13th United States Secretary of the Interior
|In office |
March 12, 1877 – March 7, 1881
|Preceded by||Zachariah Chandler|
|Succeeded by||Samuel J. Kirkwood|
|Born||March 2, 1829 |
|Died||May 14, 1906 (aged 77) |
New York City, New York, USA
|Profession||Politician, Professor, Lawyer|
Carl Schurz (March 2, 1829 – May 14, 1906) was a German revolutionary, American statesman and reformer, and Union Army general in the American Civil War. His wife, Margarethe Schurz and her sister Berthe von Ronge, were instrumental in establishing the kindergarten system in the United States.
During the last twenty years of his life, Schurz was perhaps the most prominent Independent in American politics, and even more notable than his great abilities was his devotion to his high principles. He was the first German-born American to enter the United States Senate, and was an able debater; and his command of the English language, written and spoken, was remarkable.
He is famous for saying: "Our country right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right."
Schurz was born in Liblar (now Erftstadt), the son of a school teacher. He studied at the Jesuit Gymnasium of Cologne, and then entered the University of Bonn, where he became a revolutionary, partly through his friendship with Gottfried Kinkel, then a professor, and Johannes von Ronge. In Bonn, he became a member of the nationalistic Studentenverbindung Burschenschaft Franconia Bonn. He assisted Kinkel in editing the Bonner Zeitung, and was active in the Revolution of 1848; but when Rastatt surrendered, he escaped to Zürich. In 1850, he returned secretly to Germany, rescued Kinkel from prison at Spandau and helped him to escape to Scotland. Schurz went to Paris, but the police forced him to leave France on the eve of the coup d'état, and, until August 1852, he lived in London, making his living by teaching German. He married Ronge's sister-in-law in July 1852 and moved to America, living for a time in Philadelphia. Schurz is probably the best-known of the Forty-Eighters, the German emigrants who moved to the United States after the failed liberal revolutions.
In 1856, after a year in Europe, he settled in Watertown, Wisconsin, and immediately became prominent in the Republican Party of Wisconsin. In 1857, he was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for lieutenant-governor. In the Illinois campaign of the next year between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, he took part as a speaker — mostly in German — which raised Lincoln's popularity among German-American voters. Later, in 1858, he was admitted to the Wisconsin bar and began to practice law in Milwaukee. In the state campaign of 1859, he made a speech attacking the Fugitive Slave Law and arguing for state's rights, and thus injured his political standing in Wisconsin; and on April 18, 1859, he delivered, in Faneuil Hall, Boston, an oration on "True Americanism"— which, coming from an alien, was intended to clear the Republican party of the charge of "nativism". The Germans of Wisconsin unsuccessfully urged his nomination for governor by the Republican party in 1859. In the 1860 Republican National Convention, Schurz was spokesman of the delegation from Wisconsin, which voted for William H. Seward; he was on the committee which announced his nomination to Abraham Lincoln.
In spite of Seward's objection, grounded on Schurz's European record as a revolutionary, Lincoln sent him in 1861 as ambassador to Spain. He returned to America in January 1862, resigned his post, was commissioned brigadier general of Union volunteers in April, and in June took command of a division under John C. Frémont, and then in Franz Sigel's corps, with which he took part in the Second Battle of Bull Run. He was promoted major general of volunteers on March 14 and was a division commander in the XI Corps at the Battle of Chancellorsville, under General Oliver O. Howard, with whom he later had a bitter controversy over the battle and their humiliating defeat by Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. He was at Gettysburg (another humiliation for the corps) and at Chattanooga (a triumph). Later, he was put in command of a Corps of Instruction at Nashville, and saw no more active service except in the last months of the war when he was with Sherman's army in North Carolina. He resigned from the army as soon as the war ended.
In the summer of 1865, President Andrew Johnson sent Schurz through the South to study conditions; they then quarrelled because Schurz approved General H.W. Slocum's order forbidding the organization of militia in Mississippi. Schurz's report, suggesting the readmission of the states with complete rights and the investigation of the need of further legislation by a Congressional committee, was ignored by the President. In 1866-1867, he was chief editor of the Detroit Post and then became editor and joint proprietor with Emil Praetorius of the Westliche Post (Western Post) of St. Louis. In the winter of 1867-1868, he travelled in Germany – the account of his interview with Otto von Bismarck is one of the most interesting chapters of his Reminiscences. He spoke against "repudiation" and for "honest money" during the Presidential campaign of 1868.
From 1869 to 1875, he was United States Senator from Missouri. He gained political clout with Republicans from German-American support in the Midwest. He made a great reputation with his speeches urging financial responsibility. During this period, he broke with the administration: he started the Liberal Republican movement in Missouri, in 1870, which elected B. Gratz Brown governor; and, in 1872, he presided over the Liberal Republican convention which nominated Horace Greeley for President (Schurz's own choice was Charles Francis Adams or Lyman Trumbull). The convention did not represent Schurz's views on the tariff. He opposed Grant's Santo Domingo policy – after Fessenden's death, Schurz was a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs – his Southern policy, and the government's selling arms and making cartridges for the French army in the Franco-Prussian War. But, in 1875, he campaigned for Rutherford B. Hayes, as the representative of sound money, in the Ohio governor's campaign.
In 1876, he supported Hayes for President, and after winning, Hayes named him Secretary of the Interior and followed much of his advice in other cabinet appointments and in his inaugural address. In this department, Schurz put in force his theories in regard to merit in the Civil Service, permitting no removals except for cause, and requiring competitive examinations for candidates for clerkships. His efforts to remove political patronage met with limited success. As an early conservationist, he prosecuted land thieves and attracted public attention to the necessity of forest preservation.
Schurz reformed the Office of Indian Affairs and successfully opposed a bill transferring it to the War Department. The Indian Office was the most corrupt of the Interior Department. Positions as agents, farmers, teachers, and other positions on Indian reservations were based on political patronage. The offices were seen as political reward and license to use the reservations for personal enrichment, with no work required. Restoration of the Indian Office to the War Department, which was based on rules and patriotic service, instead of politics, was thought by Indians and others to enable the Indian Office to do some good for Indians, instead of Bureau employees. However, political pressure and parochialism kept the Indian Office in the Department.
Upon his retirement in 1881, Schurz moved to New York City, and from the summer of 1881 to the autumn of 1883 was editor-in-chief and one of the proprietors of the New York Evening Post. In 1884, he was a leader in the Independent (or Mugwump) movement against the nomination of James Blaine for president and for the election of Grover Cleveland. From 1888 to 1892, he was general American representative of the Hamburg American Steamship Company. In 1892 he succeeded George William Curtis as president of the National Civil Service Reform League and held this office until 1901. He succeeded Curtis as editorial writer for Harper's Weekly in 1892–1898, actively supporting electoral reform. In 1895 he spoke for the Fusion anti-Tammany Hall ticket in New York City. He opposed William Jennings Bryan for president in 1896, speaking for sound money and not under the auspices of the Republican party; he supported Bryan four years later because of anti-imperialism beliefs, which also led to his membership in the American Anti-Imperialist League. In the 1904 election he supported Alton B. Parker, the Democratic candidate.
Throughout his life, Schurz never hesitated to deliver his opinion, and was known by politicians as elevated as Presidents Lincoln and Johnson for his frequent, vitriolic letters. Because of his strongly worded speeches and editorials and his deeply held convictions, he was a hero to his supporters, but widely disliked by his critics. He had a strong connection to the immigrant community. He told a group of German immigrants at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 how he expected them to fit into American society:
Schurz published a number of writings, including a volume of speeches (1865), an excellent biography of Henry Clay (1887), essays on Abraham Lincoln (1899) and Charles Sumner (posthumous, 1951), and his Reminiscences (posthumous, 1907–09). In his later years he wrote his memoirs.
Schurz died in New York City and is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, New York.
What is the rule of honor to be observed by a power so strongly and so advantageously situated as this Republic is? Of course I do not expect it meekly to pocket real insults if they should be offered to it. But, surely, it should not, as our boyish jingoes wish it to do, swagger about among the nations of the world, with a chip on its shoulder, shaking its fist in everybody's face. Of course, it should not tamely submit to real encroachments upon its rights. But, surely, it should not, whenever its own notions of right or interest collide with the notions of others, fall into hysterics and act as if it really feared for its own security and its very independence.
As a true gentleman, conscious of his strength and his dignity, it should be slow to take offense. In its dealings with other nations it should have scrupulous regard, not only for their rights, but also for their self-respect. With all its latent resources for war, it should be the great peace power of the world. It should never forget what a proud privilege and what an inestimable blessing it is not to need and not to have big armies or navies to support. It should seek to influence mankind, not by heavy artillery, but by good example and wise counsel. It should see its highest glory, not in battles won, but in wars prevented. It should be so invariably just and fair, so trustworthy, so good tempered, so conciliatory, that other nations would instinctively turn to it as their mutual friend and the natural adjuster of their differences, thus making it the greatest preserver of the world's peace.
This is not a mere idealistic fancy. It is the natural position of this great republic among the nations of the earth. It is its noblest vocation, and it will be a glorious day for the United States when the good sense and the self-respect of the American people see in this their "manifest destiny." It all rests upon peace. Is not this peace with honor? There has, of late, been much loose speech about "Americanism." Is not this good Americanism? It is surely today the Americanism of those who love their country most. And I fervently hope that it will be and ever remain the Americanism of our children and our children's children.
– Carl Schurz, The True Americanism, April 18, 1859
The man who in times of popular excitement boldly and unflinchingly resists hot-tempered clamor for an unnecessary war, and thus exposes himself to the opprobrious imputation of a lack of patriotism or of courage, to the end of saving his country from a great calamity, is, as to "loving and faithfully serving his country," at least as good a patriot as the hero of the most daring feat of arms, and a far better one than those who, with an ostentatious pretense of superior patriotism, cry for war before it is needed, especially if then they let others do the fighting.
– Carl Schurz, April, 1898
Schurz is memorialized in numerous places around the United States: