75%

Addresses in Memory of Carl Schurz/ADDRESS OF THE HONORABLE GROVER CLEVELAND

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
ADDRESS OF THE
HONORABLE GROVER CLEVELAND

WHATEVER death may be to the dead, to the living it always means a loss. The enforcement of its inexorable decrees reaches humanity in every corner of the globe; and the hearts of all who live bear in painful scars the sad record of its visitations. The widow and the fatherless are always with us; and we see on every hand the dearest ties of love and friendship wrenched and broken by the insatiate foe of mortality. But we know this is our common fate, and that Divine mercy will heal and comfort these personal afflictions. And those who devoutly study the ways of God with man will gain a conception of the Infinite wisdom which has ordained that the wounds and losses inevitably and universally inflicted by death upon our individual lives, shall be the clarifying and purifying solvents which balance and strengthen the complex elements of human nature, by chastening with “the sabler tints of woe” the activities and delights of our existence.

These reflections are merely a suggestive background for the sentiments that befit this occasion. There are lives that occupy a larger area than that of individual association, and there are men who not only embrace within their affections all who need help, but whose course of life points out the way to honor and usefulness, and illustrates the grandeur of a career devoted for the public good. In our Republic the death of such a man is a direct loss to good citizenship and a hurt to our nationality — a loss more irreparable than kinship can suffer, and a hurt more grievous than personal sorrow can inflict.

It is the apprehension of this truth that has drawn together here to-night the intimate friends of Carl Schurz, who have brought tender recollections of his affectionate traits, and also many others who knew him less intimately but loved him none the less for what he was and what he did within the sphere of patriotic endeavor. And we are all here to do honor to his memory, and in this way to likewise honor ourselves and manifest our appreciation of pure and unselfish love of country.

It would by no means be entirely out of keeping with the occasion to extol the courage of battlefields where patriotism exacts the giving up of human lives for country's sake. But this physical courage is so much a part of our national character that its recognition is universal and its stimulation is not among our country's needs. What our nation needs — and sorely needs — is more of the patriotism that is born of moral courage — the courage that attacks abuses, and struggles for civic reforms single handed, without counting opposing numbers or measuring opposing forces. It is this kind of courage, and the great public service that has been rendered under its inspiration, that we memorialize to-night; and an undisturbed contemplation of its heroism and saving attributes are most in sympathy with the spirit that should pervade this assemblage.

I believe that the man whose memory we honor never knew moral fear, and never felt the sickening weakness of moral cowardice. With him it was only to see what he believed to be injustice or error, to hurl himself upon its defences with the impetuosity of a zealot and the endurance of a martyr. He did not shun politics; but in his conception, political activity was valuable and honorable only as it led the way to the performance of civic duty and had for its end and purpose the advancement of principles and the enforcement of practices that best promoted the public good. He had no toleration for the over-nice foppery that drives many who claim patriotic impulses away from politics through fear of contaminating defilement. He entered politics because he saw his duty there; and he found immunity from defilement in cleansing and purifying his political surroundings.

In recognition of the affirmation that ours is a government by party, he did not disparage political organization, or hold himself aloof from party affiliation. He assumed party relationship as an arrangement for united effort in the accomplishment of purposes which his judgment approved; but he never conceded to party allegiance the infallible guidance of political thought, nor the unquestioned dictatorship of political conduct. He believed there was a higher law for both, and the din of party could not deafen his ears to the still small voice of conscience. Thus it happened that when party commands were most imperious and when punishment for party disobedience was most loudly threatened, he defiantly proclaimed under the sanction of conscience, untrammelled political thought and unfettered political action; and thus in the propaganda of political individualism he became a leader, and taught by precept and example the meaning and intent of independent voting.

Many are willing to defer to party control and guidance, and many are willing for the sake of party to subordinate their personal judgment and belief. Some are so prejudiced by the bigotry of sheer partisanship that they find it impossible to condone insubordination to party discipline. These conditions should not be too readily condemned. They may be largely attributable to temperament and environment. But no intelligently patriotic citizen can be blind to the fact, very recently more conclusively established than ever, that the political independence declared and illustrated by Carl Schurz has become a defence and safeguard of the people against the evils that result from the unchallenged growth of irresponsive party management.

Political organizations will always be a factor in the equipment and conduct of our government, and as long as parties exist there will be party leaders. But every thoughtful man who loves his country ought to realize in this time of political awakening that the public welfare demands that parties should be in purpose and mission something better than mere machines to serve selfishness and the ends of low and perverted partisanship; nor should any fail to detect the humiliation and disgrace that attaches to those who follow party leadership after it has grown to partisan dictatorship and become a thing of proprietary control, prostituted to the uses of base bargaining and treacherous schemes. No one can know so little of partisan human nature as to suppose that an honest voter thus threatened with betrayal or disgrace in his party relationship can save his honor and political integrity by any less radical remedy than loud protest or open desertion.

These things are easily said; and they are easily accepted, as long as they only flatter a self-complacent idleness of political virtue. It is not the mere slothful acceptance of righteous political ideas, but the call to action for their enforcement and application that tests the endurance and moral courage of men. He who sees the emergency and moves to the front where blows are given and taken must expect that but few of the thousands who speak bravely will be at his side.

Mr. Schurz had the keenest possible apprehension of this and of all else that he would meet in the path he had entered upon. He was able to meet with calm defiance the denunciation and ostracism of partisanship; and he was able to meet with undisguised contempt the abuse and threats of party sordidness and self-seeking. But he was obliged to suffer acutely and in silent resignation from the misconception of his efforts and even his motives by friends he loved, and from the distrustful misgivings of those whose judgment he greatly valued. And still he held his way — brave beyond the reach of moral fear, and confident beyond the reach of discouragement.

Those of us who boast that we are Americans by heredity should not forget that he who thus wrought for the betterment of our nation's political ideas and practice was of foreign birth. And let us remember, too, with admiring appreciation, that while he never allowed his loving memory of his fatherland to fade, he at the same time earned imperishable honor in his newer citizenship, and added lustre to the patriotism of his nature by unreserved devotion and fidelity to his American allegiance. If his noble example and service suggest a home-thrusting contrast, they should especially incite to better duty and more political solicitude those claiming by birthright an advanced place in our citizenship. And all of us should take to heart the broad and impressive lesson taught to every American citizen by the life and career of Carl Schurz. It is the lesson of moral courage, of intelligent and conscientious patriotism, of independent political thought, of unselfish political affiliation, and of constant political vigilance.

The Chairman:

As you know, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Schurz was an adopted son of Harvard, an institution which conferred upon him its highest honor, and to which he sent both his sons to be educated, where he was the President of the Germanic Museum Society, and whose classic shades he loved to visit. I can assure you that the respect and esteem was more than fully reciprocated, and I have the very great pleasure of presenting to you President Charles W. Eliot of Harvard University: