The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Horace White (No date, probably about November 15th), 1872


[No date. Probably about Nov. 15, 1872.]

My dear White: I have received your letter of the 10th inst. That you should have felt the sting of defeat keenly, I understand very well. Whatever there was of disappointment and mortification for me in this great failure, I fully anticipated six months ago after the Cincinnati Convention. You remember well with what purposes we went into that gathering. They had the respect and sympathy of the best men of the nation. We were defeated in our best aspirations. The result could not have been more unfortunate. Those who brought about that result proved the worst enemies of the reform movement and of Mr. Greeley too. I esteem him highly to-day, as I always did, although disagreeing with him on some points, as a man of eminent ability and honest intentions. But he could in the very nature of things not be the representative of the Cincinnati movement. His record stood in contradiction to some important points in our program, and the manner in which his nomination seemed to be brought about—although I am sure it was a surprise to him—gave the whole transaction the appearance of a bargain, such as are made and executed by the most ordinary class of politicians. It was the country's misfortune, it was ours and it was his.

You remember what conversations we had at Washington about that business. It was a fearfully hard thing for me to support the action of the Cincinnati Convention; I should not have been able to do so, had I not been convinced that our forces could not be concentrated upon any other candidate; that after all Mr. Greeley, if elected, would have given the country a far better Administration than his opponents predicted,—better even than many of his friends anticipated, and that by his success great dangers and evils would have been averted. But with all this, the movement had lost all its charm. People had expected much of it, and therefore did not appreciate what they had. We designed it to be a campaign of ideas, and it became a campaign of personalities. We wanted it to become a fight for positive principles, and it became a mere fight against an Administration. When we hoped that in spite of all these drawbacks and difficulties we still could succeed, the result has shown that we hoped too much.

You ask me what in my opinion should now be done. It is perfectly clear to my mind. We should virtually do the same thing after the reëlection of Grant, that we should have done after the election of Greeley. We should continue to struggle for the realization of the ideas embodied in our original program and be governed by no other consideration.

There are many good men in the Republican party who entertain the hope that General Grant's second Administration will avoid the blunders and faults of the first. We may not share that hope and have good reasons for our distrust. But if contrary to our expectations General Grant should adopt a reform policy in any direction, we should have the manliness to recognize whatever good there may be in his measures and exert ourselves to develop it.

We want the civil service and the revenue system reformed; we want economy and honest government secured; we want a policy of reconciliation adopted with regard to the South; we want centralization prevented. We do not care who does it, provided it be done. And let us be ready to accord to whoever does, the credit for the doing. In one word, we should make no factious opposition.

At the same time we should advise the people to be watchful, so as not to be deceived by shams and false pretenses. And if General Grant's second Administration makes attempts of that kind, we should boldly denounce them. And if after all the promises which have been made for him, General Grant's second Administration proves merely a continuance of the dangerous tendencies of the first, we should offer an opposition, loyal and candid, but also firm and fearless. The Administration party is now so overgrown in size and strength, it may be so intoxicated with success and power, that the people will soon recognize the necessity of such an opposition as I have described, whatever the state of public opinion may be to-day.

We should maintain our entire independence of the old organized parties. (Necessity of parties without records.) The Republic has entered upon a new period of its history. What the country now stands most in need of, is parties without records. Only when such parties exist will it be possible to discuss and decide public questions strictly upon their own merits. Now they are decided in most cases upon side-issues more or less false, which in itself is a great misfortune.

There are many honest Democrats sincerely attached to the principles we advocate. They should now at last recognize the fact that their old party organization is too much encumbered with its traditions and its history to serve as an efficient instrument in carrying those principles into reality, or even to act as an efficient opposition where opposition is needed. Attempts will be made to reorganize the old Democratic party, but I believe such attempts will fail, as I think they ought to fail. It cannot be reorganized on anything like its platform of 1868. One of the great and most beneficial results of the last Presidential campaign, consists in the fact that there is no national party in existence now that has not distinctly in its platform recognized the results of the war as embodied in the Constitution, and a step backward in this respect is impossible. But if it is attempted to reorganize the Democratic party upon the basis of the Liberal program, sensible men, who have the ideas embodied in that program sincerely at heart, will at once discover that the means employed will be an impediment to the accomplishment of the ends contemplated.