The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Rutherford B. Hayes, January 25th, 1877


St. Louis, Jan. 25, 1877.

I have just received your letter of the 23d. You say with regard to the Conference bill: “With me the principal objection is the usurpation of the Presidential power of appointment which it involves. Congress, as my ‘letter’ intimates, has done this too much in the past.” You know how decidedly I stand by your letter in that respect, but I do not see how this bill encroaches upon the Presidential power. It provides only for the appointment of the Commission, which, it seems to me, naturally belongs to Congress, if Congress has any power over the subject at all, while it is not pretended that the President has anything to do with the counting of the electoral vote. If this is so, then this bill would seem to involve no usurpation of the Presidential power.

If, in response to your kind invitation, I am to give you my views “fully” on your prospective inaugural, you will permit me a few preliminary remarks. Owing to the peculiarity of your situation, if you are declared elected, your inaugural will be the most important one since Lincoln's first. The Commission deciding in your favor, your title will be generally recognized and respected. Every attempt to dispute it will be frowned down by the people. But the things which preceded your accession to power—the close election, the long and doubtful contest after it, the suspicious Louisiana affair—will for a time remain in the popular mind like a lingering cloud. They will also form part of the history of the country. To clear away that cloud and completely to reconcile the judgment of history, your Administration must be, as you certainly desire it to become, not only what would ordinarily be called a creditable one, it must be a strikingly good one, leaving a heritage of beneficent and lasting results behind it. In what direction you mean to make it such, you have wisely outlined in your letter of acceptance. The President who carries out the pledges of that letter will have one of the most glorious names in the annals of the United States; he will be revered as the moral regenerator of the Republic. It is the most magnificent and enviable mission I can think of, and I may say that I am heartily ambitious for you to see it gloriously fulfilled. Neither would, after all that has happened, a failure to redeem those pledges appear like an ordinary failure; it would be a dishonorable one. The greatest care must, therefore, be taken from the beginning to prevent that kind of failure which might come in spite of the rectitude of your intentions. You will to that end have excellent opportunities; and to improve them the first thing needful is a good strong start.

In this respect your inaugural will be the first act of importance. It will in a great measure determine your relations to the public opinion of the country, as well as the character of your surroundings. It would be useless to disguise the fact that at the beginning you will, in a certain sense, labor under a disadvantage. The conduct of the campaign, as well as what came after it, has left an unfavorable impression on the minds of a large element which, as I believe, you will naturally desire to have on your side, and part of which has become somewhat estranged from you. It is thought by many—not by me—that in spite of your own intentions, you have fallen under obligations which will force your Administration to a great extent into the old obnoxious ruts. You will, therefore, at first be met by a good deal of apprehension which, unless promptly removed, may have an unwholesome effect upon your personal surroundings. Certain classes of politicians will, of course, at once press eagerly around you: the party leaders, great and small, who want to take possession of your influence and make it subservient to their ends; the multitude who want offices. But the men who have only the public interest in view without asking anything for themselves are generally reticent and dislike to intrude. Some of them may come once or twice to offer their advice, but then they will stay away unless invited and encouraged. I speak here from an experience gathered in a close personal observation of the beginning of two Administrations, the first of Mr. Lincoln, and the first of General Grant.

To attach the latter class to yourself, and by that attachment to strengthen your Administration, your inaugural can be used with great effect. You remember the excellent impression produced at the beginning of the campaign by the bold and straightforward tone of your letter of acceptance. And it is also well to remember that, when the campaign had drifted away from its original program and repelled a large number of men who at first intended to support you—and of this I could give you many striking instances!—a considerable number of Republican papers and speakers found it necessary, at the eleventh hour just before the election, to hold up once more before the people your letter of acceptance, which during the campaign they seemed to have forgotten, in order to revive the first impression. It was then too late, and the tardy attempt appeared like a stage trick. Had not the first impression held out with a great many, the election would probably have gone wrong in more than four Northern States.

I mention this to show where, in my opinion, your real strength lies, and also your hope of further success.

Your inaugural should, therefore, as I think, contain as its main part, a bold and strong statement of your political aims, embodying all you said in your letter of acceptance, expressed, perhaps, in language somewhat different, but, if possible, still more direct and specific. It is true that your letter of acceptance was distasteful to some Republican politicians, among them prominent ones, and it might now be thought good policy at first to soften things so as to avoid antagonisms, and then gradually to exceed the promise by the performance. I believe such a policy a very dangerous one and I will give you my reasons.

If your inaugural is not at least on a level with your letter of acceptance, if it has any appearance of “backing down,” the immediate consequence is likely to be that the political elements whose support and inspiration you need in order to make your Administration what you want it to be, will feel repelled and discouraged and stand aloof, while those whose impulses and desires run in the opposite direction and have already proved so disastrous to the party, will press around you with an increased eagerness and vigor of hope. On the other hand, so clear and strong a proclamation of your purposes as will convince everybody of your inflexible determination to remain true to them will at once secure you the confidence of the best part of the people and evoke so strong a support of public opinion as to render the displeasure of politicians comparatively harmless. Moreover, you will in any event have to choose between controlling the politicians and being controlled by them. The latter may be brought about, in spite of yourself, by showing any dread of their displeasure; the former by convincing them at the start that you cannot be moved from your aims. Then your battle is not only half won already at the beginning, but that part of it which might otherwise become the most dangerous, will be altogether avoided. I mean the dragging part.

The difficulty of accomplishing this is, in my opinion, not as great as it at first might appear. The most formidable influences you will have to confront are in the Senate. That Senate I know pretty well. A Senator belonging to the Administration party is naturally not inclined to oppose the President. He may try what impression he can produce by appearing for a moment to do so, but on the whole he will keep on the right side of the Executive. A President, who has public opinion at his back, need fear no opposition in that body. I have always been convinced that had General Grant adopted a policy such as is contained in your letter of acceptance and clearly understood it and proved himself at the start firmly determined to carry it out, he would have been able to do so. He would have found friends enough of that policy in the Senate to neutralize the opposition of those hostile to it. I know that because I was there. But General Grant had no great political aims. As General Grant could have done it, so I am sure you can at once secure in the Senate sufficient support for the policy of your letter of acceptance, to make it entirely practicable, provided you do not permit its opponents for a moment to believe in the possibility of subjugating you by bluster or persistent pressure. Your influence will be all the stronger, as the Republican majority in the Senate will be so small after the 4th of March, that they cannot afford to trifle with the Executive. Thus my own experience in the Senate convinces me that by a determined vigorous start you will rather avoid long antagonisms than provoke them. Neither will you thereby injure or endanger the Republican party; on the contrary, you will lift it up and immensely strengthen it by calling once more all those moral forces into action whose coöperation made it so great in its best days.

I have dwelt upon these points so long in order to express clearly my opinion as to what the tone and spirit of the inaugural should be with a view to what is to come after it. I would now suggest the following points: 1. By way of introduction a reference to the events preceding and the circumstances attending your accession to power; the excited campaign; the closeness of the election; the doubts and the long contest following; party passion newly inflamed and apparent danger of disturbance; the happy solution of all difficulties by the verdict of a tribunal universally recognized as fair and impartial; the triumph of law and the return of repose, confidence and good feeling—a new proof of the inherent virtue of our republican institutions. The apprehensions thus happily quieted are well calculated to remind us all of the inestimable value of peace and good understanding among the people, and that no effort should be spared to foster and maintain them. The fact that in the election the people were nearly equally divided, also reminds the successful candidate that the President of the United States must feel himself as the President of the whole people, mindful of the rights and interests of all, and not as a mere party chief. Here particular emphasis should be laid upon your desire to unite all the people in a common feeling of patriotism and national pride; to soften party passions, thus to facilitate the consideration of great questions of public interest upon their own merits, and thus to promote the common welfare by harmonious efforts.

This paragraph can, with proper elaboration, as I think, be made very effective. A phrase like the following may, in appropriate connection, be inserted in it: that you were owing to a political party your elevation to power, and are mindful of that fact; but that you will serve that party best by serving the public interest best.

Of course, the phraseology in which these ideas are to be set forth is of importance.

2. The President in assuming the duties of his office deems it proper to make to the people a frank statement of the views he entertains, the motives which animate him, and the aims he means to pursue. Here a direct reference to your letter of acceptance would be in order, designating it as a candid exposition of your principles put before the people at the beginning of the campaign, so that they might know what kind of a man they were called upon to vote for. The pledges contained in that paper were given voluntarily and in good faith, and to redeem them in equally good faith the President considers himself bound by every consideration of public duty, of statesmanship, of patriotism and of personal honor.

The order in which the different subjects are now taken up would not seem to be of particular consequence. Perhaps you might adopt the order of arrangement appearing in your letter beginning with the economic question. A short statement of the material condition of the country would be required; the business depression, its causes and effects; the recent appearance of symptoms of improvement; not artificial schemes but well directed productive labor the healing force, together with frugal economy and good morals in public and private concerns; the necessity of returning to a normal condition in a financial point of view through the resumption of specie payments, for which the present condition of things is in an extraordinary degree favorable,—taking on the whole a hopeful view of things which, as seems to me, is entirely warranted by circumstances. Of course some strong words on the necessity of economy in public expenditures should not be wanting.

Civil service reform would come next: Reference to the abuses which have gradually grown up after the abandonment of the original system; necessity of elevating our political life to a higher moral level. Then a recapitulation of the propositions contained in your letter of acceptance, setting forth point after point as clearly and specifically as possible, in direct and positive language, so as to leave no chance for doubt or misapprehension as to the firmness of your purpose. This paragraph might close with an appeal to your party and to all good citizens to put aside all narrow views of party interest and to coöperate with you in this great task. This passage may contain also a reference to the platforms of both parties in which the necessity of reform is strongly recognized and certain propositions urged. As both parties should be assumed to have spoken in good faith, they must be taken at their word and are in duty and honor bound to give the President their coöperation.

Next the Southern question. Here again your letter of acceptance would be the best text. Elaborating the ideas contained therein, you might allude to the inevitable confusion and perplexities which could not but follow a great civil war, and especially a sweeping revolution of the whole labor system of a country; the moral obligation of the National Government to fix the rights of the emancipated slaves and to protect them in the enjoyment of those rights; setting forth that the Southern people, as honorable men, would have done the same thing, had they been in our situation; that the abuses and misgovernment in some States, which followed the enfranchisement of the late slaves (a class of people without their fault ignorant and untutored and liable to be misled), were to a great extent not unnatural; that, notwithstanding all this, the colored people are entitled to the sympathy, not only of those who liberated them, but also of their late masters; that the outrages here and there committed upon them, and the attempts to govern them by force, must be condemned by all good citizens; that the evil of misgovernment, the existence of which you frankly and fully recognize, must be averted by the harmonious efforts of all good men; that as these evils have been aggravated by an unruly and grasping party spirit, that party spirit should be as much as possible done away with in dealing with this problem; that, while in duty bound and fully determined to protect the rights of all by the employment of every Constitutional power at your disposal, you are sincerely anxious to use every legitimate influence of the Administration in favor of honest government in the Southern States, and thus to promote their prosperity and contentment. And as in this you will not be influenced by partisan feeling, so you call upon all good citizens in the South to cast aside the prejudice of race and party and to coöperate with you in protecting the rights and promoting the interests of all. I need not say that, in my opinion, this and the foregoing paragraph will be the most important in the inaugural as to their effect.

Then, I think, something should be said of your determination to conduct the Executive branch of the Government with the strictest regard for the spirit as well as the forms of the Constitution.

Then a few sentences referring to our foreign relations would be in order; to the international complications threatening the peace of Europe, while we maintain friendly intercourse with all the nations and powers of the world; to our wise traditional policy of non-interference and honorable neutrality; to our disposition and hope, if unhappily any question of difference should arise between the United States and any foreign Governments, to settle them in the same amicable way in which we composed our disputes with Great Britain; and your earnest desire to secure to this Republic the blessings of peace and good understanding with all peoples and powers.

Finally, you might wind up with a reference to your one-term declaration, expressing your purpose and hope to make that one term as fruitful as possible to the American people.

This I would suggest as a rough outline of the points without any one of which, as I think, your inaugural would not be complete. You have probably thought of other things in addition to these, which have not occurred to me. If my opinions and suggestions are of any value to you, they might be made more complete and satisfactory; if you would indicate the particular points on which you desire them, I shall be gladly at your service. I intended to add something on the Cabinet question, but may do that hereafter, if agreeable to you. This letter has already grown much longer, and perhaps more tedious, than I meant it to be. It would have been shorter were it less hastily written.