Harper's Weekly Editorials by Carl Schurz/An Urgent Need

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The sound-money Democrats of New York have taken steps toward the building up of a permanent organization. It is in the highest degree desirable that all the Democrats who in the late Presidential campaign opposed Bryanism should, without delay, follow this example in every part of the country. The sound-money Democrats rendered the republic an inestimable service by making the defeat of free coinage and repudiation possible at the last election. They have now an opportunity to render a service equally great, or even greater; and it is their duty as patriotic citizens to do so.

To those who regard the salvation of the country from financial chaos and dishonor as the most important object before us, the present situation cannot but appear extremely dismal. That the Republicans in Congress are doing everything to provoke a violent and overwhelming reaction is recognized even by the more sagacious among their own leaders. It is no less certain that this reaction will redound to the exclusive advantage of the Bryan Democrats if they remain the only great opposition party in the field — which would mean the decisive triumph of all we fought against last year. That triumph will be greatly facilitated by the present rainbow-chase of the administration after international bimetallism — the sending forth of a delegation of American Pickwickians to consult with European Pickwickians about the realization of the inconceivable. This might be looked upon and enjoyed as an amusing comedy, did it not involve a practical admission by the party in power that the silver men are more than half right, and so strengthen their conclusion that if their panacea, the remonetization of silver, cannot be attained by international agreement, it should at least be tried by means of free coinage in the United States alone. Thus the administration is hatching chickens which inevitably will come home to roost.

Neither will any sensible person delude himself with the belief that, if the money question be left in a precarious state a high tariff will alone be sufficient to bring on general prosperity, that this prosperity will disarm the discontents at present existing, and that then a large majority of the American people will be found anxious to keep in power the party to whose policy that prosperity is due. Indeed, every candid student of our history will admit that this country, so abounding in material resources and in productive energies, has had periods of prosperity, and may have them again, under any sort of tariff. It might be in a measure temporarily prosperous, after a long term of depression, even under so absurd a tariff as that fathered by Mr. Dingley, if the other parts of the economic system were in a healthy state. But who is there foolish enough to expect that general business enterprise and real prosperity can revive so long as the danger of a great monetary revulsion, with all its concomitants of repudiation and bankruptcy, hangs over us like a dark storm-cloud? Without a certain confidence as to the future there can be no active spirit of enterprise and no healthy business development. Immediately after the Presidential election there was an awakening of that confidence, because everybody expected that the party in power would be prudent and faithful enough at once to devote its whole ingenuity and strength to the solution of the monetary problem. But the disappointment of that hope has nipped the renascent confidence in the bud. The belief has since grown up that the party in power considers it more urgent to give the manufacturers high protection than to give the country a sound monetary system. Even if the Republicans honestly meant to take up the money question some time, every day lost now — and time is being systematically squandered — will make the accomplishment of a satisfactory measure more and more difficult and improbable. The future, therefore, appears as threatening as ever, perhaps even more so. How, under this condition of uncertainty, apprehension, and distrust, business enterprise and prosperity should have a general revival, whatever our tariff rates may be, it is hard to see. We cannot thrive under the influence of incessant fear and the consequent nervous prostration.

A sweeping reaction against Republican rule is therefore eminently probable. We may take it for absolutely certain, unless something unexpected, something incalculable, intervenes. Under such circumstances it is of the highest importance that the American people be in some way relieved of the dire alternative between protection-mad Republicanism and silver-mad Democracy. This relief can, as things appear at present, be furnished only by a national organization of the sound-money Democracy as it was represented in the last campaign by the Indianapolis convention. The platform put forth by that convention was one of the clearest, wisest, and most elevated in sentiment this country has ever seen. The candidates nominated by it were irreproachable. The men composing it were manifestly animated by a spirit of patriotic devotion, and in that spirit they and their followers fought for the sound-money cause, with no thought of persona reward or personal sacrifice, with no aim but the public good. Such a party commands respect even from its opponents. Its appeals to reason or conscience will carry far more moral weight than the pleas of the ordinary self-seeking partisan. Such a party cannot fail to be a power as soon as it properly asserts itself.

It is true the number of sound-money Democrats appeared small in the election returns. But it was by no means so small in reality, for it is a well-known fact that very many, probably a large majority, of the sound-money Democrats voted directly for Mr. McKinley, in order to give their votes the fullest effect. They will now eagerly rally around the Indianapolis banner as soon as it is raised as that of a national party. And not only they. There are multitudes of citizens who for many years have acted independently in politics because they could agree with neither of the two great parties as to policies or as to methods, but have long desired to identify themselves with an organization that would honestly represent their principles. Nor will recruits from the Republican ranks be lacking if those in power continue their present course; for the number of Republicans who, although dissatisfied, remained with their party only because they did not know where else to go, will prove surprisingly large as soon as they find an organization thoroughly trustworthy and congenial to them.

A party organized upon the Indianapolis platform will therefore by no means be a mere forlorn hope. It will be from the very start, and continue to be, a great political force in the country if it fulfils certain simple conditions. It must faithfully preserve its identity on the basis of the Indianapolis platform. It must sternly resist every temptation to form any coalition with the Populist-Democracy for the purpose of gaining some local or temporary advantage in the way of office. Wherever it holds the balance of power it must inflexibly present to the “regular” Democrats the simple alternative of defeat or return to sound-money principles. It must zealously push forward the work of organization all over the country, so that when, eighteen months hence, the time for a new Congressional election comes, it may be ready to nominate a candidate of its own in every district. It should do so, no matter whether there be any prospect of local success or not. It may elect members enough to wield the casting vote in the next House of Representatives.

A party organization upon such a basis and with such a plan of action is one of the most urgent needs of the present political situation. Even Republicans who are prudent men will hail its coming with gladness, for they are sadly in want of an opposition that is not a mere bugbear, but consists of men of principle whose word has moral weight. The sound-money Democrats may thus exercise a powerful and salutary influence upon the destinies of the nation, and possibly become strong enough in time for the next Presidential election to avert a great catastrophe.

Carl Schurz.    

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.