Visit of the Hon. Carl Schurz to Boston/Reception by German Citizens/Address by the Hon. Carl Schurz
Ladies and Gentlemen, — I thank you more than I can express for this welcome. I may truthfully say that I have never had a more hearty reception, nor kinder words than those of your honored spokesman. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Public life, it is thought, has many roses; but there are no roses without thorns. Public life has, perhaps, more of the latter than the ordinary proportion. There are but few occasions in it from which he who devotes himself to it derives real satisfaction. I have often said to friends who congratulate me upon the official position I held, that there are two great moments of pleasure in connection with such a place. One is when the new minister ascends the steps of the department building, looking forward to great opportunities to accomplish something for the public good, but still unaware of the greatness of the difficulties to be met and the responsibilities to be borne. The other is, when after the close of his official career he descends the same steps, looking back upon something accomplished. I have known both these moments; and speak from experience, when I say that the last is the best. And if there is anything truly satisfactory and delightful at the close of such a period of service, it is when, stepping back into private life, he hears such voices of public approval as I have heard to-night. For this I thank you sincerely.
When the Germans landed on the American shores, we came as a foreign element. A foreign element we should not remain. It is not for us to live a one-sided life in the American Republic. What we are and should be here is American citizens, — American citizens in the best sense of the term, with our whole hearts and our best efforts. We are not to form a separate class, and consider our own interests as different and distinct from those of the great people of whom we form a part. It is our duty to identify ourselves with the common national life, and to do all we can to promote the greatness and prosperity of the country that has adopted us. It is our duty to bring the best of German character into unity with the best of American life. It is in this way that we can render to our Fatherland the most efficient service. I have never forgotten in my public career, that in a certain way the honor of the German name was laid in my hands; and it has been my constant effort not to bring discredit upon it.
I have been told by a member of your committee, that my coming to Boston and meeting you in this reception has had one remarkable effect, — to bring about German unity in Boston. I am glad of it; and you have honored me by thus coming together in so hearty a way. The speaker who has just addressed me, in your name, alluded with kind words to several things which I have done or endeavored to accomplish in public life. I may confess, as other public men have to confess, that what I have done has not always come up to my own intentions and hopes; but I have endeavored to represent the best tendencies of the German mind and heart. The German citizens of America may feet proud of the fact, that in some of the greatest emergencies of our history they stood firmly united as the best of Americans. At the time when the Republic was in danger, and the drum-call summoned to battle, the German element, as one man, was true to the Republic. And later, when the cause of honest money and of the public faith was at stake, the Germans stood solidly under the banner of sound doctrines, of the national honor, and honest government. So I have a right to say that when I spoke and worked in this cause, I uttered only what was in the heart of all good German-American citizens.
Our government must, in a certain sense, be a government of political parties; but I have always held to the doctrine, that it is the duty of a good citizen to be first a patriot before he is a Republican or a Democrat; that parties are organized only to serve certain great public ends; that when they serve these ends honestly and well, they have a right to the support of the citizen; but when they cease to give such service, they are no longer entitled to call upon the people to follow their lead. In other words, there are certain things which should be beyond the control of party, — the cause of right, of justice, the welfare of the country. There is one thing which no good patriot should ever yield to party discipline, — his own conscience.
So I may say that in my own political life I have never called on my German fellow-citizens to follow me, simply because I went this way or that. I have never said to them, “Follow this party, simply because it is the party which I follow.” But the duty I have sought to impress upon them was this: Let every citizen examine, in his own conscience, what is best for the common good. After careful examination, if he finds clearly that the reasons I give for my own faith are good, I shall be glad; let him act accordingly. But in every case let him be man enough to follow the dictates of his conscience. I repeat, it is through political parties, in a certain sense, that this government must be carried on; but when political party organizations know that there is a large force of citizens who will follow conscientious convictions, and not blindly obey the command of party drill-masters, these parties will learn to respect. and follow conscience themselves.
And now, fellow-countrymen, after these few words, allow me once more to give you my heartfelt thanks for this cordial welcome; and to say to you that few hours in my public life have been as happy and enjoyable as this in which I have been so heartily received by the Germans of Boston.
The close of Mr. Schurz' address was greeted with applause as hearty as that at the beginning. Another vocal selection closed the public exercises.
A German Nachtessen, or supper, after the style of the Fatherland, was then served in the banquet hall below, where plates were laid for about two hundred guests. Mr. Henry H. Rueter presided, having Mr. Schurz at his right, and near him were Professor Krauss, Hon. Leopold Morse, S. B. Schlesinger, and other well-known German citizens.
Mr. Rueter's introductory remarks alluded to the German reception to Kossuth in the Meionaon over twenty-five years ago, and his address to them in their own language, when he spoke of the importance of the influence they would have on the institutions of their adopted country. He compared them to the salt of the earth. Mr. Rueter said that Kossuth's idea of the importance of the German influence in America had been realized in Carl Schurz; for whom he called a dreimal hoch. It was given with a vim.
Mr. Schurz responded and said, substantially, that whether he had deserved all that had been said about him in such pleasant words was doubtful; that he had striven to deserve it, however, was true. The praise was a continuous spurring on to him to do honor to the German and American names. We dwell, said he, in a grand country, and among a great and a noble folk. No one present could be prouder than he of his German blood; but no man could also feel prouder than he did of his American citizenship. No people on earth had made greater voluntary sacrifices for human liberty and for national existence than the American. Not only had they in the late war sent many hundreds of thousands of their sons to the battle-fields, but, aside from taxes, they had voluntarily contributed untold millions to ease the sufferings of our wounded. In all history there was to be found no people which would have made such offerings. Much had been said about American politics and American corruption. There was much truth in what was thus said; but it was also true that the American people were a just people, and that when their eyes were opened to such corruption, they always overthrew those responsible for it. And so it would ever be, as long as the people understood the value of their freedom. Looking at Europe, it was not too much to say that America stood as the only free country on earth. In closing, he called upon all to empty their glasses with a hoch for the American Republic, — the greatest republic that ever was, the greatest that is, and, he believed, the greatest that ever would be. Mr. Schurz' remarks were followed with hearty cheers.
Hon. Leopold Morse was called upon. He began his remarks in German, but begged the privilege of being allowed to continue in English, long use of the adopted tongue having made him more able to express himself in it. There was no man whom he felt more proud to honor than their guest. Mr. Schurz had gained his high place in the nation's councils not be wealth, but by his energy and the force of his brains. He spoke of the high services of Mr. Schurz in the Cabinet, and approved heartily his attitude toward office-seekers. Mr. Morse declared strongly in favor of legalized civil-service reform; and said that the only way to do the business of a country, as of a private concern, was to do it on business principles. He spoke of the grand tribute of such a reception as that of the previous evening; and said that to deserve such, he himself would be willing to live and die a poor man.
Pastor Schwarz said that he felt like Saul among the prophets; he was here among the political prophets. Their guest had head, heart, and conscience in the right place; and such a man was at home in any party.
Dr. de Gersdorff made a highly humorous speech; and gave reminiscences of the old German days in Boston. Dr. Conrad Wesselhoeft read an amusing poem in Knittelverse. Mr. Charles L. Rothenberg, of the “New England Stäten Zeitung,” made a spirited response for the German press of Boston. Mr. S. B. Schlesinger, German consul, spoke briefly, and sang “Die Zwei Grenadier” with such effect that another song was demanded. Mr. Louis C. Elson spoke for the young German Americans, and, like Mr. Morse, began in German and continued in English; and other remarks were made by Professor Krauss, Mr. Carl Eberhardt, Mr. Louis Prang, Max Fischacher, Esq., and Godfrey Morse, Esq.