Carl Schurz, the statesman

Carl Schurz during the Lincoln County War
Carl Schurz during the Lincoln County War

[America, around 1870/80] Carl Schurz, the German revolutionary of 1848/49, loved his new homeland. After the Civil War, he moved to St. Louis, and in 1869 he was elected to the US Senate for Missouri.

Already soon Schurz saw the dark side of American politics. In Washington, the “spoils system’ ruled – the state officials were hired and dismissed by party membership, not by capability. Under President Ulysses S. Grant, corruption was rampant and the President himself was involved in it. Eventually, the Republican Senator broke with the Republican President.

Secretary of the Interior (1877, America)

In the same year, the new President Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-81) appointed Carl Schurz as Secretary of the Interior to his cabinet. But what a difficult task lay before Schurz! When he took office, his top priority was to reform the civil service. But soon he realized that his most urgent problem was the Indian question. A year earlier, on June 25, 1876, the 7th Cavalry under General Custer had been destroyed at Little Big Horn by the Sioux. Now great hatred was borne against the Indians. In the Southwest, the Apaches were still fighting a grim guerilla war against the Whites.

Schurz wrote about that later. “The history of our relationship with the Indians consists largely of broken contracts, unjust wars and cruel exploitation.”* He could not avert the tragic end of the Indians, although he tirelessly struggled for a fair solution and often enough found himself between a rock and a hard place. Thanks to him, the Indian question remained as a civilian and administrative task with his department, instead of being transferred to the War Department. But there was no more space for the free, unbound life of the Indians.

It was the era of the Wild West, when more and more ranchers, settlers, but also adventurers and bandits went to the still open country. In Lincoln County, New Mexico a war over pasture raged. Billy the Kid had avenged the murder of his benefactor and was now on the run. The acting governor Axtell was a failure, and accused of being corrupt. Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz initiated an investigation into Axtell’s activities as governor, it turned up so much corruption that Secretary Schurz suspended the Governor, and President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed General Lew Wallace, the author of “Ben Hur”.

Elder Statesman

President Hayes did not run for re-election and Schurz returned to journalism and writing, and he moved to New York. He remained a strong fighter for honest government and encouraged reform-minded Republicans, commonly referred to as Mugwumps.

*Bancroft, Speeches IV., S. 116. Quoted from: Rudolf Geiger, der deutsche Amerikaner, page 282.

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