Visit of the Hon. Carl Schurz to Boston/Address by the Rev. James Freeman Clarke, D.D.

Boston: John Wilson and Son, pages 49–53

The Chairman. I will now call, gentlemen, upon one of the most independent of Massachusetts politicians; a gentleman who sometimes goes to conventions, but who is never conventional,—the Rev. James Freeman Clarke.


These, Sir, are the methods of European despotisms! Gentlemen come together to have a pleasant dinner in each other's society, and they suddenly find themselves called upon by your arbitrary authority to make a speech. But, Sir, I am equal to the occasion. I suspected how it might be. When I knew that we were to have for our guest this evening a gentleman guilty of the crime of having been born in Europe, and whose early life, as is well known, was spent in the service of emperors and kings, I thought that we might have introduced here some of the dark and cruel methods of imperial governments. I therefore carefully wrote out a speech and put it in my pocket; and, to save time, I will now read it.

I think, Sir, that though Boston has done several things during her brief existence, she has seldom honored herself in a more graceful way than by her reception to-night of our distinguished friend. The invitation which has brought him here was signed by leading men of every party, sect, and way of thinking,—conservatives and radicals, statesmen, divines, men of business, men of literature,—representing every phase and form of the best Massachusetts life.

And why have these men asked Carl Schurz to meet us here? Because they consider him to stand prominent among the statesmen of this country for that which they most esteem and honor,—for purity in politics; for the best republican principles; for human progress; for the union of liberty and law; for honest, clean administration. The men who signed that invitation have not done it hastily or ignorantly. They have known you long, Sir. They are familiar with your course. They remember your struggles and sufferings in the cause of liberty abroad. They saw you an exile, on foreign shores, coming among a people of another race and language, mastering the resources of that language as few to whom it is native have done, and becoming a power for liberty here as there. You have guided the vast body of German voters in our land, and united them against slavery. You represent to our minds the best elements of both nations. We owe it greatly to your efforts that we obtained the last four years of a good administration, and we are largely indebted to you for whatever it has done in the cause of civil service reform and pure administration. The government of President Hayes has seemed a folly and a failure to the trading Republican politician on whose brazen forehead is written the motto, “To the victors belong the spoils.” But we see in it four years of successful progress in the right direction, and believe that history will mark it as the turning point from demoralization to purity. Sneer at it as they may, denounce it as they will, they know that it is honored by the nation, and will remain a permanent obstacle to all attempts to restore the system of personal government,—that is, government for the benefit of certain persons, and not for the good of the whole people. Our gratitude for the past is joined with that other kind of gratitude, which has been cynically defined as “the sense of favors to come.” We look for your support and help in the great duties of the hour before us,—the permanent reform by law of the civil service, the industrial regeneration of the South, revision of the tariff, and, above all, ample protection for the freedom and purity of the ballot box, that palladium of American freedom. The civil service will become what we need, when no one is appointed to office but the man best fitted to do its duties, no one kept in office who does not perform its duties, and no one removed from office so long as he faithfully and ably fulfills its duties. And the rights of the people in elections will be vindicated, when law and public opinion concur to make it a crime of the blackest dye to obtain nominations by trickery, votes by bribery, or to tamper in any way with the returns. Such is the work before us, to which we trust our friend will lend his important influence.

This is by no means the first time that the people of Boston see his face, and hear his voice, and sympathize with his work. They heard him in Faneuil Hall in 1859, and listened gladly to one who having fought against tyranny in his own land, and passed through adventures there as strange as those of Baron Trenck, was now as ardent a champion here for the rights of all. We have known him as the friend and supporter of Lincoln, as one who gave up the emoluments, ease, and dignity of a foreign embassy to fight in the war of Union and Freedom. We have known him as the intimate friend of Charles Sumner, and are grateful that in the last, somewhat lonely, hours of that noble life, Charles Sumner had in Carl Schurz a friend in whose devotion and affection he could wholly trust; and we listened with gratitude to the voice which in Music Hall recounted the great services and defended the spotless fame of our own great Senator.

Those of us who have known all this have not found it necessary to examine very critically any charges against the fidelity of such a man. After observing such a career, we either know a man or we do not know him. If we know him, we also know that he is incapable of anything dishonorable. For those who do not know Carl Schurz it is, perhaps, well that his vindication has been so complete; and that the best friends of the Indians, like Bishop Whipple and General Armstrong, should have hastened to testify that they never knew a public officer more ready to hear and inquire into the wrongs done to the Indians, and to redress those wrongs by every means in his power. But those of us who are familiar with his history scarcely needed any such evidence. Some things may be taken for granted—and one is that the man who has devoted his life to the cause of humanity, justice, and universal freedom will not suddenly change into a tyrant and oppressor.

Every man has a right to have his actions judged by his character and whole career.

Judge the people by their actions” is a rule we often get;
Judge the actions by their people” is a wiser maxim yet;
Let the mere outside observer note appearance as he can,
We, more righteous judgment passing, test each action by its man.