Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Dutch Senator

After Claire's post about the DNB, I was anxious to know what biographical databases were available to me ... and try a few of them out. I looked up Carl Schurz: a Cologner who was deeply involved in the 1848-49 revolution as a student (here is his remembrance of the start of the revolution). He daringly rescued his mentor, Gottfried Kinkel, from prison. His autobiography has been very useful to me, more because it provides color rather than insight to the age of revolution. I know little about what happened to him, other than he came to the United States and he represented Michigan in the US Senate. And even that information was wrong: he represented Wisconson, not Michigan (good thing that info was only in a footnote).

According to the American National Biography, Schurz joined the Republican Party because of his commitment to abolition. Early on he worked on the ethnic appeal of the party, attracting German-Americans to the cause (here is his portrait of Lincoln). During the Civil War, he helped to recruit Germans into all-German regiments.

In the senate he was known as "the Dutch Senator" and his phrase "my country right or wrong", often misused and seldom understood phrase. He had tense relations with other members of the Republican Party. He was an early critic of Reconstruction, recommending a more conciliatory approach to the southern states. Frustrated with Grant's administration, he led his own faction:
Although he was elected as a Republican, Schurz soon broke with the administration. Differences over civil service reform, the annexation of the Dominican Republic, southern policies, and patronage in Missouri eventually led Schurz to become one of the initiators of the Liberal Republican movement. His breach with the administration caused a lessening of his radical commitment; eager to conciliate the South, he even voted against the Ku Klux Act and other radical measures.

The Liberal Republicans, however, turned against Schurz, giving leadership to Horace Greeley. The debacle helped to elect Democrats to the Congress. Schurz came back into the good graces of the party with the election of Hayes and was made secretary of the interior.
In his new position Schurz introduced civil service rules within his department, set in motion a policy of conservation of natural resources (especially forests), and cleaned up corruption in the Indian Bureau. His continuation of the practice of large-scale removals of various Native-American nations to large reservations, particularly the forcible resettlement of the Poncas in the Indian Territory, subjected him to criticism, but, in the end, he reversed himself and inaugurated a more equitable policy. His protection of the Indian Bureau from an attempted War Department takeover was also a boon to Native Americans, whose treatment by the army left much to be desired.
Later he was the editor of the Evening Post, where he wrote about anti-semitism in Europe among other things. Here is what he said about America's role in world affairs:
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.

Other sources on Schurz: German Heritage, images from the University of Wisconsin Library.


At 7:27 AM, Blogger Beatrice Perale said...

I'd never heard of the ANB. I don't need it at the moment but I might one day! Thanks for the tip. (This is Claire by the way)


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