The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Henry Cabot Lodge, December 13th, 1876


St. Louis, Dec. 13, 1876.

You want to know what I think of the present condition of things? I scarcely know it myself. We are completely out of our reckoning. There is so much wrong on each side that many conscientious men hesitate to attack one for fear of playing into the hands of the other. Before the election some of our friends opposed the Republican candidates on the ground that a party must be held responsible for the misdoings of its agents and representatives, and because the campaign on the Republican side had to a great extent been taken possession of by the very men against whom a reform movement should have been directed. That was correct as far as it went; but those who acted upon that principle did not see what was going on on the Democratic side. The reason why I made as good a fight as I could for Hayes was, in the first place, that I had very good reason to trust the honesty of his purpose to eliminate, in case of his success, from our politics that most dangerous element of selfishness and corruption, the spoils, and that he would not fall under the control of the men who pushed themselves in the canvass,—and secondly because I had equally good reason to distrust the character and purposes of the leading men on the Democratic side and to believe that the pretense of “reform” there was the hollowest sham in the world. Enough of their way of doing things had come to my knowledge to convince me in the strongest possible manner that this accession to power would take us from the frying pan into the fire. I never had any confidence in Tilden but now I have less than ever.

The election itself and what has followed is only a fair illustration of what preceded it. There are two things essential to the existence of republican Government: 1, that there should be a free expression of the popular will at the ballot-box, and 2, that the votes cast there should be honestly counted and carried into effect. Both those things have given way not only the latter but, I assure you, the former also. In saying this I do not repeat newspaper reports and still less do I depend upon partisan statements, but upon trustworthy information I received from disinterested and truth-loving persons. One of the evils undermining our political fabric lies, therefore, still behind the returning-boards. The fact is, the reconstruction measures have landed us in a condition of things full of new problems, the extent of which we have not been able to measure.

What is now to be done? If the determination of the Presidential question is left to a party-struggle in Congress the President of the Senate will probably assume the power of counting the votes and declare Hayes elected, while the Democrats will elect Tilden in the House of Representatives. Then worse confusion still. You will have noticed that ex-Senator Henderson and myself have petitioned Congress to pass the Constitutional amendment referring the matter to the Supreme Court. I will admit that this would be a mere expedient, justifiable for the reason that soon our Constitutional system will have to be overhauled anyhow. But if this is not adopted, and I do not think it will be, it is of supreme importance that some method be discovered to withdraw the Presidential question from the theater of party strife in Congress and to refer it to some tribunal above partisan spirit and interest. I expect McCreary's resolution to be adopted and the joint Committee of the Senate and House for which it provides, may possibly agree upon some arbitrament which both parties will accept as binding. The Democrats will certainly have nothing to lose in doing so, and if they agree to it public opinion would scarcely leave the Republicans any choice. Mr. Lemoyne offered a resolution in the House which foreshadows something of that kind. In that way we should at least get an Administration whose existence would have a fair show of legitimacy.

What I fear most is not a civil war,—for I think neither party is prepared for that,—but a condition of things completely upsetting our political morals. The moral sense even of good honest people is apt to become confused and blunted when there is such a complication of right and wrong on each side, that the path of duty is not clear.