U. S. Senate Speeches and Remarks of Carl Schurz/Sales of Arms to French Agents 6

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U. S. Senate Speeches and Remarks of Carl Schurz by Carl Schurz
Sales of Arms to French Agents (6 of 7)
The following is an initial excerpt from this day's discussion of the topic. The text is from The Congressional Globe, 42nd Congress, 2nd Session, pp. 1286-1287.[1]


SALES OF ARMS TO FRENCH AGENTS


The Senate resumed the consideration of the resolution submitted by Mr. Sumner on the 12th instant, the pending question being on the amendment offered by Mr. Schurz, to add at the end of the resolution the following:

And also whether breech-loading muskets, or other muskets capable of being transformed into breech-loaders, have been sold by the War Department in such large numbers as seriously to impair the defensive capacity of the country in case of war.

Mr. CARPENTER addressed the Senate. [His speech will be published in the Appendix.]

Mr. SCHURZ. The closing sentences of the Senator's speech were pitched in a strain not unusual in this debate. When argument is at fault, then an appeal to prejudice is in order, and it is resorted to without restraint. It seems to be fashionable now to ascribe all that is disagreeable to the Administration to some foreign influence, against which the native spirit must rise. Yesterday we heard even the general-order business in the New York custom-house, which I take occasion to denounce again as a scandalous abuse, in some manner justified on the plea that foreign importers were at the bottom of the movement against it. To-day we hear another charge of corrupt practices discredited upon the ground that this resolution is to affect the sympathies of the foreign-born citizens of this country, and that it may serve foreign interests.

Gentlemen, I tell you this will be of no avail. The people want a just and honest conduct of Government. The people are rising up against corruption wherever it shows its head, and you cannot dissuade them from their purpose by pretending the general-order business in New York is unpopular with foreign importers, or that there is no wrong connected with the sales of arms because foreign Governments are concerned, or because I was born in Germany.

I asked the Senator from Wisconsin whether he charged me with any unpatriotic motive. He seemed to disclaim it, and yet he did so charge by inuendo. It would have been more manly and courageous in him had he stood up here and spoken out, “You have not cast off your allegiance to the foreign Power of which you were formerly a subject, and you are at the present moment betraying American interests.” Instead of making the charge he tried to shift it, tried to turn and squirm, so as to give the people to understand his meaning, without courageously bringing it out with blunt directness. I deny it with the indignation of a clear conscience.

I do not stand here to make a defense of my patriotism. I did not come to this country yesterday. I have been here for twenty years. If the Senator from Wisconsin can point out in my past life a single instance where there was a sacrifice demanded of me that I did not make, where there was a service I could render that I have not rendered, where there was an act of patriotism I could perform that I have not performed, let him point it out, and I will answer. No, sir, this resolution is not brought forward as something to benefit some foreign Government. The accusation is preposterous.

I knew very well when this discussion began that it would be attempted on the part of those who justify anything the Administration may do to give it such a turn, and to appeal to the prejudice of some people in order to cover up what is wrong. I repeat, gentlemen, do not indulge in delusions; that transparent trick will not succeed.

Sir, I am not going to discuss at length the question of international law raised by the Senator from Wisconsin when he endeavored to show that sales of arms by the Government to a belligerent were legal; I am not going to quote authorities and read documents, but I will, in a very few simple words, appeal to the common sense of the Senate and of the world. The Senator from Wisconsin is aware that I have not attempted an elaborate discussion of points of international law in the speeches I have made. But I will say now that there was one grave and astounding error running through his whole argument absolutely fatal to his conclusions. It was simply this, that throughout his whole speech he confounded the trade which might be legitimately carried on with belligerent parties by private merchants with the trade carried on with belligerent parties directly by a government. Nobody denies that American citizens are permitted to sell arms to a belligerent Power; nobody denies that in the regular course of trade they are permitted to sell war-like supplies; but the question would assume a very different aspect if the Government should claim the right to open its arsenals and its dock-yards to do the same thing. And this is what the Senator from Wisconsin declares legitimate under the law of nations. He is the first exponent of public law who ventures so far.

Why, sir, our own Government recognized the principle that it was not permitted to do this. Why was it, while private citizens were under the proclamation of neutrality entirely unrestricted in their commerce, subject to their risk, why was it, I ask, that the Secretary of War established the rule that no arms should be sold to the agent of a belligerent Power by the Government? Simply because the Government itself recognized the principle that it was wrong and incompatible with neutral obligations to do so. If the Government had not recognized that principle, what did the rule of action mean which the War Department laid down for itself? The Senator stands controverted by the act of our own Government as by the common sense of mankind.

With these few simple remarks the whole theory of international law laboriously advanced by the Senator from Wisconsin drops to pieces. To adopt the language which has been used by several Senators with regard to the grounds of suspicion adduced by the Senator from Massachusetts, there is not a shred left of it; it is pulverized to atoms.

The Senator from Wisconsin tried to make us believe that a Government might do so if there was no intention to aid either of the belligerent Powers. Intention! Suppose we were to drift into a war with a foreign nation, or suppose another rebellion were to occur in this country, and then some foreign Government were to open its arsenals and its dock-yards and from thence send to our enemies supplies and arms, with or without pay; suppose our remonstrances met with the simple reply, “Oh! we do not intend to hurt you;” do you think that would be satisfactory to us? Is that the rule the Senator desires to have established? Is not such an idea absolutely preposterous?

Nay, further than that, the Senator from Wisconsin endeavored to prove to us that it was not only the right but the duty of our War Department to sell arms under those circumstances, even to agents of the belligerent parties, for, says he, the War Department is not only authorized but directed to do so. Very well, if the War Department was not only authorized but directed to do so, then it was wrong for the War Department to stop those sales or to refuse to sell to persons known as French agents if their bids were good and they were able to pay. Is not this clear? If the War Department had an opportunity to sell to agents of either of the belligerent powers, and the War Department, being directed to sell those arms, refused, the War Department did not fulfill its duty. And here then I will, in the name of the Senator from Wisconsin, make a direct charge.

We have been asked: “Why did you not, when the sales of arms were going on, protest against them and try to have them stopped?” Well, sir, I did endeavor to have them stopped. I did endeavor, to the beat of my ability, to induce the War Department to discontinue the sales, and finally I succeeded. I hold in my hand a letter from the Secretary of War announcing to me that those sales had been stopped, and I have very good authority for saying that they were stopped in consequence of my urgency.

Mr. SUMNER. Will you read that letter?

Mr. SCHURZ. It is as follows:


Dear Senator: Orders were given yesterday directing the discontinuance of sales of ordnance.

Yours truly,
WILLIAM W. BELKNAP.
January 24, 1871.


Mr. SUMNER. Is that in the autograph of the Secretary?

Mr. SCHURZ. Yes, sir.

The point I was going to make is this: I have proven that I did endeavor to stop those sales. I have proven also that the sales, according to this letter, were stopped. If the Secretary of War had not only the right, but it was his duty to sell to any bidder able to pay, even to French agents, then certainly he violated the law by stopping those sales as long as he had an opportunity to sell; and the only justification that could possibly be attempted would be this: that after the 24th of January, when this letter was written to me, there appear sales of several hundred pieces of artillery, some of which may have been arranged before this letter was written, but some of which in all probability were made and concluded afterward. At any rate, several hundred pieces of artillery appear in the report of the Secretary of War as having been sold after this promise had been given that the sales of arms should be stopped. According to the Senator from Wisconsin, the continuance of the sales was not only proper, but their discontinuance would have been criminal. How does that view of the case please you? Then what remains of the whole argument of the Senator from Wisconsin? Let me repeat, in the language which has been current here, not a shred; it is pulverized to atoms.

There is only one other point I desire to touch in a few words. The Senator from Wisconsin says if we discover that a breach of neutrality has been committed, how shall we in the future stand before the nations of the world? Will not that be an incitement to the German Government to set up claims against us, and if we do not willingly pay those claims will they not have a rightful cause of war against us, and what will be the situation of the Senator from Massachusetts and myself then? Sir, is not this a perfectly absurd supposition? Do you think — and here I feel compelled to repeat the remarks which I made day before yesterday — do you think that after not having remonstrated at the time, after having shown a determination to ignore this matter on its part, the German Government would, after the Senate of the United States has ordered an investigation of this case, not with a view of giving a basis for claims to Germany, but for the purpose of setting itself right in its own conscience and before the nations of the world, then come and say, “We take advantage of your own conscientious act, and we now set up a claim against you?” Would any generous, any decent Government think a single moment of doing so?

Let me put before you once more the supposition with which I illustrated my argument a few days ago. Suppose during our civil war we had made no remonstrance against the letting out of rebel cruisers from British ports; suppose after the war some member of Parliament had moved an investigation for the purpose of discovering whether any wrong had been committed, and of punishing the wrong-doers, do you not think that every wise and generous man in the United States would have spurned the idea of taking advantage of such a step to set up a claim against England then? I ask again, would not the country resound with the highest praise of old England for that generous and just act, spontaneously performed? Would we not join hands in warmer friendship than ever before, the British nation having, without compulsion, of her own motion, shown so noble a disposition to be just? What, then, becomes of this part of the Senator's argument? A shred.

The Senator from Wisconsin used these words: “What is set up as a precedent here may come to plague us hereafter.” Exactly sir; what we set up as a precedent here may come to plague us hereafter. Let me say, if the case remains as it now stands, with the information that already is before the world, the precedent, for all practical purposes, is set up, and the precedent in that form will come to plague us. Is it, then, not our duty to break the point of that precedent by showing that if any wrong was committed, the people of the United States, as represented in their sovereign capacity by Congress, emphatically disapprove of it; that if any wrong was committed, the people are ready to resent it against their own servants? That is the way to destroy the pernicious effect of that precedent, and that is the duty of a true patriot. The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, “My country, right or wrong.” In one sense I say so too. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right. [Manifestations of applause in the galleries.]

Notes[edit]

  1. The Senate Journal for this day, had the following extended entry on this day's discussion of the topic:

    “The Vice-President announced that the morning hour had expired, and called up the unfinished business of the Senate at its last adjournment, viz, the resolution submitted by Mr. Sumner on the twelfth instant, for the appointment of a select committee to investigate alleged sales of arms and munitions of war by the Government of the United States to the government of France, during the late war between France and Germany; and

    “The Senate resumed the consideration of the said resolution; and

    “The amendment proposed by Mr. Schurz to the resolution having been agreed to, and the resolution having been further amended on motion by Mr. Harlan,

    “On the question to agree to the resolution, as amended, as follows:

    Resolved, That a select committee of seven be appointed to investigate all sales of ordnance stores made by the Government of the United States during the fiscal year ending the 30th of June, A. D. 1871, to ascertain the persons to whom such sales were made, the circumstances under which they were made, the sums respectively paid by said purchasers to the United States, and the disposition made of the proceeds of said sales; and that said committee also inquire and report whether any member of the Senate, or any other American citizen, is, or has been, in communication or collusion with the government or authorities of any foreign power, or with any agent or officer thereof, in reference to the said matters, and also whether breech-loading muskets or other muskets capable of being transformed into breech-loaders have not been sold by the War Department in such large numbers as seriously to impair the defensive capacity of the country in time of war; and that the committee have power to send for persons and papers; and that the investigation be conducted in public;

    “After debate,

    “It was determined in the affirmative,  { Yeas .................... 52
    Nays .................... 5
    “On motion by Mr. Sumner,

    “The yeas and nays being desired by one-fifth of the Senators present,

    “Those who voted in the affirmative are,

    “Messrs. Ames, Anthony, Blair, Boreman, Brownlow, Caldwell, Cameron, Carpenter, Casserly, Chandler, Clayton, Conkling, Corbett, Cragin, Davis of West Virginia, Ferry of Connecticut, Ferry of Michigan, Flanagan, Goldthwaite, Hamilton of Texas, Hamlin, Harlan, Hill, Hitchcock, Johnston, Kellogg, Kelly, Logan, Morrill of Vermont, Morton, Nye, Osborn, Pomeroy, Pratt, Ramsey, Rice, Robertson, Saulsbury, Sawyer, Schurz, Scott, Sherman, Spencer, Sprague, Stevenson, Stockton, Sumner, Thurman, Tipton, Trumbull, Vickers, Windom.

    “Those who voted in the negative are,

    “Messrs. Cole, Edmunds, Gilbert, Lewis, Wright.

    “So the resolution, as amended, was agreed to.

    “On the question to agree to the preamble to the resolution, as follows:

    “Whereas it appears from a recent cable telegram that the committee of the French National Assembly on war contracts has adopted a resolution asking the United States Government to furnish the result of inquiry into the conduct of American officials suspected of participating in the purchase of arms for the French government during the war with Germany; and

    “Whereas one Squire, agent of Messrs. Remington & Sons, at New York, in a dispatch dated at New York, October 8, 1870, addressed to Samuel Remington, at Tours, in France, near the government of national defense, uses the following language: 'We have the strongest influences working for us, which will use all their efforts to succeed;' and

    “Whereas in a letter dated at New York, December 13, 1871, addressed by Samuel Remington to Jules Le Cesne, president of the armament committee at Tours, in France, the following language is employed:

    “'New York, December 13, 1870.

    “'Sir: I have the honor to inform you I have received your telegram of the 10th and 11th, ordering the number of batteries to be reduced in number to fifty, and informing me of instructions to the consul regarding the last credit to him of 3,000,000 of francs.

    “'Although at the time of the receipt of the telegram I had bought the whole number, one hundred, and had paid the advance required, $200,000, the Government very willingly reduced the number to fifty.

    * * * * * *

    “'Regarding the purchase of Springfields, (transformed,) Allen's system, I am sorry to say the greatest number we may hope to get will not, I fear, exceed forty thousand. The Government has never made but about seventy-five thousand all told, and forty thousand is the greatest number they think it prudent to spare. I may be able to procure, depending upon an exchange of our arms at some future time, for the number of breech-loading Springfields over and above forty thousand they are willing to let go now.

    “'This question of an exchange, with the very friendly feeling I find existing to aid France, I hope to be able to procure more. Cartridges for these forty thousand will in a great measure require to be made, as the Government have but about three millions on hand. But the Government has consented to allow the requisite number, four hundred for each gun, to be made, and the cartridge-works have had orders, given yesterday, to increase production to the full capacity of works. This question of making the cartridges at the Government works was a difficult one to get over. But it is done. The price the Government will charge for the guns and cartridges will be ----, or as near that as possible.

    “'Jules Le Cesne, Esq.,
    “'President Commission of Armament, &c., &c.'

    “Whereas the Secretary of War, under date of January 19, 1872, addressed the following communication to the Secretary of State:

    “'War Department,
    “'Washington City, January 19, 1872.

    “'Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of a note from yon of the 4th instant, inclosing, by request of Mr. de Bellonnet, chargé d'affaires of France, a copy of a letter from Mr. Remington to the president of the commission of armament at Tours, containing a series of allegations in regard to the purchase of arms, &c.

    “'The first of these allegations which seem to require specific replies is, 'cartridges for these 40,000 will in a great measure require to be made, as the Government have but about 3,000,000 on hand; but the Government has consented to allow the requisite number, 400 for each gun, to be made, and the cartridge-works have orders (given yesterday) to increase production to the full capacity of the works. This question of making the cartridges at the Government works was a difficult one to got over, but it is done.'

    “'In reply to that allegation, I have to say that on the 13th of December, 1870, cartridges necessary to supply about 200 rounds per gun to the model 1866 breech-loaders sold Thomas Richardson were ordered to be manufactured at the Frankford arsenal, and this number of cartridges was necessary to effect the sale of the arms. The Messrs. Remington & Sons did not buy any arms or ammunition from this Department after about the middle of October, 1870, nor would any bid from them for such articles have been entertained by the United States subsequent to that date.

    “'To the second prominent allegation which is contained in the paper purporting to be a copy of a telegram from Squire to Remington, and which is herewith returned, I have the honor to reply that this Department has no knowledge of any influence exerted in favor of, or for the success of, any transaction between the United States and Mr. Squire for himself or Messrs. Remington & Sons.

    “'Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
    “'WM. W. BELKNAP,
    “'Secretary of War.

    “'To the Hon. Secretary of State.'

    “Whereas it appears from these several communications, not only that arms were sold, but that ammunition was manufactured in the workshops of the United States Government, and sold to one Thomas Richardson, the known attorney of Messrs. Remington & Sons, when the bids of the latter had been thrown out for the reason that they were the agents of the French government; and

    “Whereas it appears, from the official report of the Secretary of War, that, in the year 1870—'71, the sale of ordnance stores reached the sum of $10,000,000, from which, according to the report, only a small sum was retained to meet the expenses of preparing other stores for sale, while the official report of the Secretary of the Treasury for the same year acknowledges the receipt of only $8,286,131 70, showing a difference of over $1,700,000; and

    “Whereas a comparison of the accounts rendered by the French government for moneys expended by its agents in the purchase of arms from the United States and the accounts rendered by the Government of the United States for moneys received in the same transaction show large difference, which seems to have given rise to the suspicion abroad that United States officials have taken an undue part therein; and

    “Whereas the good name of the American Government seems to be seriously compromised by these incidents, and a just regard to national honor, as well as to the interests of the Treasury, require that they should not be allowed to pass without the most thorough inquiry: Therefore,

    “On motion by Mr. Hamlin that the preamble lie on the table,

    “Mr. Edmunds raised a question of order on the motion of Mr. Hamlin, viz: That a motion to lay the preamble to the resolution on the table could not be entertained without carrying with it the resolution itself.

    “The Vice-President overruled the question of order raised by Mr. Edmunds, and decided that a division of the question having been demanded on the preamble and the resolution, and the resolution having been agreed to by the Senate, the motion to lay on the table the preamble, which was a question in debate within the meaning of the twelfth rule of the Senate, was in order; and that, should it prevail, it would not carry with it the resolution, which had been disposed of by the Senate, but could only carry with it to the table some proposition, if any remained, still remaining and undisposed of;

    “Whereupon

    “Mr. Edmunds appealed from the decision of the Chair; and,

    “On the question, Shall the decision of the Chair stand as the judgment of the Senate?

    “Mr. Sumner, while engaged in debate upon this question, was called to order by Mr. Sherman, on the ground that it was not in order in discussing an appeal from the decision of the Chair to debate the Merits of the preamble.

    “The Vice-President overruled the question of order raised by Mr. Sherman, on the ground that under the rules and practice of the Senate, it was not for the Chair, but for the Senator who might have the floor, to decide upon the relevancy of his own remarks to the question before the Senate.

    “Mr. Sherman appealed from the decision of the Chair; and

    “On the question, Shall the decision of the Chair stand as the judgment of the Senate?

    “It was determined in the affirmative,  { Yeas .................... 28
    Nays .................... 18
    “On motion by Mr. Stevenson,

    “The yeas and nays being desired by one-fifth of the Senators present,

    “Those who voted in the affirmative are,

    “Messrs. Caldwell, Casserly, Davis of West Virginia, Frelinghuysen, Goldthwaite, Hill, Johnston, Kelly, Lewis, Logan, Morrill of Vermont, Norwood, Pomeroy, Pratt, Robertson, Saulsbury, Schurz, Scott, Spencer, Sprague, Stevenson, Stockton, Sumner, Thurman, Tipton, Trumbull, Vickers, West.

    “Those who voted in the negative are,

    “Messrs. Ames, Boreman, Brownlow, Cameron, Carpenter, Conkling, Corbett, Cragin, Edmunds, Flanagan, Gilbert, Hamlin, Harlan, Morton, Nye, Osborn, Sherman, Wright.

    “So the decision of the Chair was sustained.

    “The question recurring, Shall the decision of the Chair stand as the judgment of the Senate on the appeal taken by Mr. Edmunds?

    “On motion by Mr. Carpenter,

    Ordered, That the appeal lie on the table.

    “The question recurring on the motion of Mr. Hamlin that the preamble lie on the table,

    “On the question to agree thereto,

    “It was determined in the affirmative,  { Yeas .................... 40
    Nays .................... 1
    “On motion by Mr. Edmunds,

    “The yeas and nays being desired by one-fifth of the Senators present,

    “Those who voted in the affirmative are,

    “Messrs. Boreman, Brownlow, Caldwell, Cameron, Carpenter, Casserly, Clayton, Conkling, Cragin, Davis of West Virginia, Flanagan, Frelinghuysen, Gilbert, Goldthwaite, Harlan, Hill, Johnston, Kellogg, Kelly, Logan, Morrill of Vermont, Morton, Norwood, Nye, Osborn, Pratt, Robertson, Schurz, Scott, Sherman, Spencer, Sprague, Stevenson, Sumner, Thurman, Tipton, Trumbull, Vickers, West, Wright.

    “Mr. Edmunds voted in the negative.

    “So it was

    Ordered, That the preamble to the resolution lie on the table.

    “On motion by Mr. Cameron that the Senate reconsider its vote whereby the said preamble was ordered to lie on the table,

    Ordered, That the consideration of said motion be postponed to tomorrow.”

    (Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, 42nd Congress, 2nd Session, February 29, 1872, pp. 300-304).