Carl Schurz

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Carl Schurz
Carl Schurz

Carl Schurz (March 2, 1829May 14, 1906) was a German revolutionist and American statesman and reformer. His wife Margaretta Schurz was instrumental in establishing the kindergarten system in the U.S.

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. 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 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 USA after the 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 helped Lincoln to win the presidency. 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 in April 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 Republican National Convention of 1861 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 minister to Spain. He returned to America in January 1862, resigned his post, was commissioned brigadier general of 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, and 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; he reformed the Indian Bureau and successfully opposed a bill transferring it to the War Department; and he prosecuted land thieves and attracted public attention to the necessity of forest preservation.

Upon his retirement in 1881 he 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 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 1904 he supported Alton B. Parker, the Democratic candidate. He died in New York City.

Schurz published a number of writings, including a volume of speeches, a biography of Henry Clay, an essay on Abraham Lincoln, and his Reminiscences. In his later years he wrote his memoirs.

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 on "The True Americanism"

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 Park

Carl Schurz Park, a 14.9 acre (60,000 m²) park in New York City, named for Carl Schurz in 1910, adjacent to Yorkville, overlooks the waters of Hell Gate, and is the site of Gracie Mansion, the residence of the Mayor of New York since 1942.

Schurz is also honored in New York by Karl Bitter's 1913 statue at Morningside Drive and 116th Street.

There is also a historic high school in Chicago named in his honor, built in 1923.

At the University of Missouri - Columbia, there is a residence hall named after Schurz.

Preceded by:
Zachariah Chandler
U.S. Secretary of the Interior
Succeeded by:
Samuel J. Kirkwood

Template:End boxde:Carl Schurz


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