The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Oscar S. Straus, February 7th, 1888

New York City: G. P. Putnam's Sons, pages 491–493


New York, Feb. 7, 1888.

Your very kind letter of November 15th has had to wait very long for a reply. I shall attempt no apology for you know what New York life is. I am sometimes quite out of patience with it and seriously think of transferring my household to some place in the country.

All I hear from you and about you is so good that as your friend I could hardly wish it better. I have no doubt you will come out of your official trials with honor and bring many pleasant memories home with you. I am not surprised to learn that you do not find much time for literary work. The performance of your official duties, strictly speaking, would probably leave you leisure enough. But it is the nothings of life, that part of social intercourse that does not do anybody any good, to which we have to bring the greatest sacrifices in the way of scattering and frittering away our working power.

Of myself I can only say that I am well and pretty firmly on my feet. I expect to sail for Europe in April, but it is not probable that I shall extend my travels as far as the dominions of the Sultan. When I shall have to return here, I do not know yet; perhaps about midsummer, perhaps later. I have begun another historical work, beginning where the Life of Henry Clay ends, in 1852. I intend first to write the history of the political struggles which immediately preceded the civil war; the period from 1852 to 1861, in one or two volumes. And if then I still have work enough in me, I mean to undertake a history of the civil work [war] itself—a political, not a military history. But I must confess that the task rises up before me in such awful proportions as to make me doubtful whether I have strength enough to carry it out.

Let me give you in a few words my view of the political situation.

Cleveland's message on the tariff has stirred the country profoundly. It has made him some new friends, but it has frightened others away. On the whole I think it has strengthened him. The question is whether the Democratic party will stand up to its support. If it does and renominates him upon a strong revenue-reform platform, and then makes a vigorous, determined fight, it will, in my opinion, make great gains, especially in the Northwest, as well as in New England, and carry the country.

But will the party stand up? That is not yet certain. There is a faction darkly working against Cleveland under the leadership of Governor Hill, who does not seem to have given up his own Presidential aspirations, of Randall and of Gorman. Their object, if they cannot compass Hill's or Randall's nomination, is at least to prevent Cleveland from getting a two-thirds vote in the Convention. On the other hand the feeling for Cleveland is strong, and the intrigues of his opponents in the party will in all probability be doomed to failure.

It is not so improbable—although I hope it will not be so—that the Democratic party, lacking in courage as well as in intelligence, will compromise on the tariff and, as it has been in the habit of doing, try to persuade people that it is not as dangerous an enemy of the high tariff as the Republicans make it out to be. That would make an apologizing and, therefore, a weak campaign.

On the Republican side Blaine is decidedly in the lead. In my opinion there is but one thing that can prevent his nomination. The protectionists are very much frightened. Their fright may possibly drive them to the conclusion that they cannot afford to handicap their imperiled interests with a Presidential candidate of bad repute. In that case Blaine may be thrown overboard; in any other case his nomination appears to me certain.

There are four possibilities:

1. Cleveland and Blaine are nominated, and the Democrats adopt a platform in full accord with Cleveland's message. This would, in my opinion, make Cleveland's success sure and fruitful.

2. Cleveland and Blaine are nominated, and the Democrats yield on the tariff issue. This would make a more or less personal campaign with the advantage still decidedly on Cleveland's side.

3. Cleveland and some Republican other than Blaine are nominated, and the Democrats stand by Cleveland's message. I should then still call Cleveland's chances good.

4. Cleveland and some Republican other than Blaine are the candidates, and the Democrats yield on the tariff issue. I should then think the result very doubtful.

A fifth possibility—Cleveland's defeat in the National Convention—I do not contemplate. If such a thing could happen, it would create an entirely new situation, probably fatal to the Democrats.

  1. Then U. S. Minister to Turkey.