A Sketch of Carl Schurz's Political Career 1869-1906/7 Anti-Imperialism and the End

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A Sketch of Carl Schurz's Political Career 1869-1906
Frederic Bancroft and William A. Dunning
Chapter VII: Anti-Imperialism and the End



THE premonitory signs of that interesting psychological condition of the American people which culminated in the war with Spain were noted by Mr. Schurz with increasing anxiety and alarm. Secretary Blaine's “vigorous” policy in respect to the Latin-American states and the Behring Sea seal fisheries contributed much to the sum total of his dislike for the Harrison administration. The peremptory suppression by Cleveland of the project for the annexation of Hawaii elicited his warm approval, though the President's cautious and guarded statement as to his attitude was hardly on the level demanded by Schurz's uncompromising hostility on principle to tropical expansion. “I do not now say,” Cleveland wrote on March 19, 1893, “that I shall hold annexation in all circumstances and at all times unwise, but I am sure we ought to stop, look and think. That is exactly what we are doing now.” In an article on “Manifest Destiny” in Harper's Magazine for October, 1893, Schurz set forth at length the grounds on which the acquisition of Hawaii ought to be definitely dropped in the interest of the national welfare.

When in December, 1895, Mr. Cleveland astonished the world by his memorable message on the Venezuelan boundary question, and the American people with impressive unanimity sustained him in defying and humbling the British government, Mr. Schurz was one of the indignant few who promptly declared that message both unwise and unnecessary, and strove to check the grim trend toward war. He joined heartily in the movement for a treaty of arbitration with Great Britain, and wrote and spoke at every opportunity on behalf of this project. The danger of hostilities with Great Britain passed away, but the spirit which the crisis had so clearly revealed remained active and unappeased. A craving for war and territorial expansion, as the conclusive demonstrations of self-conscious national power, was shown by many signs to have firm possession of the popular mind. In the spring of 1898 the Cuban situation furnished sufficient occasion, and war with Spain ensued.

The events that led to intervention in Cuba were followed by Mr. Schurz with positive mental distress. From personal experience he could clearly foresee the sufferings that war would entail; he despised the agitators, journalistic and political, who were most conspicuous in inflaming the popular mind against Spain; and most of all he feared the effects of success upon the future of our institutions. As the crisis approached in April, he labored strenuously to avert the disaster. So long as he wrote for Harper's Weekly his editorials were insistent on peace. For the New York Chamber of Commerce he drafted the resolutions that it adopted on April 7, declaring that “war with its incalculable horrors and miseries, when brought about without peremptory necessity, is not only a calamity but a crime.” In a short speech supporting these resolutions he pictured the frightful scenes he had witnessed among the wounded at Gettysburg, and declared that while he was not for peace at any price, he was equally opposed to the idea of war at any price. He used all of his never great influence with the President to stiffen Mr. McKinley's sincere but ineffective preference for peace. On April 1st he wrote to the President: “The conservative and unselfishly patriotic sentiment of the country stands behind your peace policy with confidence, gratitude and admiration. … You will gather imperishable honors by every effort to save even a last chance of honorable peace at this moment of the decisive crisis.”


A week later Mr. Schurz wrote that “the war fever stirred up by the 'yellow journals' is on the point of receding,” and urged that whatever the outcome of the crisis, the utmost pains should be taken to remove every ground for suspicion that the annexation of Cuba was the secret motive of the government's action. On the 11th of April McKinley's message was sent to Congress recommending intervention for the single purpose of ending the disorders and suffering in Cuba. Though war with Spain was clearly contemplated, the President's tone was wholly pacific and humane, and offered no suggestion of imperialistic ambition. Schurz thanked him for his “excellent message,” and added: “I have no doubt that the people will sustain you in your efforts for peace.” This pleasant conventionality could not disguise the fact that the mass of the people, like the majority of Congress, at heart preferred war, and war duly came.

With the progress of hostilities Schurz's whole anxiety was to check the growth of that spirit of conquest which was so bountifully nourished by military and naval success. Though the annexation of Cuba had been formally excluded from the policy of our government, Porto Rico and the Philippines soon presented the problem of expansion in a field concerning which no pledges had been made. The Hawaiian project also was revived in a more aggressive spirit than ever. Against every suggestion looking to the incorporation of any of these territories into our system Mr. Schurz was instant in opposition. His letters to the President received less and less attention as other influences assumed irresistible sway over Mr. McKinley's mind, but as early as June 1, Schurz outlined and powerfully sustained, in a letter to the President, the policy on which the anti-imperialistic movement was developed. The pledge to leave Cuba free must be interpreted, Schurz argued, as an announcement of a general attitude in reference to territory brought under our control by the incidents of war. Porto Rico, like Cuba, must be made independent; and the Philippines must be disposed of to some power like Holland or Belgium. Thus the burden and responsibility of troublesome dependencies would be escaped, and the United States would occupy the proud and most advantageous position of “the great neutral power of the world.” Thus, also, our trade would receive its utmost expansion with the minimum risk, and our republican institutions would escape the peril that lies in political connection with alien and inferior peoples.

Schurz urged McKinley to make strong and repeated representations to the American people and to the world in the sense of this policy and thus lead the public conscience to insist upon its adoption. But the President was by nature a follower rather than a leader of popular opinion, and the whole trend of events, when the negotiations for peace began, was toward the acquisition of all the Spanish dependencies save Cuba. Remembering how earnestly Schurz had opposed the annexation of Santo Domingo a generation earlier, it is not hard to imagine his feeling about acquiring so remote and alien a possession as the Philippines. The anguish he suffered was shared by a considerable group of his surviving associates of early Republican days, and was strikingly expressed in a letter from John B. Henderson, Schurz's predecessor in the Senate: “Almost every magazine I read, every newspaper coming into my hands … and every act of the administration of the government for the success of which I worked so hard and you worked so effectively … all seem to be in a conspiracy to convict me of insanity. Am I crazy or not? If you say so, I shall contend no longer. If we conclude after consultation that I am really sane, then for God's sake, for the sake of humanity and for the good of our common country, let us cry aloud and spare not.”

To interpose what resistance was possible to the sweep of expansionist sentiment, its adversaries organized a “National Conference on the Foreign Policy of the United States.” Schurz drafted the call and made the chief address at the conference on August 18th. His speech was an earnest and eloquent development of the suggestions made to the President in the letter of June 1st. Expansion was opposed on grounds of morals and honor, of institutional policy and of commercial interest. The question of morals was put by the orator, suo more, in the foreground: “It may be somewhat old-fashioned, but I still believe that a nation, no less than an individual man, is in honor bound to keep its word … that honesty is and will remain the best policy. And now I ask the advocates of annexation among us whether, if this republic under any pretext annexes any of the Spanish colonies, it does not really turn this solemnly advertised war of liberation and humanity into a war of self-aggrandizement. I ask them what they will have to say when our detractors repeat against us their charges of hypocrisy and selfish interest. I ask them who will trust us again when we appear once more before mankind with fine words about our unselfish devotion to human freedom and humanity. I ask them whether as patriotic men they really think it will become or profit this great American republic to stand before mankind as a nation whose most solemn professions cannot be trusted.”

His argument on the effect of expansion upon our political institutions was the same that he had employed in the Santo Domingo debate and on many an occasion since. He dwelt on the practical certainty that the islands, if annexed, would be proposed for admission as States of the Union. The acquisition of Porto Rico would lead, he prophesied, to that of Santo Domingo, Hayti and probably Cuba. “But we shall hardly stop there. Being once fairly started in the career of aggrandizement regardless of consequences, our imperialists will find an open ear when they tell us that our control of the Nicaraguan Canal cannot possibly be safe unless that canal be bordered on both sides by United States territory, and that therefore we must have the whole country down to that canal and a good piece beyond. That would bring us another lot of about 13,000,000 of Spanish-Americans mixed with Indian blood, and perhaps some twenty Senators and fifty or sixty Representatives, with seventy to eighty votes in the electoral college, and with them a flood of Spanish-American politics, notoriously the most disorderly, tricky and corrupt politics on the face of the earth. What thinking American who has the future of the Republic at heart will not stand appalled at such a prospect?”

On the question of our commercial interest, he argued with much statistical data that we should get far better results in direct and open competition with other nations than in monopolizing the trade of the islands taken from Spain. Porto Rico, like Cuba, should be made an independent republic, and the Philippines, under a guarantee of economic freedom, should be turned over to some such state as Holland or Belgium for political administration. “If American diplomacy is not skillful enough to bring about such results in the final settlement, it would certainly not be skillful enough to handle the more thorny problems which it would surely have to deal with in case all those islands should pass into our full possession.”

No such considerations, however, could stem the tide that swept the administration toward the policy of annexation. In his abhorrence of such an outcome Mr. Schurz made opposition to it the touchstone of his political sympathies. He saw that it had become the paramount question of the time, and took his stand without regard to whether it separated him from old friends or brought him into association with former enemies: his politics had always been based upon chosen policies, not upon chosen friendships. In the autumn of 1898 Mr. Roosevelt, fresh from his spectacular career in Cuba, was nominated for Governor by the Republicans of New York. Many claimed that his election would signify the triumph of the civil-service-reform principles for which Schurz had long worked ardently. But Schurz saw another Roosevelt than the quondam civil-service commissioner. In fact, Roosevelt's imperialistic aspirations were notorious, and he took occasion early in the campaign to proclaim them with unmistakable emphasis. Schurz promptly abandoned his cause. “We have long been friends,” he wrote, “and I ardently hoped to be able to support you for the Governorship. … I continued to hope until I read the report of your Carnegie Hall speech. … It makes it impossible to support you … I cannot tell you, remembering our long and sincere friendship, how painful it is for me to be obliged to say this.”

The announcement of his opposition to Roosevelt brought Schurz scores of regrets and reproaches from old associates in reform movements in the State. They regarded Roosevelt as the peculiar champion of anti-machine politics and administration in State affairs; Schurz regarded him as primarily a candidate for the Presidency of the United States on a platform favoring conquest and annexation. Voting for Roosevelt, Schurz wrote to a friend, is practically nominating him for the Presidency, and his accession to the higher office will be ruinous to the country. Senator George F. Hoar, whose dread of expansion led him to appeal to Schurz for aid in resisting it, sought at the same time to calm the latter's fears about Roosevelt. “I do not think,” Hoar wrote, “there is the slightest possibility that he will ever be nominated for the Presidency, and if he were nominated and elected I think that all questions of imperialism would have got settled long before he would have a chance to influence them for good or evil.”

In the light of the future Schurz figured as at least the equal of Hoar in accuracy of political prediction. The two men were too far apart in their views as to the importance of party ties to get anything like the same angle of observation on any question of policy. Schurz wrote to Hoar: “You are a strong party man, which I am not, and what I am now going to say may possibly shock you. I believe that the only thing that can save the Republic from being rushed over the precipice is the defeat in the coming election of all or nearly all the Republican candidates, either for State offices or for Congress, who have conspicuously come out in favor of that expansion policy.” Schurz's confidence that imperialism could be killed by Republican defeat proved as ill-founded as Hoar's belief that Republican victory would kill it. The two men counseled together earnestly but in vain, while the ratification of the treaty of peace was pending in the Senate. The great difficulty was to find a positive programme for maintaining order in the Philippines without taking armed possession of them. Hoar adopted Schurz's suggestion that the matter should be arranged by a conference of the great powers, looking to a joint guarantee of good government and autonomy. But this, like every other plan proposed, offended the chauvinistic spirit that had been aroused by the war, and for very lack of any practicable project for letting the Philippines alone, the treaty which took them under the sovereignty of the United States was ratified in February, 1899. Then ensued the long war to bring the natives into subjection, with the repulsive incidents of all such hostilities with inferior races.

The course of events stimulated Mr. Schurz to a series of orations in his best and strongest style against the new and alarming spirit of our political life. He could not and would not believe that expansion was more than a passing delusion, which would yield to time and proper treatment. With unabated zeal he pressed upon the public the lessons of history and of reason as to the incompatibility between the new imperialistic spirit and the institutions and traditions of the Republic. At the University of Chicago on January 4, 1899, and at Philadelphia on April 7th, he delivered elaborate addresses on the great problems of the time. Meanwhile the relatively few and scattered but very earnest sympathizers with the cause he was sustaining organized for their propaganda, and Schurz promptly associated himself with their proceedings. In November, 1898, he had been made a vice-president of the Anti-Imperialist League, which had its headquarters at Boston, and thenceforth he was an untiring counselor in every phase of the activity of the organization.

The breach with the semi-independent and semi-reforming Roosevelt and the association with the protectionist and intensely partisan Hoar alike illustrate the strength of Schurz's conviction that all other political issues had become subordinate to that of expansion. As the presidential campaign of 1900 approached he feared that his unpopular views on imperialism might irreparably damage the cause of civil-service reform. On this account he announced that he would decline re-election as head of both the National League and the New York Association. At the urgent entreaty of his old associates he ultimately consented to retain his place as president of the State organization; but he persisted in bringing to an end his official leadership of the National League.

It became pretty evident that Bryan and McKinley would again be the opposing candidates in 1900, and that the Democrats would antagonize imperialism. Schurz soon began to show signs of a purpose to support Bryan. As early as November 5, 1899, he wrote to a friend expressing his utter distaste for both the Bryan and the McKinley-Hanna groups, but declaring that if he should be forced to choose between them “I shall consider it my duty—a horrible duty—to swallow all my personal disquiet and to defeat—or at least try to defeat—imperialism at any cost.” During the winter and spring preceding the nominating conventions of 1900 he took an active part in the efforts that were made to reunite the Democratic factions that had separated on the silver issue in 1896. The chief interest of Mr. Schurz in the enterprise was the hope it afforded of a strong party opposition to imperialism; and that this would also contribute to the relegation of the free-coinage issue to the background. To bring the greatest possible pressure upon the Bryan leaders the anti-imperialist leagues kept up a spirited agitation throughout the spring against the course of the administration in seeking to subdue the Filipinos. To this agitation Mr. Schurz contributed not only unremitting consultation and counsel, but also a formal oration at a great meeting of anti-imperialists at Cooper Union, New York City, on May 24, 1900. For a time he was quite sanguine of converting the free-silver Democracy into an instrument for the restoration of ancient American ideals, and of encouraging Mr. Bryan to become a triumphant champion of insular independence. The Kansas City convention gave a serious shock to his hopes. Here the Democracy, nominating Bryan, did indeed take a strong position against imperialism and did in terms pronounce this the paramount issue; but it coupled with these satisfactory declarations a formal reiteration of the extreme free-coinage doctrine of 1896; and Mr. Bryan, during the campaign, devoted to the silver question an amount and kind of attention that repelled all voters who thought the currency issue still vital.

When it was foreseen that the campaign would take this unsatisfactory course a number of efforts were made by groups of Mr. Schurz's friends to organize a respectable third-ticket movement. He followed their various enterprises with interest and sympathy, but was hardly surprised when all failed. Left to the alternative he had anticipated nearly a year before, he supported Bryan, as he had supported McKinley four years earlier, by the negative method of striving to defeat the opposing candidate. However painful and unpopular it might be, he did not hesitate. A hundredfold more wrong-doing and misfortune than he foresaw, or even feared, in regard to San Domingo and the West Indies, a generation earlier, had come to pass in the Orient. The intensity of his feeling was expressed in a letter to Charles Francis Adams: “I have carefully and laboriously studied what has happened in all its details and bearings, and that study has profoundly convinced me that the story of our attempted conquest of the Philippines is a story of deceit, false pretense, brutal treachery to friends, unconstitutional assumption of power, betrayal of the fundamental principles of our democracy, wanton sacrifice of our soldiers for an unjust cause, cruel slaughter of innocent people, and thus of horrible blood guiltiness without parallel in the history of republics; and that such a policy is bound to bring upon this republic danger, demoralization, dishonor and disaster infinitely more ruinous in ulterior effect than anything that has been predicted as likely to follow Mr. McKinley's defeat. This is my honest conviction. I, for one, cannot therefore conscientiously cast a vote of constructive approval and real encouragement, and I cannot advise others to do so.”

His principal part in the canvass was an address, under the auspices of the Anti-Imperialist League, at Cooper Union on September 28th. On November 5th he again wrote to Mr. Adams: “Now on the eve of the election let me say to you that for a considerable time I have not expected Mr. Bryan to succeed.” The ground of this feeling was the candidate's proceedings on the free-silver issue. Schurz added that he felt disposed at one time to withdraw from the campaign and keep quiet, but he concluded, as in 1872, that despite the candidate some good could be done by remaining active for the cause. Bryan's exclamation in a public speech in New York City, “Great is Tammany! And Croker is its prophet,” filled Schurz with intense disgust, which he expressed with “Bah! Wasn't it awful!” Writing a few months later to one of his old German friends, he said of this campaign of 1900: “My position then, as you well saw, was a real martyrdom. … That the cause against which I spoke would be victorious in the election was perfectly clear to me. But if I had not protested against it, I should have belied my whole moral existence.”

The overwhelming triumph of McKinley in 1900 left Mr. Schurz in a very unhappy frame of mind. His faith in the American people and in the future of their institutions was rudely shaken. No room was left for doubt that the course of the administration in the insular matter was approved by the great majority of the voters. It was not in Mr. Schurz's nature, however, to abandon so righteous a cause. He continued to sustain the agitation of the anti-imperialists, whose special aims now were, first, to expose and check the demoralization of the army, as manifested in the inhuman methods employed in subduing the Filipinos; and, second, to secure some formal pledge from the government of the United States that Philippine independence was the ultimate goal of its policy. The counsel and drafting pen of Mr. Schurz, after Roosevelt succeeded McKinley in the White House, exerted considerable influence in checking the cruelties and in helping to bring about an official declaration, however vague as to time, that the Filipinos were some day to have their independence.

There was rarely a year when Mr. Schurz was not busy with some phase of New York City politics or public interests. In the mayoralty campaign of 1901 he supported and spoke for Seth Low, the candidate of the fusionists, though the opposing candidate, Edward M. Shepard, had long been Mr. Schurz's intimate personal friend and close political associate. Mr. Shepard had the somewhat quixotic conception that he could head the Tammany ticket and then carry out his aims as a reformer. Mr. Schurz lamented his course, without questioning Mr. Shepard's motives. Each respected the purpose of the other and the ability with which it was sustained; and the campaign, which resulted in Shepard's defeat, left no trace on the personal relations of the two men.

Mr. Schurz was much engaged also, during the years following 1900, in the cause of civil-service reform, especially in his own State and city. The wrecking of the Democratic party in the East by the Bryan movement and the translation of Mr. Roosevelt to Washington left New York State in the hands of a Republican “machine,” the spirit and method of which were peculiarly obnoxious to Mr. Schurz, and hostile to the administrative reforms for which he had so earnestly striven. As president of the State Civil Service Reform Association he kept constantly in touch with the currents of conflict, and labored with unabated zeal for the promotion of his cause. The drafts made upon his time and strength by this single interest were enormous.

The conditions under which the presidential campaign of 1904 were fought were full of comfort to Mr. Schurz. The Republicans were practically committed, by Mr. Root's speech as temporary chairman of the convention, and the Democrats were formally committed by their platform, to ultimate withdrawal from the Philippines. This fact materially qualified Mr. Schurz's anxiety over this aspect of imperialism. Both on account of other prominent issues and on account of the personalities of the candidates, he was bound to prefer Parker to Roosevelt. At seventy-five it was hardly to be expected that Mr. Schurz should take the platform. He did, however, contribute his share to the discussion by a letter to the secretary of the Parker Independent clubs that by its cogency and exhaustiveness proved his mental powers to be still at their maximum. The letter was very widely circulated, and, a month before the election, was declared by Judge Parker himself to be “the most valuable contribution that has thus far been made to the campaign.”

Though the strenuous career of the political orator was now closed to him, Mr. Schurz was still in active demand for other occasions. It was hard for him to refuse some of the calls. In 1904 he spoke on German Day at the St. Louis exposition, and at a conference on international arbitration at Carnegie Hall in New York. In June, 1905, he visited the University of Wisconsin to receive the degree of Doctor of Laws, and delivered the address which is the customary accompaniment of such academic distinction.

Before this time, however, his fondness for platform work had greatly declined, doubtless because he became even more painstaking in preparation as he grew older, while his physical strength naturally lessened. In November, 1903, Charles Francis Adams, as president of the Massachusetts Historical Society, urged him to make the address on Mommsen, recently deceased, before the society, which had enrolled Mr. Schurz and the great German historian among its chosen few honorary members. Mr. Schurz's informal answer to Mr. Adams showed that he was anxious to escape so serious and laborious a task, and he protested with something of jest, but at least half in earnest: “If there is anything I detest it is making speeches. It is the bane of my life.” Nevertheless he made an informal talk before the society; for he appreciated the honor it had conferred on him, and he could not resist the opportunity to express his admiration of Mommsen before a learned and dignified body most of whose members were his own personal friends.

What enabled him to decline nearly all invitations to speak in public was his eager interest in his purely literary work; for at last he had settled down to methodical labor on his memoirs. In a letter of August 23, 1901, he said: “I have been writing down this summer some reminiscences of my life, and begin to like the work.” Regretting that he had not kept a diary, so as to avoid “things we only think we remember,” he related a conversation with Sybel, the German historian. After one of his visits to Bismarck, Schurz was asked by Sybel what the great Chancellor had told him about the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. When Schurz repeated what Bismarck had said, Sybel remarked with a smile: “Well, well! Bismarck has told that story so often that he must actually have come to believe it.”

The method followed by Mr. Schurz was that of the historian rather than of the mere recollection-monger, and thus it entailed great labor. His zest increased as the work progressed; but once more his characteristic preference for the present over the past diverted him temporarily into another, but related, field. Reviewing his own early experiences in American politics brought the old emotions of the slavery issues before his mind, and current discussion of the disquieting conditions in the South in respect to the races combined with the reminiscent influence to turn him to a new study of the negro problem. His essay on this subject was published in McClure's Magazine for January, 1904. Its spirit was substantially the same that pervaded the two papers by Mr. Schurz on the same general subject at nearly twenty-year intervals in the past—the report to President Johnson in 1865 and the essay on “The New South” in 1885. He found in the developments of the last two decades no reason for discarding his early diagnosis of Southern ills or his early prescription for their remedy. The denial of political rights to the blacks be deplored as full of peril to both races; and he earnestly preached the gospel of education to economic and social usefulness as the sole means of salvation both to the negroes and to Southern society as a whole. He keenly desired to arouse popular freethinking on the subject, and was confident that out of his rich experience and study he could be helpful. But the prevailing thought of the time was alien to his philosophy. Expansion had emphasized the concept “inferior races,” and thus had given dominance to views about the negroes which he could furnish with no support. In describing the purpose of his essay to a friend he wrote: “I have touched the moral and ideal aspect of the matter but slightly and confined myself to practical considerations, wishing to produce a certain practical effect upon the better class of Southerners without distinction of party. For the same reason I have abstained from laying any stress upon the fact that there is a strong affinity between the treatment of the negroes and the imperialistic policy.”

The progress of his memoirs, meanwhile, became steady and reassuring. In the autumn of 1905 the serial publication of the earliest part began, and brought to the author shoals of congratulations from both sides of the ocean. The success of his work, whether as history, as biography or as literature, was assured from the outset of its appearance, and the gratification of Mr. Schurz was deep and devout. Perhaps the most eminent living American man of letters passed this judgment: “The first installment of Mr. Schurz's autobiography is one of the most beautiful and valuable pieces of work of a most delightful sort, that I have ever read.”

Under the stimulus of the extraordinary favor with which his account of his life was received he labored on it with cheerful and engrossing vigor, though without losing touch with public questions. The cause of the anti-imperialists was especially near to him, and his hope of hastening the day of Philippine independence was particularly keen. In March, 1906, he felt sure, as he wrote, that “public opinion is decidedly turning our way,” and he was full of suggestions for promoting the movement.

When exchanging personal, news with an old friend in February, 1906, hardly a fortnight before completing his seventy-seventh year, Mr. Schurz cheerfully remarked: “After I finish my memoirs I shall take up the Sumner and complete that.” His mind seemed filled with only happy thoughts—at last reveling in the pleasures of successful and highly praised literary composition. Seven years had now elapsed since March 2, 1899, when he had completed his three score years and ten. His seventieth birthday had been distinguished by two banquets,—one at Delmonico's, given by his American friends, and the other given by the German Liederkranz, in their hall,—where very large and distinguished companies rehearsed the long list of his strivings for the public welfare, and showered upon him praise and good wishes. The suggestion of sadness, inevitable on such occasions, found no reflection in either his words or his feelings. Since then the years that make old age had come with little warning and rested lightly. Physically he was in good condition, save that his hearing was less keen and he perhaps more frequently suffered from a malady to which he had long been subject. Mentally he was as vigorous and alert as ever. The joy that he had always found in formulating his thoughts was unabated. His correspondence was almost preposterously large for a man in private life. The range of his personal friendships was as extensive as that of his interest in public affairs, and contributed thus mightily to the demands upon his attention. With the progress of the years his name had become a feature of the official directories in a great variety of philanthropic and educational movements, in addition to those political organizations with which his whole life was identified. The Germanic Museum of Harvard University, the Germanistic Society of America, the National Arbitration Conference, the State Charities Aid Association, and the organization for the erection of a monument to General Sigel in New York were among the societies that bore his name on the list of their managing boards and commanded his interest and influence.

Copyright, 1907, by W. Holt


By Miss Winifred Holt, 1903

In his family he was very happy, with his four children, two daughters and two sons, until, in the summer of 1900, a cruel fate carried off his younger son, Herbert, at the opening of a most promising manhood. For several years during the '90's his household goods were at Pocantico Hills. He became so fond of his spacious and well-stacked library, of the bracing air and picturesque scenery of this region, that he almost rid himself of the fascination that close contact with public affairs and busy intellectual persons had over him. Later his home for several years was in East Sixty-fourth Street. From there, in 1902, he moved to a house in East Ninety-first Street, next but one to the residence of his warm friend Andrew Carnegie. There he lived, when in the city, during the remainder of his days. For several of his last years he passed the bleakest months in Augusta, Georgia, and his summers were always spent on the heights above Bolton Landing, Lake George, within speaking distance of the dearest of all his life-long friends, Dr. Jacobi, and in a neighborhood of New York German-Americans, who regarded him as a patron-saint and for each of whom he had almost paternal affection.

The seriousness of all his public utterances caused a popular notion that he was a man of stern and unsympathetic temperament, devoid of humor and indifferent to social pleasures. This was altogether erroneous. The very birds that sang as he took his favorite forest-walks were hardly more light-hearted than he. In the family circle or among relatives and intimate friends he overflowed with humor. Pleasantries on all sorts of subjects, serious and trifling, the latest bit of amusing news, tales of laughable experiences or dreams, gentle irony and exaggeration, and an insatiable fondness for the ridiculous were conspicuous during his leisure. Whoever sat quite informally at his table cannot forget his mellow laugh, and how naturally and unpretentiously he told his anecdotes, indulged in playful jests and joined in the amusement they occasioned. Fortunately the autobiography gives some glimpses and preserves a few traces of the cheerfulness and the geniality that pervaded his private life, so beautiful in its simplicity, so charming in its happy blending of grave with gay, of high endeavor with philosophical contentment.

He seemed to be more rather than less cheerful as he neared “the shadow feared of man.” Soon after his return from the South, in the middle of April, 1906, he wrote in a letter to an intimate friend, eagerly inquiring about prospects in the Philippine matter: “I returned from the South last Saturday, having so far escaped the bronchial troubles which used to afflict me about this season, and save old age, have little to complain of.” Not many days later symptoms appeared which soon became very serious. As the disease developed he was able to read in the distressed faces of his children that his condition was hopeless. He accepted his fate with resignation; gave some instructions about his abruptly ended work; and said that his only deep regret was that he must leave his memoirs unfinished. When bidding farewell to those about him, he sought to comfort them with the assurance, “Es ist so einfach zu sterben”—it is so simple to die. The end came in the early morning of May 14, 1906.