Harper's Weekly Editorials on Carl Schurz/The Indian Ring
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The Indian Ring
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|From Harper's Weekly, February 2, 1878, p. 86.|
The Indian Ring has long been known as one of the most corrupt and ingenious conspiracies in the public service. The revelations under Secretary Delano and the occasional glimpses of immense abuses and frauds have thoroughly acquainted the country with the fact of the Ring and its depredations; but Indian affairs are so remote and so superlatively uninteresting to most people that the frauds have had every advantage, and there was a general feeling — the condition of the public mind which always most fervently desire — that nothing could be done about it. Mr. Schurz, the Secretary of the Interior, was fortunately of another mind. He had been long in Washington, and he had lived in Missouri, and he is a man of penetrating mind and tenacious purpose. He has, also, a high ideal of public duty, and if he be ambitious, he seeks advancement not by intrigues and bargains and sneers at good endeavors, but by honest public service. Undoubtedly the Indian Ring supposed that he could be bamboozled, since he could not be bought, and if he proved to be really too sharp and persistent, that he could be discredited by the stupid cry of sham reformer and visionary. Now political history shows that superior education and accomplishment, which are meant by this cry, are always great re-enforcements of original ability. It is a good thing for a public man, for instance, to know from the experience of other times precisely the kind of opposition that he will encounter, and to learn from history that the most ignorant and venal statesmen are not the most sagacious or successful.
Mr. Schurz has grappled with the Indian Ring, and has struck it most damaging blows. It will strike back in every way, and it is exceedingly ingenious. Meanwhile the country will remember that his fight is that of honesty and fair play in the public service. The report of the investigating committee appointed at his instance, and his official action under it, have been hotly assailed, and as the contest must be long and bitter, and as the Secretary and his conduct will be constantly calumniated, it is worth while at the beginning to see the kind of assault made upon him and the disposition he makes of it. The investigating committee was composed of Major Bradley, of the army, selected by the Secretary of War; Mr. McCammon, of the Attorney-General's office, selected by the Attorney-General; and Major Lockwood, chief clerk of the Interior Department. To break the force of their report it has been alleged that their information was derived from notoriously disreputable persons, who were present throughout the proceedings, and virtually managed the whole affair. The fact is that the persons alluded to were present only when examined as witnesses, and when not on the witness-stand they were carefully excluded from the room. Moreover, their testimony was considered as of little value and importance, and most of the charges that it was intended to sustain were thrown out at an early stage of proceedings. The assertion, therefore, that the removal of Mr. Galpin, chief clerk of the bureau, which is one of the offenses charged, was due to the testimony of disreputable witnesses, is absolutely untrue. The Secretary states distinctly that Mr. Galpin was dismissed principally upon his own testimony. He admitted that for nearly two months he had withheld from the knowledge of the department affidavits of the grossest corruption among traders and contractors. He did this while he was acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs, yet as soon as the papers he withheld were transmitted to the Department of Justice, indictments were found. Mr. Smith, the head of the bureau, agreed that a clerk who was guilty of such an offense ought to be dismissed. Nor was he removed without a hearing, as is also alleged. For more than twenty days he was engaged in his own defense, examining and cross-examining witnesses.
President Seelye, of Amherst College, who served upon the Indian Committee in the last Congress, states that he thinks the report of Messrs. Bradley, McCammon, and Lockwood to be a gross travesty upon justice, secured by a combination of corrupt and adroit men who hated Mr. Galpin because he opposed their fraudulent schemes. But President Seelye will hardly expect the country to suppose that he was not quite as likely to be deceived as the Secretary of the Interior and the three gentlemen of the committee. As Mr. Schurz shows, President Seelye had already precluded himself from the position of a judge by saying, before the investigation began, that he could hardly conceive of any testimony that would shake his convictions. His simple assertion that the report is a gross travesty upon justice is absolutely without weight in the absence of any evidence of improper motives or incapacity upon the part of the Secretary or the committee. As a member of the Indian Committee, he looked into the conduct of business in the Indian Office, and was satisfied. The Secretary and three shrewd and disinterested men make a prolonged and exhaustive examination of the whole Indian Department, and are not satisfied. Is President Seelye necessarily correct? The folly of such a rejoinder as this indicates the utter want of any adequate reply. The attempted arraignment of the report and its conclusions is their complete vindication, and the remark of the Secretary of the Interior is apparently fully justified: “The Indian service is demoralized by two classes of persons: one consists of the rascals who rob the government, and the other of upright and honorable gentlemen, who, with the beat intentions, show too great an aptness to have the wool pulled over their eyes.” Fortunately neither class is likely to intimidate the Secretary, or prevent a full exposure of the frauds of the Indian Ring.