The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Horace Greeley, May 6th, 1872


Washington, May 6, 1872.

My dear Sir: Having been somewhat active and prominent in the movement which resulted in your nomination, I deem it due to you as well as to myself to state to you with entire candor my views on the present state of things. Whatever may come, there shall be honesty between us.

The proceedings of the Cincinnati Convention have, in some very important respects, disappointed the expectations of many earnest friends of the National reform movement. This movement, as you know, originated in its organized form with a number of courageous men in the West, who had no other object in view than the reunion of the whole people and a genuine reform of existing abuses. It comprised mainly two elements, the revenue reformers, so-called, and the Germans who joined it en masse. They both had in view something more than the defeat of General Grant. Then the movement expanded and was joined first by the revenue reformers in the East and finally by a considerable number of men with whom opposition to the Administration was the main impulse, among the latter a good many politicians in the traditional acceptation of the term.

These elements met at Cincinnati for coöperation. The only claim this irregularly constituted Convention had on popular sympathy and support consisted in its rising above the moral level of existing political organizations. Mutual concessions were required to hold together the somewhat heterogeneous multitude. The revenue reformers gave up the distinctive demand which formed part of the original platform of the movement. They did it, not without reluctance, but yielded for the sake of harmony. I, myself, advised a conciliatory course and it was adopted. This would have been well, had the nomination for the first place on the ticket been in harmony with the spirit of mutual concession. I need not say to you, that it can scarcely be considered so. But even this might have appeared in a better light, had not something worse happened, which tainted the moral character of the proceedings. You know the history of the Convention.

On Friday morning the Cincinnati Commercial informed the public that Frank Blair and Gratz Brown had arrived the night before and effected an arrangement between your and Brown's friends, by which Brown should withdraw as a candidate for the Presidency in your favor and then take the second place. I did not at first believe the story. But in the Convention the piece was enacted in literal accordance with the program announced; trade and delivery appeared in the open light of day. I am very far from suspecting you of having been a party to this arrangement. I believe in you as a pure and honest man. But the managers of this case did not act as you would have acted. The impression was circulated among my friends that I favored the bargain, and even now I find myself accused in some newspapers of having been a party to it. This is one of those cases in which appearances are almost, if not wholly, as bad as facts. And nobody can read the proceedings of the Convention in the light of surrounding circumstances without concluding that, on its very face, the first fruit of the great reform, so hopefully begun, was a successful piece of political huckstering and that the whole movement had been captured by politicians of the old stamp.

A compromise on the revenue question might have been carried out without giving great offense. It seemed even demanded by higher considerations. But the appearance of political trickery could not fail to shake the whole moral basis of the movement.

That this should be extremely painful to me, having worked in good faith not for mere temporary success but for higher aims, you can readily understand. But, while my personal feelings may be of little moment, the consequences of all this are more serious. It may be said that such things* are forgotten after the first three days of a campaign. It will hardly be so in this case, for the whole character and aspect of the movement is changed.

Of the three elements which met for coöperation at Cincinnati, the one which had least to do with originating the movement and which came in after it had grown to be formidable and promising, seemed to have shaped, by the usual appliances of the political trade, all the practical results so far obtained. The reform movement has furnished another illustration of the demoralization of our political life, and as such it stands there to-day. Its management differs in nothing from the practices it professed to condemn. In its present shape it does no longer appeal to that higher moral sense which we hoped to have evoked in the hearts and minds of the people. Its freshness and flavor are gone and we have come down to the ordinary level of a campaign of politicians.

I want you to understand that I do not allude to your own character and reputation. They stand above suspicion, and nothing could be farther from my intentions than to throw the least shadow of a doubt upon them. But you appear now, after what has happened, as the leader of an army which, in the essential points, is looked upon as no better than those we expected to fight and whose victory is of very doubtful promise. No wonder that a great many men, and these among the very best we had there, went away from the Convention, not with mere disappointed expectations as to their own choice, but with the sting of moral disappointment in their hearts.

The effect was immediate. I will not speak here of the revenue reformers who found themselves in a somewhat ridiculous position, but about a class of people [who] cared less about the tariff than about the moral tendency of the movement. The first solid mass that joined us were the Germans, East and West. They went into the movement enthusiastically with their whole hearts and for no selfish purpose—Democrats and Republicans both, almost to a man, ready to give up their party affiliations. In some Western States they formed the whole backbone of the movement. When the Convention opened, we had nearly the whole German vote with us; there were but few exceptions, in some places none at all. When we came out of that Convention, that force was almost entirely lost to us. In saying this, I do not exaggerate. Information received from all parts of the North since my arrival here only confirms my first impressions. Some German delegates from the Eastern States thought they might still go with the movement, but they were few, and men of little influence. After the adjournment I dined with the most prominent German leaders of the West, all old personal friends of mine, and I found them not only dissatisfied, but also fully determined to oppose the ticket with their whole strength, and deaf to argument—unwilling, as they said, to be the victims and tools of Frank Blair and New York politicians and to further the designs of Frank Blair and New York politicians. The German newspaper editors I met, were of the same mind. I heard of only one who was considering the question whether he should support the ticket with anything like favor. My own partners inquired by telegraph, whether they should come out for the ticket; I answered in the affirmative and have since received two despatches suggesting a doubt as to whether it will long be possible to do so consistently with the interests of the paper. To the best of my information, my paper is to-day the only German journal in the country which has come out for the ticket. Yesterday and to-day I have received piles of German papers which all sing the same song. The German Democratic press, at the opening of the Convention, thoroughly on our side, clamors partly for a straight party nomination, partly for a new reform movement. This is a sober statement of the facts as far as I have been able to look over the field.

Whether it will be possible, in any appreciable measure, to correct this, I do not know, but I seriously doubt it, for the moral elements which attracted the Germans to the movement, are so seriously compromised that I, myself, in appealing to them, could not use the same arguments I used before and in which the whole attraction consisted. Mere political talk, after the old fashion, will fall flat. Something might, perhaps, by hard labor be effected, but I apprehend nothing, like what we suddenly lost on Friday last, can be regained if the movement remains in its present shape—for suspicion and disgust have taken the place of the grand spirit which prevailed down to the last day of the Convention. Those of the Germans who do not retire entirely from the field, will probably flock to the Reunion and Reform Associations whose convention at Cincinnati stood ready to endorse our nominations; but on Friday, as soon as the results of our proceedings were known, resolved to appoint a committee with instructions to call a National Convention for the purpose of making nominations of their own.

What the consequences will be, you can easily calculate. I see that Governor Palmer promises you 75,000 Republican votes in Illinois. Do not permit yourself to be deceived by such wild talk. In no State is the reaction among the Germans, who form a very considerable element of the Republican party, more decided than in Illinois. In the other Northwestern States the condition of things is no better. You may ask me whether I cannot rally these forces again; I might, if the character of the movement were now what it was a week ago. But not only the moral power of the cause is seriously, if not fatally, impaired; but also I should find my most intimate personal friends who for sixteen years have worked with me, not only not on my side, but on the other, seeing in me, as some German papers express it, a victim instead of a victor.

I will not go into a detailed statement of my views as to the prospects, which in a very great measure depend on the action of the Democratic Convention, but not wholly so. I speak only of what I know; as to the rest you undoubtedly receive from other quarters information which will appear to you more valuable than my opinions. I should not be troubled by any difficulties in the way, did I still see and feel the same moral force as before, by which to combat and overcome them. But all is changed. That element which was least inspired with the great and noble tendencies of this movement stands before the people as its controlling power, and that element cannot conduct a campaign like this successfully. The question is whether, as the matter now stands, those elements which in a moral sense formed the backbone of the movement, can [be] brought into the foreground again, so as to inspire confidence. I doubt it. To restore impaired confidence is difficult. I thought it my duty to tell you all this, just as I see and feel it. Believe me, I have not painted in dark colors, perhaps to give myself in your eyes a certain sort of importance. That is not one of the weaknesses I possess. I give you my real thoughts and feelings, frankly and honestly, without exaggeration. I have always honored and admired you and shall, I trust, always be your sincere personal friend, whether you regard me so or not. To tell you things which must be unpleasant to you, is a very painful task to me, but they must be told now, before we go further in this business. I assure you, I did not go to Cincinnati to have anybody in particular nominated, and therefore I do not mourn over the defeat of a favorite. I did not advise your nomination, because I foresaw certain difficulties. But these difficulties have been rendered immeasurably more grave by the manner in which your nomination was brought about. My whole heart was and is in the cause I have so laboriously worked for, and it is with a grief, which I cannot express, that I see a movement so hopefully begun, so noble and so promising, dragged down to the level of an ordinary political operation and stripped of its moral power.

How much of it can be saved, I do not know yet. Neither do I see clearly whether it is best to go on in the direction we have taken, or to begin again at the beginning. I confess frankly to you that I cannot tell yet what I shall do for my part. I ask you only to believe that whatever I may do, will not be dictated by any selfish motives, but by the sincerest regard for you and by my best convictions of duty. I shall be happy if you will speak to me with the same frankness which has inspired every word of this letter.

I am, my dear sir, very sincerely yours.