The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Rutherford B. Hayes, January 30th, 1877


St. Louis, Jan. 30, 1877.

I respond to your kind invitation to write about Cabinet appointments with a good deal of diffidence, for, in spite of the best intentions, mistakes in recommending men will happen.

That you do not want in your Cabinet anybody of tarnished or reasonably suspected integrity, or tainted with demagoguery, or identified with the abuses to be corrected, by participation or apology, is a matter of course. I take it also for granted that you desire to gather around you the highest character and the best political ability available. Here permit me to venture upon a suggestion. It appears to me of first importance that you should be as well as possible assured of the motives animating those you select as your Secretaries. It would, perhaps, neither be possible nor advantageous to exclude all of those who have been thought of, or who have thought of themselves, as candidates for the Presidency, for this might exclude very strong and useful men. But it would be positively dangerous to have a certain class of them in the Cabinet; I mean those who are inclined to treat public questions not on their own merit and with a single eye to the public interest, but with a view to what they can make out of the power they wield for their personal ends. Such men will drift into intrigues against one another, likely to cause continual discord and uneasiness in the Cabinet, and in some respects to obstruct the best endeavors of the Executive. This appears especially important to a President who wants to effect a thorough reform of the civil service. You have put your declination of a second term wisely upon the ground that a President who means to do that should keep clear of the temptations of the patronage. Of what use would that self-abnegation of the President be if he should put the Departments, or any of them, under the control of men working for the succession and inclined to use the power of the Administration, as far as they can influence it, for their own advantage? While the head of the Government is shunning temptation, some of the most powerful men under him would look upon temptations only as opportunities.

It is probably impossible to construct a Cabinet all the members of which perfectly agree with the President and with one another on all political questions. But I think I am only expressing your own conviction when I say, that as to the principal aims of your Administration the Cabinet should be substantially a unit, and consist of men who not only in a languid way acquiesce in those aims, but have them sincerely, earnestly at heart. As I said in my last letter, I am sure that you can and will succeed in carrying out your reforms and thus in doing an inestimable service to the Republic, if the work is begun and continued in the right spirit. But much of that work will have to be done in and through the Departments, and at the head of those Departments there must be men who are not only animated by vague desires in the right direction, but who have, together with prudence and discretion, the necessary pluck and steadfastness and patience to stand up to their duty under all circumstances, so that the President, who cannot always watch and direct them, may with entire confidence depend on their fidelity and efficiency. This may be said not only concerning civil service reform, but also the management of the Southern question, in which the influence to be exercised through the Departments may become of very great importance. An Administration working at cross purposes or with an uncertain and flagging spirit in its machinery, would be in danger of failure.

In suggesting the following names I have kept in mind that the Secretaries have to act in a double capacity: as practical managers of their respective Departments, and as members of the highest political council of the Government.

1. Secretary of State. You have probably thought of Mr. Evarts already. As to his capacity and acquirements nothing need be said. The present condition of Europe renders it desirable that the Secretary of State should be conversant with European affairs, and I think Mr. Evarts understands them as well as is necessary. It may be objected that he thinks of the Presidency, but, if so, I sincerely believe he does not belong to that class of aspirants who would intrigue for the promotion of personal ends, or permit their ambition to affect their sense of duty. I think him a high-minded man. I am pretty well acquainted with him, although not very intimately. But such is my impression and it is also that of several men who know him well, and whose judgment I would trust. His views and principles on all essential points would, as I think, accord with your own.

I would also mention Mr. G. W. Curtis, who is a very pure, patriotic and able man, and would, I believe, fill that place very creditably.

2. Secretary of the Treasury. My first suggestion would be Mr. Bristow, especially for the reason that the Treasury Department with its extensive machinery is one of the most, if not the most important one with regard to the reform of the service. I know Bristow to have that cause earnestly at heart and to be a sincere man. It has been said by his adversaries that he used his official power for the furtherance of his interests as a Presidential candidate. I believe that charge unjust, unless he did so by taking care of the public interest with uncommon fidelity and vigor. He is, as I think, also one of those, whom no thought of the Presidency would swerve from the path of duty, and who has the instincts and principles of a gentleman. He has made some enemies, but in a way in which every man in his position, who is faithful to his duty, will make enemies. Although he is not a trained financier, his management of the Department has been very creditable in that respect. His appointment would be generally hailed as an earnest of the reformatory spirit of the Administration.

Governor Morgan of New York has been suggested in the press in connection with the Treasury, but being an importing merchant he is disqualified by statute. Moreover, it would perhaps be questionable policy to put the New York customhouse and the internal revenue machinery in that State under the control of any man deep in New York politics, be he otherwise ever so honorable. As a curious fact, which I learned in New York months ago, I would mention that it was Mr. Evarts's real ambition to be Secretary of the Treasury.

3. Secretary of the Interior. I would suggest General Cox first, if he can be spared from the House of Representatives, which, indeed, seems doubtful. Ex-Senator John B. Henderson of Missouri. He is a very able man, well versed in business, a sagacious adviser, and, I think, of correct views on public matters. Ex-Senator Pratt of Indiana, a man of high character, good ability and excellent principles. He made a very safe and efficient Commissioner of Internal Revenue. You have, perhaps, thought in this connection also of Mr. Washburne, at present United States Minister in France.

4. Attorney-General. The name first occurring to me is that of Senator Edmunds; but I candidly do not think he can be spared from the Senate, of which he is one of the most valuable members. Courtlandt Parker of New Jersey. I know him, but not intimately enough to express an opinion of my own. His reputation is that of a very able lawyer and a high-minded gentleman. My impressions with regard to him are very favorable. Chief Justice Gray of Massachusetts, a man of high standing as a lawyer and most excellent character and principles. He would, I think, be a good selection, but I do not know, however, whether he would consent to leave the bench. Of course, Mr. Evarts would, of all these, make the greatest Attorney-General, and Mr. Henderson, already mentioned, a good one.

5. Secretary of War. Gen. Joseph Hawley of Connecticut, whom you probably know. A name that occurs to me also is that of General Harrison of Indiana; and I merely mention it as I am not sufficiently acquainted with him to express an opinion.

6. Secretary of the Navy. In connection with this office, which, I believe, is generally given to an Eastern man, I would call your attention to a gentleman whom I know as one of the best citizens in this country, Mr. Henry L. Pierce of Boston, a member of the present Congress. He is a man of sterling virtue, very good capacity, not brilliant but of excellent common-sense, and of the soundest principles. I am sure, Massachusetts and all New England would delight in having him in your Cabinet and see in his appointment another evidence of the high tone of your purposes. In a Cabinet some men are needed who will under all circumstances tell you the truth about everything, with frankness and sincerity, and I think Bristow and Pierce belong to that class probably more than most others. If you should desire to have Governor Morgan in your Cabinet, I would suggest that the Navy would probably be a suitable place. But I should consider Pierce a better appointment. He would, however, in my opinion also do for the Interior.

7. Finally Postmaster-General. The name of Governor Jewell suggests itself as probably that of the best business manager that Department has had for a long time. He has not the training of a statesman, but, if there is political talent enough in the rest of the Cabinet, the Post-Office might perhaps be given to a business man who has made an excellent reputation as an administrative officer, is a man of good principles and has the character of a gentleman.

I must also mention Mr. Galusha A. Grow of Pennsylvania, late Speaker of the House. He is a man of very good qualities, fine ability, considerable political and business experience and high character. Among the prominent public men of Pennsylvania he is one of the ablest and probably the most trustworthy. He would, I think, make a good Postmaster-General, as well as a good Secretary of the Interior.

I have suggested these names as they occurred to me, since you so kindly invited me to write about the matter, probably overlooking several worthy men whom you have already thought of. Now, from such a list a very strong Cabinet might be constructed, and also a fair and personally unobjectionable but indifferent one. In this respect pardon me for offering another suggestion. Your Administration will have to deal with very important and difficult problems, and, in order to carry out your purpose, it will have to surmount a great variety of obstacles and to withstand an extraordinary pressure of adverse tendencies and interests. To do that successfully it will need all the ability, character and energy—in one word, all the positive elements of strength that may be available; for there will be a great many things which you can neither do nor watch yourself, but which you will be obliged to trust to your Secretaries. A Cabinet of mere good intentions, but of indifferent intellectual and moral power might, and, I think, would, in the long run become a source of very great embarrassment to you, and when you once have it, it will not be the easiest thing in the world to get rid of it or to mend it. The history of the country presents many warning examples in this respect.

There has been a rumor in the papers that you would perhaps go outside of the party lines in choosing a member of the Cabinet from the South. Looked at from certain points of view, this might be a good stroke of policy, if the right man can be found.

If you should desire about this or that person specific information which I can give, it will be gladly at your disposal, and I need not assure you that you can absolutely rely on my discretion, the necessity of which in such a case I appreciate fully.