The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Rutherford B. Hayes, August 7th, 1876

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Fort Washington, Aug. 7, 1876.

I do not know whether you received my last letter written about twenty days ago; but I have to write again, believing that the interests of our common cause require it. I do not know your views of the present condition of the campaign, but I will give you mine. I have correspondence all over the country and know pretty well what is going on in the minds of that class of people on whose votes the result of this contest depends. In speaking to you with entire frankness I want you to understand that I do so as your sincere friend who has your success as the representative of a good cause warmly at heart, and who at the same time has in this campaign all his reputation and standing in the public opinion of this country at stake.

It is my deliberate opinion, based upon the best kind of information, that the campaign not only does not stand well, but that, if the election were to take place now, it would go heavily against us. I see it denied by the Republican papers what the Democrats claim, that a large majority of the German voters, and among them very many who always went with the Republicans, are now inclined toward Tilden. I can assure you that I know this to be so. I know also that a large number of that class who may be called reform Republicans are to-day the same way. But for your letter of acceptance the defection would be very much larger and irremediable. But even now it is considerable enough, as I am very strongly convinced, to turn the election against us if it were to come off to-morrow.

What is the cause of this? You have probably followed the run of Democratic argument in the papers: “Governor Hayes's Administration will be but a continuation of Grant's. He owes his nomination to Conkling, Morton and Cameron, and they, of course, will remain the powerful men in the Government,” etc. That is the talk repeated in endless variations, and that sort of argument is not only believed by many outside of the Democratic party, so as to turn them that way, but it keeps a great many others in serious doubt as to what they will do. Grant is doing his very worst. He is making well-meaning people so angry that they say, this concern must be cleaned out at any cost. As things now stand, I think the best thing he could do for your success would be to come out straight against you. Then there are such things as the appointment of Chandler to the chairmanship of the National Committee, the acquittal of Belknap, the attempt of the Republican members of the House Committee to whitewash Robeson etc. You are loaded down with the discredit incurred by the Administration and the old party leaders, and unless that burden be removed, so that you can rest your case upon your own merits, you cannot win the election. The current which is now running against you cannot otherwise be turned. It has been very painful to me to come to such a conclusion, but I have actively participated in all the Presidential campaigns since the organization of the Republican party and have learned to read the signs of the times. But for your letter of acceptance the campaign would have become a complete rout.

I do not want you to understand me as if these prospects could influence my conduct in this campaign. Not at all. I shall go to work as earnestly as if our chances were ever so good. I think also that they can be greatly improved. But it requires something which nobody can do for you; something which you can only do yourself. The artfully cultivated impression that “Governor Hayes, although an upright, able and well-meaning gentleman, has always sympathized with Grant in all his doings, and is under such obligations to the old party leaders that they will inevitably control his Administration,” is what hurts you most.

Your letter of acceptance is sneezed at as a bundle of well-meant promises which the opposition of the old party leaders will prevent you from carrying out. This impression must be destroyed. In my opinion some opportunity should be made use of by yourself to express your sentiments in that respect,—if you do not like the form of a letter addressed to some friend, it might be in a little speech to a serenading party or something of that kind—and it can be done in language which will not offend anybody but appear as a simple sequel to your letter of acceptance.

But in some way the country should be made to understand that you do not consider yourself under obligations to anybody, either for a vote in the Convention or support in the election; that people who support you have to do so for the country's sake and not your own; that in your opinion the duties of Government stand above all personal obligations; that those who inquire about your opinions concerning public measures and current events (an allusion to Grant's recent performances) should read your letter of acceptance; that those who indulge in speculations as to what influences will be powerful in your Administration should also study that document; that your letter of acceptance contains your program of policy, which was not only put forth in good faith but will in every point be strictly adhered to; that you were aware of difficulties to be overcome in that respect; that only such men and influences will be powerful with you in your Administration as will aid you in good faith in carrying out that plan of policy and all the reforms included in it; that you had promised this to the American people, and that nobody had ever had reason to think R. B. Hayes capable of breaking his word, etc.

Such an expression of sentiment, giving proof of your earnestness in strong and unmistakable language, would go very far to remove the apprehensions which are now working so strongly against us. And, I repeat, nobody can do that for you. If the prominent leaders of the party, Morton, Conkling, Chandler, Cameron or Blaine, did it in your name, it would be laughed at as a mockery and farce, and justly so. If I do it, as I did to some extent in my letter to Mr. Ottendorfer, which you have probably seen, the answer is, that I am being deceived or am deceiving myself and others.

Pardon me for writing thus plainly. The urgency of our necessities demands it. I have the fullest confidence in your good faith; it is therefore no distrust on my part that speaks. But I want to be able to overcome the distrust of others, and I know that I cannot do that alone and unaided to such an extent as to make it tell decisively. Something of this kind must be done to stop the demoralizing distrust which now pervades the Republican ranks, and I think it ought to be done very soon. We have no more time to lose.

While I am writing I receive the inclosed from Horace White and communicate it to you confidentially. Good heavens, what a campaign this is! This is the second candidate for governor we shall have to drop for corruption. You see how necessary it is that the ground under our feet be strengthened, and I believe only you can do it yourself.

Above all things, I pray you, do not permit yourself to be deceived by the flattering reports about the condition of things which are apt to be presented to the candidates. This is the most deceptive campaign we ever had.

P. S. Some Democratic papers have ascribed your letter of acceptance, part of it at least, to me. I hope you have never thought me capable of giving rise to such a rumor. It was merely a Democratic trick.