The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Benjamin H. Bristow, March 31st, 1876

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New York, Mar. 31, 1876.

General [James H.] Wilson informed me yesterday of what you had written to him in reply to a communication from him to you. It appears that the impression he received from a conversation between him and myself and a few friends, was not altogether correct. What we, and especially I, desired to impress upon him, was that the party machine men would surely prevent the nomination of a true reformer for the Presidency, unless they were made very clearly to understand that they cannot do so with impunity. That class of politicians will control the Republican Convention, and they will do the worst they dare. All indications on the political field point that way. Nothing but the alternative of the nomination of a true reformer, or defeat, will induce them to permit the former. How that alternative can be placed before them in a way best calculated to lead to the desired result, it is as yet too early to determine. It will depend on the circumstances surrounding us when the time for action arrives.

I write these lines mainly to remove a misapprehension from your mind. You may rest assured that your name will not be trifled or made free with, and that you will in no manner be compromised or embarrassed by me and those under my influence. I think I understand and appreciate your position perfectly, and I need scarcely add that I respect your feelings with regard to it. Neither will the success of the good cause be hazarded by any rash or ill-considered proceedings. You have not been consulted about the movements now in preparation simply because it is best—and I am sure it appears so to you as it does to me—that you should have no personal connection with anything of the kind. I had to-day a long conversation with a prominent member of the Union League of this city, Judge [James] Emott, and there is some hope that we may find a mode of coöperating with the friends of reform in that association.

There can be no harm, however, in my stating to you my own individual view of the exigencies of our present situation, and I have good reason to think that it is shared by many good citizens. While after the great domestic sorrow that has befallen me it would be more in accordance with my feelings to abstain from all participation in public affairs, yet I shall obey the call of duty. I should be happy to coöperate with my old Republican friends in the impending canvass, and ardently desire that this be made consistent with my convictions. Now, we have been so deeply disgraced in the estimation of mankind by the exposures of corruption in our public service, and the faith of many of our people in our institutions has been so dangerously shaken, that the selection of men universally known to be of our very best, for the highest offices of the Republic, is the most imperative duty of these times. The country cannot afford anything else. Submission to a mere choice of evils, or the election of men who would be likely to be mere tools in the hands of greedy party managers, would only deepen the disgrace of the American people; and if the political parties present to us nothing else, then I shall deem it my duty to my country to be one of those, however large or small their number, who will take an appeal from the existing organizations and put forward candidates such as ought to be presented to the people at a time like this. The main value the Republican party has in my eyes, consists in the fact that it contains more of the intelligence and virtue of the people, than any other. But if that intelligence and virtue are subjugated and made a tool of by corrupt interests, then the good of the country will in the long run be better served, if the party is purged of its bad elements in the crucible of defeat.