Harper's Weekly Editorials on Carl Schurz/Change, Not Reform
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Change, Not Reform
|The Speech of Senator Schurz→|
|From Harper's Weekly, July 20, 1872, p. 563.|
The true character of the political situation becomes clearer as the campaign progresses. In his speech to the Convention at Cincinnati Mr. Schurz said: “I earnestly deprecate the cry we have heard so frequently, 'Any body to beat Grant.' There is something more wanted than to beat Grant. Not any body who might by cheap popularity, or by astute bargains and combinations, or by all the tricks of political wire-pulling, manage to scrape together votes enough to be elected President, is enough...... We don't want a mere change of persons in the administration of the government.” Thus Mr. Schurz demanded nominations where success would be the earnest not of change, merely, but of reform, and the support of which would found a great reforming party. He meant this, or he meant nothing.
But in his letter to the Illinois Convention at the end of June he says that to insure reform “it is necessary ...... that the present Administration be defeated in its efforts to continue in power, and that thus a free field be opened for a reformatory movement.” The note is changed. It is no longer that the success of the Cincinnati nominations will secure reform, but that it will clear the field for a further movement that may. That is to say, the election of Mr. Greeley will destroy both the existing parties, and then we'll try to do something better. Let us reduce every thing to chaos, and then see if we can't make a cosmos. “If I can only throw the patient into fits, I can cure her,” said the doctor, “because I am death on fits.”
The truth is that Mr. Schurz sees with the rest of us that Mr. Greeley is precisely the man he was not thinking of in his Cincinnati speech; but he does not see so plainly as others that the nomination of Mr. Greeley is the proof that the Cincinnati Convention was not inspired by the convictions or the purposes of Mr. Schurz. It was a nomination which necessarily depended for success upon the Democratic party; and unless Mr. Schurz believed that the Democratic party, by its history, by its traditions, by its composition, offered the best security of reform, it was idle to pretend to accept Mr. Greeley as the representative of the feeling which produced the Cincinnati Convention. Mr. Schurz sat silent in bitter disappointment for seven weeks; and when he spoke at the Fifth Avenue Conference, and when he wrote his Illinois letter, he said, merely, “Well, let us beat Grant anyhow, and hope for something better.”
Thus, by his own confession, the election is a contest between the Republican administration, tendency, and traditions, on the one side, and absolute confusion and vague expectation upon the other. Mr. Schurz reduces the question to a simple alternative; and we ask, and ask again — and there is no answer — upon what ground is it supposed that an Administration elected by Democrats, discontented Republicans, and the late rebels will be a more patriotic, honest, economical, and wise Administration than one elected by Republicans? Grant that the Northern and Southern Democrats have acquiesced in the results of the war, does that acquiescence make them more trustworthy than those who have always accepted the principles and obtained those results? Grant that there are abuses of administration, can you expect greater purity of the Democrats than of the Republicans?
If there were a great principle at issue, as there was in '60 and '64 and '68, such questions would be less relevant. But when it is conceded by those who lead the Democratic column that their cry is honest and economical administration, the question which they can not answer is why the success of a host composed of the elements that make up the Greeley party should be held to promise greater economy or a higher honesty or surer reform than that of the Republicans. It is no reply to say that we know how bad Grant is but we can't tell how bad Greeley may be; for that is merely to say that no chance can be so fatal as the certainty of Grant — a view which is taken by the most violent of Southerners, but by no sane person. To such random talk it is quite enough to say that the certainty of Grant, were it twentyfold worse than is alleged, would be infinitely preferable to the uncertainty of Greeley. Mr. Schurz began by demanding reform, and in the second month of the canvass be declares himself content with change. At Cincinnati he spurned the cry of “Any body to beat Grant.” In Illinois he says, “Let's beat Grant with any body, and trust to luck.”
|This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).|