The Writings of Carl Schurz/To John Wanamaker, April 9th, 1889


New York, April 9, 1889.

I have received your letter of the 5th instant, and in reply beg leave to submit to you the inclosed copy of two notes, one addressed by me to Mr. Isidor Straus, and the other by Mr. Straus to me.[1] They show clearly how it happened that Mr. Straus, as your friend, expressed himself in his communication to Harper's Weekly in a manner which made me as well as others believe that he spoke by authority. It is evident that he, in fact, did consider himself authorized to represent you as he did.

If now, differently situated as you are, you declined to communicate with me on the matter in question, upon the ground that, after mature consideration, you had changed your mind, or that you did not remember having given your friend the authority which he thought he had received, I should have nothing more to ask. But I owe it to myself decidedly to object to your now putting your refusal upon the ground that you had reason to question my good faith or the rectitude of my motives in addressing you as I did in response to a public call made upon me by your spokesman. You will admit that I might well have expected different treatment as between gentlemen.

If there are politicians who, under the pretense of seeking the public good, work themselves into the confidence of others with the intention of abusing that confidence for partisan purposes, I have, I trust, by my public life of thirty years fairly earned the right of not being classed with tricksters of that kind.

As you seem to be in the dark as to my party relations, permit me to say that I am “out of politics” and bound to no party. I count myself one of those who think it vastly more important that the Government be well administered, than that it be administered by this or that set of men; and who, while recognizing the usefulness of party as a means to a good end, support whatever appears to them of public benefit, and oppose whatever they consider bad, no matter what party label it may bear. This position may seem very eccentric to the hot partisan on either side, but I assure you it may be conscientiously and also usefully maintained, especially considering the present condition of our party organizations. More good has already in that way been done than many party men are willing to admit. At any rate, mean trickery to secure a little partisan advantage is probably the last thing which men of that way of thinking would be capable of.

To return to the matter immediately before us, we all know that the character, the good name, of the American people has suffered much by the corrupt practices going on in our political life. I have myself, while abroad, had occasion to defend that character, and tried to do so to the best of my ability. But the charges which have been current since the last Presidential election have evidently made that defense much more difficult. I want, for the honor of this Republic, to see these charges, if they can be, wholly or at least in part disproved and should have been glad to aid in such disproval. But no candid observer will deny that the use of money in elections, as it has of late years developed itself, has really become a great evil—probably the greatest danger now threatening the vitality of our republican institutions; and I think it the first duty of good citizens to combat that evil on whatever side it may appear. I believe one of the effective ways to combat it would be to make obligatory the public accounting of all election expenses in detail. Now, the promise held out in your behalf by Mr. Straus in his published letter looked to me like a step in the right direction. He represented you as a man who, concerning his money transactions in the last campaign, had nothing to conceal, and who was rather anxious to have this fact ascertained and made known through one not his party associate. I thought this very creditable to you; but if, in believing it, and in acting upon that belief, I made a mistake, it was a mistake which, it seems to me, you might have taken rather as a compliment than as an offense or as a part of a Democratic plot to injure you.

You ask me why I did not address my inquiries about alleged corrupt practices first to the Democrats. The reason is simple. I did not step forward in this matter as a volunteer. Nor did I go about seeking whom to investigate. That is not an occupation to my taste. I did address you, because, and only because, I found myself publicly called upon by an apparently authorized friend of yours to do so. If such a call had come from the Democratic side, I should have considered it a duty to obey it in the same manner and in the same spirit.

I write this not with any expectation of changing the resolution you have formed, but to show that the step I took in addressing you was respectable in character and might well have been met on a different level.

  1. On April 6th, Mr. Schurz inclosed Mr. Wanamaker's letter in a note to Isidor Straus, in which he wrote: “I understood you to say that your communication published in Harper's Weekly of February 9th was the immediate result of a conversation you had with Mr. Wanamaker in Philadelphia; that you had told him in substance what you were going to write for publication, including the reference to my name; that he approved of it and afterwards expressed his thanks to you for what you had done.”

    To this Mr. Straus answered, April 8th, that “your impression about our conversation and the one I had with Mr. Wanamaker is correct. I ought to add, however, that Mr. Wanamaker did not see my letter before it appeared in print, although I had outlined to him, when I saw him some days before, what I intended to write.”