The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Rutherford B. Hayes, June 21st, 1876


Fort Washington, Pa., June 21, 1876.

I regret now more than ever that I did not have the pleasure of becoming personally acquainted with you last fall in the Ohio campaign, but I hope you will not consider it an intrusion if I address you with that confidence and frankness with which one gentleman may speak to another. I desire to submit to you some suggestions concerning the coming contest. Here and there the opinion is expressed that your victory is already won. I am sure your own political experience does not permit you to regard as certain what is still subject to the chances of war. When examining the relative conditions of parties in the different States one by one, I cannot but conclude that the issue will be very uncertain if the Republican party depends upon its record and its own regular strength.

It will find it impossible to conduct the campaign on the old war issues. Neither does my understanding of your own opinions lead me to believe that you would have it so. There is at present far more strength, as there is more wisdom and patriotism in the advocacy of a policy of justice and conciliation, than in an attempt to rake up old animosities and in a mere repetition of old cries. The Republican party, in order to be successful, must show itself strongest on the living questions which, of necessity, will press to the foreground.

Of these the questions of finance and of administrative reform will prove the most unavoidable. With regard to the former your own publicly expressed opinions are stronger and inspire more confidence than the Republican platform. But the struggle is likely to become an arduous one. There are in our present economic condition many indications which render an extremely stringent money-market probable in September and October. Such a state of things attended with an accumulation of commercial failures will be apt, as it always is, to tell against the party in power. Still, the evil effects of that circumstance may be overcome by a vigorous fight and the development of strength in that direction in which the Republican party is at present weakest.

The question of administrative reform is the really and seriously sore point of the party. There the attacks of its opponents will be most incessant and unsparing, and, unfortunately, they may be terribly severe without being unjust. It was the corruption in the public service grown to alarming proportions after the war, and, connected with it, the reckless partisanship disregarding Constitutional as well as moral principles, which drove the independents into opposition; and I will frankly confess to you that my own personal observations during my service in the Senate, as well as the terrible disclosures made since, from the whisky trials down to the jobbery revealed in recent investigations, have not seldom made me seriously doubt whether a thorough cleaning out of the influences now in power, by any means and at any cost, should not be considered the first thing necessary. I know that thousands of old Republicans arrived at such a conclusion.

The new Cincinnati platform promises civil service reform, but the platform of 1872 did the same, and it cannot be denied that public confidence in the mere paper promises of political parties is fatally shaken. The Republican reformers as well as the independents favored the nomination of Mr. Bristow, not on account of any personal attachment—for most of them were not at all, or like myself, but slightly acquainted with him—but because Mr. Bristow, in his official position, had vigorously used his opportunities for practical reform, thereby giving guarantees of honest government far more valuable than ever so many platforms. The platform alone will leave the party in a defensive position. It would be interpreted by the recent record of the party, and there is but too much in that record which cannot be explained away or defended by honest men. But the candidate can give life and certain meaning to it and thus revive all that ardor, part of which the defeat of Mr. Bristow threatened to transform into silent indifference. And here is the suggestion I desire to submit. In your letter of acceptance you can, if you choose, give your own construction of the platform and your own understanding of your duties if elected. You can substitute for the vague and discredited promises of a platform the frank and vigorous pledge of a man known to be a man of honor. You can make this your campaign and relieve it of all vulnerable points of the party record. You can accomplish this by reiterating your own position on the financial question, and then by declaring: that the equality of rights without distinction of color according to the Constitutional amendments must be sacredly maintained by all the lawful power of the Government; but that also the Constitutional rights of local self-government must be respected; and that a policy must be followed which will lead this Nation into the second century of its existence, not as a nation divided into conquerors and conquered, but a nation of equal citizens united in common self-respect and patriotism; that dishonest practices in the administration of public affairs shall be prosecuted and punished with impartial and relentless rigor; that the offices of the Government shall cease to be the spoils of party victory; that the civil service shall be made again what the founders of the Government made it and designed it to remain, organized with sole regard to ascertained fitness and honesty, and not as a party agency or a system of rewards, favoritism and patronage; that to the accomplishment of this object you will, if elected, devote the whole energy of your Administration and by all Constitutional means endeavor to secure the permanency of the reform.

Such a declaration, put forth not as a mere customary endorsement of the platform but as an expression of your own views of public necessity, a proclamation of your own resolution and purpose in language bold and ringing, would electrify the country and call to your banner the best elements of the people from far beyond the lines of the party. It would make you stronger than the party, which seems necessary to render success sure. It would supply the manifest need of these times, and make this one of the greatest and most salutary campaigns in our history, a campaign worthy of the centennial year. It would give back to the party under your leadership the aggressive moral force which it possessed in its best days. I may add that it would rally to your support as a strong working power a large majority of the independent element, especially also of the independent Germans, who, while having little faith in party professions, would believe in you upon your word.

I hope you will pardon the length and urgency of this letter. I feel that I have taken a great liberty by volunteering this suggestion, but I could not refrain, for the more I think of it the more I am impressed with its importance. I trust you will take it as coming from a man who speaks frankly because he means well.

You will oblige me by an acknowledgment of the receipt of this note, which will reach me here at Fort Washington, Montgomery county, Penna., until the 30th inst. On the 30th I shall take the night train on the Penna. R.R. for St. Louis.

  1. Then governor of Ohio and Republican candidate for the Presidency.