A Sketch of Carl Schurz's Political Career 1869-1906/3 The Senatorial Free Lance
THE SENATORIAL FREE LANCE
WHEN the Senate met in December, 1872, after the humiliating tragedy of the Greeley campaign, the position of Schurz and his fellow Liberals had apparently little in it of present comfort or of future cheer. Yet events began at once to give them justification and encouragement. In Louisiana a fierce struggle for the control of the State between two factions of carpetbaggers led to the installation and support, through use of federal troops, of that faction which was headed by Kellogg, and supported by Casey, Grant's brother-in-law, and other prominent Federal officials. The events at New Orleans and at other Southern capitals greatly shocked public sentiment at the North; and even the administration Senators were divided as to the soundness of the President's policy. Morton was the chief supporter of the President in Louisiana matters, and very skillfully thwarted all attempts to loosen the grip of Kellogg on the gubernatorial chair, which federal bayonets closely guarded. Schurz, in debate with Morton in February, was hardly more severe than Carpenter and other Republican Senators in denunciation of Kellogg and the administration; but all effort to move Grant was in vain. The situation gave obvious strength, however, to the whole Liberal contention that the policy of the President in the South tended to the destruction of liberty and order not only in the reconstructed, but also in the other States of the Union.
Such conditions confirmed the fears and predictions of Schurz as to the tendencies of the Grant régime in Southern affairs. At the same time the stream of legislative and administrative scandals began the steady flow which long before the end of Grant's second term demonstrated Schurz's Cassandra-like accuracy in foretelling a general decline of moral tone in political life. During the winter of 1872-73 the Credit Mobilier revelations, followed by the “salary-grab,” brought many respectable reputations into the mire. A sensational case of bribery in Kansas, in which one Caldwell had with little effort at concealment bought his election to the United States Senate, gave Schurz an opportunity, at the special session of the Senate in March, 1873, to make a glowing denunciation of the corrupt influences that were at work all around Congress, especially in connection with the great corporations. At the next session, 1873-74, scandals multiplied. The notorious Sanborn contracts forced a Secretary of the Treasury to resign; gross irregularities in the Interior, the War and the Navy Departments were either revealed or strongly suggested; and fraud and extravagance in the government of the District of Columbia led to the peremptory abolition of the whole system, with a vigorous slap at the President, by a nearly unanimous vote of the Senate, when he sought to appoint to office under the new order his crony, A. H. Shepherd, the chief offender under the old. It was indeed a malodorous flood of corruption and disgrace, and the high-water mark was reached at the revelations of the infamous Whiskey Ring frauds and the sale of post-traderships by Secretary Belknap in 1875 and 1876.
Meanwhile, in the autumn of 1873 the great financial and industrial crisis occurred, which introduced a wholly new element into the political situation and crossed the lines that separated the parties with troublesome questions of the finances and the currency. Inflation or contraction, “greenbacks” or specie resumption, were the problems with which Congress was called upon to struggle; and throwing himself with ardor into the long and complex discussion of these subjects, Mr. Schurz added new laurels to those already won for cogent doctrine and effective debate. He was the ardent and uncompromising champion of sound money and the early resumption of specie payments. Other leading exponents of the same ideas, especially John Sherman, chairman of the committee of finance, were greatly embarrassed by the party conditions to which they felt obliged to make much concession. Throughout the West the demand for more “greenbacks” was almost as widespread and importunate among Republicans as among Democrats. Hence the Western Republican Senators felt the situation very keenly and were disposed to take half measures where they actually believed that drastic legislation was needed to put the currency on a sound basis. Three prominent Western Republicans, Morton of Indiana, Logan of Illinois, and Ferry of Michigan, committed themselves definitely to an expansion of the paper currency. Therefore they became Mr. Schurz's chosen antagonists.
In the early months of 1874 the inflationist sentiment was sufficiently strong to carry a bill through both houses providing for an increase of the greenbacks by some forty-four millions of dollars. This bill President Grant, after much hesitation, vetoed. In the discussion of the bill, which assumed at times a very bitter tone, Schurz did heroic work. On the 14th of January and the 24th of February he made speeches which set forth with marked effectiveness the doctrine as to commercial crises and inconvertible currency that represented the best scientific thought of the day. History and economic theory, marshalled with fullness of knowledge and exactness of reasoning, were the foundation of his argument. These speeches were the product of much technical study and laborious preparation, and commanded the attention of scholars and statesmen alike.
The speech of February 24th was particularly strong. It and the two on Santo Domingo were considered by himself the best of his senatorial career. The public most enjoyed some personal incidents of the debate, which were unimportant except in bringing out certain qualities of the debaters. Morton of Indiana and Cameron of Pennsylvania pleaded that the existing situation in the United States was unique, and not to be judged by principles derived from the history of other times and other places. Schurz felt that this argument, or, rather, pretentious begging of the question, was insincere and that his adversaries, from motives of mere party expediency, were misrepresenting their real convictions. He made no effort to conceal his contempt for such subterfuges, and gave full play to his formidable powers of sarcasm and irony. This led to unusually sharp encounters. Morton replied with asperity, and employed that pitiable last resource of native politicians against such an antagonist—that a foreigner is unable to understand this country. Schurz in return struck a vital point by showing that the inconsistencies of Morton's record on the currency question,—inconsistencies that were exceedingly marked and were notoriously determined by the trend of popular feeling in the West,—indicated that Morton understood the shifting of public sentiment better than he did the science of public finance. Morton was prompt to retort with the “tu quoque” which Schurz's abandonment of the regular Republican party suggested. To an independent and a man of principles, this retort had no force whatever. Morton admitted that he himself had changed his opinions and would do so again whenever he came to think them wrong; he boasted, as partisans should, that he had never so changed his mind as to be obliged to go out of his party: “I have never betrayed my principles; I have never betrayed my friends; I have never betrayed those who elevated me to power, and sought to use that power for their destruction.” Schurz's reply combined sharp criticism with an epigrammatic expression of his philosophy of political action: “I want him to point out in my record a single principle that I ever betrayed. I want him to show in the platforms of policy I have favored a single contradiction. He will not find one. He has never left his party; I have never betrayed my principles. That is the difference between him and me.”
It is always difficult for a man of Schurz's qualities to conceal a certain righteous indignation at the evasions and ignorance of presumptuous politicians. Logan, whose forte was heat rather than light, would have been insufferably exasperating if he had not often displayed an amusing lack of information and of logic. Schurz evidently believed Morton to be insincere rather than ignorant. To that Senator's oft-repeated and pompous cant—that the peculiar circumstances of the United States warranted deviation from sound economic principles—Schurz replied in these words: “Sir, when I want to discuss mathematics or geometry with anyone I shall require him to assent to certain fundamental propositions before we proceed; for instance, the proposition that two and two make four, and that a straight line is the shortest way from one point to another. When a gentleman who wants to discuss mathematics or geometry with me asserts that two and two make four in another country but not here, and that the proposition that a straight line is the shortest way from one point to another may have been believed in five hundred years ago, but is not suited to the progressive spirit of our times, and that the shortest way from one point to another is a curve, I shall tell him: ‘You had better go to your hornbook, study your multiplication table, and look at Euclid, who may not have been born here and who died several hundred years ago, but from whom, after all, you might derive some very valuable information.’”
The outcome of all the discussion was, to Schurz's great disgust, a measure, patched up to secure a sufficient majority in Congress and at the same time the President's approval, providing for substantially twenty-six millions of additional “greenbacks.”
The next session of Congress opened just after the elections of 1874, in which the Republicans met with a general and overwhelming disaster. A new bill dealing with the currency situation was now promptly framed by Sherman and, by the most rigorous party pressure, was ultimately put into such shape as to insure its passage by the Republican majority. This was the famous Resumption Act, setting January 1, 1879, as the date for the payment of the greenbacks in coin. The bill was very defective in many respects, and ambiguous in others, and was at once sharply attacked by Schurz at these weak points. The ambiguities had been left by the Republican caucus because through that process alone could any agreement be reached. Schurz, always free from partisan considerations, was at liberty to expose the weaknesses of the measure, and did so without mercy. But under the pressure of party exigency that had brought the Republicans together, his opposition was overridden and the measure was passed as reported. Because it had some good and important features, he voted for it, but with the regret that he could not get amendments that would make the act more positive and rational.
The elections of 1874 transferred the control not only of the lower house in Congress, but also of State and local governments generally, from the Republicans to their adversaries. The Grant régime—to the destruction of which Schurz had devoted all his hopes and energies for years—was mercilessly repudiated by the people. In this, of course, Schurz found much cause for gratification. “How Sumner has been avenged!” he wrote to a friend just after the election. But at the same time it was evident that the elections in Missouri had put the control of the State entirely into the hands of the extreme or “Bourbon” Democracy, on the eve of the expiration of Schurz's senatorial term, March 4, 1875. Only a campaign or two earlier, after Schurz had broken his party ties to insure that the injustice to this class of Democrats should cease, he was everywhere received by them with irrepressible enthusiasm. The demonstrations of favor sometimes went so far that a little company of lank and vigorous rustics would seize him and bear him on their shoulders amid wild shouts. This was exceedingly distasteful to him, whose enthusiasms were purely intellectual. On a particularly irritating occasion of that sort, he remarked: “Oh, yes, you are wonderfully fond of me now, but you will soon choose a Confederate brigadier to succeed me.” Even after the election of 1874 some of his friends tried to convince him and themselves that the triumphant Missouri Democracy would have enough of the Liberal spirit to send him back as their Senator. He did not for a moment share this delusion. He knew a thousand times too much of practical politics to forget that if republics are ungrateful, parties are greedy. True to his early prophecy, the Democratic legislature of Missouri in a few weeks elected General Cockrell as his successor.
Meantime he was actively considering private arrangements for the future, and consulting with his friends, especially in the East, concerning some new occupation worthy of his abilities and agreeable to his tastes. He received offers for large literary undertakings of historical character, and at one time contemplated moving to Massachusetts to be near the best libraries and in touch with the many highly intellectual friends that he had made in that region. His project was approved by F. W. Bird of Boston and by Samuel Bowles of Springfield, the latter characteristically warning Schurz against the narrow and provincializing influence of Boston and suggesting that he might find Springfield or Northampton more to his taste. Bowles also suggested, what would doubtless have appealed very strongly to Schurz, that a return to the Senate from Massachusetts might not be a too remote possibility.
During the final months of senatorial labor in the winter of 1874-75 he had occasion once more to arraign the administration for its renewed interference by force in the affairs of Louisiana. A well-rounded and philosophical discussion of the tendency of things represented by this policy of the administration was the last formal oration of Mr. Schurz on the floor of the Senate.
Two weeks after he ceased to be Senator he wrote to F. W. Bird: “I see some reason to hope that the year 1876 will present an opportunity for a movement such as that of 1872 ought to have been.” This expression suggests the fidelity of the writer to the ideals of the Cincinnati convention, and reveals that in March, 1875, he was revolving in his mind a project to secure in 1876 the triumph that the Liberal Republican movement of 1872 had lost through an unfortunate nomination.
During the first half of Grant's second administration the Liberal Republican party faded gradually out of existence. Its organization disappeared; its members sought shelter, some again in the Republican, some in the Democratic fold. But Mr. Schurz and his thoroughly kindred spirits could have no thoughts of party affiliation while maladministration, corruption or false notions of public finance were in control. The greenback and inflation heresy affected both parties, but it found a distinctly better reception among the Democrats. The Independents were radical hard-money men, and they found in President Grant's veto of the worst inflation bill in the spring of 1874 partial atonement for the shortcomings of his administration. With the return of the old war horses of the Bourbon Democracy among the victors of 1874 came frequent proclamations of the ancient party spirit. This still further repelled the Independents. But there was in the Democratic as in the Republican party an element in strong sympathy with the ideals of the reformers, and the possibility of securing through these elements an effective recognition of reform by both parties was the thought that determined Mr. Schurz's preparations for the next presidential campaign.
Throughout the spring of 1875 there was much correspondence on the subject between Schurz and the various members of the brilliant coterie of intimates who looked to him as leader. E. L. Godkin, Horace White, General J. D. Cox, Samuel Bowles, Charles Nordhoff, Murat Halstead, and the sons of Charles Francis Adams, especially Henry and Charles Francis, Jr., were prominent in this group, and a number of them met Schurz at a private dinner in New York at the end of April, where the plan of campaign for the next year was thoroughly canvassed. Shortly afterwards Mr. Schurz crossed the ocean to spend several months in Europe.
During the summer State politics in Ohio took a turn that enlisted the serious attention of the Liberal group. Charles Francis Adams, Jr., wrote Schurz on June 28th that Ohio was where “our battle for '76 is to be lost or won,” and deplored the absence of the leader from the country. “I do verily believe,” Adams continued, “that if you could be turned into Ohio this year with Grosvenor as your lieutenant to organize the Independent vote … a wholly new face would be put on the relations of parties to public questions in the conflict of next year.” The thought was taken up by Halstead and Nordhoff at a conference in Cincinnati. They wrote identical notes in July, urging Schurz to return in time for the campaign. The Democrats had renominated Governor William Allen and had pushed to the front as the chief issues inflation and the repeal of the Resumption Act. Rutherford B. Hayes was the Republican candidate and stood stoutly for resumption and hard money. Adams renewed his urging that Schurz should take a hand in the contest, declaring that Allen's election would be a shocking blow to the Liberal cause. “The weapon with which to kill him is the German vote; it is the only effective weapon at hand, and you are its holder. You must come back in time to strike in just at the close, with all the freshness and prestige of your recent German reception.” Several prominent Ohio Liberals added their entreaties to those of his more intimate friends, and Mr. Schurz, wholly in sympathy with their purpose, curtailed his vacation and reached home in the middle of September.
He went promptly to Ohio and spoke frequently in both German and English, in support of Hayes. But he took great pains to emphasize his detachment from both parties, confining himself in his speeches to the money question and avoiding personal relations with the candidate whom he was supporting. Hayes was elected by a small majority. “I got home this morning,” wrote Charles Francis Adams, Jr., to Schurz, “serene in the knowledge that ‘old Bill Allen's’ gray and gory scalp was safely dangling at your girdle.” The chairman of the Republican State Committee formally ascribed to Schurz much of the credit for the victory. At the same time the chairman apologized for not having paid Schurz's campaign expenses and offered to do so. This offer, acceptance of which would have compromised the whole theory and purpose of the speaker's participation, was declined. “I was glad,” Schurz wrote, “to have an opportunity to do what I did do, and feel amply compensated by the result.”
Such moral satisfaction, however, does not provide for the necessities of life. So the Ohio campaign was followed by a particularly long and full season of public lecturing. Schurz's picturesque career, his philosophical mind and inspiring eloquence had for over a decade and a half made him a favorite on the lyceum stage. This enabled him easily to supplement his never large income, whose most regular, if not always most considerable, source was journalism. During the long and tedious lecturing tours of this autumn and the winter of 1875-76 he labored incessantly, by correspondence and personal conference, upon the scheme for “a movement such as that of 1872 ought to have been.” In November, 1875, when it seemed possible that the nomination of Grant for a third term would be attempted, Schurz was full of a project for insuring the nomination of Charles Francis Adams, Sr., by both parties. But shortly afterward the House of Representatives almost unanimously passed a resolution against a third term. With Grant eliminated, Adams ceased to be the most available candidate for the Independents, and Morton, Conkling, ex-Speaker Blaine and Bristow, Secretary of the Treasury, became the leading candidates for the Republican nomination. Schurz soon began to agitate for Bristow, whose mettle as an aggressive and efficient reformer had been tested.
JAMES G. BLAINE
Blaine, however, was developing great strength, and was favorably regarded by many of the Independents, because he had advocated some liberal measures and was always mentally alert and winning. Morton and Conkling were his strongest rivals. As Grant's lieutenants and ready champions, between them they commanded most of the strictly partisan support. The passions of the wartime were dozing. In order to draw off from Morton and Conkling their peculiarly partisan support, Blaine, on January 10, 1876, found an opportunity in the House of Representatives to make a spectacular attack on the ex-Confederates and in the most lurid colors to describe the horrors of the Confederate prisons. The effect was instantaneous. Northern prejudice blazed forth. Blaine stalked to the center of the stage. But he had not foreseen the influence of such a maneuver on the Independents that had favored him. Many of them promptly withdrew their misplaced confidence.
Schurz had long correctly estimated Blaine's character. On January 4, 1876, and before this new revelation, Schurz wrote to Bowles: “Strong efforts are made here [New York City] for Blaine and Bristow. Our friend [William Walter] Phelps has again succumbed under the ‘personal magnetism’ of the former, and Nordhoff also. It seems they have so engaged themselves that the chances of recovery are slim. I do my very best, but with little hope.” Six days after Blaine's sensational speech Schurz sent Bowles this cheerful comment: “It seems almost as if Blaine had virtually killed himself as a candidate, as I always thought he would. He may seemingly revive, but I am sure he will die of too much smartness at last.”
Blaine, of course, had no love for Schurz or his ideals, but rightly estimated the importance of obtaining the support of the head and front of the Independent movement. Much stronger opponents than Phelps or Nordhoff had succumbed to that proverbial magnetism and those famous displays of cordiality, which were almost irresistible even when wholly insincere. He plied Schurz with them from time to time, without success. Once when Schurz was at Charles Nordhoff's, Blaine appeared and renewed his solicitations after Nordhoff withdrew. When Schurz left, Blaine accompanied him. As they neared Lafayette Square, Blaine realized that, as his usual methods were unavailing, it was time for a grand coup. Growing more and more friendly and ardent, still without the desired effect, he threw his arm almost around his companion's neck, and looking him appealingly in the face said, “Carl, you won't oppose me, will you?”
Meantime Schurz had been revolving in his mind a plan for a conference of Independents to devise measures “to prevent the campaign of the centennial year from becoming a mere scramble of politicians for the spoils.” The next four months were devoted to the elaboration of this plan. Quietly and with the utmost care to avoid the participation of such elements as wrecked the Cincinnati movement, the adhesion was secured of hundreds of Republicans and Independents whose names meant influence and votes.
At the most critical stage of this movement a terrible domestic affliction came upon its leader. Mrs. Schurz died March 15, 1876. Kindly and tender ministrations of the multitude of friends who surrounded the stricken husband did not avail to restore the mental balance requisite for the work in hand until weeks had been lost.
At last, however, in April the formal invitations, signed by Schurz, Theodore Woolsey, Horace White, William Cullen Bryant and Alexander H. Bullock were issued for a conference at the Fifth Avenue Hotel on May 15th. Nearly two hundred of those invited—a much larger proportion than had been expected—attended the conference. Among those present, representing many States, were college presidents and professors, clergymen, men of letters, philanthropists and others of light and influence. The care taken to avoid the errors of 1872 was rewarded: the “practical politicians,” who had brought disaster at Cincinnati, were happily absent, and the proceedings were harmonious, cautious and advisory. President Woolsey of Yale was chosen to preside, and the chief feature of the deliberations was the adoption of an address to the American people, prepared by Mr. Schurz. This formulated the needs of the time in the familiar demand for administrative reform and for the regeneration of parties through independent action of the voters. The part of the address that excited greatest interest was a series of paragraphs describing the types of politicians for whom the reformers would not vote. No names were mentioned, but the mordant phrases clearly etched the familiar forms of all the leading Republican aspirants, save Bristow, for the Presidency. Blaine, Morton, Conkling, as well as every “dark horse” whose availability might lie in his weakness and indisposition to offend, instead of in his power and resolution to crush all obstacles to reform, were thereby barred by the Independents. The adoption of the address was followed by the appointment of an executive committee, with power to reconvene the conference in case of need, which was understood to mean a failure of the Republicans to make a proper nomination.
Before the Republican convention assembled at Cincinnati, June 14th, Blaine was suffering from something more than his own “smartness”: he was in the coils of his own corruption, like Laocoön in those of the serpent. He was under suspicion and investigation when the conference was in session, and ere the convention met he had been seriously compromised by the facts disclosed in the Mulligan letters. Although his supporters largely outnumbered those of any other candidate, his chances were blighted. Bristow, Morton and Conkling failed to find enough support outside of their own States. By mere force of the elimination of the real leaders, Hayes, the “favorite son” of Ohio, came to the front in the balloting and was nominated.
Hayes had been assiduously pressed upon the attention of the party ever since his election as Governor of Ohio in 1875, but until recently the effect had seemed slight. As early as February, 1876, Captain A. E. Lee, the secretary of Governor Hayes, confidentially opened communication with Mr. Schurz and furnished him with a full account of Hayes' views on all the leading issues of the day. There had been no doubt on the currency question. Captain Lee convinced Mr. Schurz that Hayes also agreed with him as to the South and civil-service reform. At intervals throughout the period preceding the Republican convention Schurz received other information that gave him a pretty clear notion as to Hayes' qualities and inspired confidence that he would respond to correct influences. Consequently when Bristow was unable to impress the convention, Hayes attracted the favorable attention of many Independents. Soon after the nomination Schurz announced, at first only privately, his satisfaction with Hayes, and other prominent members of the Fifth Avenue conference did so, more or less openly.
Still others, including some who had been very near to Mr. Schurz, doubted that Hayes possessed the sterling requirements, and preferred Tilden, who was confidently expected to be the Democratic candidate. Among these were Hoadley and Stallo of Ohio, Ottendorfer of New York, and both the elder and the younger Charles Francis Adams. Gustav Koerner of Illinois also went into the Democratic camp. It was significant of political conditions and of Schurz's good influence that Koerner, immediately after the nomination, begged Schurz to withhold for a time the publication of his support of Hayes, because if the Democrats became convinced that they could not win the Independents, they might turn away from Tilden and throw themselves into the arms of the inflationists. “We want both parties to nominate hard-money men, so that, in either case, the election of a Republican or Democrat, one of the great objects of the Liberal Republicans would be accomplished.”
Schurz's choice soon became publicly known. To many of the Liberals it was a bitter disappointment, and some of them only stopped short of questioning his motives; for they understood his attitude to indicate his return to the regular Republican ranks, which he and they had abandoned in 1872. And his action was rightly regarded as signifying the termination of the Liberal Republican movement as such, which he had done most to inspire and support.
He would have preferred a new and a reform party, but next to that he had aimed to overthrow the Grant régime, to discredit such Republican politicians as Morton and Conkling and the artful Blaine, and to compel their party to choose reform leaders and a new and liberal policy. Accordingly he considered that the sweeping away of all these men and the selection of Hayes had granted much that the Liberal Republicans had demanded and was an earnest of other improvements in the near future.
Schurz's conclusion to support Hayes soon brought the two men into intimate relations. At a personal interview about July first, and in a copious correspondence thereafter, the ideas of the reform leader as to the contents of the letter of acceptance were energetically pressed upon the candidate. Schurz submitted at the request of Hayes a draft of the paragraph on civil-service reform, and several expressions in this draft, as well as the whole tenor, were adopted. It was at Schurz's suggestion, also, that Hayes' pledge not to be a candidate for re-election was placed immediately after the paragraph on civil-service reform, so as to emphasize the close relationship of the two subjects. The currency question Hayes at first thought should be ignored in his letter, but he finally accepted Schurz's judgment to the contrary. The letter as published proved very satisfactory to reformers and confirmed to Hayes the adhesion of a large fraction of the Independents.
While the excellent effect of the letter pleased and encouraged Mr. Schurz, certain features of the conduct of the campaign gave him much pain and stimulated strong remonstrances to Mr. Hayes. How absurdly inappropriate was the selection of Zachariah Chandler as chairman of the National Campaign Committee! But in those days neither the candidate nor the White House dictated either platforms or managers. While admitting that it would be a delicate matter for Hayes to interfere, Schurz nevertheless thought that something ought to be done. He dwelt especially upon the bad effect of the policy that Chandler would probably adopt—of levying assessments on the officeholders. Schurz's fears were promptly realized; and he, as promptly, besought Hayes to interfere and to put an end if possible to the exaction of so-called “voluntary contributions” from the officers of the government. This urgent appeal impressed Hayes. A few weeks later Schurz received from him a copy of a note he had sent to the secretary of the National Committee, protesting against the assessments and begging that they be discouraged.
Throughout the campaign Mr. Schurz spoke with all his earnest dignity and eloquence for the side to which he had committed himself. At the same time he was in close and frequent communication with the candidate, ready to counteract any influences unfavorable to reform. Tilden had so strong a record as a reformer that the Republican cause seemed, as the campaign approached its crisis, to be in serious peril. To the shrewdest partisans, particularly Blaine and Morton and Conkling, it appeared that the only hope of success lay in emphasizing the Southern question and the possibility of rebel triumph through Democratic success. Schurz labored energetically against this view. His letters to Hayes were frequent and urgent. He claimed that unless precedence should be given to the reform issues, the Independent voters, eager for reform, would go to Tilden. “The cry for a ‘change’ is immensely powerful. People say, Governor Hayes is an honest man, but what good will it do to elect him if his administration is controlled by Morton, Conkling, Cameron, Chandler, Blaine, etc.—and off they go where they are sure of a ‘change.’ I could show you a number of letters from men of Republican sympathy, of cool judgment and more or less prominence and influence, who have taken or are inclined to take that course. … I feel that the subject I am discussing with you is a delicate one, but I can speak about it with entire frankness and candor, because I have no ax of my own to grind. If you are elected you will not find me among those who ask for or expect place or favor. I have been long enough in public positions to become sensible of their worthlessness as an element of human happiness, and especially since my recent bereavement I have absolutely no ambition in that line.”
Mr. Hayes not unnaturally took a different view of the situation, and all the strength and pertinacity of Mr. Schurz's representation were of little avail. Theoretically he may have liked Schurz's beneficent policy, but he could not leave out of account the party and its actual leaders although they might merit disparagement. On September 15th, Hayes wrote: “. . . the canvass daily brings to the front more and more as the two leading topics, the danger of the united-South victory, and the Tilden record as a reformer.” In accordance with this feeling the candidate gave his whole support during the last six weeks of the campaign to a policy of exploiting Southern horrors and “viewing with alarm.” Schurz, however, firmly adhered to his own chosen method of promoting the Republican cause. He alone of the leading speakers on that side subordinated the Southern question and put stress on that of administrative reform, as the ground for supporting Hayes and Wheeler.
In the exciting controversy that attended the disputed counts in three Southern States and Oregon, Mr. Schurz had little part. His arduous labors in the campaign were followed by another protracted period of lecturing. Even if he had been free from the demands of this private occupation, he would hardly have found a useful place in the complexities of the times. If he had assumed the functions of “visiting statesman,” he would probably have fared like General Barlow, in Florida—flouted and ostracized by his associates for manifesting an open mind and a judicial spirit. The situation demanded the most intense partisanship, and this Schurz could never have supplied. He sought to influence Hayes in his attitude toward the contest, but the influence of others was triumphant. Especially in respect to Louisiana and its unsavory returning board, Schurz had formed during his senatorial term the most positive opinions, and these forbade the recognition of any element of righteousness to the Radical party there; but Hayes wrote on December 6th: “I am overwhelmed with callers congratulating me on the results declared in Louisiana. I have no doubt that we are justly and legally entitled to the Presidency; my conversation with Sherman, Garfield, Stoughton and others, settles the question in my mind as to Louisiana.” Against the complacent assurance thus reached by the candidate, it was wholly in vain that Schurz pointed out the inherent weakness of any title that should rest on an act of the Louisiana returning board.
When the controversy was transferred to Congress, Schurz exerted all the influence that he could command in favor of a settlement through the agency of the Supreme Court. When at last the Electoral Commission was proposed, he earnestly supported the bill. Against the reported resolution of Hayes to accept the result as declared by the President of the Senate without reference to any other agency, Schurz entered a strong protest, entreating the candidate to submit to the judgment of some less biased tribunal.
But whatever the differences of opinion between Hayes and Schurz during and after the campaign, substantial harmony between them was restored when Hayes' inauguration became likely. During the latter half of January, Schurz was invited to make suggestions about the inaugural address and also the membership of the Cabinet. In response he was most urgent that the Cabinet should agree as to civil-service reform, and with this in view he suggested the names of persons for the various portfolios. Evarts, who became Secretary of State, was accordingly recommended. For the Treasury, Schurz strongly urged Bristow as the one man who had shown conclusively his aggressive strength as a practical reformer. John Sherman was not referred to in Schurz's letters, doubtless because of the conviction, confirmed by Republican correspondents of the highest standing, like Morrill of Vermont, that partisanship would sooner or later overcome any reforming impulses which Sherman might feel. Hayes' project of selecting one member from the South drew from Schurz the suggestion that the selection should be made from without the party lines—an idea which, though submitted with much doubt, was nevertheless acted upon by the President.
As early as December Mr. Schurz had received an intimation from General J. D. Cox, that Hayes had Schurz in mind for the Cabinet, in case the disputed count should be decided in favor of the Republicans. In February, when such a decision had become highly probable and Hayes' intentions toward Schurz had been confirmed, Schurz urged Murat Halstead to press Hayes to appoint Bristow, rather than Sherman, Secretary of the Treasury. Halstead characteristically replied: “You suggest that I go to Columbus to meet Hayes and talk Bristow. I saw him here and talked Schurz. … Sherman for the Treasury engaged certain. It does not seem worth while to combat the inevitable. … I was very urgent with Hayes to appoint you and ascertained that he had an opinion that there was no premiership in the Secretary of State, and he thought there was more room for civil-service reform work in the Interior than in the War Department. … Is there some danger that if you went into the Cabinet you would be a disturbing element? How would you get along with Sherman if Evarts, Hawley and Harlan were in? The Governor's remarks in reply to my urgency would be agreeable reading, but I do not feel at liberty to recite them.”
Shortly afterward, on February 25th, Hayes wrote to Schurz: “… I do not, or have not desired to be committed on Cabinet appointments until the issue was reached. But it is perhaps proper to say that, if elected, it has for a long time been my wish to invite you to take a place in the Cabinet. I think it would be fortunate for the country, and especially for myself, if you are one of the members of the Cabinet. I am not likely to change that opinion. The Interior Department is my preference for you. The Post Office would come next.” Schurz's reply to this invitation expressed a willingness to accept the Interior, but declared that for the Post Office Department a degree of practical business ability and experience was required that he did not believe he possessed.
The announcement of President Hayes' choice of his Cabinet was well received by the liberal and reforming element of his party, but evoked much caustic criticism from the radical and machine men, who foresaw that they were to have small influence in the new administration. They strongly resented the assignment of the Post Office to an ex-Confederate, General Key, but the bitterest comment was directed against the nomination of Schurz. Key, it was said, was frankly a Democrat and had never been anything else, and his appointment was a mere bit of amiable folly; but Schurz was a renegade who had deserted the Republicans in 1872 and had rejoined them only to do the party renewed damage. It was held to be especially insulting that such a man should be designated to succeed Zachariah Chandler, whose stalwart devotion to his party had been unswerving. The insufferable insult of Principle to Partisanship! The rumor that the Republicans would try to prevent the confirmation of Schurz's nomination was not surprising. To meet such a contingency some of his admirers strongly urged the Democratic Senators to vote for confirmation. It was especially gratifying to Mr. Schurz to learn that this movement was participated in by former senatorial colleagues and by Oswald Ottendorfer, who had sharply differed with him in the campaign of 1876. When the Senate came to vote on the nominations for the Cabinet no considerable opposition was made to the prospective Secretary of the Interior.