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Harper's Weekly Editorials on Carl Schurz/“Change”

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“CHANGE.”


The speech of Secretary Schurz at Indianapolis was a calm and conclusive presentation of the great issue of the campaign, which is a choice of parties. The speech is marked by the same tone of reflective comprehension which characterized the addresses made by Mr. Schurz twenty years ago, at the first Lincoln election. It is free from declamatory rhetoric, extravagance, and rancorous party spirit, and is adapted to impress and persuade the reader no less than the hearer. Indeed, the ordinary stump speech may arouse the enthusiasm of believers, but it does not convert. It is so full of ridicule of the opposition that every opponent resists it from sheer self-respect. It is part of the pageant of the meeting, like the flags and the torches and the Roman candles, but generally it is no more persuasive than they. The political speeches of Mr. Schurz are of a very different kind. They may not evoke vociferous applause, but they command the thoughtful attention of the great intelligent and independent body of voters at which party organs and orators constantly sneer, but which give party organs and orators the success which they crave. Mr. Schurz himself, as he says in this speech, is often rated as a doubtful Republican, but there is no doubt that Republican success is to be sought and won upon the precise issue which he clearly defines and ably discusses. The fact that such a man holds to the Republican cause at this time, for such reasons as he plainly gives, seems to us very much more significant of the actual disposition of the country than that Colonel Forney and General Pearson and General Patrick H. Jones have either returned or gone over to the Democratic camp. It is because there is no present public reason for the abandonment of the party by Republicans that a change of allegiance is viewed with amused suspicion. Mr. Schurz naturally and justly regards the Republican Administration, of which he is a member, as a powerful argument for confidence in the Republican party. It is at least certain that were the Administration other than it is, Republican success in the election would be very much more doubtful.

This fact is the more important because General Garfield's Administration, if governed by his own spirit and convictions, would, we hope, undoubtedly pursue the same general course as that of President Hayes. There is great accord in their views. Both are “hard-money men,” and General Garfield has done as much as any man to educate and mould a sound financial sentiment. Both favor a firm, friendly, and strictly constitutional policy toward the States in which the equal rights of citizens are most threatened. Both are friendly to reform in the present purely partisan tenure of the civil service. Both are moderate tariff men. Both have the practical administrative wisdom which comes from long and various experience of public affairs. Both, by conviction and tradition and the active sympathy of a life, hold to the general principles and tendencies which united the patriotism of the country in defense of the Union. Every man, therefore, who desires to see the general condition which has been brought about under this Administration continued, who would have stability and permanence in the public service, who would perpetuate the real confidence in Republican administration which is now felt in the Southern States, despite their hope of snatching control for their own purposes — in a word, every man who at a time of general prosperity and tranquillity deprecates a sudden, violent, and total change, involving a thousand uncertainties and perilous risks, will gladly give his vote to secure an Administration which will pursue the same wise and temperate course which has distinguished this. A “Sunday-school” Administration is quite as agreeable to a sober, industrious, prosperous, and moral people as a “Whiskey Ring,” or “Tammany,” or “solid South” Administration. When the worst that can be said of a man or of a government is that it is “goody,” it needs no other vindication. England thought Mr. Gladstone “goody,” and tried Lord Beaconsfield, who was not at all “goody.” In six years it recalled Mr. Gladstone with acclamation.

Against this entrenchment of Republican administration in general confidence and respect, what is to be said in favor of change? Mr. Bayard suggests virtually that Republican policy prefers the sword to the law. But does any sane man really believe that the Republican party is composed of men who are more favorable to violent and illegal courses than those who compose the democratic party? The Democratic platform praises a free ballot as the right preservative of all rights. It certainly is so. Whatever threatens it, menaces the government itself. Does any man believe that the free ballot anywhere in this country is now or ever has been in more danger from Republicans than from Democrats? The Republicans propose national protection of the voter at national elections, and armed protection if necessary. The Democrats demur, and demand that armed national soldiers shall in no case be summoned. The Republicans then propose that all arms be prohibited. The Democrats demur. Why? Because they are unwilling that the national government shall protect its voters, but quite willing that White Leagues and Ku-Klux shall terrorize them. If the right preservative of all rights has been endangered since the war, is it at the North or the South? If at the South, was it the white or colored voter who has been threatened? If the colored, was he threatened by Democrats or Republicans? But if the accusation of interfering with a free ballot recoils upon the Democratic party, what other argument will it urge for change? Are Democratic financial views sounder? Why, then, has it nominated an advocate of fiat money as Governor of Indiana, and why is it allied with the Greenbackers in Maine? Is it a truer reform party than the Republican? Granting, as we do, that the Republican party as such is not pledged to reform as we understand it, yet much has been accomplished under its auspices; the question is cardinal with many Republicans; the Republican candidate is “upon record” for it; while the only Democratic reform, as shown by the history and the leaders of the party, would be “a clean sweep.” No man who is sincerely desirous of reform would suppose, under these circumstances, that a change of party control of the government would aid it directly or indirectly. The only valid argument for change upon this ground would be the belief that the country feels that there is no danger from Southern domination or from mad money schemes, and is fully ripe for a party organized upon the sole issue of administrative reform. To those who hold this view any change may seem desirable. But a man may earnestly desire radical reform of the political civil service system, and also believe that Democratic success would be the most fatal obstruction to it. The Democratic campaign naturally languishes because the party is painfully conscious of the want of any other issue than “change,” and the more colorless its candidate appears, the more evident that want becomes.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).