The Writings of Carl Schurz/To J. F. Potter, December 17th, 1860


Boston, Dec. 17, 1860.

I have just read the papers of to-day and must write you a line before I start for my lecture appointment. I see by the telegraphic news that Mr. Corwin has submitted resolutions yielding the liberty of the territories, yielding our principles in regard to the fugitive-slave law and to the admission of slave States, yielding everything we have been contending for. It is incredible, and yet it is not impossible. But is it true that a majority of the Republicans in that committee, as is stated, can assent to such propositions? Is it possible that they can trample under foot everything that is dear to their constituents? I cannot, cannot believe it. One thing is sure. As soon as these resolutions, or anything like them, are adopted, the Republican party has ceased to exist. I have been travelling all over Pennsylvania, New York, and New England lately, and outside of the large commercial cities I have not found one single Republican who did not scorn the idea of receding from a single principle laid down in the Chicago platform.

The public sentiment, even among so-called conservative men, is rapidly settling in favor of a prompt and vigorous execution of the laws as against the seceders, and every man in Congress who bends his knee now is sealing his political death-warrant.

I cannot help flattering myself with the idea that even Mr. Corwin cannot be in earnest with these resolutions, that they are introduced merely for the purpose of gaining time. But even in that case, their very introduction is an act of degradation, a slur upon the moral sense of the people.

The policy of the true and firm Republicans, in my opinion, is this: Let our men in the committee offer amendment upon amendment; let them discuss every proposition at length, make speech upon speech, motion upon motion, so as to prevent the committee from making an early report. Then let them get up as many minority reports as possible, and as soon as they are submitted to the House, discuss them at length, every one of them, amend them again, and in this way drag along the discussion so as to prevent the House from coming to a final vote before the 4th of March. Everything is gained if Congress does not close and compromise Mr. Lincoln's Administration beforehand. Everything is lost if the moral power of the Republican party is frittered away before Lincoln goes into office.

Press this policy upon the attention of our friends and let the voice of the people be heard in the halls of Congress. I have thought of writing a speech on the crisis if I could get somebody to deliver it in Congress. But I think that is impossible.

I thank you for the information you have given me in regard to the Sardinian mission. But I confess I am so completely preoccupied with the dangers threatening our cause that I cannot think of anything that regards myself. I would willingly sacrifice reputation, prospects and everything if I could but for a few weeks infuse my spirit into the Republican members of Congress. I should have profoundly deplored a defeat at the Presidential election, but I would rather have been beaten then than see the party commit suicide now.

My dear friend, now is the time for the true friends of freedom to act with circumspection, promptness and energy; the prospects of the anti-slavery cause for the next twenty years are at stake.

Please do me the favor to give me your views about the present state of things as soon as possible. I am morbidly anxious to learn what is going on behind the curtain. . . .