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Carl Schurz

February 6, 2020

Carl Schurz was one of the good guys.  In 1848 he fought for freedom in Europe.  In 1863 he was one of the Union generals at Gettysburg.  In 1872 he was one of the Liberal Republican leaders who opposed corruption in government.

In 1876 the reform movement had two worthy Presidential candidates.  Many supported Democrat Samuel Tilden, but Schurz supported Republican Rutherford Hayes.  Hayes then made Schurz a member of the Cabinet.

When ordinary politicians reward their supporters with an office, that is called cronyism; but when reform politicians do the same, that is regarded as evidence of progress.  In either case the observer assumes he knows the motives of both parties.

Congressman James Garfield did not suspect Hayes’s motives, but he did question Hayes’s judgment.  On March 7, 1877 he wrote in his diary: “I think the appointment of Schurz is unfortunate and unwise, but still it ought to be confirmed to give the President a chance to test his policy.”

What was this policy that Garfield thought Hayes should have a chance to test?  Civil service reform.  The spoils system had been in existence at least since Jackson’s time and had become increasingly corrupt.  Even President Grant had spoken in favor of civil service reform.  In his 1873 inaugural address Grant said: “It has been my earnest desire to correct the abuses that have grown up in the civil service of the country.  To secure this reformation rules regulating methods of appointment and promotions were established and have been tried.  My efforts for such reformation shall be continued to the best of my judgment.  The spirit of the rules adopted will be maintained.”

Schurz had no confidence in Grant’s ability to effect true civil service reform, but he saw something in Hayes that gave him hope.


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