The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Jacob H. Gallinger, August 16th, 1897


Bolton Landing, N. Y., Aug. 16, 1897.

My attention has been called to the Exeter News-Letter of July 23d, containing a communication from you in which, together with several other gentlemen, I am personally attacked. Ordinarily I take no notice of such abuse as you have seen fit to bestow upon me. But since in this instance it is employed by way of argument against the civil service law, you must permit me a word in reply. Your communication pretends to be an answer to a crushing refutation by Mr. George McAneny, the secretary of the National Civil Service Reform League, of certain allegations made by yourself concerning the provisions and the working of the existing civil service law. I call it a crushing refutation, for it proved conclusively by the record, by indisputable facts and figures, that many of your allegations were untrue, while the rest were strikingly irrelevant. Being thus exposed you have, as a last resort, sought refuge in an appeal to Republican party feeling against those who are supposed to be mainly active in the movement for civil service reform. You say, for instance:

When it is remembered that Carl Schurz, the president of the League of which George McAneny is secretary, once occupied a seat in the Senate, and is now in private life, a traitor to the Republican party and its principles, I am willing to have the people of New Hampshire (rather than McAneny, whoever he is) pass on the question of my intelligence and integrity.

Pardon me, Senator, for saying a word on my relations to “the Republican party and its principles.” Last year when the Presidential contest had assumed the character of an issue between sound money and free-silver coinage, the chiefs of the Republican campaign committees, and at least one of the candidates on the Republican national ticket, applied to me, your “traitor to the Republican party and Republican principles,” for help. I did take part in the campaign. The help I gave may have been very insignificant. You may never have heard of it. You were probably so much in demand and so hotly engaged in the thick of the fight, and your voice may have so powerfully resounded all over the field, drowning feebler noises, that my modest efforts escaped your notice. At any rate, whatever help I gave, whether much or little, went to the benefit of the Republican candidates. It was a free gift. There was not the slightest desire or expectation of reward. I may say, however, that the Republican campaign managers were profuse in warm—and no doubt, sincere—words of acknowledgment.

That now a Republican in the prominent position of a Senator should so fluently denounce me as “a traitor to the Republican party and to Republican principles” is, to say the least, not polite. It is not good manners. I doubt even whether it is good politics.

You must, however, not understand me as if I were at all disturbed by the “names” you call me. I am accustomed to that sort of thing at the hands of a certain class of politicians, and bear it with ease. Neither should you think that I wish to claim any standing in the Republican party. My way of looking at things will probably never have your approval; but I may, perhaps, succeed in making it intelligible to you. I believe that a party organization is not an end in itself, but merely a means for the attainment of public ends. I, therefore, do not worship a political party as a divinity entitled to my devotion under all circumstances, but regard it simply as an organization of citizens standing together for public objects on which they agree. I believe, and have always believed, that whenever such agreement on essential points ceases, and whenever a citizen becomes conscientiously convinced that he will serve the public welfare best by making, either temporarily or permanently, a change of party relations, it is not only his moral right but his duty to make it. Moreover, I believe that any doctrine to the contrary is highly dangerous to the integrity of free institutions.

It was as an anti-slavery man that I joined the Republican party. Untold thousands of citizens who had been life-long Democrats did the same thing, following the same principles. Were they “traitors”? When the abolition of slavery was accomplished and incidental questions decided, that which had mainly attracted me as well as many others to the Republican party existed no longer. Other issues pressed to the foreground. Among them, the questions of honest, efficient and economical administration of the Government—including civil service reform—of sound currency, and of an honorable, and at the same time conservative and pacific foreign policy, seemed to me most important. I have never favored high tariff protection. I regard that policy as, in the long run, economically as well as morally injurious—morally still more than economically. The more the Republican party became wedded to that policy, the less I agreed with it; and, therefore, when high protection became the main issue before the people, as in 1888 and 1892, I opposed it. When the question of public morals in government seemed to me the main issue before the country, as in 1884, I supported the candidate whose victory seemed to me to serve the public good best in that respect. When the main issue was between honest money and free-silver coinage, as in 1896, I put my dislike for tariff protection aside and helped the party supporting the cause of sound money.

If there were a political party standing for all the objects of high importance I have mentioned, I should stand faithfully by that party so long as it faithfully served those public ends. But in the absence of such a national organization, I and others of the same way of thinking must do the best we can to serve the public ends we have in view. And when I say “we,” I mean a very large and constantly increasing number of citizens who care more for the public good than for any political organization and who, therefore, have helped now one party and then another as in their honest opinion the public interest demanded. You say that such citizens are “traitors” to their party. But are they not faithful to their convictions of duty to the public good, and is not this fidelity, in the moral aspect, worth more than mere fidelity to an organization?

From your point of view you may find all this very foolish. You may call it “Sunday-school politics” or whatever you like. But if those independent citizens are conscientious in their opinions and their conduct, you have to respect them all the more as they follow their course, being well aware that it ordinarily excludes them from the so-called rewards of political activity. And the “practical politician” of your stamp does respect them in spite of himself; for, whenever an important election approaches, the practical politician in dulcet tones appeals to “the high-minded citizens who put country above party” for support. After the election you may abuse them, because you are not able to command them; but you will appeal to them in the same sweet way anew when their aid is again needed. Now, if you call the conduct of such men “treason,” all I can say is, in the language of Patrick Henry, that you are at liberty to “make the most of it.” You can hardly be expected to appreciate the significance of the smile with which such revilings are received by those for whom they are intended.

Of the gentlemen who serve as the officers of the Civil Service Reform League—not one of whom, pardon me for saying, would shun comparison with you, either intellectually, or morally, or socially, or politically—you say that “none of them has ever voted the Republican ticket as a matter of political principle.” You are mistaken in a twofold sense. The Civil Service Reform League is a non-partisan organization. There are men in it who have always been Democrats, others that have always been and now are Republicans, and still others who are Independents, but most of them have voted the Republican ticket more frequently than the Democratic. Why did they do so? Take the last election. They voted for McKinley and Hobart because the Republican party had declared itself emphatically for honest money and for civil service reform. Was not that “voting the Republican ticket as a matter of political principle?” What else could it be? It was certainly not voting the Republican ticket as a matter of personal interest; for not one of these Independents expected or desired any office or other political favor as a reward for his vote. They all knew perfectly well that immediately after your party had accepted and been benefited by their help, Republican politicians like yourself would turn around and call them “traitors,” and “renegades,” and “political hermaphrodites” and what not. Even such a prospect could not deter them from voting as they did. If this was not voting “as a matter of political principle”—voting to the end of promoting not their personal interests, but the public good—what in the world was it? Would you say that he votes “as a matter of political principle” who steadily votes his party ticket, no matter whether he approves of the principles and policies of the party or not—perhaps merely to get an office? That this is really your conception of “political principle” can hardly be doubted by any fairminded reader of your letter.

Why do you seek to defame the character of the officers of the Civil Service Reform League? Your purpose is evident. You wish your constituency to understand that the civil service law has been framed and is now mainly supported only by enemies of the Republican party, by “worshipers of Grover Cleveland,” by “traitors,” “renegades,” “political hermaphrodites”—in one word, by persons utterly unworthy of respect, and that, therefore, this law, “modeled,” as you say, “after India, China and Great Britain,” should not only not be supported, but should speedily be thrown overboard.

I ask you, Senator, are you not insulting your New Hampshire constituents by speculating upon their supposed ignorance? Have you so mean an opinion of their intelligence and education as to believe that they have never read the Republican platform? That platform, solemnly adopted last year by the National Convention of the Republican party as the proclamation of its faith, speaks thus:

The civil service law was placed on the statute book by the Republican party, which has always sustained it, and we renew our repeated declarations that it shall be thoroughly and honestly enforced, and extended, wherever practicable.

Here, then, Senator, you are confronted by the Republican platform testifying the fact that the civil service law was put on the statute book, not by your “traitors,” “renegades” and “hermaphrodites,” but by the Republican party itself; that the Republican party, evidently proud of the achievement, wishes the whole American people to understand this, and that it solemnly promises to enforce that law “thoroughly and honestly,” and even more, to “extend it wherever practicable.” Nor can it be unknown to you that upon this platform Mr. William McKinley was nominated as the Republican candidate for the Presidency; that he made the pledge of the party his own, and emphatically declared that there would be “no backward step”; and that after having become President, Mr. McKinley, as an honest gentleman, promptly proceeded to do some things clearly manifesting his determination to be true to the pledge of the party and his own. Why are you so silent about all this, Senator, in your letters to your constituents? Are you treating them fairly?

You profess to be a faithful Republican, a strict party man; at least you are not sparing in opprobrious epithets when assailing those who are not. A really good and strict and faithful party man regards the party platform as his political gospel. You cannot object to being judged by your own standard. Do you think he deserves the name of a good and strict and faithful party man who only wears the party name and votes the party tickets, but scorns the party s principles and pledges? Does it not appear to you that persons who do that call themselves true party men under false pretenses, and lay themselves open to the charge that they vote the party ticket for selfish purposes, and not “as a matter of political principle”?

Or will you pretend that the party pledge concerning the civil service law is not binding, while other pledges are? Why should it be so? The civil service pledge was not a mere accidental, heedless utterance. It has been reiterated with the utmost positiveness in every Republican platform since the enactment of the civil service law—the reiteration being no less regular and emphatic than that with which the protective tariff was endorsed. Upon what ground, then, would you call one pledge less sacred and binding than the other? On the binding force of the civil service pledge you may take lessons from President McKinley.

I know you assert that in some respects the civil service law does not work well. For the sake of argument I will for a moment forget that your allegations have been conclusively shown to be groundless or irrelevant, but assume that they had some foundation in fact—that in the execution of the law really some mistakes had been made and some inconvenience to the service been caused. What would under such circumstances be the course of a true Republican, a faithful party man? Would he not consider it his duty to exert to the utmost his ingenuity and influence to the end of correcting those mistakes and inconveniences in a manner harmonious with the spirit and intent of the civil service law, so that the solemn pledge of the party promising an honest and thorough enforcement of the law might be faithfully redeemed? Would he, instead, think for a moment of acting as you do? Would he denounce the law as an outlandish contrivance “modeled after India, China and Great Britain”? Would he endeavor to create the false impression that it had been enacted, not by the Republican party, but by a reputable set of “traitors,” “renegades” and “political hermaphrodites”? Would he urge his party to do a disgraceful thing by abolishing a law it had promised honestly and thoroughly to enforce and even, wherever practicable, to extend? Would he seek to induce a Republican President to become a dishonest man by breaking his plighted word? And just this, Senator, is what you are doing.

Is that your conception of good Republicanism? Do you call that supporting your President in the discharge of his sacred duty? You seem to pose as a man who votes the Republican ticket “as a matter of political principle.” What would you have to say if some party man more faithful than yourself to that which after all gives to a party its true value—its principles and pledges and good faith—arraigned you as a “traitor,” a “renegade,” a “political hermaphrodite” and all that, on account of your repudiation of one of the essential parts of the Republican platform and your opposition to President McKinley's faithful endeavor to carry it out?

Here, Senator, I will leave you to your reflections, with the assurance that, if you wish to continue this conversation, I shall with pleasure be at your service.

  1. An open letter addressed to Senator Gallinger and published in the Exeter, N. H., News-Letter of Aug. 27, 1897.