Speeches of Carl Schurz
Fellow-Citizens: — Standing before my constituents, I deem it my duty to give an account of my public conduct, the motives which have governed it and the ends it is intended to subserve. I can do this in no better way than by expressing fully and frankly my views on the events which have produced the present extraordinary situation of our public National affairs — events in which I took a small part — and also to state what I consider it my duty as a patriotic citizen to do, in order to promote the interests of the public. It has been my misfortune to displease many with whom I coŲperated on the political field for many years, and from whom I now, with great regret, find myself separated. To the attacks with which some of them endeavor to overwhelm me, I have but one answer. I have never considered my party the supreme arbiter of my sense of duty; I have always seen in politics aims far higher than the success of the organization to which I belonged; and I have never believed that a party, even if it be my own, has a right to stand in the way of the public good. This has throughout my public life been my supreme rule of action, and I trust it always will be, to whatever consequences it may lead as to my political fortunes. On this ground I shall appeal to your sober judgment.
When I was honored with a seat in the Senate of the United States, I expected to support the Administration which then came into power. The tasks it was called to perform were of unusual importance. The civil war was over. Its logical results, the abolition of slavery and the organization of free-labor society in the South, were just being reduced to political form and embedded in the Constitution of the Republic. It remained to fortify those results by reconciling to them the minds of the Southern people, so that their development could be securely left to the working of local self-government instead of the rule of force. To this end, a wise and generous policy, appealing to the best instincts of human nature, was required to assuage the passions and animosities the war had left behind it, and to make those who had been overcome in the conflict of arms, as much as possible satisfied with the new order of things. During a great period of public danger the Constitutional restrictions of power had not infrequently yielded to commanding necessity; the law had been overrun by the exigencies of the moment, and the people had become accustomed to a government of force. It was necessary to restore the integrity of Constitutional government and make the laws respected by the governing party as well as those who were governed. Great abuses had crept into the public service, aggravated by the irregular practices of warlike times. The public interest imperatively demanded a thorough reform. The people were loaded down with enormous burdens, and while willing to bear all for their country, they looked for reasonable relief by a sound financial policy.
While these problems were uncommonly perplexing, the incoming Administration was favored with extraordinary opportunities. The ruling party had wielded almost undisputed power. It had a great history behind it from which it might have drawn a noble inspiration for new efforts aiming at something higher than selfish advantage. It had conquered under a banner of peace. There was an abundance of character and talent in its ranks to fit it for the work of reform. The newly elected President had the confidence of the country in advance. The masses of the people were well disposed. The greatness of the task to be performed, as well as of the possibilities presented, could scarcely fail to excite the noblest ambition. A success great enough to be the envy of the world was within reach. It did not require very great men to see and appreciate such opportunities, but it required what I might call the genius of smallness to lose them all.
More than three years of the Administration are now behind as a part of the history of the Republic. And what has become of our hopes? A disappointment which makes further hope appear like mockery. This Administration, which commenced its career under such happy auspices, has in so alarming a degree developed some of the very worst tendencies of our political life, that its continuance in authority appears as a danger and menace to our free institutions. In no period of our history, perhaps, has the selfishness of power and the grasping greed of party stood more insidiously, stubbornly and conspicuously in the way of manifest duty.
Let us take a survey of the field and trust to the evidence of our senses. The first great object of our policy should have been to renationalize the South; to revive among the Southern people feelings calculated to attach their hearts again to the fortunes of this Union; for, let us not indulge in the delusion that the holding together by force of its component parts is a basis upon which a republic can safely rest or long endure. It requires that bond which binds together the hearts of the people and not their bodies only. And to create that bond was for us the highest object of statesmanship. We read of King Frederick William II. of Prussia, the father of Frederick the Great, that he was fond of occasionally cudgeling such of his subjects as displeased him. One day while walking in the streets of Berlin, he saw a man hurriedly turn a corner at his approach; the King over took him and asked, "Why did you run away from me?" "Because I was afraid of your Majesty," replied the trembling burgher. "Well you rascal," said the King, "do you not know that I want my subjects to love me and not to fear me?" And to produce that love, he gave him a sound drubbing. Such methods of creating sentimental attachments may have passed more than a century ago in a despotic kingdom, but in a country like this love is not inspired by caresses of that kind. And even in Prussia they have long since come to the conclusion that it requires very different methods to build up and hold together a great empire. In order to revive patriotic feeling and National attachment in the South, we had to convince the people that we were their friends and not only their conquerors, that we had their welfare at heart, and not only our advantage. Only when we made them believe in the purity and unselfishness of our intentions could we hope to regain their affection.
Let us see what was done by the Administration and the ruling party. The great social revolution grown up out of the war had resulted by logical necessity in the enfranchisement of the colored people. Only by the exercise of political rights can the free laborer maintain his independence. But the colored voters, untutored and inexperienced, fell under the leadership of unscrupulous adventurers. I do not say that this could have been entirely prevented. It was one of the usual consequences of great social revulsions. But its effect might well have been limited in time and extent by a wise policy. As it was, a system of robbery and ruinous misgovernment ensued which has hardly a parallel in history. Most of those States were, with incredible rapidity, burdened with enormous debts without any equivalent. Scores of millions disappeared as by magic, in the capacious darkness of private pockets. Impoverished as those States were by the war, they were now stripped naked. The public expenses became absurdly extravagant, the taxes unbearable. Under such loads industry was discouraged and flagged; enterprise sank down with hopeless despair; production diminished; and incredible as it may seem, while the rest of the country was prosperously progressing, the value of property in many of those States appeared in the census of 1870, after five years of peace, far below the figures exhibited by the census of 1860. Such have been the effects of so-called carpet-bag government in the South.
Who was responsible for this? Those governments were, and are at this moment carried on in the name and under the auspices of the Republican party. It was through them that the Southern people felt the touch of the ruling power. It was in them that they saw its spirit working. Was that impression wrong? Consider impartially what reasons they had for it. While the most reckless and rapacious of political bloodsuckers were thus plundering those communities, a system of political disabilities was maintained which excluded a large number of the intelligent property-holding men from eligibility to office, and thus from active participation in the administration of public affairs; a large number of those who had the greatest stake in good government were thus told that it was no business of theirs. While in this way, on the one side, the work of the plunderers was facilitated, it was not wonderful that on the other the summons — you shall love this Government! did not meet with an enthusiastic response. The removal of political disabilities, although its good effect could not have been doubted, was studiously put off until it could no longer be denied, aye, until the Cincinnati Convention had shown that the question could be trifled with no longer; and when amnesty was granted, it was done with such useless restrictions and with such a grudging grace as to make it appear that those who gave it would much rather have withheld it. It was simply the first victory of the Cincinnati movement.
Look over the legislation of Congress touching the late insurrectionary States. Study it attentively, — the bayonet law, the Ku-Klux law, as they now present themselves in retrospective view. The ends that legislation was to reach were apparently good. Grave and most reprehensible disorders had occurred in the South. Voters had been terrorized in the exercise of their rights. Innocent and inoffensive persons had been cruelly persecuted, oppressed, maltreated, killed by organized bands of marauders. The laws I spoke of were ostensibly intended to protect the rights of citizens and to repress such disorder. Well-meaning persons, to whom, even when opposing the passage of those laws, I always gave credit for good intentions, were drawn into their support by their generous sympathies for those whom they considered in peril. But what was the character of those laws, what their effect and what the great aim of some of the master-spirits who designed them? Not only did they, in protecting the rights of some, break down the bulwarks of the citizen against arbitrary authority, and by transgressing all Constitutional limitations of power, endanger the rights of all; not only did they awaken in the breasts of many, however well disposed, the grave apprehension that a government or a ruling party assuming so much would stop at nothing, but such measures served directly to sustain in power the very adventurers who by their revolting system of plunder were violently keeping alive the spirit of disorder which that legislation was to repress. Some of the very worst of that thieving fraternity have been constantly hanging around Congress bawling and pressing for the extremest measures, with no other view but that every such act would be likely to give them a new lease of power and extended freedom to steal. How much they care about the protection of the rights of citizens and the lives of innocent persons, I do not know, but I am certain that they value such laws especially as a political machinery to control ballot-boxes and as receiving an extension of their plundering license. How well those laws serve that purpose you will learn by studying the history of the South during the last few years. I have been informed that at this very moment in a certain part of North Carolina over five hundred indictments, found in some way under that legislation, are held by the United States authorities in terrorem over the heads of so many voters and their friends, to make them vote and exert their influence at the impending State election as the managers of the Grant party direct.
It is thus that the ruling party makes itself felt in those States; it is in this light that the majesty of the National Government appears to those people, not as a friend to lift them up from their prostration, to guide them out of their errors with a generous hand and to make them look up to the National flag as a symbol of justice and fairness equal to all; not that — but as the ally and the abettor of the robbers who suck their blood, as the mainstay of a system which drains their resources, blasts their hopes, emasculates their energies, mocks their enterprise and condemns them to utter poverty, distress and ruin.
You, honest Republicans, whose ears have been assiduously filled only with horrible Ku-Klux stories, and whose minds are unversed in the mysteries of party management, you may look with surprise at this dark picture. You understand that the affection of those people cannot be successfully invited by the cry, "You must love us if it takes your last penny." You ask, how is it possible that so wicked a game should be carried on by the leaders of a party wont to boast of its great principles. It would be impossible had not that party fallen under the control of a selfishness so unscrupulous as to put party success above the best principles it ever possessed.
You must know that "carpet-baggerdom" is exceedingly faithful to the party, except, perhaps when its leading spirits, quarrelling over the spoils, fall out among themselves. It lives upon party fidelity and it preaches it as its political gospel. It relies upon the virtue of party fidelity to cover a multitude of sins. It sends its representatives to Congress strong enough in number to make up majorities. They are the staunchest and most zealous supporters of the Administration for value received. They are the household troops, always ready to march forward and backward, and to wheel to the right and to the left as the Administration managers direct. There are exceptions as there are white crows, but they are few. Whatever legislative scheme the Administration may set up, by whatever means of partisan tyranny in caucus or in Congress the opposition of independent men is to be put down, those household troops can be counted on. They faithfully aid the Administration in governing the country, in governing you. For that they receive their patronage, and by that patronage the Administration aids and sustains them in their States. They distribute it among their retainers who are equally faithful. Thus they organize their home forces through whom they rule the party at home. These forces are at their service and through them at the service of the Administration. Thus their system furnishes votes in Congress, delegations to National Conventions boiling over with enthusiasm for the renomination of the President, and it is expected to furnish electoral votes to continue him in power. I suspect, however, it will not furnish enough. In the meantime carpet-bag government, upheld by the patronage of the Government, and by the countenance of the ruling party, lustily plies its trade and fills its pockets; and you, honest Republicans, wonder why the late rebels will not become loyal enough to vote the Republican ticket.
But to me this seems certain: as long as party ascendancy is maintained by such means, as long as party selfishness stands in the way of honest government, as long as the National power appears as the ally and abettor of corruption and robbery in the South, that hearty reconciliation, that universal restoration of cordial feeling which this country stands much in need of, and which every patriotic citizen must desire with the whole ardor of his soul, cannot and will not come. As long as a system prevails which sacrifices the welfare of a part of the people on the altar of party advantage, we shall be met with distrust and alarm, for it is not from such sources that affection springs. I should be the last man to excite such distrust, and I may say without boasting, that I have done my share to remove it. And, having done this, I may throw the responsibility for the failure upon those who love the possession of power more than the accomplishment of the high objects for which that power should have been exerted. I charge the Administration and those who control the Republican party that by their partisan selfishness they have shown themselves utterly unfit to encourage and develop the good impulses slumbering in the Southern people, and thus to solve the great problem of National reconciliation. I assert that thus they have disappointed the hopes and forfeited the confidence of the American people, and that the power they wield has become barren of good, and fruitful of danger in their hands.
The partisan selfishness which sacrificed the great opportunity of renationalizing the South, has shown its evil tendency no less glaringly upon another field. The people looked to this Administration for a thorough reform of the abuses which had crept into the public service. Corrupt and unworthy officers had to make way for better men. Public servants had to be made aware that the interests of the people should be the highest object of their action; that to the Republic they owed their undivided devotion and their best efforts, and that they had no right to claim any advantage from their offices beyond the strict allowance of the law. Honor and duty should be their watchword. It was expected of the President that he would inspire all with his example.
The first period of the Administration when the Government was so conspicuously employed to make provision for relatives and personal favorites, which we cannot think of without shame and humiliation, we should be glad to forget, remembering only the many good appointments that were made, had the sequel been better than the beginning, but the disgrace of a nepotism more scandalous than anything the history of this Republic knows of — a nepotism which taught every public servant that in the opinion of the Chief Magistrate they might without impropriety exhaust their official opportunities to make themselves and their kinsfolk comfortable, was followed by practices more directly touching the character and integrity of our institutions. I will not speak here of the cases of embezzlement, defalcation, fraud and downright thieving which occurred under this Administration, and the number and magnitude of which as they accumulated startled the tax-paying people.
There were things more deeply affecting our public morals. I will give an instance characterizing the practice. The President, who in his inaugural address had promised that he would have no policy against the will of the people, fell in love with a scheme which he pursued much longer than was necessary to convince any sensible man that it was not in accordance with the will of the people. I mean the acquisition of Santo Domingo. He pledged himself through his aide-de-camp — and it may be worthy of note that here for the first time the President's aides-de-camp appear as diplomatic agents of the United States — the President, I say, pledged himself through his aide-de-camp to the ruler of Santo Domingo, "privately to use his influence in order that the idea of annexing the Dominican republic to the United States may acquire such a degree of popularity among the members of Congress as will be necessary for its accomplishment." It has been said that the President did not authorize such a pledge, but there is no reasonable doubt that he lived up to it, and it is no secret in Congressional circles that among his efforts to make the Santo Domingo scheme "popular among members of Congress," the patronage played its part.
This is a grave assertion, but I have better reasons for it than mere suspicion. It has frequently been charged that I would not have made opposition to President Grant could I have had all the patronage I wanted. I never noticed the assertion, but when the President himself makes with regard to me the same charge, as he is reported to have done in an interview recently published, I feel compelled to make a statement, which but for this, I should probably have withheld: —
When the Santo Domingo scheme was pending, two gentlemen in somewhat intimate relations with the White House, came to me, each one separately, soliciting my support to the project and telling me that I could have all the patronage I wanted if I would aid the President. In January last, having been slandered by the Administration press, and taunted on the floor of the Senate concerning the motives of my opposition, I inquired of one of these gentlemen whether his remarks concerning the Santo Domingo scheme and the patronage were authorized by the President. I quote the language of his reply referring to this subject: —
Regarding the conversation you refer to in your note I remember it was with the knowledge and consent and after I had had a conversation with him [the President] that I called upon you and had the conversation you spoke of. My impression is that the President desired your support for the Santo Domingo scheme and wished to be on such terms with you that your support would be obtained. I do not now remember any particular language used at my interview with the President and would not hazard doing him an injustice by attempting to quote from memory, but the impression made upon my mind by the interview was fixed and distinct.
This statement seems to indicate that I had a chance for more patronage than I wanted, had I concluded to serve the President at the expense of my convictions of duty. If one of us was in the market, it was not I.
But the abuse of the patronage appeared in its most hideous form when the nomination for the next Presidential term became a matter of urgent interest. In the meantime the demands for civil service reform had arisen with singular force from the people, and found a voice in the press and on the floor of Congress. It threatened to become a popular cry and could not with safety be disregarded. The President took it up, and reform was promised. A commission was appointed, a gorgeous array of rules and regulations drawn, the reform was solemnly and with a grand flourish announced to commence on a day certain. And now look at the condition of the civil service! General Butler, one of the President's fastest friends, declares that civil service reform is a humbug. The General does not surprise me, for this civil service reform is certainly a humbug as great as General Butler can make it.
Show me the oldest man among us. Does he remember a time when the civil service of the country was more completely a political machine than it is now? Does he remember a time when the service appeared more like a thoroughly drilled and disciplined organization of political agents than to-day? Does he remember a time within the whole range of his recollection when the public interest was more shamelessly overruled by political exigencies? Some time ago the President, forced by the public voice to make a show of decency, permitted it to go out that his brother-in-law Casey, the collector of customs at New Orleans, notoriously one of the worst officers in the service, had been requested to resign. The heart of the country was touched by so unheard of a thing as the dismissal of a brother-in-law. It was a joyous surprise, for nothing seemed now impossible. Well, it turned out that nothing was impossible, for, as if to make merry of the public, a few days afterward it was announced that a delegation of politicians of Louisiana had urgently requested the President to retain his brother-in-law Casey in office. The President succumbed, of course, without a struggle, for he had no policy to enforce against the will of the people. The notorious Casey is collector of customs in New Orleans to-day, and the comedy of his resignation appears as a mere mockery of the public conscience. Why is Casey retained in spite of his bad character? Is it merely because he is the President's brother-in-law? That undoubtedly is a great virtue, but Louisiana politicians know another reason. Casey has filled the customhouse with the managers of political organizations, white and black, collected from all parts of the State, who draw pay from the Government, although their principal, and in some instances their only occupation, consists in running the political machine in the President's interest under Casey's direction, and Casey's removal would throw the whole machinery into utter confusion. And thus Casey stands there impregnable in his office, a proud monument of civil service reform.
Civil service reform and this Administration! The Lord deliver us! The pen which wrote the message laying before Congress the new civil service regulations was not yet dry when it signed another paper ordering their suspension. The old traffic in offices continued without a blush. For months and months and from one end of the country to the other the whole official force has been engaged in pulling wires to dragoon the party into the renomination of the President. At this very moment, the whole civil service of the country, from the Cabinet minister down to the meanest postmaster, is converted into a vast political agency to secure the President's reŽlection. The Attorney-General spent many weeks, if not months, thousands of miles away from his office to "fix" his State of Oregon. The Secretary of the Interior has almost become a stranger to the walls of his Department. The Secretary of the Treasury has taken the stump in North Carolina to sing the praises of his master; the Secretary of the Navy, if I am rightly informed, will soon give the cause of his chief in like manner the moral support of his guns, and the money of the Government, as we are assured on good authority, is poured like water into the contested States to effect what the eloquent urgency of Cabinet ministers cannot accomplish. I need not tell you of the business the subordinate officers of the Government are now so arduously engaged in. Woe to the unfortunate place-holder who dares to call his soul his own and to utter a doubt as to the perfections of his master! He will soon learn that men can be reformed out of office as quickly as into it.
Civil service reform! Never have worthless favorites or political agents been kept in profitable and responsible places in bolder defiance of principle and public opinion. Never has the political conscience of the officeholder been more despotically controlled. Never has the hand of the National Executive through the patronage been more insolently thrust into the business of legislation as well as the local politics of the States — of which we here in Missouri have an interesting tale to tell. Never have the officers of the Republic appointed to the service of the country more generally become the servants of a party and of a man. And when, under such circumstances, we hear of the civil service reform inaugurated by this Administration, we have a right to call it an impudent mockery of the popular understanding, a barefaced jugglery attempted upon an intelligent people, the prostitution of a great cause. I trust the American people will show their appreciation of it by commencing the reform at the top.
And yet, bad as this all may be, it is by no means the worst feature of the case. Bad as that policy may have been which, throwing aside those moral agencies apt to bring forth a fruitful coŲperation of the best elements in the South, and to reunite the country in National feeling, delivered the Southern people over to their plunderers and tormentors; bad as the frauds and abuses may have been which disgraced our public service; bad as the management of the patronage may have been which in the highest place set a demoralizing example of selfishness, strove to corrupt legislation and transformed the whole service into a vast political agency; bad as the contempt of law and the violations of the Constitution may have been, which have grown into a most dangerous habit under this Administration — far worse, of infinitely more alarming import is the circumstance that the Republican party, the party once so noble in its impulses and so fearless in its actions has been so completely subjugated by the Administration and its political managers, as not only to lose its ability to rise up against such misdeeds and abuses, but even the spirit to discriminate between right and wrong and to call things by their right names. Whatever wrongs and abuses may exist they can be corrected as long as we have the courage to seek the truth and to recognize it. But a political party which fails to recognize abuses as such has lost the moral ability to correct them. Its very ascendancy will thenceforward stand in the way of true reform.
Is that the condition of the Republican party under this Administration? Let us see. Some Republicans undertook in a conspicuous place to denounce the abuses of the Government and to bring about their correction. You have heard, perhaps, of certain debates in Congress last winter which greatly disturbed the equanimity of the party managers. Flagrant wrongs in the New York customhouse were revealed and an investigation insisted upon. What happened? The men who denounced the abuse were vilified as enemies and traitors to the Republican party. But the voice of the people made itself heard, and after much maneuvering and wrangling the Administration leaders perceived that to refuse an investigation would be dangerous, and it was granted. But not one of the men who denounced the evils was put on the committee. The investigation was made. A mass of testimony put the existence of those evils beyond a doubt. The efforts of members who virtually constituted themselves the attorneys of those in power were in vain. The truth could not be entirely smothered. It was clearly and beyond cavil established that bribery and corruption had prevailed on a large scale; that the customhouse, with its legion of officers, had in the most unscrupulous and tyrannical way been used as a machinery to control the politics of the State, and this in the name of the President, that a most scandalous practice called the general-order business, by which the mercantile community was mercilessly plundered, and which had been previously denounced by the merchants, by Congressional committees and by officers of the Treasury Department itself, was still in full operation, and that the person most benefited by it was one of the favorites of the President, and, having acquired this source of unrighteous gain on the strength of a general introduction written by the President himself, maintained his position with mysterious power and a most singular success against all efforts to correct the evil. All this the testimony made clear. Well, what was to be done? The committee made its report, which is before the country. It is a wonderful performance. That there were bribery and thieving, could scarcely be denied. Bribery and thieving were bad; but bribery and thieving had always existed; and now there was nobody in particular to blame for it. That the customhouse had been controlled by political influence, and had made itself felt in politics, could not well be denied. But it had always been so, and besides, why should not officers take part in politics? Thus the transformation of the customhouse into a political machine was right after all, and nobody to blame. And as for the scandal of the general-order business, some little irregularities may have occurred, but the enemies of the Administration and the Republican party have been basely slandering the innocent persons involved, and, on the whole, nobody to blame. This is a virtuous Administration, and there is the end of it. And all this in the very face of the most conclusive testimony. And Leet and Stocking, the favored parties, are, with some modifications of the system, in the general-order business to-day.
An investigation was demanded of the sale of arms to French agents during the French-German war. Again the men who advocated the inquiry were held up as traitors to the Republican party, as enemies of their country and as monsters of wickedness generally. Again not one of those who denounced the scandal was appointed a member of the investigation committee. The inquiry was made. The testimony showed, in the clearest manner, that the laws of the country regulating such sales had been systematically trampled under foot; that, in direct violation of the orders of the War Department, prominent officers had indulged in direct transactions with well-known French agents, and that under the very eyes of the Department large quantities of arms had been delivered to such agents after they had been discovered, an act recklessly endangering the national standing of the Government. All this was proven so clearly that no sensible man could doubt it. And what does the committee report? The officers of the War Department construed the law for themselves, and they knew best what was for the public interest, and as to their direct transactions with French agents they had a right to do what they did do, and nobody to blame. And in order to make so pleasant a conclusion possible we are told that laws may be violated if in the opinion of the officer the violation is more profitable than the observance, and a doctrine of international law is set up, which, if applied to our Alabama claims, would throw us out of court amid the laughter of the universe. But at any cost the Administration must be protected.
Certain charges were made against the Secretary of the Navy. An investigation is ordered. It is clearly proven that he paid out a large sum of money in direct violation of the express language of a statute. But what is the report of the committee? He may have reasonably thought the claimant equitably entitled to the money, and construed the law for himself accordingly. Nobody to blame, and the Administration is virtuous. Certain Government officers at New Orleans, one of whom, at least, is near to the heart of the President, are charged with a scandalous abuse of official power, in interfering with the politics of the State, and other rascality. An investigation is had. Only fragments of the testimony have reached the public, making it certain that the inquiry is terribly damaging to those officers and the Administration. And what does the committee do? It does not report at all, trying to convince the people that nobody is to blame, by burying the truth in secrecy. The same policy is followed with regard to the inquiry in the disappearance of important official documents from the War Department. I venture to say that the report of neither of these two investigations will see the light before the Presidential election. The people must restrain their curiosity, and rest meanwhile in the belief that there is nobody to blame.
And now, what does all this mean? What does it mean that, when the abuses of the Government or the shortcomings of the Administration come into question, systematic whitewashing is cultivated as one of the fine arts, nay, as a party duty? What does it mean that the President can so flagrantly transgress his Constitutional powers as he did when ordering the Navy to protect the ruler of Santo Domingo, by force of arms, against any foreign assailant, and even against his own subjects; that the President may ever so wilfully violate the laws of the land and the commands of public decency; that the officers of the Administration may do things ever so arbitrary and mischievous; that the public service may show ever so many evidences of corruption and abuses ever so gross, and that then independent criticism is silenced with the charge of party treason, and every resource of ingenuity is exhausted on the floor of Congress, as well as by the party press, to justify the wrongs committed, to protect the guilty parties, to conceal the truth and to throw dust into the eyes of the people? What does it mean that you see men of even high public station, who might be presumed to respect themselves, openly, before the people, defend the scandals of Presidential nepotism, and the devotion to high and responsible officers of present-makers, things so disgraceful in a republic that no man with the pride and spirit of an American citizen should be able to mention, and far less to defend, the humiliating fact without feeling the blush of shame tingle in his cheeks? What does it mean, this reckless abandonment of truth and right and decency and manly pride?
It means that the party is to be served at any cost. It means that a party so controlled and animated by such a spirit demands any sacrifice for partisan success. It means that neither the restoration of fraternal feeling between the different portions of the American people, so needful to our National existence and welfare, nor our abhorrence of that system of wholesale robbery and scandalous misrule prevailing in the South, nor the sanctity of the Constitution and the laws of the country, nor the interests of the people as they are bound up in the honest and economic administration of public affairs nor even the pride and honor of the Nation must stand in the way of the effort to elect a candidate and to retain partisan power. It means that a Republican must not presume to serve his country by speaking the truth, if he wants to remain in good party standing. It means that a selfish party despotism has developed itself, which, by all the resources of reward and punishment, appeals to the low and sordid instincts of human nature, dragoons the ambitious into obedience by the terrors of a falsified and subjugated public opinion, and attempts to drag into its net the well-meaning by artful and systematic concealment of the truth, and fraud and deception; a party despotism which renders true reform impossible, by making it a partisan duty to whitewash abuses instead of correcting them, by obscuring our moral appreciation of right and wrong and teaching us to see in selfish advantage the supreme rule of action.
Do you want to discover the full power of demoralization of that despotism and the whole degradation of its victims? Look at them as they are lying at the feet of President Grant. I should prefer not to speak of him, did he not stand there as the embodiment and personification of the pernicious system which derives from his individuality its peculiar character. Gratitude for his military services and respect for his office have long restrained many from expressing their real opinions concerning him. I shall be the last man to forget or to carp at the great services he has rendered in the field of war. The honors he has won, the laurels he has gathered, shall not be touched. But now he is a civil officer, and he asks us to continue him at the head of the civil government of this Republic. With this question his laurels have nothing to do. There are no battles to be fought and no strong places to be taken. And now it becomes our duty to tell the truth concerning him, as we understand it. I shall do so with frankness, but not without moderation.
General Grant came into office under circumstances of extraordinary promise. He had, as General-in-Chief, directed the closing operations of the war. His success had centered upon him the gratitude and esteem of the loyal people, and in granting to the defeated foe a generous capitulation, he had, in a high degree, won even their respect and confidence. There was scarcely a man in the Nation to whose voice they would have more willingly listened, when admonishing them to submit to the inevitable, to accommodate themselves in good faith to the legitimate results of the war, to respect the rights of their neighbors, however humble, and to develop for the common good the opportunities presented by the new order of things — such admonitions being accompanied by work and acts of conciliation and good-will. No man could have done more to revive their best and most patriotic impulses, to quiet their apprehensions, and assure their minds as to the safety of their rights as citizens, to make them feel that they were not to be the step-children of the Republic, to inspire them with new interest in its fortunes, thus neutralizing their heartburnings and animosities, giving the peace of measurable contentment to their country, and restoring the long-lost cordiality of feeling between the different parts of the Union.
President Grant's position was equally fortunate in other respects. He had never been identified with party strife. Its entanglements, animosities and resentments were foreign to him. He owed his elevation to no particular set of politicians to whom he might have been bound by a debt of gratitude. He was not borne aloft on the shoulder of faction, while the very opposition he had to encounter as a candidate was respectful in the appreciation of the services he had rendered. No President would have had less difficulty to overcome in relieving the country of the curse of narrow-minded, selfish, partisan rule, in distributing the offices of the Government with a single eye to the true interests of the public service and in thus inaugurating his Administration with a reform elevating the whole tone and temper of our political life.
When he ascended the Presidential chair it may be said that the whole people surrounded him with a cordial offer of their confidence and willing aid in all he might do to give the country good government. There was not a statesman in this Republic who would not have been ready, nay proud, to serve him at his call. He might but have willed it to gather the very flower of political wisdom and virtue around the council-board of his Cabinet to aid his inexperience, and the disposition of the popular mind in his favor was such that from the very ranks of the opposition he might have reinforced his supporters. The Nation stood ready to applaud every movement in the right direction. To support such an Administration conducted on such principles and faithfully serving such ends, would have been not only the duty but the delight of every patriotic citizen. Accidental mistakes would have been readily forgiven. The evidence of pure motives and honest efforts would have easily silenced factious clamor.
Truly, since the organization of the Government no man had more power for good; no President, save Washington himself, was elected under more flattering auguries, and there is probably not one whose performances stand in more glaring contrast to his opportunities.
There is nothing so apt to dazzle the eyes of the multitude as military glory. Even the most discerning minds cannot easily resist its charms. We are fond of believing that a man who has successfully commanded an army must be able to govern a nation. But that universality of talent is but rarely met with. I venture to say that it is not in this instance. This is not a harsh judgment, for General Grant has his failings in common with some of the greatest captains in history. His career as President warrants the conclusion that he has never been able fully to appreciate the difference between military command and the complex duties and responsibilities of civil administration. I doubt whether it has ever become clear to his mind what the Presidency means in our system of government.
When that high office was presented to him, he took it as a sort of National reward, an accommodation, a place in which, after his military exploits, he might make himself comfortable. His mind seems to have been but little disturbed by the great duties and perplexing problems he was to take in hand. It may appear somewhat startling at first sight, that, as one of his friends, Colonel Forney, once informed the public, he should then have stipulated for a second term on the ground that one would not pay in point of emolument. This financial view of the case was indeed quite unusual, but if he did but look upon the Presidency as an accommodation, he naturally desired that it should not be a losing business; and some of his friends, who have readily entered into his spirit, actually use this mercantile argument in favor of his reŽlection.
His first duty was to form his Cabinet. The exigencies of the times urgently demanded that he should pick his Constitutional advisers from the ablest and most enlightened statesmen of the Nation. He asked nobody's advice, but made the selection himself. When the Cabinet was announced, it was the wonder of the world. The State Department was first given to a personal friend by way of a compliment, soon to be exchanged for a less responsible and more comfortable position. The gentleman appointed Secretary of the Treasury was at once discovered to be disqualified by the law; and as for the Secretary of the Navy, a wealthy burgher of Philadelphia, he said of himself that he did not know what he was appointed for, and had good sense enough to insist upon being speedily relieved of this troublesome business for which he had neither fitness nor taste. In the course of time some changes were made; men, who by their independent spirit and enlightened sense of duty, threatened to become troublesome, had to make room for others whose ascension to the Cabinet made that great council of state still more wonderful. It is impossible to draw from the traditions of the Government, or from the exigencies of the times, a principle or theory of a political character upon which so curious a Cabinet could have been constructed. But however little in its composition the great interests of the country might have been consulted, the President, true to the accommodation idea, consulted his own convenience, and selected men for the most important positions of the Government whom he desired to please and who pleased him with their company. He looked upon it as his personal affair which concerned nobody else. A painful but still reluctant apprehension was then dawning upon the minds of some that the conduct of this great Government had fallen into the hands of a trifler. The distribution of offices was now in order, and the President began at once to shower the sweets of his official patronage upon his relatives and personal friends. He had probably never heard of nepotism, and was undoubtedly the last man to feel the indecency of his conduct. Regarding the Presidency as an accommodation to him, and its appendages as a sort of personal property, he did not see why he should not increase his own comfort by making his kinsfolk and favorites comfortable with the offices of the Republic. Likewise it did not strike him as scandalous to reward men who had given valuable presents, with high and responsible dignities. He simply liked to please those who had pleased him — that was all. He found it unreasonable, therefore, that in the gratification of that desire the opinions of others should stand in his way. He surely believed that the fault-finders were meddling with things which belonged to him, and were no business of theirs. Neither did he find it reasonable that the man to whom the Presidency had been given as a reward should be hampered by legal obstructions; and when he found an old and wise statute standing in the way of the appointment of his first Secretary of the Treasury, and the tenure-of-office act troubled him in distributing the patronage, he simply said to Congress, "Just repeal me these laws!" That the repeal of such laws might lead to very mischievous consequences troubled him little; they stood in his way, and that was enough for him.
Soon after his accession to power he gave his mind, not to the great problems the solution of which the people anxiously looked for, but to a project of his own — the acquisition of San Domingo. A subject of such importance as the incorporation with our political system of a tropical country, with an utterly heterogeneous people, called for the most careful and earnest consideration. It is believed that the Secretary of State did not favor the scheme, and the State Department, whose office it is to conduct all the diplomatic affairs of the Government, was unceremoniously set aside. The President commenced a personal negotiation with Baez, the ruler of San Domingo, which he intrusted to one of his young aides-de-camp, whose zeal he had reason to believe equal to his own. The extraordinary character of this proceeding did not trouble him; he wanted to have the thing done, and to do it an aide-de-camp was better than a secretary of state. The aide-de-camp made a sort of personal treaty between the two potentates, in which the President was pledged to propitiate the favor of Congress for the scheme by lobbying influence. This disgraceful engagement would have revolted the sensibilities of any President having the dignity of his high office and the honor of the Nation at heart. But President Grant was so far from disapproving of it that, instead of marking that aide-de-camp with his displeasure, he continued to employ him in confidential missions for the same object. Nay, in compliance with the stipulations of that agreement, he actually did descend to the role of a lobbyist. I have seen him in that capacity myself. How could a President lower himself so far? Why, if nobody else wanted Santo Domingo he did, and he employed the means most congenial to his practical mind. He went farther. Baez, the other party to the arrangement, being in danger of being driven from power, which would have spoiled the scheme, General Grant concluded that his friend Baez must be sustained at any price. The method was simple. He ordered the Navy of the United States to belabor with shot and shell anybody who might attack Baez, even if it be that usurper's own subjects. The warships of the United States were virtually placed at the disposal of a foreign potentate. But could he order acts of war without the authority of Congress? Did he not know that the Constitution vests the war-making power in Congress? Perhaps he did not know; at any rate he did not care. He considered it his business. The Senate by a solemn vote rejected the treaty of annexation. The President in his message told the Senate that this was a great folly, and kept the warships of the United States at the disposal of Baez with instructions to shoot and slaughter as occasion might require. When it at last appeared that there was absolutely no hope for the project, its opponents being supported by the whole American people, he temporarily abandoned it — undoubtedly to take it up again if he should be reŽlected. And now, the Constitution violated; a precedent set, which, if taken as a rule, will place the peace of the Republic at the mercy of one man's whims or ambition; the Presidential dignity dragged into the dust; the honor of the Nation sullied — for what? To further a personal scheme of the President, in which nobody took any but a negative interest — neither the Cabinet, nor Congress, nor the American people — nobody but the President, his aides-de-camp and a few speculators of dark reputation. What the President's motives were in so violently pushing this scheme, I do not know. Certainly the main reason with which he advocated it in his message — that the productions of San Domingo would pay the National debt — was so supremely childish as to make the very schoolboys laugh. But he wanted it, and neither the Constitution nor the dignity of his high office nor the honor of the Nation should stand in the way of a thing he wanted.
Looking at the Presidency as a reward and an accommodation, why should he not make the most of it? Thus the case presented itself to the Presidential mind. He occasionally recommended other things in his messages, amnesty, civil service reform, financial measures and so on. Had he pressed these things with half the zeal he devoted to the Santo Domingo scheme he might have accomplished much; but anybody could ridicule civil service reform and call amnesty a National crime without losing his favor. There was the difference between a thing the President wanted and others he cared little about.
Another thing he wants is his reŽlection. According to his friend Colonel Forney he must have a second term to make the first one pay expenses. He started out with a show of independence from political influence, which at first the people were inclined to applaud. Numerous pointed stories, some true and some false, were circulated about it. But it was soon discovered that for his future success he needed organized partisan support. It was easily had. The required alliances formed themselves by natural gravitation. Soon we find him surrounded by political managers, the Camerons, the Chandlers, the Mortons, the Conklings, the Butlers etc., ready to do his work, if he would do theirs. It was a matter of congeniality. The interests of the President and of such political chieftains identified themselves without difficulty, he aiding them with the Executive influence in controlling their States for themselves, and they giving their aid in controlling the party for him. One hand washed the other. This was gradually developed into a system, all coŲperation being welcome, even such as that of Governor Clayton of Arkansas. There were everywhere people of some influence willing to work for a consideration; and thus the system was gradually extended, until at last the caucuses of Congress, as well as the civil service and the whole Republican party throughout the land, were completely under its control. Then that peculiar party despotism grew up which ostracized everybody who refused to obey its commands. It gave birth to a new sort of party orthodoxy, whose first tenet it was that President Grant must be reŽlected. The strictest fidelity to Republican principles was worth nothing, unless coupled with fidelity to the man. Opposition to Grant constituted high treason against the party for which there was no quarter. Everything else could be forgiven, but not this. Thus the Republican organization has become a personal party, absolutely subjugated to the interests of one individual. A Republican Administration degenerated to an alarming extent into personal government. Let the President do what he pleases, he finds complete protection in his faithful party.
And the sting of personal government is sometimes felt very keenly, even by the faithful. The President does not spare their feelings. He tests sometimes the utmost capacity of their servile spirit, for his selfishness is distressingly frank and ingenuous. They want him to appear to the best advantage, but he does not understand what they mean, and they have to submit.
They feel that his nepotism disgraces the Government, but in spite of all the pretensions of reform with which they seek to cover him, he cannot be prevailed upon to remove any of his relatives from office, even under the most aggravating circumstances. He keeps his brother-in-law Casey in place, although that man is universally known as one of the most worthless officers in the land. He keeps his brother-in-law Cramer, who made the diplomatic service of the United States ridiculous, at Copenhagen. And so on. No, I will not wrong him.
He did dismiss one of his kinsfolk, a Dr. Lampher, who had to resign a place in the revenue service in consequence of some gross swindling operations; in spite of that, the same man was appointed by the President to a place in a land-office in Washington Territory, where he had control of a considerable amount of Government money; but when the said Lampher also indulged in a fraudulent use of the public funds, even the good heart of the President could not hold him, and so one member of the family went by the board. But he is the only one. Whether the faithful like nepotism or not, they must do their best to defend it.
Neither did the most prominent of the faithful like the appointment of the celebrated Tom Murphy as collector of customs in New York. I have it on good authority that Tom Murphy's appointment was not pressed by political influence. But the President liked Tom Murphy. Tom Murphy's nature was congenial to him, and by way of expressing his personal regard and friendship, the President made Tom Murphy collector of customs. It must be admitted that Tom Murphy requited that act of Presidential tenderness by successfully pulling the political wires for his friend Grant.
The faithful are also distressed by the criticism the President provokes by his fondness for light amusement and his sporting propensities. But the President is not partial to the cares of government. The Presidency was in his opinion not given to him that he should overwork himself. No sooner does Congress adjourn than he is off for Long Branch, as a boy is eager to escape from his schoolroom. He decidedly prefers the delights of a horse race to the tedious work of a Cabinet meeting. The Secretaries, inspired by his example, run away also, and so we hear from time to time that the Administration is out of town. I have actually seen foreign Ministers in the capital of the Nation looking for the Government of the United States as for a lost child or a horse strayed or stolen. Such a thing was never heard of in our past history. The great business of the Government has never been so cavalierly dealt with. It is the closest approach to the habits of royal courts this country ever witnessed. The faithful do not like to see the President use his office for his own comfort in so barefaced a manner. But as they cannot prevent it they have to defend it, and they do it with self-sacrificing heroism. Even Louis Napoleon was not more slavishly served than Grant is by his men. Neither was Louis Napoleon in his misfortune more eagerly deserted than Grant will be as soon as he is beaten. But he will be praised and obeyed and supported by his political troops as long as he holds power in his hands.
I will not wrong President Grant. He is by no means a monster of iniquity. He is simply a man who makes use of his high official position to suit his own convenience regardless of other interests. He does not sit in his closet a designing usurper, gloomily pondering how he may subvert the free institutions of the Republic. Neither does he ponder how he may preserve them. He does not ponder at all. He simply wants to carry a point, and when, as in the San Domingo case, the Constitution happens to stand in his way, he just walks over it. He does not mean to break down the authority of the laws; he simply wants them not to hamper him in his doings. He does not mean systematically to outrage the public sense of decency by nepotism and low associations, to corrupt the service and to degrade our political life. He only wants to make his relatives and favorites comfortable, to associate with men who are congenial to him and to take the best care of his interests he can. He is not incapable of occasionally doing a good thing. He prefers a good appointment to a bad one, other things being equal. He undoubtedly desires that affairs should go well, his own welfare included. The cry for civil service reform growing popular, he came very near being a civil service reformer. He started probably with good intentions, and would perhaps have carried them out had he not found it to be his interest to control the political machine in the old way for his reŽlection. Then the absolute command of the civil service machinery appeared to him much more useful than civil service reform. He would probably have consented to let the Ku-Klux law drop by its own limitation, but considering his interest in the pending campaign he did not blush to urge his friends in Congress to continue in his hands the most alarming power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus while his own reŽlection is pending. He does not mean to be a despot, but he wants to have his will.
Such is the character of his personal government. We should be doing it too much honor by calling it Cśsarism. It is not inspired by any grand, lofty and long-headed ambition, by the insatiable desire of genius to do brilliant deeds and to fill the world with the splendor of a great name, like that of Julius Cśsar and Napoleon. It is absolutely barren of ideas and originality, bare of striking achievements, void of noble sentiments and inspiring example. It is simply dull and heavy, stupid and stubborn in its selfishness. Those who submitted to the rule of Cśsar and Napoleon could say, at least, that they were bowing their heads before the magnificence of towering intellect and wonderful activity, but here there is nothing to warm the heart or to seduce the imagination, and still less, to lift up our moral nature; and the vilest sycophant of President Grant cannot give as an excuse for his abasement, that he finds in his personal government anything to admire. We see nothing but a man who wants to possess, exercise and hold power for his own convenience, and submission to whose rule means loss of self-respect.
And yet, such as it is, this personal government has succeeded in so throwing its coils round the ruling party that the latter can neither breathe nor move except by permission. It has so completely subjugated the will and conscience of that party, that in it criticism has become dumb; that respect for the Constitution and laws, that love of truth, right and justice, that honest zeal for the public welfare and even the pride of manhood are paralyzed by the one supreme object to preserve partisan power in the power of one man. Ask those who in that party honestly strove to arrest the current of usurpation and corruption, and they will tell you that they found themselves running against a combination of despotism and submission as against a wall, deaf to the appeals of reason and inaccessible to shame. As one of them I have stood on the floor of Congress myself, and I know whereof I speak. I have stood there, startled at the stolid cynicism with which, to shield those in power, the most evident facts were denied, the most obvious conclusions rejected, the light of truth itself turned into darkness. I have stood there amazed at that cowardly courage, born of desperate causes, with which, to justify the abuses and misdeeds of the Government, principles were set up and doctrines advanced such as would make every friend of popular freedom grow pale and the Fathers of the Republic turn in their graves. I have stood there overwhelmed with shame and sadness at the very degradation of manhood I saw before me. I have stood there bowed down by the conviction that under the pressure of such influences the struggle for good government must be come a vain folly, and that we shall soon have to fight for the very existence of republican institutions. Such is the rule which at this moment controls the Republican party; and through it the American people. And this rule we are asked to continue.
As for myself, I shall not help in doing it. I cannot help it. I have been a humble and faithful worker in the Republican ranks from the beginning of my public life, and my political associations were dear to my heart. But this perverted organization is not the Republican party which had my allegiance. I came to this country from a foreign land to enjoy the blessings of republican government and to live in the moral pride of a free man. I cannot sacrifice both to a party which has been false to itself. I have always believed that true progress grows out of a free and manly contest of opinions, and I cannot aid in tightening round the American people that network of organized selfishness, that snakish coil of power which is to stifle every free aspiration, and to bind the people down to a will not their own. It is my profound conviction that this network must be broken through, this despotism must be destroyed, the people must be inspired once more with the breath of independent opinion, we must have the emancipation of political conscience, and now is the time to strike for it.
Have you thought of it, how a condition of things, such as now surrounds us, could develop itself? It is not a new story. Every period of great effort and excitement in the life of a nation is followed by one of apathy and indifference. It is then that bad precedents ripen into vicious habits of thought, into tame acquiescence in wrong, into indolent submission to the arrogance of power — in one word, into those dangers to which not seldom free institutions succumb. Such periods test the spirit of a free people, and through such a period we have just been passing. The civil war, with its gigantic efforts and terrible commotions, had put the energies of the people to an enormous strain. The reconstruction period imposed another heavy tax upon the remaining active interest in public affairs. Having arrived at a fair promise of settlement, people, under a sense of fatigue, were inclined to let things take their course. They did not want to alarm themselves. The Constitution might be violated; the laws broken; things might be done which at other times would have provoked the fiercest indignation; now they received but a passing notice. A part of the country could be most cruelly oppressed and plundered; in another part people could be aroused only by what they encountered at their own doors. They followed the lead of party by habit and without troublesome discrimination. And in such a season of apathy could the arbitrary tendencies of the Government and the greed of politicians knit those meshes in which party and people were to be led captive.
But, fortunately, the American people sleep neither very fast nor very long. They stretched their limbs and became sensible of their fetters. It was indeed time to wake up, that the spell be broken. The people instinctively felt this and thus originated the movement which rose into action at Cincinnati. Determined men cleared with a bound the prison walls of party, and resolved to be their own masters. Thus the Cincinnati Convention came together. That convention was not the product of a mere scheme of politicians. There have been but few periods in the history of this Republic when such an enterprise was possible. It becomes possible only when the popular mind is made restless by profound discontent and an irrepressible instinct demanding a change. The Cincinnati Convention sprang from that instinct. With astonishing rapidity the movement assumed dimensions far beyond the expectations of those who first endeavored to give it shape and direction. It would not confine itself to the limits of a select circle, nor be hemmed in by the details of a political reform program formed by its first leaders. It swept into its current multitudes of different ways of thinking in many things, but meeting together in one impulse; to reunite the whole American people in the bonds of reconciliation and fraternal feeling, and to shake off the personal government and party despotism now hovering over the country. Acting upon that impulse it put forth its declaration of independence from party rule, and nominated Horace Greeley and Gratz Brown as its candidates for the President and Vice-President of the United States.
Fellow-citizens, it is the custom of public speakers in election campaigns to exhaust their whole ingenuity in picturing the cause they advocate as the absolute good and that of the opposite party as the absolute evil. That custom I shall not follow. As I speak of the other side without exaggeration, I shall speak of my own without reserve. The results of the Cincinnati Convention have dissatisfied some of those who until then earnestly sympathized with the movement. I should be recreant to the truth and unjust to my own feelings did I deny that those results were not satisfactory to me. I have endeavored to lift up that Convention to the very highest appreciation of its duties and opportunities, as I conceived them. I desired that its action should be not only above reproach, but also above suspicion. I wanted its declarations of policy as well as its candidates to be such that every candid man in the land would accept them, not only as an assurance of National reconciliation and of relief from selfish partisan rule, but also as a full guarantee that the victory of the movement would furnish an Administration approaching the ideal of good government as near as human wisdom, integrity and earnest efforts can carry it. I desired a platform, therefore, covering with equal clearness and decision all the points of the reform the Republic stands in need of, and candidates whose known opinions, predilections and past conduct conflicted with none of them.
It has been publicly noticed, far more than the little importance of my personal attitude called for, that for some weeks after the Cincinnati Convention I remained silent. I will tell you frankly the motives which governed my conduct. I remained silent, not as if I had, under existing circumstances, for a single moment doubted the necessity of overthrowing the iniquitous power which now rules us, but because I thought of a possibility still to make the movement all that it could be desired to be, and to unite all the forces which it should have gathered under its banners, for energetic, harmonious and successful coŲperation. Had I found that possibility to exist, it would have found me willing to do my best. That it did not exist became clear to my mind after careful, mature, anxious weighing of all the circumstances surrounding us. And when I had reached that conclusion, I felt it my duty to act upon it with promptness and decision.
Thus I am warranted in saying that my course in this campaign has not been lightly chosen. I have suffered no personal feeling to enter into my decision. I have permitted no pressure to hurry me on. I have long and with painful anxiety considered how I could render the best service to my country that I am capable of — an anxiety rendered more painful still by the disagreement of some valued friends. My convictions of duty have been of slow growth, but they are clear and firm. I feel that I am right, and being right I shall go ahead.
We hear it said by our opponents that an Administration under the lead of Horace Greeley will give us no reforms, but threatens to leave things in as bad a condition as they are now. And, by the way, it seems there are some people who but recently found in Horace Greeley much to praise, many good qualities to admire, but who, since his nomination for the Presidency, have discovered that he is the origin of all evil and the sum of all villainies. We will let that pass. But as to the prospect of reform under his Administration — suppose for argument's sake he could not be relied upon to carry out the pledges he has given by accepting the Cincinnati platform as his own program of policy — can we forget that the overthrow of that party despotism which now prevails, stifling the voice of truth, condemning honest criticism as treason, concealing or whitewashing wrongs or abuses instead of correcting them, can we forget, I say, that the overthrow of that party despotism is the condition precedent of all reform? Is it not true that no thorough reform can be thought of until that is accomplished? What have you to hope for, if by the reŽlection of President Grant you prove that such things as have been done, can not only be done with impunity, but that in spite of them the sanction of popular approval may still be successfully claimed? Do you think that the law-breakers and corruptionists, or the Administration which countenanced them, or the party managers who protected them, will be made better men if they receive the encouragement of success? Are you simple enough to believe that the party tyrants will relax their sway, if you show them that such an insurrection against their rule, as that of Cincinnati, is of no avail, and that they really hold, not only their organization, but the American people in the hollow of their hands? Do you hope for more courageous and more successful resistance in Congress, when you have shown the advocates of reform there that they are abandoned by the people, that their efforts are hopelessly doomed to failure and that the ruling power has them entirely at its mercy? Do you expect to infuse a better spirit into our political life, when you teach your politicians and public men that the safest thing they can do for their own success is to become the tools of such party managers as now rule us? I appeal to your sober judgment. If you honestly want reform, this is the first thing needful; you must break the subjugation of individual conscience in politics; you must make elbow room for independent criticism and a free contest of opinions; you must put down that partisanship which knows none but selfish ends and tends to make men mere parts of a machine; you must promote, with all the means in your power, the unsettling and disintegration of the old party organizations now existing, and no man of impartial judgment will deny that in this respect the success of the Cincinnati movement will prove a powerful dissolvent.
And now, I repeat, suppose Mr. Greeley were dishonest enough to break his pledges and to try on his part to continue the practices now prevailing — have you considered what situation he would be in? Could President Grant have safely indulged in his performances, but for the ever faithful, obedient and well-drilled party organization at his back, in and out of Congress, a party organization every member of which was whipped into the belief that every misdeed of the Administration must be concealed, or whitewashed, or defended, for the sake of preserving party ascendancy? But for this, General Grant would soon have become aware that the Presidency means business, and not pleasure; the just criticism of the opposition would have ground him to powder before the second year of his Administration; and as he is so sensible of his own interests, he would soon have found it to his interest to mend his ways. Even General Babcock would have told him to be careful.
And where is the ever faithful party organization in Congress that Mr. Greeley would have at his back? Not the regular Republicans, who now are drilled to the business, for they will be in the opposition, and have violent spasms of virtue. Not the Liberals, for, had they been inclined to submit to corrupt and arbitrary practices, they would not have broken loose from Grant, under whom they had a tempting opportunity to make the submission and whitewashing business profitable. Not the Democrats, for they will not be foolish enough to think that they could serve their party interest by shielding the sins of a President not their representative. No! The Cincinnati candidate in the Presidential chair will not be in a situation to sin with impunity. Every serious error on his part will call forth the thunder of a hundred batteries, and he will have no household troops to cover him with their bodies. Let your imagination construct the very ideal of a President and put him in his place — even he could not sleep on a bed of roses. The Cincinnati candidate in the Presidential chair will have no party at his back, unless he wins the favor of the American people; and he can win that favor only by deserving it.
Thus the defeat of President Grant and the success of the Cincinnati movement will indeed be the first condition precedent of reform; for it will remove that thraldom which has made the National Capitol a whitewashing laundry; the impunity of misgovernment will be at an end; the voice of independent criticism will ring with refreshing freedom through the land and strike the ear of the highest; the truth will be heard in the White House as well as in the market-place; those in power will become sensible again of their responsibilities, and the enlightened will of the people will be a power again in the Government.
Thus it will be if, as his opponents pretend, Horace Greeley were weak or faithless enough to forget his professions. It may be said that this would, in a certain sense, be a gain of a negative character only. No, it would be a positive gain of immense value. But is it true, as is asserted, that positive reforms may be as little expected under Greeley's Administration as under Grant's? Let us see. I am in favor of a reduction of the tariff to a revenue basis. On that point I should have been glad to see the Cincinnati platform more clear and decided. It refers that question to the Congressional districts, and Mr. Greeley declares, although a protectionist himself, that he will strictly respect the will of the people as expressed through Congress. I will admit that the nomination of a pronounced revenue reformer would have given a more vigorous impulse to that movement. But where is the reason why the friends of that reform cannot push their efforts with the same hope of success? Is not the prospect now that they will be stronger in the next Congress than they have been for the last twelve years, and does not the Cincinnati movement work powerfully in that direction? It may look curious, not to say absurd, that the chances of revenue reform should be promoted by a movement headed by one of the most pronounced protectionists; but does not everybody know such is practically the fact? And do not those whose pockets are most profited by high protective duties plainly see and acknowledge that fact? Let the tariff reformer be wise enough to learn from his enemies. What does it mean that those protectionist associations of Pennsylvania who revere pig iron as their supreme being turn against Horace Greeley, the former apostle of their economic creed, and seek refuge under the wings of the Grant party? What does it mean that every monopoly that sucks the blood of the people kneels before the same shrine? The monopolists know what they are doing. They carry a sensitive instinct in their pockets. They are well aware that the movement of the people, although headed by a protectionist, will tend to relieve the burden of the people; and they are equally well aware that monopoly finds its surest and most natural bulwark in a party which is controlled by organized selfishness. Where, then, is the interest of those who have tariff reform at heart? Is it with that party under whose banners the organized monopolies of the country have united because they are certain to control it? Or is it with that movement whose whole tendency is in their favor, no matter what the predilections of its Presidential candidate may be? Let them go into the Congressional districts and push their chances instead of acting like a man who would rather starve than eat with a spoon he does not like.
I now come to a question of still greater importance, for it touches the moral tone and character of the Government, the reform of the civil service. Here again every fairminded man knows what we have to expect from the reŽlection of President Grant. The very attempt that was made in his name, so ostentatious in its parade, and so well meant by the gentleman who planned its program, has been turned into cruel mockery by the spirit pervading his Administration. The manner of its execution, which left the civil, service a more servile political machine than it was ever before, stands there as conclusive proof that nothing is to be hoped from him but a policy that serves his interests, as he understands them. If that is called reform, it is reform backwards.
The opponents of Mr. Greeley assert that nothing better is to be expected from him. It might be said in reply that his long career as a journalist has been a continual war against corruption, and that, whatever they may say of his character, that low, grovelling, sordid selfishness, from which so much of the demoralization of our public service has sprung, is not in its composition. But I shall make no flattering promises for a Presidential candidate. I came very near doing that once, in good faith, for General Grant, and I have been sick of it ever since. I shall never do it again, whatever my private opinions of a candidate's good qualities may be. I prefer to let the candidate speak for himself.
Having the cause of civil service reform very earnestly at heart, I addressed this letter to Mr. Greeley:
In your letter of acceptance, you promise a thorough reform of the civil service in general terms. The question, how the problem of civil service reform presents itself to your mind is one of great interest; and I would suggest, if it be consistent with your views of propriety, that you give me such explanations as will put your intentions in this respect in a clear light.
The problem of civil service reform is rendered difficult by a misalliance between the Executive and the Legislative branches of our Federal Government. Those Members of Congress who favor the Administration habitually claim and are awarded a virtual monopoly of the Federal offices in their respective States or districts, dictating appointments and removals as interest or caprice may suggest. The President appoints at their bidding; they legislate in subservience to his will, often in opposition to their own convictions. Unless all history is unmeaning, this confusion of Executive with Legislative responsibilities and functions could not fail to distemper and corrupt the body-politic.
I hold the eligibility of our Presidents to reŽlection the main source of this corruption. A President should be above the hope of future favor, the fear of alienating powerful, ambitious partisans. He should be the official chief, not of a party, but of the Republic. He should dread nothing but the accusing voice of history and the inexorable judgment of God. He should fully realize that Congress in its own sphere is paramount and nowise amenable to his supervision, and that the heartiest good-will to his Administration is perfectly compatible with the most pointed dissent from his inculcations on the very gravest questions in finance or political economy.
"It is the first step that costs." Let it be settled that a President is not to be reŽlected while in office, and civil service reform is no longer difficult. He will need no organs, no subsidized defenders. He will naturally select his chief counselors from the ablest and wisest of his eminent fellow-citizens, regardless alike of the "shrieks of locality" and the suggestions of a selfish policy. He will have no interest to conciliate, no chief of a powerful clan to attach to his personal fortunes. He will be impelled to appoint, as none will deny that he should appoint, men of ripe experience in business and eminent mercantile capacity to collect, keep and disburse the revenue, instead of dexterous manipulators of primary meetings and skillful traffickers in delegates to nominating conventions. No longer an aspirant to place, the President will naturally aim to merit and secure the approbation of the entire people, but especially of the eminently wise and good.
As to the machinery of boards of examiners, etc., whereby the details of civil service reform are to be matured and perfected, I defer to the judgment of a Congress unperverted by the adulterous commerce in legislation and appointments, which I have already exposed and reprehended. Up to this time our experience of the doings of boards in this direction has not been encouraging; and this, I am confident, is not the fault of the gentlemen who have tried to serve the public as commissioners. In so far as they may have failed, the causes of their ill-success must be extrinsic. Had they been accorded a fairer field, I am sure they would have wrought to better purpose. A thinker has observed that the spirit in which we work is the chief matter; and we can never achieve civil service reform until the interests which demand shall be more potent in our public counsels than those which resist even while seeming to favor it. That this consummation is not distant, I fervently trust; meantime I thank you for your earnest and effective labors to this end.
Here, then, Mr. Greeley stands distinctly pledged to the following practical points: To construct a Cabinet, not of mere clerks, or personal favorites, or political wirepullers, but of statesmen; to abolish the traffic in offices between Congress and the Executive; to select for public position, not political minions or tools, but men of integrity, experience and business capacity; to transform the civil service of the country from a political machine into a business establishment.
These things the President can do himself. The enactment of a law permanently regulating the civil service remains, of course, with Congress.
Well, the program thus laid down means the practical reform of the civil service, as I understand it. As the abandonment of such pledges by him who made them would be inextinguishable disgrace, so their faithful execution will be an invaluable blessing to the country; and, solemnly renouncing the prospect of a reŽlection, what other interest or ambition should he have than to leave at the self-imposed close of his official career an honored name behind him?
As for myself, any Administration continuing the abuses which now prevail would, in that respect, have my determined opposition, for whatever my course in this campaign may be, I was a freeman yesterday, I am a freeman to-day, and I shall be a freeman to-morrow. But the man who knows that he was not my favorite choice as a candidate and that nothing attaches me to his fortunes but my belief in his honest desire and his great ability and opportunities to do good, may be assured that in every effort to carry out the program here laid down, I, as well as the many abler men who think as I do, will stand faithfully and resolutely by his side with active coŲperation.
I know there are reformers who say that because the results of the Cincinnati Convention did not come up to their standard, it is now best to let things run in their old grooves; to permit existing evils to develop themselves until they become so bad that people will see the necessity of doing the very best thing to correct them. I esteem the motives and character of some of those who say so, but I cannot accept their judgment. The theory that the greater the evil and the more violent the reaction, the greater also the permanent improvement which that reaction will produce, is historically false. It is especially false when applied to an evil as we now contemplate, consisting in a system of policy which subjugates great political organizations to selfish interests, turns men into machines and deprives them of the elements of self-respect. The longer such a system prevails, the more it will demoralize the popular conscience, and the less the chances of true reform will grow. Reform is not a matter of general principle and theory only, but to a great extent of practical detail; and the true friend of reform will not content himself by waiting for great occasions, and until the public mind has reached a level sufficiently high; he will not at once throw down his gun when he meets a reverse, but he will watch every possibility that presents itself; he will put his knife into every crevice he can find, he will endeavor to develop every opportunity he can lay his hand on, thus to accomplish step by step what cannot always be accomplished at a bound and with a grand flourish of trumpets. This is what I conceive to be the duty of every true friend of reform. This I consider to be my duty. I shall, therefore, not lose myself on that superlative height of criticism — proud as that eminence may be — because the practical struggles of facts and ideas are not to be lost sight of. I want to accomplish good results, and therefore I stand where I am. I see an opportunity before me to gain a step in the right direction, and if I can aid in successfully developing it, I shall feel that I have done some service to my country.
And now, finally, I approach a subject which is, if possible, of still higher importance to us all. Seven years have elapsed since the close of the civil war. No thinking man can have watched the progress of things in the South without having gathered instructive experience. It must have become clear to all of us that the development of the new order of society there cannot be secured wholly by an extraneous pressure, which would involve a change in the nature of our institutions, but must ultimately be left to the workings of local self-government.
Two things are now settled and evident: First, that the equality of rights, irrespective of race or color, the enfranchisement of the emancipated class which sprung as a local necessity from the great revolution, and which stands embodied in the Constitution of the Republic, is an irreversible fact. Every sane man recognizes that. There are certainly but few individuals in the South who close their eyes against it. The other thing is, that the rule of unprincipled and rapacious leaders at the head of the colored population has resulted in a government of corruption and plunder, and gives no promise of improvement. I will not throw the blame upon the colored people, who entered the political field without experience and a just understanding of their true interests, and more than once I publicly expressed the opinion that much of the mischief might have been averted had the Southern whites at the start, instead of leaving the field to unscrupulous adventurers, won for themselves the confidence of the colored people by assuring them in good faith the security of their new rights. However that may be, the result is known. In some States the carpet-bag governments have already broken down, and in others they cannot much longer endure. They have made it inevitable that in most, if not all of them, the control of local affairs should presently fall into the hands of those classes which, to a great extent, stood against us during the civil war. It cannot be avoided, unless you adopt a system of interference which will subvert the most essential principles of our government. To those classes, then, will in a great measure the task be confided of developing the new order of things. It must be our dearest wish, as it is our highest interest, that this task be well performed. And we should assiduously bring to bear upon them all the moral influences within our reach to make them do it well.
Are they ready to receive such influences in the right spirit? Southern society has been gradually undergoing a change. The old political leaders who brought on secession, and now stick to their old creeds, are dropping by the wayside. The young element which has gone through the practical school of war is coming to the front. They know that something has happened. They know that something has been decided. They know that this decision cannot be overthrown again, and that it would be foolish to squander their time in trying. They know that they have lost efforts behind them, and that they have a life before them which can be made useful. They are leaving in the rear their old leaders who are still groping among the ruins of the past, and they begin to stand upon their own feet. They are inclined to march forward and to develop the opportunities of the new order of things. They are capable of a new, honorable and patriotic ambition, for they feel that this is after all their country, and that their fortunes are bound up in the fortunes of this our common Republic. They want to be recognized as American citizens again in the fullness of an American citizen's rights. This is the young South which is lifting its head.
. . . . . . .
And what does it mean that the same class hailed with delight the Cincinnati movement, and that, as is reported, it was that Southern influence which pressed the nomination of Horace Greeley at Cincinnati and at the Baltimore Convention? Does it mean that they cling to their old prejudices, and still dream of a reaction? Do they not know as well as you, that Horace Greeley has all his life been the fiercest antagonist of those prejudices, and even went so far as to advocate measures for the protection of the loyalists and colored people in the South which alarmed us by the unconstitutionality? They know it well. They know that the man they want to make President will not give up his life-long convictions which made them his enemies. But they know also that he was one of the first who stretched out the hand of reconciliation, one of the first to plead for right and justice against the scandalous robberies and oppressions of their carpet-bag governments.
No, their situation is easily understood. They are tired of marching in the rear of the times. They want to break loose from the past and turn their faces to the future. . . .
Will the people of the North coldly tell them: "We will have nothing to do with you; we care for partisan power and not for your friendship and well-doing!" Are there dissatisfied Liberals who will tell them: "Well, we would have taken you by the hand had the Cincinnati Convention nominated this or that man; but now you will have to submit for another four years, and we may then, perhaps, be in a condition to do something for you."
Fellow-citizens of the North, is it possible that at a moment when the joy of National reconciliation, a reconciliation on the ground of all you fought for, may illumine the whole Republic if you but will it is it possible that you should think of things small and paltry by the side of so great a consummation? Is it not clear to you, that that reconciliation you will find the best, nay the only safe guarantee for future peace and harmonious progress, and that we can never hope successfully to solve the other great problems pressing upon us, until this one is disposed of? Have you considered what the consequences will be, if you throw those who approach you with warm hearts and patriotic intentions back into a sullen despondency, a despondency which must spring from the belief that whatever evidence they may give of good will, it will be rejected?
Honest Republicans, are you still troubled by doubt? Do you still ask: "Will it be safe to trust them?"
A journal of this city addressed the question to me, how the colored people of the South would be protected by legislation if, in consequence of this movement, the majority in Congress should change? I will answer. We had the same movement in this State; the majority in the legislature did change; and how were the colored people of Missouri then protected by legislation? No legislation was needed to protect them. They were amply protected by the spirit of the people, as it issued from that movement. I remember the predictions that were made then to frighten us, that the "red handed rebel" would rise up again in bloody ferocity, and make it impossible for Union men and colored people, to live in some parts of this State. Well, the people of Missouri were not frightened; they did trust; they "clasped hands over the bloody chasm" in 1870. Their trust was not in vain. The rebels were enfranchised. They became not only voters but good citizens again; the rights even of the lowliest among us were more secure and sacred than ever, and we have lived as friends and brothers since. Here it is history. Let the American people profit by the lesson. Look at the South to-day. Is not the Liberal movement leading old enemies together in friendship and inspiring all hearts with new hope? Is it not already doing more to prevent disorder and violence than penal laws and violence could do? If you want the peace of Missouri everywhere, let her example of hearty reconciliation be everywhere followed.
Again, Republicans, you ask me, "Shall we not be swallowed up by the old Democratic party?" Oh! the old Democratic party with Horace Greeley for the Presidency and the Cincinnati platform as its creed! So you recognize the old Democratic party! I suspect it does not recognize itself. Do you fear to be swallowed by that old Democratic party? Why, the Democratic party has been swallowed up itself by the new era. Nobody need fear that I would lead him from the Republican into the Democratic camp, for I do not intend to go there myself. And unless I greatly mistake the tendency of the times, the day is not very far off when there will be but little of an old Republican camp to go from, and but little of an old Democratic camp to go to. This period is pregnant with new formations, which need but the electric spark of opportunity to spring into shape. This is the time for independent action, and those who think as I do, will not, after having shaken off the shackles of one old party, take upon their limbs the shackles of another. No party can do what the Democratic party has done, without dropping its historical identity. I honor the patriotic spirit of the men who achieved so tremendous a revolution, and in the great work before us I hail with joy and cordiality their alliance. But the party that has done this cannot return to its old grooves. It is impossible. The first attempt would shiver it into atoms.
No, Republicans, let no such fears disturb you. The result of this movement must be a non-partisan Administration, which in itself will be of the greatest blessing to this country. And all men of my way of thinking will devote their best efforts to that end.
What then can hold you back! Is party fealty so strong, is party service so sweet, is party triumph so sacred that you should know no higher duty? And you who would have joined this movement, had it met your highest expectations, are your disappointments so all absorbed that you can neither see the evils of which we now may rid ourselves, nor appreciate the greatest opportunities for good which invite us? Be careful that the response you give be worthy of patriotic citizens.
I shall now take leave of you, commending what I have said to your candid consideration. As for me, I have faith in the spirit and good sense of the American people. They feel instinctively that they have arrived at a turning point; that they have to elect between that torpid submission to narrow-minded party rule which, like dry-rot, deadens the body-politic — and free, fresh and stimulating contests of opinion which will embrace the whole people once more with a healthy, progressive influence. It is the choice between stagnation and movement. I trust that the revolution which has begun will neither go back nor stop. Let those who want to serve the cause of free government throw themselves resolutely into the waves with the courageous confidence that the genius of the American Republic will lead to a happy issue.
Speeches of Carl Schurz