Speech of Carl Schurz at the Harvard College Alumni Dinner.

Mr. President and Gentlemen: — There is no more comfortable or pleasant institution among men than a good, hearty, well regulated mutual admiration society. [Loud laughter.] I was forcibly reminded of the fact when I listened to the introduction with which my friend the Attorney-General has honored me. Let me assure you that the members of the present Cabinet always speak pleasantly of one another [laughter,] and in this respect we are the happiest family that ever existed. [Renewed laughter.] All the good things said by the Attorney-General, my friends, of me, I might say of him, with the exception of one, and that is that he did not graduate at the University of Bonn, but at the University of Harvard, at which I find no fault. [Laughter.]

I may lay claim to the honor of being bound to this university by the ties of gratitude. I suppose it may be known to you that last year I was distinguished by an honorary degree, that of Doctor of Laws, and I am proud to say that although the President of the United States outranks me in ability as well as in station, I am one year ahead of him as a Doctor of Laws. [Laughter.] In order to justify the honor which the university has conferred upon me, you might expect me to indulge in a comprehensive disquisition perhaps upon international law, but I assure you I shall not. I shall, therefore, touch politics gently. You have heard of the scholar in politics. It is one of those things which has been discussed very extensively of late; and justly so, for we have arrived at a period in our history where we are confronted by a multitude of problems, which demand of public men not only correct sentiment, but a thorough knowledge of the things they have to deal with [applause], and also that intellectual honesty, which is not afraid to draw conclusions from sound reasoning upon sound premises, and although at the time these conclusions may appear somewhat unpopular. This, to me, is what at this time is needed, and therefore the presence and activity of the scholar in politics is not only desired, but it is actually necessary. Mark you, I do not mean that every man who mixes in politics should have a thorough knowledge of Greek, for I know very well that a great many men who have rendered essential service did not know Greek, while on the other hand some who did know Greek turned out to be of little practical use. Neither do I think that every scholar should at once make public and active strife for position. Scholars are proverbially poor, and I think as a general rule that the man who devotes himself to public life should not have to depend exclusively upon the profits of office for a living. But I do mean that those who have received a literary education themselves, who have learned at a university like this, that highest art, namely, how to learn and how to study, those who have acquired the faculty of acquiring more knowledge than that which has been taught them at school, those who in the course of study have enriched their minds and elevated their sentiments, should do something for their country. Let them not believe that they do their whole duty when they end their studies and occasionally give an expression of their views, and when that is over think their work is done. No, gentlemen, the scholar like the rest of us, has to put his shoulder to the wheel and take a hand at what is called active politics. [Applause.] There have been many who think it is not altogether gentlemanly to do so, what would you have thought of the men from Harvard who, at the breaking out of the war, should have thought it ungentlemanly to shoulder the musket and engage in this somewhat dirty work of battle? Let us look upon our activity in public affairs not as a matter of taste, but as a matter of duty. [Applause.]

Moreover, without divulging any secrets I may say that the members of the present administration sympathize with the scholar in politics, as you may have seen from a recent letter in the newspapers in which the President of the United States tells the heads of the departments that he wants the officers of this government to mind their official duties [applause], and not to try to control party politics. Do you know what that means? Undoubtedly you heard of Gladstone's efforts to disestablish the Irish Church. This means disestablishment of the machine in party politics. [Cries of “good” and applause.] It means that every one shall be told to go to the caucus or convention without feeling himself helpless at the door, knowing that things have been fixed by the postmasters and the custom-house. [Applause.] It means that there shall be a road open to free thought and to elevated sentiment in the pursuit of great public objects.

But I am reminded that we are required soon to leave, and I desire to offer a toast myself and ask a gentleman now sitting among us to respond to it. I mean a gentleman, one of the professors of this university, a fair illustration of the word that the office should seek the man and not the man the office, [applause,] and I might say in this case, if report speaks truly, the office had to knock several times at the door before it was opened to come in. [Applause.] A gentleman whose selection for a position abroad, where he will have to tread in the footsteps of Washington Irving, who has done honor to Harvard University, honor to him and honor to the administration which made it, and will do honor to the country. I mean Professor Lowell, of Harvard University, [loud applause] whom I call upon to respond to the toast — “The higher order of learning, one of the most potent agencies to produce a higher order of public life.” [Applause.]

From a clipping in Carl Schurz's papers in the Library of Congress from the The Daily Republican (publication location not indicated, but Cambridge, Massachusetts, seems likely) of July 4, 1877. At this time, Schurz was beginning his term as Secretary of the Interior in Rutherford B. Hayes' cabinet.