The Writings of Carl Schurz/To President Cleveland, March 30th, 1893


New York, March 30, 1893.

What you said to me some time ago about the “hard taskmaster” is still well remembered. I know the part of the “candid friend” is an ungrateful one, but to a man in your high position the friend who says things is sometimes more useful than the friend who wants things.

If it were true what the newspapers say of the new United States district attorney in Indiana, Mr. Burke—that he is a very improper person, representing the worst tendencies in politics, and that you appointed him to placate Senator Voorhees—it would mark the first step on the road to ruin. If only half of it is true—that Mr. Burke is an improper person—and if the other half, that he was appointed to propitiate Mr. Voorhees—although untrue, is widely believed to be true, the appointment will bring you no end of trouble. I do not mean only public criticism, for no reasonable person should blame you for making an occasional mistake, although it is to be deplored. But it will immensely aggravate the difficulties you will have with Congress. The Senators and Members who are after patronage will think that they have detected your weak spot and they will try to make the most of it. As soon as they see any reason for believing that you are willing to give them “favors” to secure their support of your policies, they will give you their support only on condition of getting favors. They will never have enough and constantly strike for more. Some of them will even invent schemes embarrassing to you for the very purpose of having something to sell. It is needless to say that you can not satisfy them without ruining your Administration. It would forfeit its moral character with the people and, as to its favorite policies, be at the mercy of the worst influences in Congress.

I enclose some cuts from newspapers. The one from the Times was evidently written by a friend who strongly emphasizes his confidence in you. But there is an undertone of apprehension in what he says. The Washington correspondence of the Evening Post shows how far the mischievous effect of this matter has already developed itself. It is certainly to be deplored that Mr. Voorhees is at the head of the Finance Committee of the Senate. He would not have become so important a person in it, had Mr. Carlisle remained there. You remember perhaps what I said to you about dismantling the Administration in that body. It was just this I foresaw.

I do not presume to advise. But if you will pardon me for saying what I would do were I in your place, it is this: I would send a trusty friend to Indiana to make a searching inquiry into Mr. Burke's antecedents and standing. If it were satisfactorily shown that Mr. Burke is an improper person for the district attorneyship, I would unhesitatingly remove him. This action would at once kill all the rumors and surmises as to “placating” or “bargaining.” It would be notice to Senators and Representatives that in recommending men for office they cannot deceive the President with impunity. It would strengthen the President immensely with public opinion and consequently with Congress. It would, indeed, offend Senator Voorhees, but at the same time cripple him. For if thence forward he sought to embarrass the President, all the world would know the reason why. As things now stand he cannot support your policy so far as it differs from his former position without incurring the imputation of having sold himself. Even if he does not recoil from this, he will certainly ask for his support much more than you have given and than you can give without disgrace. The character of the political school to which he belongs is warrant for this.

You are far stronger than all these politicians combined—and they know it—so long as you can overawe them with the confidence the people repose in your fearless rectitude. Any favor you grant them at the expense of your standing in the popular confidence will weaken your power over them and strengthen them against you.

I beg leave also to invite your attention to the enclosed article of the Evening Post on “The Postal Scramble.” I do not know who wrote it, but every editorial writer on the Post is your warm friend. I agree with every word he says. When the papers announced that the “executioner in the General Post-Office was busy,” I must confess that I read it with a feeling of shame as to the present and of alarm as to the future. If you, in your exceptionally strong position, with your principles and your professions of purpose and your courage, cannot stop this National scandal and disgrace, who is ever to do it? Will you not have it arrested now, direct the post-office to confine itself for the present to the filling of existing vacancies, of which there are said to be several thousand, and to cases in which removals are distinctly necessary in the interest of the service, and then slowly and gradually to divide the post-offices equally between the two parties as a basis for a permanent regulation of things? I assure you, as the work of decapitation goes on, there is much shaking of heads among your friends, and we have to meet many a derisive grin on the faces of your and our opponents.

I write this not wholly as a private individual. I am now at the head of the National Civil Service Reform League, and have to deliver the annual address on April 25th, and review the close of Mr. Harrison's and the beginning of your Administrations from the standpoint of the civil service reformer. It is extremely distasteful to me to find fault. Having advocated your election and greeted you after your triumph as I have, I should be most happy to speak only in praise. But I have to tell the truth. If I am in error as to any of the facts here mentioned, I shall be grateful for being set right. And if you will instruct one of your private secretaries to inform me about appointments to high places in the Departments by way of promotion, of which I have read something in the papers, and about other things giving evidence of a reformatory spirit, you will greatly oblige me.