A Sketch of Carl Schurz's Political Career 1869-1906/4 The Secretary of the Interior
THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR
THE two great problems of policy that confronted the new administration were those of civil-service reform and a readjustment in the South. Mr. Schurz had much practical knowledge of the Southern problem, but only slight responsibility in the efforts to solve it. He had heartily approved Mr. Hayes' purpose to abandon South Carolina and Louisiana to the whites; but he had felt and expressed much doubt as to the outcome of the President's project—especially exhibited in the appointment of Key—to build up a respectable white Republican party in the South.
As to the policy of civil-service reform, Mr. Schurz was recognized on all sides as the specialist of the administration. In his own department he promptly furnished practical illustrations of the new system. The bureau chiefs and other principal subordinates were all required to submit to him full projects for the application of the merit system in the appointment and promotion of the clerical force. Starting with these wholly practical suggestions, he worked out his plan and put it into operation. Competitive examinations were provided for as the sole channel for entrance into the service; and he announced that promotion in rank and salary should depend upon like tests, together with a comparison of records as to efficiency.
This was indeed something new—so new and apparently idealistic that the politicians looked upon it as a huge, unpractical joke, and so extremely absurd that they had to hold their sides as they laughed. Finally, recovering that distinguished air that comes, even to the naturally wise, only after years of important political experience, they significantly nodded their heads and deigned to remark: “O, yes, we understand politics and human nature. This efficiency-and-competitive-examination business is well enough to talk about,—to clerks and to the simple country people. We know Carl Schurz [which they variously pronounced shers or shirts, but never correctly, shoorts]; we've seen him advocatin' reform after reform, includin' that ludicrous fiasco, Horus Greeley. Since then Shers has grown less youthful and hasn't tried to climb so many rainbows. At last he has returned like the prodigal son; now he knows, or'll soon learn, how to respect Republican ways, or he'll be out of office mighty quick. He'll not long get on without our influence!” To make sure of it, that “influence” at once manifested itself by a deluge of demands upon the Secretary for office—demands oral and demands epistolary; some pleading, others threatening; some for recognition of political service in the past, others for compensation in advance for proffered service in the future. All applicants were alike in their confident persistency. And even they and the Secretary were also alike in that they were equally persistent and had many very weary months—he in reiterating, and they in hearing, his unchanging and unchangeable rule,—as lucid in expression as it was unwelcome in its import,—that clerkships were obtainable only through competitive examinations.
And even yet the thought had not dawned in the minds of the pestering politicians, that if a reformer is both sincere and intelligent, he does not forget that the only time he can ever put his ideas and himself to a test is when he obtains responsible official position. Schurz was ambitious for distinction; his whole nature craved it as a woman's does affection. Office, position, influence, were opportunities to achieve distinction in advancing the causes for which he had earnestly enlisted. In one of his letters to Hayes during the campaign of 1876, he had written: “The first thing that I want is to promote certain objects of public importance and to that end to preserve, as a private citizen, some influence on public opinion and the esteem of those whose respect is worth having. I can do that first by telling the people what I honestly believe to be true and what I can reasonably prove to be true.” It was by close adherence to such rules of personal action that he became rich in “the esteem of those whose respect is worth having,” and was able to advance his favorite reforms. Such was the distinction he sought.
An instance that throws much light on the Secretary's methods and on the conditions with which he had to deal was that involving a woman clerk in the Patent Office, who was also the Washington correspondent of a prominent Republican newspaper in Ohio. Its editor early besought the Secretary to promote her, declaring that her work as correspondent during the last presidential campaign had been very efficient. By direction of the Secretary the woman's superiors in the Patent Office looked up her record as clerk, with the result that she was recommended for dismissal. Schurz ordered, however, that she be merely reduced in rank and that she have another chance to justify her retention. The editor soon blew a fierce epistolary blast on account of the treatment of his protégée, expatiating on the service she had done by her letters during the campaign, declaring her entitled to promotion on this score, and concluding with the warning so terrible to politicians, that whatever might be done in this case would be regarded as “directly personal” to the newspaper. To an impractical reformer the natural reply to this insolent outburst would have been the dismissal of the woman and the termination of the correspondence. Mr. Schurz realized, however, that such a course might make her the victim of another's wrongheadedness, and that he had to deal with an aggravated case of spoilsman's fever. Accordingly he addressed to the excited editor a long, calm letter, pointing out, with exaggerated gravity, that the excellence of the woman's work as a correspondent gave her a claim to increase of rank and pay on the staff of the newspaper, but not on that of the Patent Office, and setting forth the elementary principles of civil-service reform. The Secretary then gave closer personal attention to the case, satisfied himself that the clerk concerned was a bright, respectable and hard-working woman, with a reasonably good defense against the charges on which she had been reduced in rank. He therefore transferred her to another branch of the department's service, where she continued to labor with eminent efficiency till near the end of his term, turning often aside from her avocation of enlightening the people of Ohio on things social and political at the Capital, to express in private letters her sense of the greatness and justice of the Secretary of the Interior. The truculent editor was mollified by Schurz's action if not convinced by his argument, and appropriately made his last appearance in the letter files of the Secretary as an earnest seeker after office for himself.
In all the other aspects of the reform which he had preached, Mr. Schurz was as faithful to his ideals as in the matter of minor appointments. Though some branches of the Interior Department, especially the Land Office and the Indian Bureau, had been, especially under Grant, notorious haunts of the spoilsmen, nothing like a clean sweep was undertaken, but, greatly to the disgust in many cases of the friends of the Secretary, removals were made only after investigation had shown specific cause in connection with specific persons. Political grounds, whether affecting the administration in general or himself in particular, Mr. Schurz consistently declined to take into account in manning the offices under him or in advising the President as to other departments. His old Liberal associates in some cases sought his influence in behalf of such readjustment of the federal offices as would sustain them against their factional adversaries. In his own State in particular, he was importuned to guide the distribution of places with a view to destroying the power of those who had obstructed the political prosperity of the Liberals and of Schurz himself. His answer, in June, 1877, to a suggestion of this sort expressed concisely but completely the principle on which he acted:
“I have received your letter of the 18th inst. and sincerely appreciate the friendly sentiments which prompted it. As you do not expect a reply in detail, I would only say that in the management of what is called the patronage in Missouri, I shall feel in duty bound, as far as I exercise an influence, to act upon those principles with regard to the civil service which I have always advocated. This will preclude anything and everything like a personal policy looking to ulterior ends. Ever since I have been in official life I have adhered to the rule of regarding the official position occupied by me at the time, as the last one ever to be held by me, and as decisive of my reputation as a public man. We can only perform a duty well when we perform it for its own sake. In that way I am always in danger of giving some dissatisfaction to my friends who interest themselves in my success, but I do not see how that can be avoided.”
It was not without Secretary Schurz's influence that President Hayes formally proclaimed the general divorce of the administrative service from partisan politics by the celebrated order of June 22, 1877, saying that “no officer should be required or permitted to take part in the management of political organizations, caucuses, conventions or election campaigns,” and “no assessments for political purposes on officers or subordinates should be allowed.” That other departments were less scrupulous than the Interior Department in conforming to the President's order, created awkward situations from time to time. An internal-revenue collector or a postmaster might be found actively promoting the cause of his party or his faction while a land register or pension agent was required to abstain.
Similar results and contrasts came from the administration's policy of giving federal offices to the most prominent Southern Republicans, almost regardless of character and qualifications, who had lost positions as a result of the Democratic victories in their States. No Secretary was able to keep his department entirely free from these political pensioners. Of course Mr. Schurz opposed this policy as far as it was proper for a Secretary to oppose the President. Consequently the Interior Department almost entirely escaped the heavy burden of odium soon incurred by the administration, which was chargeable for the most part to John Sherman's methods in the Treasury Department. Such inconsistencies damaged the administration and the cause of reform, but Mr. Schurz's aims and methods were unchanged.
The failure of the stalwart Grant wing of the Republican party to retain popular confidence was due to the widespread conviction that a general house-cleaning throughout the federal service was necessary. Reformatory investigations were now instituted in nearly all the departments. The most spectacular and politically influential results were reached by the Treasury Department, in connection with the New York custom house. A drastic reform of this institution involved the administration in a bitter conflict with Senator Conkling and his followers. Hardly less embarrassing was the hostility aroused by the reformatory procedure of Mr. Schurz in the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The conduct of this office, especially in connection with the furnishing of supplies to the reservation Indians, had long been the subject of unpleasant rumors. Shortly after taking office the new Secretary appointed a commission, consisting of three experienced subordinates in the department, to examine and report fully upon the whole system in its actual working. The investigation quickly revealed conditions and practices that in some measure justified the suspicions current, though inefficiency and carelessness were more manifest than positive corruption. Accordingly the commissioner and the chief clerk of the bureau were removed and a general stiffening up of the Indian administration was instituted. The displaced officials and methods were not, however, without friends. In January, 1878, when the manner and results of the housecleaning were made public, the Secretary became the object of severe criticism. No less a personage than General Sherman testified publicly to the efficiency of the ex-commissioner. And a certain academic statesman of very brief experience, subsequently president of a New England college, and always given to posing before youthful and unsophisticated audiences, called the Secretary of the Interior “a fraud, fond of theatrical attitudes and sensational effects and who desires to make a reputation as a reformer, but who has not any of the stuff out of which reformers are made.” The criticisms of these and of other excellent persons—well-meaning but misinformed about both the Secretary and the Indians—were gleefully re-echoed by the real enemies of reform. And a strong opposition beset Mr. Schurz at every step in his efforts to improve the administration's Indian policy.
The chief problems inherited from the Grant régime were connected with the disturbances in the plains and mountains of the far West. Railway building, mine opening, and the rapid progress of settlement by the whites had completely transformed the conditions of Indian life. All the tribes, even the largest and most far-ranging, were forced to be content with relatively narrow reservations, and to look to the government for supplies with which to eke out the ever-diminishing product of the chase. To keep the restless and unruly tribesmen on their reservations and the no less unruly white men off, was a task frequently beyond the powers of the agents, and the army had to be appealed to. In view of repeated bloody conflicts, culminating in the slaughter of Custer and his command by the Sioux in the summer of 1876, a feeling had gained wide prevalence that a total change of policy was necessary. Under President Grant religious and philanthropic societies and individuals had been formally endowed with consultative and advisory functions in the management of Indian affairs, with the idea of promoting civilization on the reservations. The “peace policy” represented by this system was now declared by many to be a hopeless failure, and it was urged that the management of the Indians should be taken entirely out of the hands of the Department of the Interior and given to the War Department. Since the army had ultimately to come in and settle all the serious issues that arose, it would be better in every sense, so the argument ran, that the whole situation be under military control from the outset. Generals Sherman and Sheridan strongly advocated this view, and it was urged by other high officers also, whose frequent and severe campaigns in the late Indian wars gave much weight to their opinions.
The underlying support of this proposition was the conviction that the Indian could never be civilized and that the only possible solution of the problem which he embodied was to confine him, under strict military supervision, on reservations from which all uplifting contact with white men was barred, till he should become extinct by virtue of his own incurable barbarism. Such a general view of the matter Mr. Schurz confessed he himself held when he entered the Interior Department. But additional study changed his opinion. From the good and wise men of various religious denominations whom Grant's policy had brought into co-operation with the Indian Bureau, notably William Welsh of Philadelphia, the Secretary soon learned how much of hope and of achievement was bound up in the peace policy. He became the supporter and the efficient leader of those who wished to maintain and develop the old system.
In the autumn and winter of 1877 a joint committee of Congress investigated at length the feasibility of transferring the Indians to the War Department. Mr. Schurz appeared on December 6th, and presented a statement which summed up in his most effective manner the case for the status quo. He announced his conviction that the proper policy in dealing with the Indians was that of guiding them to the practice of agriculture or grazing on their reservations, as a first step toward self-support and toward the occupation of the land in severalty. Education should begin, with the other instrumentalities of civilization. Such a policy, he contended, would be the most conducive to peace and the most economical. It ought to be retained and developed; but the army would be no proper agency for its execution. Military men and methods were indispensable for emergencies; the long, slow process of raising the red men out of barbarism, however, required qualities in those who guided it that the army could not supply.
In addition to his skillfully formulated statement before the committee the Secretary further sustained his views by a sharp public comment in January, 1879, on severe criticism of the Indian Bureau's methods by General Sheridan. The general on this as on other occasions of public controversy displayed more spirit than poise, and he fared badly in the encounter. In February an adverse vote in the House put an end to the project of transferring the Indian Bureau. Mr. Schurz received hearty acknowledgments from the friends of the Indians for his contribution to this happy result. He became from this time a powerful ally of those who were laboring to civilize the wild tribes. His annual report for 1879 outlined every feature of the policy which was destined to achieve such signal success in the break-up of tribal life during the ensuing quarter century. The education of Indian youths was one prime element in this policy, to the end of introducing “civilized ideas, wants and aspirations,” and the influence of Mr. Schurz was decisive in putting Indian education on a firm foundation. He co-operated in the original experiment with Indian pupils at Hampton in 1877; gave the deciding word for the establishment of Captain Pratt with fifty children at Carlisle in 1879; and with all his power sustained the institution thus founded as well as other similar enterprises in the West. His last report as Secretary, in 1880, emphatically declared that these enterprises had already passed the stage of experiment and were, as agencies for promoting the civilization of the Indians, highly successful.
It was one of the queer coincidences that often give interest to public life that just when Mr. Schurz was so effectively promoting a rational Indian policy he became the object of unmeasured abuse by many good persons who professed aims like his. In the summer of 1879 arose the agitation about the Poncas, which continued both to vex and to amuse the Secretary while he remained in office. The Poncas were a small, peaceable tribe of Indians who had long lived in quiet upon their reservation in southeastern Dakota. Prior to the administration of President Hayes it became necessary to readjust the boundaries of the Sioux reservation, in order to leave the Black Hills open to the influx of miners. To give satisfaction to both the Sioux and the gold seekers was a difficult task, and in the absorption of its work in this respect, Congress overlooked the Poncas altogether, and assigned their land to the Sioux. When the error was discovered, it seemed hazardous to reopen the matter so far as the Sioux were concerned, and accordingly it was determined to remove the Poncas to a new reservation in the Indian Territory. The removal was effected just as Mr. Schurz took office, and the manner of it, like the action which made it necessary, was shockingly unjust to the poor Indians. Many of them died as a result of the unfavorable conditions on the new reservation, and in the spring of 1879 some of them left their new home and undertook to return to their former abode. When this enterprise was checked by the action of federal troops, a rather startling change was effected in the situation by the action of the federal district court in Omaha. Judge Dundy granted a writ of habeas corpus on an application in behalf of one of the Indians named Standing Bear, and set him free. The intrinsic justice of the action in this particular case could hardly be disputed. As to the point of law, however, the judge's decision opened up an alarming vista of future complications in the administration of Indian affairs. Restless braves and ambitious attorneys could, on the principle here laid down, thwart the government in its efforts to control the movements of the Indians. Despite this prospect, however, Mr. Schurz, when he looked into the case, decided not to take an appeal to the Supreme Court, but to let the matter pass without agitation. He felt keenly the wrong that had been done to the Poncas, but he believed that far greater wrongs would result if any attempt were now made to undo the action of Congress. By personal observation during the summer of 1879 as well as through reports of various officials, he assured himself that the tribe, however much it had suffered at the time of the change, was far better off than it had been on its northern reservation, and, moreover, that its return to the north would expose it to incessant attacks from the Sioux, with most disastrous results.
The Secretary's disposition to let the Ponca matter disappear from the public view was not shared by a former Indian agent, the Rev. Mr. Tibbles, who organized a systematic agitation in behalf of the Indians. With Standing Bear and an Indian girl called Bright Eyes, Tibbles traveled across the country, enlisting much interest in the fate of the tribesmen. In Boston, his success was complete, and large amounts of money were raised for the purpose of effecting through the courts the restoration of the Poncas to their land and their rights. For failing to take steps in this direction, Mr. Schurz was subjected to violent abuse. Well-meaning but hysterical women and men, with more sentiment than common sense, joined heartily in the attacks on the Secretary. Tibbles found himself a national character, and reveled in his greatness. Mrs. Helen Hunt Jackson, a true philanthropist, who wished to be to the Indian what Harriet Beecher Stowe was to the slave, took up the cause of the Poncas, and earnestly sought to enlist the Secretary's energies in their behalf. Schurz found in Mrs. Jackson a suitable medium through which to express his own views on the subject, and his two letters to her were models of calm, courteous, effective demonstration, thus making a happy contrast with the performances of his critics. Still the legal point involved seemed unintelligible to a great many of the Indians' zealous friends, and the attacks on the Secretary continued. Politicians took up the matter from motives that would hardly stand investigation. Such high-minded men as Governor Long of Massachusetts and Representative Dawes each found occasion during 1880 to attack Mr. Schurz, and each of them received a sharp retort. The Rev. Mr. Tibbles, though he raised considerable money for the purpose of testing the rights of the Poncas, never brought the issue into court; indeed the decision of Judge Dundy, being in favor of Standing Bear and being accepted without appeal by the government, left no way open for further litigation. A thorough investigation of the condition and desires of the Poncas revealed that they were prosperous and happy, and not at all desirous of returning to their old home. So this mistaken agitation died out.
The joyous sequel to the whole affair was appropriately commented on by the Assistant Secretary of the Interior, in an amusing letter to the ex-Secretary, in August, 1881:—“I was greatly rejoiced on my return from a sea trip to find that the Ponca war was at last ended, that Bright Eyes had capitulated to Tibbles, and that Tibbles had surrendered to Bright Eyes.” The maiden and the missionary, in short, had united in marriage. The Assistant Secretary feared that poor Bright Eyes had made a mistake when she “buried all the wrongs of her race in a greater upon herself,” but he was willing to forgive her if it should appear that the act had effectually disposed of Tibbles.
Besides the agitation about the Poncas, the Secretary was called upon to deal with a tragic outbreak among the Utes in Colorado in the autumn of 1879. The agent on the reservation of one branch of this tribe, Mr. Meeker, was killed, and the women of his family were carried into captivity; later a detachment of troops hurrying to the defense of the whites was defeated with the loss of its commander. When the people and the government of Colorado displayed a purpose to take the Utes in hand and revenge all wrongs by practically exterminating the tribe, a very high degree of tact combined with vigor was shown by the Secretary. Ultimately a settlement was effected through a special agent of the department, by bringing about a surrender of the small number of bad Indians who alone were responsible for the outbreak. Though trouble ensued again, about a year after the original murder, on account of fatal altercations between some of the Indians and some of the whites, this incident also was adjusted without collision with the State authorities. Mr. Schurz's conduct of this Ute matter, manifesting as it did a degree of exact and impartial justice toward the Indians, won him no sympathy from the excited whites, and left him the object of as cordial dislike in Colorado by the deadliest foes of the Indians, as was felt toward him by their warmest, if misguided, friends in Massachusetts.
In addition to these and other assaults which Mr. Schurz had to endure in connection with the management of his own special department, a rather disproportionate number of those that originated in hostility to the administration in general were directed primarily at him. The thorough-going politicians instinctively felt that he was a thorn in their path. Throughout Hayes' term factional feeling was very strong in the Republican party. The President's policy in the South was bitterly resented by the section of the organization that had sustained the Grant régime, and Mr. Blaine also, with a large and enthusiastic following, assumed an attitude of opposition on this point. To both these factions the Secretary of the Interior became the favorite target for their spleen. In the summer of 1877 Mr. Whitelaw Reid, once closely identified with the reform movement which Schurz directed, opened the columns of the New York Tribune to a series of vitriolic lampoons by Gail Hamilton upon the administration, in the course of which the Secretary of the Interior received special attention. The political relationship of the editor, and the family relationship of the writer, to Mr. Blaine left no doubt as to the inspiration of these attacks. In the spring of 1878 the Senator from Maine himself entered the arena. Schurz had early in his term as Secretary instituted vigorous measures for ending the extensive and inveterate depredations of lumbermen upon the forests of the public domain. The action of the government was violently attacked on the floor of the Senate by Blaine, who represented Schurz's measures as a harsh and oppressive application of European methods, by an official of Prussian birth, to high-spirited and freedom-loving American citizens. From the Grant section of the party, also, came a particularly violent onslaught in March of 1878, through Senator Howe, of Wisconsin, though in this the offensiveness of Schurz's German nativity was reduced to the minimum, in view of the large foreign-born element in Wisconsin's population.
The Secretary's philosophy and sense of humor preserved him from discomfort under these attacks. All the ingenious innuendo which imputed un-American influence to him would disappear, he knew, when he should be again needed to win the German vote for the Republicans. Only once did he feel called upon to resent an allusion to his foreign birth. In the winter of 1880-81 Senator Dawes, in the course of a sharp criticism of certain summary measures in dealing with troublesome Indians, ventured upon the same kind of attack that Blaine had employed four years earlier. “It has been a relief to me” said Dawes, “in examining our treatment of these weak and defenseless people to find that these methods are not American in their origin, but bear too striking a resemblance to the modes of an imperial government carried on by espionage and arbitrary power. They are methods which I believe to be unique and which I trust will not be naturalized.” The opening afforded by this rather ill-advised allusion was too attractive to be neglected by such a master of irony as Schurz. In an open letter to Dawes the Secretary, after quoting the foregoing words, retorted:
“You have succeeded in making yourself understood. From the Pequot war to our days there never was an Indian unjustly killed in this country until a German-born American citizen became Secretary of the Interior. All has been peace, love and fraternity. The red man has for three centuries reposed securely upon the gentle bosom of his white brother, and no man to make him afraid, until this dangerous foreigner in an evil hour for the Republic was clothed with authority to disturb that harmonious accord and to disgrace the American name with espionage in Indian camps and the blood of slaughtered victims; and all this he did in an effort to naturalize on American soil the dark and cruel methods of imperial governments, of which this foreigner notoriously is, and has always been, a faithful and ardent worshiper and champion. And ‘it is a relief’ to your patriotic soul that there is hope this wicked naturalization scheme will never succeed. It is pleasant to reflect that there is one man at least among us who even under such threatening circumstances will not despair of the Republic.”
In the State and Congressional campaigns of 1878 the Republicans, especially in Ohio and Massachusetts, urgently appealed to Schurz for assistance. In these States the greenback movement, blending at this time with the rising silver issue, was seriously alarming the Republican leaders. Schurz was counted as a veteran champion of sound money, and he now repeated in Cincinnati his oratorical triumph there in 1875. His speech attracted an extraordinary degree of attention, and competent judges called it the decisive influence in holding the State in the Republican column. Boston, also, whose staid respectability was shuddering at the audacious financial heresies with which Benjamin F. Butler was infecting the people, gave Schurz a most cordial reception. In both cities he confined himself to questions of currency and finance and frankly proclaimed, as of old, his disregard of party bonds. “‘The party, right or wrong,’ has never been my battle cry and it never will be,” he told the Bostonians. But he assured them, as “the conviction of an independent man,” that at the present time and on the momentous issue of resumption and sound money, the Republican party was the nation's better hope.
In the spring of 1879 the plan to nominate Grant the next year came into the open by the action of the Republican State convention in Missouri. The movement grew steadily, especially under the stimulus of Grant's return in September from his spectacular tour around the world. In every Southern State old-time carpet-baggers enthusiastically rallied to the cause of their former protector. In three of the greatest Northern States Conkling, Cameron and Logan, by ruthless control of the party organization, insured a compact and formidable mass of Grant delegates to the national convention.
The development of the Grant “boom” naturally aroused active opposition on the part of friends of Blaine and other aspirants for the nomination. It also served to revive and reunite many of the former Independents, to whom the Secretary of the Interior was from the outset the particular counselor and friend. Both the pressure of his official duties and his sense of official propriety forbade him to take open and ostentatious part in the conflict; but his influence was none the less intimate and real. Through him was conveyed to Hayes the urgent but futile demands of Missouri and Pennsylvania Independents that the renunciation of a second term should be canceled, lest detriment should come to the Republic. To Schurz was communicated every shifting phase of the great battle which MacVeagh, Barker, Lea and the other Philadelphia reformers fought against the Cameron domination. He debated often and anxiously with various Independents the expediency of John Sherman's candidacy, sharing with others the conviction that while Sherman might serve a useful purpose in defeating the nomination of Grant, he promised little else in the promotion of reform. Schurz, finally, was kept fully aware of the widespread preference for Garfield among all shades of anti-Grant Republicans, and probably felt that his nomination would be as much of a mercy as the circumstances would permit.
In the spring of 1880, as the date for the Republican convention approached, the probability of Grant's nomination became very strong. Lack of agreement among the opponents of the third term was largely responsible for the situation. Before this alarming prospect the Independents, with Secretary Schurz constant in urging and advice, organized a demonstration on the lines that had been followed in 1872 and 1876. A conference was held at St. Louis on the 6th of May, at which resolutions denouncing the third term were adopted and provision was made for the appointment of a committee of one hundred to meet in New York in case of Grant's nomination and take appropriate action. The organization of this committee duly proceeded, under Schurz's close observation and counsel; and it was practically completed when the action of the Republican convention in nominating Garfield rendered further procedure by the “anti-third-termers” unnecessary.
Garfield was nearer to Schurz's ideal of a presidential candidate than any man whose name had been seriously brought forward in the Republican party. Yet, as candidate, Garfield manifested disquieting tendencies in respect both to persons and to principles. His generous and enthusiastic impulses led him, in the development of a hot and doubtful campaign, to yield to influences that compromised his intellectual consistency. His attitude toward civil-service reform gave special distress to Mr. Schurz. In the Republican convention a resolution favoring the reform and demanding its promotion was rejected by the committee on resolutions, but was moved in the convention by the Massachusetts delegation. Opposition to the resolution was strong, and the debate elicited the ever-famous query of the outraged Flanagan of Texas: “What are we here for, if not to get the offices?” The plank was adopted, however, though with every indication that its serious supporters were in fact but few. Garfield's letter of acceptance, so far from counteracting this effect by a vigorous plea for reform, gave but the most perfunctory approval to the resolution, and coupled this with what amounted to a repudiation of all that the Hayes administration had stood for in respect to Congressional patronage and the political activity of office-holders. Schurz promptly wrote an energetic letter of protest to Garfield, lamenting the latter's defection from the cause of reform. Garfield's only reply was a denial of defection, and an explicit disapproval of what Hayes had done—thus illustrating the difference between logic and politics.
Neither party was entirely in line with Mr. Schurz's ideas on the questions he considered vital and urgent—the tariff, the currency, and civil-service reform. But the Republicans, led by an experienced civilian, seemed likely to be less unfavorable to those ideas, especially in regard to currency and the civil service, than the Democrats led by a soldier. Had the Democrats nominated a seasoned reformer on a reform platform, one could easily imagine Mr. Schurz resigning his Secretaryship and leading the Independents to the support of the Democratic candidate. In the existing dilemma it was, for non-partisans, a choice of evils. And Schurz's position in Hayes' Cabinet was expected to help him exert a good influence over the Republicans.
Unfortunately, Garfield's attitude allowed partisanship unrestrained control. The campaign managers resorted, with slight attempts at concealment, to the assessment of office-holders and to other old-time methods, and sought as usual, to distract attention from them by “viewing with alarm” the wicked Democrats. The hideousness of secession, the impenitence and malignity of the “rebel brigadiers,” and their fell purpose to subject the North to the domination of the “solid South”—furnished a theme for even the more sane and reputable orators. The time, they declared, was hardly less critical than in 1860, and the duty of patriots no less clear and peremptory than then.
Mr. Schurz spoke for the Republicans in the doubtful States of Indiana, Ohio, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. His speeches and those of the typical Republican orators of that year were altogether different in temper. He was untouched by the partisan contagion. He assured his audiences that the situation was in no sense critical—that it demanded reason, not passion, in its consideration. He made no reference to the “rebel brigadiers”; he displayed no fear of the “solid South.” He paid high tribute to Hancock as a soldier and a patriot, for he had seen the General in battle and was not afraid to speak the truth. At the same time he set forth simply, dispassionately, but with a force that no intelligent and fair-minded reader of to-day can resist, his reasons for believing that the welfare of the country would be best promoted by the election of Garfield. That the value of Schurz's method was not ignored by the practical politicians at headquarters, is indicated by the statement of the secretary of the National Committee that about half a million copies of his speech at Indianapolis had been circulated, including the English and the German versions.
The success of Garfield was received with cheerfulness by Secretary Schurz, although he knew that it would be politically impracticable for him to be retained in the Cabinet. The intimate relations between the President-elect and Mr. Blaine would alone have forbidden the thought of continuance in office. On the 8th of March, 1881, Mr. Schurz retired from the Department of the Interior, amid rather unusual expressions of good will and affection from his subordinates in the service.
Two weeks later he was the guest of honor at a banquet
in Boston, tendered by a group of distinguished men who
desired to signify their high appreciation of his public services
and also their special disapproval of the blundering attacks
several Massachusetts men had made upon him. Such atten
tentions gave him his greatest pleasures, for they were indeed
demonstrations of “the esteem of those whose respect is worth
something”: they marked his success and enlarged the audience
willing to hear “what I honestly believe to be true and
what I can reasonably prove to be true.” Here he spoke with
frankness of the Hayes administration and also formally
renewed his confession of faith as an Independent. “Our
National Government has, I think, succeeded in proving once
more the falsity of the old assertion, that corruption is an
inevitable concomitant of democratic institutions. Whatever
mistakes may have been made by the late administration,—and
I frankly admit that they were not a few,—it is generally
conceded that it has demonstrated the possibility of honest,
business-like, and morally-respectable government in this republic;
and the new administration, I have no doubt, means to do no
less, but will endeavor to do more.”
He described the opportunity of the Independent in these words: “At this moment the two political parties are pretty evenly balanced. In quiet times like ours, that is, on the whole, a healthy condition. It reminds both parties that neither of them can venture upon mischief without seriously impairing its prospects for the future. Between them stands an element which is not controlled by the discipline of party organization, but acts upon its own judgment for the public interest. It is the Independent element; which, in its best sense and shape, may be defined as consisting of men who consider it more important that the government be well administered than that this or that set of men administer it. This Independent element is not very popular with party politicians in ordinary times; but it is very much in requisition when the day of voting comes. It can render inestimable service to the cause of good government by wielding the balance of power it holds with justice and wisdom, and from purely patriotic motives. Ours must necessarily be, in a certain sense, a government of and by political parties; but it will be all the better for the country if it is a party government tempered by an unselfish, enlightened, and patriotic independent opinion.”