The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Winslow Warren, October 16th, 1886
TO WINSLOW WARREN
New York, Oct. 16, 1886.
There is one feature of your State campaign which, perhaps, has not received all the attention it demands, and it is just that feature which makes your election one of general interest. One of the most significant figures in the public life of our day is the millionaire in politics. His appearance is by no means of evil under all circumstances. When men of wealth devote their leisure and opportunities to the study of public questions, endeavor to qualify themselves for the discharge of public trust and then seek official position for the purpose of employing their abilities for the public benefit, they may render very great service and become a blessing to the community. The country has reason to congratulate itself upon the fact that so many young men of means and leisure have of late shown a disposition to give their abilities and time to public matters in the right spirit.
But we find in politics millionaires of another class who are a curse. I mean the rich men who without marked qualifications for important position, and without having earned promotion by useful and distinguished public service, seek high office merely on the strength of their money, either to use its power for their own advantage, or to add the conspicuous honors of high political station to their wealth. The very appearance on the field of politics of millionaires whose money is their only, or at least their principal, title to consideration is an element of corruption, for it means that in some way somebody or something is to be bought. It means the employment of the millionaire's money to procure his election to the place he covets, either through the direct bribery of individuals, or through the bribery of a political organization with campaign funds. It cannot mean anything else. In either form it is corruption; in the latter form corruption especially insidious and demoralizing because it is usually called by a different name.
The consequences of the invasion of public life by millionaires of this class are already disclosing themselves. One seat after another in the Senate of the United States is falling into their hands. In some cases the purchase is a matter of notoriety. I know of no recent occurrence more alarming than the refusal of the Senate to investigate the charges of corruption made by respectable parties with regard to the election of a millionaire Senator from Ohio. I have read the charges as well as the evidence upon which they are based; also the arguments made in the Senate against investigating them; and I do not hesitate to say that if charges of corruption in Senatorial elections based upon evidence creating so strong a presumption are thrown aside by the Senate as not entitled to an investigation, upon reasoning so flimsy, there will be, as far as the action of the Senate itself is concerned, nothing to prevent every seat in that body from being acquired by some millionaire for himself or his attorney, in the way of downright purchase very thinly disguised. I candidly ask you, can you imagine anything more calculated to undermine the moral standing and authority not only of the Senate, but of the whole Government, aye, the stability of our institutions generally, than the refusal of the highest legislative body in the Republic to investigate strongly supported charges concerning the purchase of seats in it by rich men?
The nomination of men whose only, or whose principal, strength consists in the money they have, to State governorships, which this year, beginning with Maine, has become strikingly frequent, is of the same character. It means corruption in some way. To express it in the mildest language, it means that not uncommon ability, not superior qualifications, not distinguished service on the part of the candidate, but the possession of large funds by him is in some way depended upon as the decisive influence to determine the action of the party and of the voting body. This, too, looks to purchase in some form. Among the millionaires wishing to be governors your Republican candidate, Mr. Ames, is probably the most conspicuous. However estimable a gentleman he may be in his way, his qualifications for the high station he covets are known to be such that the proposition to make him governor of Massachusetts would have been received with derision, were he not a millionaire. His case is therefore in point.
It is high time, as [it] seems to me, that the American people, and especially those who have the peace and good order of society at heart, should give some attention to this matter. We are living in times in which the arraigning of the rich and the poor against one another is especially mischievous. It ought by all means to be avoided; it ought certainly not to be provoked. There is much alarm at the appearance of anarchism, of revolutionary theories and of all sorts of tendencies subversive of social order. What do you think will be the effect, if you give the poor to understand that the highest political powers, the power to make laws and the power to execute them, are virtually for sale, and that the highest offices are to be no longer for the able and trustworthy and meritorious who deserve them, but for the rich who can pay for them?
Massachusetts has had the reputation of maintaining a rather high standard of ability and character as to her principal public dignitaries. There have been lapses in her record, no doubt, but she has never, so far, succumbed to the prestige and the demoralizing influence of the money bag. It would be a pity, and, under existing circumstances, a disaster peculiarly deplorable, if she should do so now. Our Independent friends may be congratulated upon the unanimity and promptness with which they rallied to prevent such a misfortune. The straightforward and vigorous utterances of Mr. Andrew, the candidate they support, upon the subject of the use of money in elections, are especially gratifying. His success would not only do honor to Massachusetts, but, as an emphatic rebuke to the pretensions of millionairedom in politics, produce a very wholesome effect upon political life through out the country at a time when such an effect is much needed.