The Writings of Carl Schurz/To J. F. Potter, December 24th, 1858


Milwaukee, Dec. 24, 1858.

I must write you a few lines on a subject in which I feel a deep concern. Some time ago I received a very kind letter from Senator [Henry] Wilson, requesting me to send him a few copies of my Chicago and Milwaukee speeches. In answer to his letter I called his attention to the efforts which are being made to unite the whole opposition to the Administration on a common basis, and I availed myself of the opportunity to tell him frankly that in my opinion any sacrifice of principle, and especially an alliance with the American party, would certainly ruin us in all the Northwestern States. An article which appeared in the Washington Republic some time ago leads me to believe that some Republican leaders think of uniting with the anti-Administration Democrats on a “popular sovereignty” platform. How is this possible? Have we been beaten at the last election? Are we too weak to stand on our own feet? Or is not Douglas's “popular sovereignty” to-day the same humbug it was two years ago? How shall we stand before the people, if we now adopt the very same principle in opposition to which our party was originally organized? We are bound to conquer in 1860, if we stand to our colors and do not throw away our chances by a tricky and inconsistent policy. I know that you and I entertain the same views and feelings about this subject. Will you be kind enough to keep me advised of what is going on in Washington in this respect? I think that every attempt to trade our principles away should be met with a perfect hurricane in the newspapers.

There is another matter about which I want to speak to you. My name has been mentioned in connection with the nomination for governor. Several newspapers have brought me forward and all our German Republican papers have taken this thing up with great alacrity. Then it went through the whole German Republican press of the North, and my nomination was represented as already made. This state of things embarrasses me very much. If I had been consulted about it, before it got into the newspapers, I would have stopped it, for the reason that my name cannot be used in connection with a nomination unless the thing is understood at all hands; if, after it has been spoken of, adverse circumstances should occur, which might induce the Republicans to select somebody else, or should prevent me from accepting a nomination, it would hurt me in my political standing, and at the same time it would injure the Republican party with the German population very much. Now, what the feeling of the people of this State is, I do not know and have taken no pains to ascertain. As for me, I am wavering whether I shall let the thing go on or cut it short by publicly declaring that I shall not be a candidate. Allow me to consider you my confidential friend, to tell you my thoughts and to ask your advice. To be governor of this State, honorable as the position may be, is really not the object of my ambition. My political standing is such that I can do without any official station. The thing has only one charm for me, and that is, that a success of this kind would give me a powerful influence over the German population of the Northern States, which would tell in 1860. Beyond this the governorship has little value for me personally.

Among the reasons which would induce me to decline a nomination, the first is, that Harvey of Rock [county] is likely to be a candidate before the convention. I owe him much; he brought me forward for lieutenant-governor last year, and he has always been a warm and consistent friend of mine. I should not like to stand in the way of his aspirations. Something is due to him, and I feel I ought not to destroy his chances. The second reason is, that I have not got the money for carrying on an electoral contest, especially a hard one as this will be; and the third is, that I cannot afford to suffer another defeat, either before a convention or before the people. This, however, I do not fear much, for I think I can carry the State more easily than most others, provided no side issues are brought up in the contest. At all events, a nomination carried by a bare majority would not do for me. If I cannot be nominated by a nearly unanimous vote, I would prefer to withdraw altogether. But then I have to do it at once, of my own free will, so that our opponents have no right to say that I was but yielding to outside pressure. I should not like to appear to be obliged to do it. Meanwhile some Democratic papers have commenced a bitter warfare on me. Robinson of the Green Bay Advocate, who expects to get the Democratic nomination, commenced to traduce me by attacking in the grossest and most sophistical manner my Milwaukee speech, representing it as a libel on the people of Wisconsin. Another paper has started the story that I was a minion and an agent of the king of Prussia and am still in the pay of that Government, etc., and other Democratic organs have followed suit. They endeavor to kill me off before the nominations are made. Well, all these things cannot injure me, they will rather help me, but they are in so far disagreeable to me, as they treat me as a candidate while I am none.

Now, I want your advice, my dear Judge; tell me openly, whether in your opinion I should put a stop to it by declaring my intention not to be a candidate, or whether I shall let the thing go on.

What effect had Douglas's decapitation on his Democratic friends? My impression is, that he will not be nominated by the Charleston Convention and that he will gradually destroy his chances North and South by carrying water on both shoulders. Do you not think so? But Douglas out of the way, and the victory will be ours in 1860 unless we destroy ourselves by bad management.

How are you getting along personally? I should be very glad to hear from you at your earliest convenience.

  1. A Republican Representative from Wis.; previously a county judge.