Addresses in Memory of Carl Schurz/ADDRESS OF THE HONORABLE JOSEPH H. CHOATE
HONORABLE JOSEPH H. CHOATE
THIS great and brilliant company has assembled for no funereal rites, for no obituary service. We are here to do honor to the memory of a great citizen, to exult in his exalted virtues, and to learn the lesson of patriotism from his long and honorable life. A noble friend of mine, dying, said that his life seemed like the flight of a bird through a church from window to window, and at best it is
“Short as the watch that ends the night before the rising sun.”
And our sketches of Carl Schurz to-night must be short indeed if we would do justice to this splendid program, and enjoy the music which he loved so much better than words, however weighty.
I heard Mr. Lincoln at the Cooper Institute in 1860 say: “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us dare to do our duty as we understand it.” Search all the books in all our libraries, and you can find no better statement of Mr. Schurz's rule of life than this. Truth, right, duty, freedom were the four corners of his chart of life, with which all his speech and conduct squared. And so it was from the beginning to the end. In the first freshness of youth he left the university and joined the Revolution of 1848, and fought to break oppression and maintain constitutional liberty. In that marvelous achievement of daring and devotion by which at the deadly peril of his own life he rescued his old teacher and comrade from the fortress in which he had been condemned for life to pick oakum for the Prussian Government, he furnished to the world a heroic romance, worthy to be immortalized by a new Schiller, a miracle long since celebrated, and always to be celebrated in German poetry and song. A refugee from hopeless tyranny, he came here into exile and made America his home. He was himself the choicest example of that splendid host of Germans who have enriched and strengthened and fertilized our native stock, to produce that composite creature, the latest result of time, the blending of all the Caucasian races — the New American.
With intense devotion he applied himself to mastering the English language, that he might with free speech utter free thought to free men throughout the whole land of his adoption. The year before the arrival of Mr. Schurz I had heard Kossuth himself, who in a few months had learned the English language in an Austrian dungeon, deliver to a Harvard audience an address in our own tongue. But Mr. Schurz as a linguist surpassed even Kossuth, for he soon became one of our foremost orators, perhaps the most cogent and convincing debater of his time; and if his hearers shut their eyes and trusted only to their ears they might well believe that he had never spoken any language but our own.
With an inherent instinct for freedom, he was at one with Lincoln, that “a house divided against itself must fall, and that this government could not permanently endure half slave and half free,” and so he took part in German in that great debate with Douglas, and made the vast hosts of his countrymen in the West familiar with the vital issue in that irrepressible conflict. In the convention of 1860 that nominated Lincoln, he insisted successfully, with Curtis, upon incorporating in the platform the cardinal principles of the Declaration of Independence. When the war broke out, and it became manifest that the Gordian knot of slavery could be cut only by the sword, he resigned the lazy post of Minister to Spain, and on many a bloody field — at Manassas, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Chattanooga — with dauntless skill and courage he fought for freedom here as he had fought for it at home.
As a senator I think he made the noblest record of his noble life. There his genius, his courage, his humanity, and his patriotism had full play. There politics, patronage, the chance of re-election were nothing to him. He was there not to serve his State only, but the whole country, in the true spirit of Burke's letter to the electors of Bristol. With exhaustless energy he mastered every important question, and led in a great debate, and regarded the foundations of the Constitution as of vastly greater importance than any ephemeral question of the day, however burning. He always stood by these great landmarks, that the executive should keep within its constitutional limits, and not invade by one hair's breadth the functions of the legislature or judiciary, and that they should do the like by it, and above all that the Federal power should not encroach upon the State power, nor this upon that, but each keep within its own limits, that the delicate balance of our dual system, which has justly excited the wonder and admiration of the world, might not be disturbed. Oh, for such a senator now! What would not this great Empire State give for one such man — for two such men, if happily they could be found!
As a Cabinet Minister, too, his record is a noble one. Politics and politicians he turned “neck and heels” out of his department, and made tenure of office there depend only upon merit and fitness. Frauds and plunderers found in him their most dangerous foe. He was a real father to the Indian tribes and fought in defence of our vast forest domains that were then already falling victims to robbers. In short, it is sufficient to say of him that his administration of the department of the Interior is only equalled by that of his distinguished successor, Mr. Hitchcock, who now after six years of service is retiring, carrying with him imperishable laurels.
Compelled by the exigencies of our political system to abstain from holding public office during the last twenty years of his life, his independence, his courage, his spotless character, and boundless knowledge of affairs have been of vast service to his country. Taking up the reins of the Civil Service Reform from the dying hands of one who in this city and in such a company as this will ever be held in fond remembrance — George William Curtis — he carried it to its present advanced state, and has thereby done inestimable good. A fearless foe of every wrong, an independent champion of every wise reform, setting personal consequence always at defiance where public service was concerned, he has left to the young Americans of the present and the future an example of honesty, courage, and patriotism; a richer legacy than if he had been able to transmit to them, or to each of them, the combined wealth of all the millionaires of the land. Truly, to recall again the words of Lincoln, he had faith that right makes might, and he dared to the end to do his duty as he understood it.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have now the rare felicity of presenting to you the foremost citizen of our Republic: