The Writings of Carl Schurz/To J. G. Schurman, May 8th, 1902


New York, May 8, 1902.

Accept my sincere thanks for the kind sentiments expressed in your letter of the 3d. Be assured, I appreciate them very highly. All the more do I deplore your unwillingness to serve as a member of the committee of which Mr. Charles Francis Adams is the chairman.[1]

I am probably not wrong in supposing the main reason for your refusal to be that we should trust President Roosevelt's determination to have a full and unsparing inquiry, and that therefore investigations by private and voluntary agencies are superfluous and will not bring forth results of value.

Now, the committee has not at all been instituted for the purpose of impeaching President Roosevelt's sincerity, or upon the assumption that he will not honestly try to accomplish the proclaimed object. On the contrary, it will rather stand by him and help his efforts. There is reason for supposing that the President has not been well served by his subordinates and that many important things have for a long time been withheld from his knowledge which he ought to have known; and it is very probable that those who thus have misled him in the past, will, for their own salvation, try to do so in the future.

It is a fact, of which I have the best evidence in my hands, that of the things which have startled the country, not a few have actually been brought out by those voluntary private agencies which you seem to consider unnecessary and valueless. Without those agencies the members of the Senate Investigating Committee, who really want to investigate, would have groped about in the dark, and those members will declare to you to-day that the services thus rendered are “inestimable.” The President in pursuit of the real truth may have occasion to say the same thing. He is, indeed, in great danger of becoming involved in the concealments and falsifications of unscrupulous friends.

To me this work is at this time exceedingly unwelcome. I am old and sometimes feel tired. I wish to devote the rest of my days and of my working strength to the writing of my memoirs, and I am impatient at anything that diverts me from that task. But this is a great and solemn crisis. It calls with a stern and irresistible voice. Recent events have touched me perhaps more keenly than they have touched others. Can you imagine the feelings of a man who all his life has struggled for human liberty and popular government, who for that reason had to flee from his native country, who believed he had found what he sought in this Republic, and thus came to love this Republic even more than the land of his birth, and who at last, at the close of his life, sees that beloved Republic in the clutches of sinister powers which seduce and betray it into an abandonment of its most sacred principles and traditions and push it into policies and practices even worse than those which once he had to flee from?

In such a crisis, I think, we have to do what service we can. The first thing necessary is that we should discover the truth and let the people know it. I cannot give up the hope that when the American people know the truth, they will do what is right and vindicate the true principles and the character of the Republic. To make them know and mind the truth, no effort should be spared.

I am not the leader in this committee business. Mr. Adams conceived the plan and he stands at the head of it as the moving spirit. As you are aware, he is not a reckless enthusiast but rather a very conservative and cautious man. We may be sure that under his guidance nothing rash or sensational will be done. The committee will steadily keep its object in view and serve it in a quiet, unostentatious and non-partisan way. I said that I greatly deplore your unwillingness to be with us, and I venture to hope that you will still reconsider your decision. If circumstances prevent you from giving time and labor to the work, you might at least aid it with the weight of your name and outspoken sympathy. This would be all the more important as your most excellent writings on the subject have recently attracted so much richly deserved attention.

Pardon my urgency and believe me

Very sincerely yours.

  1. The purpose of this committee of anti-imperialists was to bring about a thorough official investigation of the alleged cruelties and barbarities—especially such as the “water-cure” torture and “taking no prisoners” (killing all the vanquished) believed to have been practised by our soldiers. See Schurz to Carnegie, Aug. 2, 1902.