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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Carl Schurz (1829–1906)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by James Ford Rhodes (1848–1927)
IN 1848, that year of upheaval, the love of liberty and the spirit of revolution came to Carl Schurz, then nineteen years old (for he was born March 2d, 1829, at Liblar near Cologne, Prussia), a student at the University of Bonn. In union with other noble and bold spirits he endeavored to secure by force a freer government and constitutional rule. For his part in an attempt to promote an insurrection he was forced to flee from his university city; he went to the Palatinate and joined the revolutionary army. The revolutionists were defeated. In their failure the high aspirations of many liberty-loving men went down. Schurz escaped to Switzerland, which afforded an asylum for large numbers of the German political exiles. A year in Paris as a correspondent of German newspapers, a year in London as a teacher, brought him to 1852, when he came to the United States. Residing in Philadelphia and visiting Washington, he studied law, political institutions, and public men. He went to Wisconsin, and was admitted to the bar; but his enthusiastic interest in the antislavery movement drew him into politics. As a consequence of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, the moral and political struggle against slavery had practically become one. The Republican party had been formed. The Northwest, which had been Democratic, took ground against the extension of slavery, and one of the factors in its conversion was the support which the party of freedom received from the large population of Germans. Schurz threw himself into that contest with ardor, advocated without ceasing the Republican cause, and then laid the foundation for his influence politically over his countrymen, which he has never lost, and which has been of true service to the republic. He spoke for Lincoln in the memorable senatorial campaign of 1858 against Douglas, and made the personal acquaintance of the man with whom the points of contact became closer as the irrepressible conflict developed from the strife of words into the clash of arms. As the chairman of the Wisconsin delegation to the Republican national convention of 1860, held in Chicago, he advocated the nomination of Seward for President; but he did not feel, as some of the friends of Seward in the bitterness of their disappointment felt, that by the action of the delegates the cause had been betrayed and lost. From the debates with Douglas he had measured the ability and character of Lincoln: and when he gave an account of his stewardship to the Republicans of Wisconsin, it was no partisan opportunist who spoke, but an orator whose convictions were decided, whose words were sincere; he told them that their candidate was a “pure and patriotic statesman,” “eminently fitted by the native virtues of his character, the high abilities of his mind, and a strong honest purpose,” for the solution of the “problem before him.” During the canvass of 1860 he was constantly on the stump, speaking in both English and German. Receiving the appointment of minister to Spain, and entering upon the duties of his mission, his heart remained in America: he watched with painful anxiety, as Motley did from Vienna, the progress of the war. He wrote a dispatch to the State department, giving an accurate and comprehensive account of European sentiment in reference to our civil conflict, and urging that the Government take steps toward the abolition of slavery, to “place the war against the rebellious slave States upon a higher moral basis, and thereby give us control of public opinion in Europe.” Concerning the effect abroad his judgment was sound; but the President had to take into account the feeling of the plain people at home, and issued his ‘Proclamation of Emancipation’ at the earliest moment that it would have been sustained by the public, which Mr. Schurz inferentially in his essay on Lincoln admits. “It would have been a hazardous policy,” he writes, “to endanger, by precipitating a demonstrative fight against slavery, the success of the struggle for the Union.”  1
  Late in 1861 he returned to the United States, and served with credit as a general in the field. After the war he became a journalist. For a while he was the Washington correspondent of the New York Tribune; then founded a newspaper in Detroit, and later became the editor of a St. Louis journal. In 1869 Missouri sent him to the United States Senate, where his service was both solid and brilliant. He favored universal amnesty to the men of the South; he opposed President Grant’s scheme for the annexation of San Domingo, and was one of the senators and leaders of public opinion who gave expression to the profound disappointment and dissatisfaction of many Republicans with the general drift of Grant’s administration. Thus he became more than any other one man the head and front of the movement of Liberal Republicans of 1872, whose convention at Cincinnati, under the influence of some manipulation and a wave of curious enthusiasm, nominated Horace Greeley for President. Schurz’s choice was Charles Francis Adams, who represented logically the opposition to Grant, and whose candidature, whether defeat or victory came, would have been dignified, and might have laid the foundations for a new party capable of enduring good.  2
  During the financial crisis of 1873, the popular remedy for the distress, which had able and powerful advocates in Congress, was the issue of more greenbacks. Schurz fought in the Senate a bill providing for such an inflation of the currency. In 1875 the contest was transferred to Ohio. Meanwhile the Republicans in Congress had committed themselves to the resumption of specie payments; and Hayes, who was nominated for governor of Ohio, advocated unequivocally the doctrine of sound money. The Democrats put forward William Allen, and demanded that “the volume of currency be made and kept equal to the wants of trade,”—a declaration satisfactory to the generality of Democrats, and to many Republicans in financial straits. Then ensued a wholesome and momentous canvass. Schurz was called from a well-earned rest in Switzerland to take part in it. He spoke constantly all over the State in English and in German; with a power never before equaled, I think, of placing cogently before men who labored with their hands, the elementary truths of sound finance. It is unquestionably true that Schurz’s and John Sherman’s speeches, their campaign of education, carried the State for the Republicans; though so hard fought was the contest that Hayes’s plurality was but 5,544. That Ohio election made Hayes President, and Schurz Secretary of the Interior. As Secretary he served with honor, and he had an opportunity to put into practice his principles of reform in the civil service. He supported Cleveland in 1884, 1888, and 1892. In 1896 he canvassed the principal cities of the middle West; opposing the election of Bryan, speaking for sound finance in this great educational campaign as he had spoken in 1875, and being so persuasive a teacher that the sagacious chairman of the Republican National Committee distributed 1,500,000 pamphlet copies of his principal speech, besides a large quantity of so-called “Schurz Nuggets.”  3
  Such is a brief account of an active life. With George William Curtis, Mr. Schurz stands as the representative of the Independent in politics. No other man in this country, outside of a few who hold high office, has the political influence which he possesses. Wherever intelligent business men, college professors, advanced students, and political reformers gather together, there will you find the seed germinating which through many years and under different party banners he has sown. The eagerness with which his work on the stump is at different times sought for alike by Republican and Democratic campaign managers, is proof of his large influence with the mass of voters. Many well-meaning men accuse him of inconsistency, for the reason that he has changed so frequently his party associations; but if consistency means adherence through the years to the same principles, he may challenge comparison on this ground with the strongest partisan in the land. He has also been accused of unsteadiness, from his frequent change of residence and occupation. We all know the benefit of attachment to family and location, which we see so clearly in Virginia and Massachusetts: such a feeling causes men to take root in the soil, and redounds to the safety of the State. But in our great republic, there is room for the cosmopolitan, for the citizen who has no attachment to any State, whose love is for the nation. Mr. Schurz, while pre-eminently a citizen of the world in society, literature, and art, is as true an American as any man born on American soil.  4
  It is a remark of Bagehot that the men who know most, rarely have the time or the training to write books. Let it be noted then in the calendar, when a man of Mr. Schurz’s varied life becomes a distinguished member of the republic of letters. His ‘Life of Henry Clay’ is one of the best biographies ever written. The view is purely objective. He had no manuscript material, no imprinted private letters which would of themselves present his hero in a new light. His material was books and speeches accessible to every one. The merit of the biography lies in the thorough assimilation of the facts, the power of telling a story, the bringing to bear upon the subject the wealth of his experiences, and the fusion of the whole into a form grateful to literary art. It seemed strange perhaps that the editor of the ‘American Statesmen’ series selected him who was a strenuous advocate of a tariff for revenue only, to write the life of Clay, the father of the principle of protection to home industries. But John T. Morse, Jr., the editor, chose wisely. Mr. Schurz treats the tariff question and Clay’s relation to it with absolute candor. In truth, had he been in public life contemporary with Clay, he would probably have taken the opposite side, on nearly every public question, from his hero; yet such is his impartiality and sympathy that all who read the book must end it with loving Henry Clay. The historical part is of great value, and I question whether one who had not been Senator and Cabinet minister could have given to it such animation.  5
  Mr. Schurz wrote an essay on Abraham Lincoln, originally published in the Atlantic Monthly. More has been written about Lincoln than about any other man in our history; but our author, by his power of generalization, and his presentment of the orderly unfolding of this great life, has thrown new light on the character and work of the martyr President. To say that the essay is a classic is praise none too high.  6
  After his retirement from public life, Mr. Schurz was one of the editors of the Evening Post, in association with E. L. Godkin and Horace White. On the death of George William Curtis, he became the writer of the leading political article of Harper’s Weekly. At first his contributions appeared unsigned, but in 1897 they began to be printed over his own signature. He discusses, for his audience of several hundred thousand, domestic and foreign politics, with an intelligence, acumen, and incisive literary style that certainly are not surpassed in America or in England. He writes English with accuracy, clearness, and vigor, and is never dull. A French writer has said: “To acquire a few tongues is the task of a few years. To be eloquent in one is the labor of a life.” In language the work of Mr. Schurz is that of two lives, for he is eloquent in both English and German.  7
  EDITORIAL NOTE.—The preceding essay was written by Mr. Rhodes in 1897; but the Editors have preferred to let it stand as presenting a contemporary estimate of Schurz by the distinguished historian of the very period in which he was most active. Carl Schurz, however, had by no means ended his activities in 1897. In the political campaign of 1900 he gave his support to Mr. Bryan on a platform of anti-imperialism, and in 1904 he again supported the democratic candidate, Judge Parker. His ‘Reminiscences’ in three volumes appeared in 1907–8, after his death, which occurred on May 14th, 1906.  8

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