defeat that is not followed by subjection. The victory of this or that party does not cause the least change in the usual routine of internal government. Federal politics have not the slightest influence upon it, and you might recently have read how the governors of different States in their messages soundly criticized President Pierce and pointed out the limitations of his functions, because he had made slurring remarks about the people of the different States. But enough of politics. . . .

  1. Translated from the German.