The Writings of Carl Schurz/To William Follenius, January 20th, 1872


Washington, D. C., Jan. 20, 1872.

In reply to your letter of the 3d instant, I beg to assure you that I should be happy to attend the meeting of the Liberal Republicans of Missouri on the 24th, did not my official duties render it impossible for me to leave Washington at the present time.

You ask me to give you my views on the political situation, and I shall do so with great pleasure. You are certainly right in saying that the same principles which the Liberal Republicans of Missouri inscribed upon their banner in 1870 are now in issue on the larger field of National politics. That great measure of peace and reconciliation, the removal of political disabilities, is still the subject of controversy. Although it may be said with certainty that public opinion in all parts of the country is turning in its favor, yet the obstacles which so long have stood in its way, whether they consist in adverse opinions conscientiously formed, or stubborn resentments clouding the better judgment of men, or a narrow-minded partisan spirit ready to sacrifice the public good to selfish ends, are by no means overcome.

It is desirable that the friends and advocates of this most salutary policy should unite in a vigorous effort to promote its success, and the voice of no class of men is in this respect entitled to greater consideration than that of the Liberal Republicans of Missouri. They can point with pride to the results which their wise and conciliatory action, overleaping the barriers raised by partisan spirit, has produced in their own State; for it can be said without the least exaggeration, while in no State during the evil days of the Republic, the civil war was carried on with more relentless ferocity, and society was more fiercely convulsed by political passion, there is not one to-day in which more unbroken peace and order prevail, in which the rights of the emancipated slave are more completely respected, in which the revival of fraternal feeling is more general and in which all classes of society, in spite of their former animosities, move and work together in more cordial harmony. When the same spirit, which has been so fruitful of good in Missouri, inspires our National legislation, we may hope to see similar results accomplished even in those unfortunate communities where the reminiscences of the civil war are still kept alive by violent disorders, and where the evils growing from corruption and profligate misgovernment, no doubt in a great measure owing to the exclusion of a numerous class of intelligent and influential men from the management of the public business, trouble and exasperate even the well-disposed.

The subject of civil service reform, which also formed a prominent feature of our platform in 1870, has attracted the attention of the people in a higher degree than ever before. That the President has adopted and promised to carry out a plan of reform proposed to him by the Civil Service Commission must by no means be taken as an indication that the cause of reform is now safe. The announcement made by the President was at first received by many of his most ostentatious partisans with a triumphant smile, as a clever flank march to checkmate those who demanded a searching inquiry into the abuses of the Government. But no sooner was the faintest beginning made of carrying that system of reform into effect, than it revealed at once a most determined and active opposition inside of the Administration party, not only to the plan of reform proposed by the Commission, which may, indeed, be considered liable to criticism and capable of great improvement—but to any reform of the civil service calculated to do away with that most prolific source of corruption and demoralization, the patronage. Attempts may be looked for to discredit the cause of civil service reform by the difficulties and failures which may attend the examination of candidates now to be instituted and by holding up before the people the idea of reform in every shape as a demonstrated impracticability and mischievous delusion.

It is not improbable that in the political contests now before us a trick will be resorted to which is not unknown among the contrivances of parties to secure popular support the trick of opening a prospect of reform through one influence, and the defeat of that reform through another, for the purpose of catching reformers and spoilsmen in one net. It is the duty of the true friends of civil service reform, who want the real thing and not a mere delusive shadow, to be untiring in their watchfulness, and to unite in an earnest effort, so that the people be not deceived by such a double game, which would be certain to result in the disappointment of our hopes. I say this, not as if I desired to throw doubt upon the intentions of those who devised and initiated the proposed system, but to express my misgivings as to the dangerous efforts which will be made to render genuine reform impossible, and to urge its true friends to come to an intelligent understanding as to the steps to be taken for the promotion of so great an object; for I have long considered the reform of the civil service, the destruction of the corrupting and demoralizing influences of the patron age, the elevation of the moral tone of our political life, as one of the most important problems, second, perhaps, to none among those we have to solve for the success and perpetuation of our republican institutions.

Since we declared ourselves in our platform of 1870 in favor of a revenue system that would do away with unjust discrimination in favor of some industrial interests, and to the detriment of others, National legislation in that respect has undergone no material change, nor does there seem to be an immediate prospect of a change such as we desire. Apparent concessions may be made by the favored interests and the advocates of the policy which benefits them, but the existing system is likely to be maintained for the present in its essential features, unless the people manifest their desire for a thorough reform of that system in so emphatic a manner as to make resistance impossible. And here again it is eminently desirable that those who think alike should make their influence felt by intelligent and energetic cooperation.

It cannot be too often repeated that the Executive usurpations of power which have occurred and the passage of laws enabling the National Government to set aside the most essential guarantees of the liberties of the citizen, and to invade the rightful domain of local self-government, and the readiness with which such things were submitted to under the influence of party discipline, should convince us how necessary is a speedy return to sound Constitutional principles. Constitutional government is so great a boon, and so difficult to be regained when once lost, especially when the appreciation of its importance is once weakened in the popular mind by the habit of acquiescence, that no effort should be spared to stem the current before it becomes irresistible. We should not permit any consideration of partisan advantage to divert our minds from a duty which we owe to our own safety, as well as to those who are to enjoy the blessings of free government in the country after us.

One of the healthiest and most encouraging signs of the times we find in the overthrow of that combination of public robbers in New York whose hold upon power seemed to defy all attempts at resistance or opposition. The successful cooperation of honest men, without distinction of party, to which it at last succumbed, indicated the commencement of a moral revolution in politics, and nothing could be more desirable than that this revolution should not be confined to the limits of one State or one political organization. An imperative demand for honest government is indeed beginning to be heard all over the land. Public opinion has with significant unanimity sustained those who insisted upon a thorough investigation of the abuses of the Government, and it is to be hoped that the work of purification will not be arrested before it has overcome that partisan spirit which for its own selfish ends is still endeavoring to belittle and whitewash corrupt practices, and to shield men who participated in them, or who rendered them possible by knowing toleration. It is time that corruption should be rooted out at any cost.

With the close of the war we entered upon a new period of our National development. New duties and new problems are confronting us and imperatively demand our attention. The old battlecries and catchwords of political parties are gradually becoming obsolete. They will disappear entirely as soon as the public mind is satisfied that the logical and legitimate results of the war, the great guarantees of equal rights as embodied in the last three amendments to the Constitution, are safe beyond peradventure. I am satisfied that any attempt to overthrow them will result in utter failure, although it might lead to temporary confusion and disaster.

We Liberal Republicans look upon those results of the war, Constitutionally guaranteed, as the very basis of the new order of things, and we shall, as patriotic citizens, always sustain them with unwavering fidelity. This is the first article of our political program. But I trust, also, that those who are sincerely devoted to great ends of public good, will not let mere party dictation, which in our days has so frequently developed a despotic tendency, or an artful revival of the old warcries without sufficient occasion, deter them from following the course pointed out by their sense of duty, nor permit themselves to be used as mere tools for purposes of which their consciences do not approve.

  1. Then a State senator at Jefferson City, Mo.