Visit of the Hon. Carl Schurz to Boston/Address by President Charles W. Eliot

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Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen, — My occupation leads me to study the applications or exhibitions of disciplined mental and moral power in the various pursuits of men. One who had no clear conception what the powers are which an advocate, a physician, or a minister should have at command would be but a blind guide in directing the training of young men for those callings. So I have had occasion to consider what the needful qualities and powers of statesmen are; and in answer to your summons, Mr. Chairman, I will say a few words on that theme.

You will not imagine that I have any reference to that large class of public men who are described as office-brokers. That, gentlemen is certainly the meanest business now anywhere done. The very word is an insult to an honest and useful trade which, I see, is honorably represented at these tables.

The modern statesman needs, in the first place, the power of clear, forcible, and persuasive exposition. Especially is this the case in a republic where millions of voters have to be instructed in matters of public policy, and crass ignorance is often to be found even in intelligent representative bodies. The statesman seldom deals with new principles or ideas; his task is to show how to treat new cases by old rules; his business is wisely to apply well-established principles under more or less novel conditions. Look at the speeches made by our distinguished guest during the twenty years past, and you will find that they treat of well-worn themes, — such as slavery, executive usurpation of powers, discontented populations, international relations, public finance, currency, public works, and civil service. These subjects have all been treated with the utmost thoroughness, both theoretically and practically, in one nation or another, at one time or another, in the history of the modern world. Indeed, some of them have been repeatedly worked out to their ultimate issues in this country; and repeatedly have the discussions and the experience, with all their lessons, been forgotten by the people. Take, for example, the subject of irredeemable paper money, and you will not find a better statement of the evils of that currency than was given by the Rev. Dr. Nathaniel Appleton, pastor of the First Church in Cambridge, in his second sermon preached on a special Fast Day in January, 1747, from the text, “And he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.” The reverend preacher spoke from his own observation, and the bitter experience of his contemporaries. The fact is that paper money, clipped coin, prohibitory tariffs, sumptuary laws, usurpations, repudiation, and corruption are not new sins or follies, but very old ones. The statesman must be constantly giving the most elementary lessons in public policy and public righteousness; but to give those lessons well — with lucidity, ample illustration, and logical acumen — is a worthy task for the keenest and best trained intellect. I need not say that this power of luminous exposition is a gift of exceeding rarity, which always commands our admiration; but when the gift is exercised and exhibited in a language not the mother tongue, it may well excite our admiration to the highest degree.

There is another great power which the statesman must constantly exercise, not only in legislative assemblies, but in committees, administration councils, and even in private meetings, — I mean the power of debate. You will not suppose that I have in mind the wretched art of making a smart rejoinder or a sarcastic retort, still less the truly diabolical art of enraging one's opponents by taunts and sneers. I mean the power of fairly meeting the heavy shock of a worthy opponent's argument, of parrying the keen, quick thrust of an interpolated objection, of turning against one's adversary his own guns, of summoning from the reserves of a well-stored mind prompt reinforcements of fact, figure, and illustration, — and all this on a sudden, perhaps before a hostile audience, or when the truth which is to be defended is ungrateful. The strong debater, in this sense, on large subjects is a very rare personage, remarkable not only for the power of his word, but for the amplitude of his knowledge. Anybody with a fair memory can deliver a prepared speech, if only he has adequate notice. Nowadays any Congressman of average ability can make what is called a great effort. He can hire a hack to write it for him; or he can get the latent person whose axe is to be ground to supply the copious stream of speech. The hospitality of the “Congressional Record” is wide indeed. But gentlemen, the genuine debate in Senate Chamber, committee room, or Cabinet, for the purpose of arriving at sound conclusions and shaping wise action, — that is one of the most striking exhibitions of disciplined mental power which the world affords. We have here to-night a genuine debater.

But I would not lay too much stress upon the mental powers of the true statesman; for his moral qualities are more important. I cannot speak of them all, for what high trait does he not need? He needs courage, the love of justice, and a supreme patience. It was Pitt, I think, who said that the most needful virtue in administration is patience. The real lags so exasperatingly behind the ideal! Let me single out two moral qualities which the American statesman especially needs, — independence and highmindedness. Independence of character! that sturdy, inflexible, and self-reliant force of will which enables a statesman to follow the dictates of his own judgment and conscience, in opposition to party passion or the fury of the multitude, if need be to his own injury; and highmindedness! that elevation of soul, founded on self-respect, which manifests itself in his avoidance of personal or petty altercations, in the whole tone of his public speech, and in his steadfast respect for the people. Universal suffrage engenders a peculiarly revolting kind of sycophant; namely, the flatterer of the multitude. To flatter and cajole a few eminent personages under despotic forms of government is not so mean a task as to flatter and cajole masses of men under republican forms. A deified emperor was but a transitory delusion; a deified populace, flattered with such appellations as “imperial” and “sovereign,” is a much more durable and dangerous idol. Many of our public men manifest in the surest of all ways an utter contempt for the people, — they constantly appeal to their prejudices, their cupidity, and their passions. The independent and highminded statesman appeals to the reason of the people; he tries with all his might to enlighten, persuade, and convince them; he believes that their history has an intelligible voice; he never flatters them; he teaches — I borrow some noble words spoken years ago by our guest — that the reason, the good sense, the conscience, and the enlightened will of the people are their destiny, and urges them to acknowledge no other.

No nation is long grateful to a public man who urges them, or permits them, if he can help it, to do a mean thing, — such as to break their promises, to clip their coin, or to maltreat their servants. The statesmen who are remembered with honor are they who respect themselves, respect the people, and on every issue urge the people to do what is just and magnanimous. Now, that is what our honored guest has done through all the twenty years of his public life. He has proved himself, during this long period of conspicuous public service, to possess in an eminent degree the intellectual powers and the moral qualities which are needed in an American statesman.

The Chairman. Gentlemen, the committee have received several letters from distinguished gentlemen, two of which I propose to read; the others will appear in the morning papers. [He then read the letters from ex-President Hayes and ex-Secretary Sherman, printed on pp. 74, 75.] Gentlemen, I am now going to call for testimony for the Indians from a gentleman who knows something of their feelings. I ask you to listen to the Rev. Dr. George E. Ellis.