The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Horace Greeley, May 18th, 1872


Washington, May 18, 1872.

I have received your letter of yesterday. I return to you the amended letter of notification, together with an official copy of the platform.

You say in your letter: “I shall write my reply next week, I should have done it sooner, but it seemed best to wait till it should be reasonably certain that I am not to be compelled to decline. I now see my way clear.”

When I wrote to you on former occasions, I did not believe that you would consider the contingency of being compelled to decline at all. Had I thought so, I should have said something on that subject. I do not know under what circumstances you would have felt yourself compelled to decline, but in the same spirit of frankness which dictated my former letters, I would now observe that I do not see your way clearer to-day than it was ten days ago. I speak from the point of observation which I occupy.

You are evidently strong in the South. That was to be expected. But the South is not the battlefield of this campaign. You would probably on a fair vote carry all the Southern States but two, South Carolina and Mississippi. But if the election should depend upon the Southern vote, it would not be difficult for the managers of the other side to create disturbance in the South here and there, and to have the vote of a couple of Southern States thrown out on some pretext. What then would follow, nobody can tell. The result of the election must, therefore, not depend on the South.

In the North the campaign has been comparatively dead. There have been but few ratification meetings and the speeches delivered on such occasions have furnished little, if anything, to make an impression upon the popular mind. The progress which seems to have been made is only apparent. Some men and some papers, which immediately after the Cincinnati Convention spoke of nothing but disappointment, have since given in their adhesion, but we see there only some of the ground which was lost, regained, but no positive gain made, nor by any means all regained that was lost. Moreover, the support regained is to a very great extent only conditional. “As between Grant and Greeley, for Greeley.” This is especially the tone of the German press, with a more or less pronounced desire for another alternative. At best, this sort of negative adhesion is not the spirit which will make a vigorous campaign.

This applies equally to another class of Liberal Republicans,—and here I do not speak of the free-traders merely, who formerly were very zealous in the movement, and who now say that on all the issues of principle except one, on which they cut loose from the regular Republican organization, the Liberal Republican candidate for the Presidency has always been against them; and the one exception is the amnesty question, which is only an ephemeral one. And here again free-trade plays but a very subordinate part. I will give you an example. The reëlection of Senator Ferry in Connecticut was represented as a Liberal Republican victory. I have it from Ferry's own lips that he will not only not vote for you, but if he exerts any influence, will throw it against you, even at the risk of reëlecting Grant; and this not as a free-trader, for I really do not know whether he is one, but partly because he does not want to betray the principles he has been fighting for and partly because he believes that your Administration would be exposed to influences dangerous to the interests of the country. I tell you this by his permission, because you should know it. I know of many men of equal worth and importance who are of a similar mind, Republicans, who speak somewhat in the tone of the letter I communicated to you and which you returned with the remark that the writer was probably not a Republican.

As for the Democrats, the chances seem to be, to-day, in favor of the acceptance of the Cincinnati ticket by the Baltimore Convention, if the alternative is between you and Grant. There will, however, be strong opposition, not only from Bourbons, who always insisted upon a regular Democratic ticket, but from some of the best elements of the Democratic party, who were heartily with us in the reform movement until the Cincinnati ticket appeared. From what I can learn I conclude that their oppositional feeling is growing stronger rather than weaker and it is difficult to foresee the result. It will certainly appear still more doubtful, if the Convention should not be confined to the alternative, “Greeley or Grant.”

There is now a probability that another Liberal Republican ticket will be in the field before the meeting of the Baltimore Convention, and that probability is growing stronger every day. What the action of the Baltimore Convention will be, with a second nomination more in harmony with the Cincinnati platform before it, I will not venture to predict. The chances of such a new movement may at first sight appear slim; but this is the season of sudden revolutions in our political life, and unexpected results are the order of the day. At any rate, the breaking up of the alternative “Greeley or Grant” by a third element, is likely to change the whole character of the situation and, as I understand, the new movement has been taken in hand by men of influence—not merely free-traders—who have considerable backing and will go forward publicly as soon as they have agreed upon the precise plan of operations. So I am informed on good authority.

It seems to me, therefore, that the situation is by no means clearly developed yet, and if you ever thought of making your acceptance depend upon contingencies—which I do not suppose you did—there is just as much reason now for waiting as there ever was. In fact, the decisive complications seem to be now imminent. I do, however, not presume to offer any advice to you, especially since you might, after all I have written you, consider me somewhat prejudiced in the matter. I have, from the beginning, made it a point to tell you, with entire candor, how I feel and what I think about this business; and now, if the developments of the campaign should be such as to disappoint your hopes, it will not be my fault if you are deceived about the real state of things.