The Writings of Carl Schurz/To J. F. Potter, November 30th, 1860


Philadelphia, Nov. 30, 1860.

I expected to see you at Milwaukee before your departure for Washington, but was disappointed. Well, the crisis is upon us, and it depends upon the attitude of the Republicans to make its result final and decisive. If the North now remains firm, the slave-power is done for. We have to choose between a short and violent crisis and a long, exhausting and dangerous one. Common prudence seems to dictate that we should meet the issue boldly, take the bull by the horns, meet treason when and where it is committed, and put it down by all the means which manifest destiny has put into our hands. My dear Potter, if slavery in its present form and strength exists in this Republic ten years hence, the Republican party will be responsible for it. We have got them at last; do not let them escape once more. If no compromise had been made in 1833, we should never again have heard of the disunion cry. Let not that mistake be repeated. The future of the country, the repose of the nation, depends on our firmness.

Now a few words about a matter of personal interest. You remember that on that memorable night when we went to the town of Oak Creek in the dark, you requested me to make you the depositary of my wishes as to the position I would desire to occupy under the Republican Administration. I will now do so without reserve. It is generally supposed, and perhaps not without some reason, that Mr. Lincoln will offer me some appointment or other, and when I passed through Chicago a few days ago, several gentlemen, who acted as though they were in the confidence of Mr. Lincoln, requested me to let them know as soon as possible, what position would most gratify me. I did not feel like doing so on the spot, because I wanted to consult you about the matter. I shall, of course, not ask or petition for anything, and do not wish that the Administration should offer me anything unless they feel like it. But if they do feel like it, it would be an unpleasant thing if they offered me anything which I should not feel warranted in accepting. First, I should like to be in a place where I can do something; I do not want a sinecure. Secondly, as I am generally looked upon as the representative of the German element, I consider it due to those I do represent that I should not take an inferior place. I am told that the matter has been extensively talked about among leading politicians, and the prevailing opinion was that I should be sent abroad. If so, I should want a place where I can turn my knowledge of men and things to account. To be sent to Germany would in many respects gratify my feelings most, but it might bring up questions of etiquette unpleasant to the Administration, and if there is anything I would religiously endeavor to avoid, it is to embarrass the government by anything arising from my peculiar position. Prussia and Austria are, therefore, out of the question.

Europe is now in a dissolving state, politically, and now, as old governments are decaying and new ones springing up, now is the time for this Government to take advantage of this general confusion. Therefore we want men of general knowledge of persons and things and of energy and activity. There are two fields of action in which most can be accomplished. The one is France. The mission to Paris is of so prominent a nature that the custom to send an old, deserving man there seems to be a very just and proper one. I have, therefore, not the impudence to claim anything like that. My aspirations do not run away with my sense of propriety. The other field of action is Italy, and I think there is the place for me, provided it be raised to a first-class mission, which will undoubtedly be the case. I feel that my turn of mind, my education and my knowledge of things fit me for the place, and that circumstances fit the place for me. This is not only my own opinion, but I know it is shared by many of our leading men. I should, therefore, be very much gratified if the Administration, supposing they intend to offer me anything, would offer me the mission to Turin.

I understand (Colfax, whom I met here told me so) Burlingame is an aspirant for the same position. I should be sorry to rival him, but, to tell the truth, I really do think, without overestimating my powers, I am better fitted for it than he is. But if he gets it and I remain at home, I shall not shed any tears. Now, friend Potter, I wish you to understand that I have communicated this to you at your own request. I do not intend to make any application myself, nor do I desire to have anybody act as my agent in the matter. I will not embarrass Mr. Lincoln by any demands, nor by declining any offer, unacceptable to myself, which he perhaps might feel inclined to make. But if the matter should become a subject of conversation at Washington among such men as are likely to be in Mr. Lincoln's confidence, you will then be able to speak knowingly about my feelings about it. You may, if you see fit, communicate this confidentially to Doolittle. Trumbull knows probably more about Mr. Lincoln's intentions than any other man in Washington, and you or Doolittle may easily ascertain from him what Mr. Lincoln means to do.

I repeat that I shall be perfectly satisfied if the Administration offers me nothing, but if they do want to send me abroad, I wish they would give me timely notice of it, so that I may make the necessary preparations in the way of collecting information, etc. If I do go, I wish to go as the best-informed man who ever represented this Government abroad. Colfax talked to me about this matter and he, spontaneously, struck the same track.

Give Doolittle my regards and tell him that I agree exactly with the views he expressed in his letter to the Milwaukee celebration meeting. I should like to spend a few days at Washington this winter, but I shall hardly be able to do so. My time is all taken up by a variety of engagements. . . .