The Writings of Carl Schurz/To President Johnson, September 5th, 1865


New Orleans, Sept. 5, 1865.

The enclosed paragraph[1] is clipped from one of to-day's New Orleans papers. I cannot deny that it was a painful surprise to me. You remember that I did not seek the mission on which I am at present employed. I accepted it thinking that I could render the country some service. The paragraph has the appearance of coming from one of the Government offices. The charge that I reported the information I gathered, to newspapers and not to you, is certainly unjust. You must have received my elaborate reports from every State I visited, and I am conscious of having done everything I could, to inform myself well, and to bring to your notice whatever I thought could be of interest and service to the Government.

That I have written some letters to newspapers is true; but in those letters I gave nothing that ought to have been kept secret. I think there could be no harm in my publishing incidents, anecdotes and observations that were apt to entertain a newspaper reader, but in most cases not calculated to form part of an official report. Nor did I authorize any newspaper to mention my name in connection with those letters; on the contrary, I forbade it, and I regret to see that it has been done against my express directions.

The principal reason why I wrote those letters is well known to the Secretary of War, for I previously informed him of it. The compensation I receive from the Government is insufficient to cover the expenses incidental to my travels, aside from transportation and subsistence, and to provide for the wants of my family at the same time. I have no independent income; when I left the service I had but little laid up, and I am now obliged to depend upon the yield of my labors. In order to go South according to your desire, I had to give up all other engagements. If my suggestion to cancel my resignation [from the Army], had been accepted for the time being, I should have been above the necessity of doing something for the support of my family while travelling. But that suggestion not being accepted, I saw myself obliged, either to decline going, which, after your having selected me for this business, would have been inconsistent with my notions of duty, or to do something to make my going financially possible—especially as a trip so far South involved the payment of a considerable extra premium upon my life insurance. I informed the Secretary of War of all these circumstances.

And now to find myself abused in the newspapers for endeavoring to keep honestly above water while trying to serve the country; to see myself publicly threatened with a recall because I am obliged to make up with my own labor for the insufficiency of the compensation I receive from the Government, this, I must confess, is rather hard. It is a thing to which I ought not to be subjected, and I feel, unless you do indeed think that I have neglected my duty in some way which I at present fail to comprehend, I am justly entitled to some reparation before the public. It is exceedingly annoying to me to be preceded wherever I go, by a public announcement that the President does not approve of my conduct; and when I go home, to find the opinion spread abroad that I was recalled for violating my trust. If it was indeed deemed improper for me to write letters to newspapers, the Secretary of War might have told me so at the start, for I informed him of my being obliged to resort to it. He probably has my letter still in his possession.

I repeat, the paragraph has the appearance of coming from an authoritative source, and I leave it to you to decide whether I am not entitled to some manifestation on the part of the Government that will clear me of these damaging imputations and set me right before the public. There is no selfish motive in the world that would have induced me to accept this mission; there was neither pleasure, nor gain nor advancement in it. If I do not claim any praise for having accepted it under such circumstances, I certainly ought not to be left under the cloud of unjust censure. This mission will terminate my official connection with the Government; I should be sorry if the parting were darkened by any unpleasant incidents. I feel confident, however, if I leave it to your sense of justice to give me that reparation which I consider to be honestly due me, you will not permit me to suffer in standing and reputation.


    “Washington, Aug. 22. 

    “It is understood that the course of General Schurz, now travelling in the South by orders from the Government, does not meet the approval of the President; and it is expected that he will be recalled soon. It is alleged that he writes for Northern newspapers his impressions of what he has seen, and publishes opinions as to what policy ought to be pursued towards the Southern States instead of making his reports directly to the War Department for the information of the President.”