Letters To General Schurz

Springfield, Ills., June 18, 1860.

Yours of May 22nd was duly received; and now, on a careful re-perusal of it, I am much mortified that I did not attend to it an [at] once. I fear I have no sufficient apology. I received it with multitudes of others, glanced over it too hastily to properly appreciate its importance, laid it by, and it passed from my mind, till Governor Koerner mentioned it to-day. In a general bringing up of my correspondence, I perhaps should have reached it to-day.

The main object of the letter — time — so far as it depended on me, is lost. I hope you have gone forward on your plan without my advice. To me it appears an excellent plan; and I have no sufficient experience to suggest any improvement of it. I think it would be desirable to have the opinion of the National Committee upon it, if it can be obtained without too much loss of time.

And now, upon this bad beginning, you must not determine to write me no more; for I promise you that no letter of yours to me shall ever again be neglected.

I beg you to be assured that your having supported Governor Seward, in preference to myself, in the Convention, is not even remembered by me for any practical purpose, or the slightest unpleasant feeling. I go not back of the Convention to make distinctions among its members; and, to the extent of our limited acquaintance, no man stands nearer my heart than yourself.
Very truly your friend,
A. Lincoln.


Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 10, 1862.

Gen. Carl Schurz

My dear Sir I have just received, and read, your letter of the 20th. The purport of it is that we lost the late elections, and the administration is failing, because the war is unsuccessful; and that I must not flatter myself that I am not justly to blame for it. I certainly know that if the war fails, the administration fails, and that I will be blamed for it, whether I deserve it or not. And I ought to be blamed, if I could do better. You think I could do better; therefore you blame me already. I think I could not do better; therefore I blame you for blaming me. I understand you now to be willing to accept the help of men, who are not republicans, provided they have “heart in it.” Agreed. I want no others. But who is to be the judge of hearts, or of “heart in it”? If I must discard my own judgment, and take yours, I must also take that of others; and by the time I should reject all I should be advised to reject, I should have none left, republicans, or others — not even yourself. For, be assured, my dear Sir, there are men who have “heart in it” that think you are performing your part as poorly as you think I am performing mine. I certainly have been dissatisfied with the slowness of Buell and McClellan; but before I relieved them I had great fears I should not find successors to them, who would do better; and I am sorry to add, that I have seen little since to relieve those fears. I do not clearly see the prospect of any more rapid movements. I fear we shall at last find out that the difficulty is in our case, rather than in particular generals. I wish to disparage no one — certainly not those who sympathize with me; but I must say I need success more than I need sympathy, and that I have not seen the so much greater evidence of getting success from my sympathizers, than from those who are denounced as the contrary. It does seem to me that in the field the two classes have been very much alike, in what they have done, and what they have failed to do. In sealing their faith with their blood, Baker, an Lyon, and Bohlen, and Richardson, republicans, did all that men could do; but did they any more than Kearney, and Stevens, and Reno, and Mansfield, none of whom were republicans, and some, at least of whom, have been bitterly, and repeatedly, denounced to me as secession sympathizers? I will not perform the ungrateful task of comparing cases of failure.

In answer to your question “Has it not been publicly stated in the newspapers, and apparently proved as a fact, that from the commencement of the war, the enemy was continually supplied with information by some of the confidential subordinates of as important an officer as Adjutant General Thomas?” I must say “no” so far as my knowledge extends. And I add that if you can give any tangible evidence upon that subject, I will thank you to come to the City and do so.
Very truly your friend
A. Lincoln


Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 10, 1862.

“Private & Confidential”

Gen. Schurz.

My dear Sir Yours of the 8th was, to-day, read to me by Mrs. S[churz]. We have lost the elections; and it is natural that each of us will believe, and say, it has been because his peculiar views was not made sufficiently prominent. I think I know what it was, but I may be mistaken. Three main causes told the whole story, 1. The democrats were left in a majority by our friends going to the war. 2. The democrats observed this & determined to re-instate themselves in power, and 3. Our newspapers, by vilifying and disparaging the administration, furnished them all the weapons to do it with. Certainly, the ill-success of the war had much to do with this.

You give a different set of reasons. If you had not made the following statements, I should not have suspected them to be true. “The defeat of the administration is the administrations own fault.” (Opinion) “It admitted its professed opponents to its counsels.” (Asserted as a fact) “It placed the Army, now a great power in this Republic, into the hands of it's enemy's.” (Asserted as a fact) “In all personal questions to be hostile to the party of the Government, seemed, to be a title to consideration.” (Asserted as a fact) “If to forget the great rule, that if you are true to your friends, your friends will be true to you, and that you make your enemies stronger by placing them upon an equality with your friends.” “Is it surprising that the opponents of the administration should have got into their hands the government of the principal states, after they have had for a long time the principal management of the war, the great business of the national government.”

I can not dispute about the matter of opinion. On the the three matters (stated as facts) I shall be glad to have your evidence upon them when I shall meet you. The plain facts, as they appear to me, are these. The administration came into power, very largely in a minority of the popular vote. Notwithstanding this, it distributed to it's party friends as nearly all the civil patronage as any administration ever did. The war came. The administration could not even start in this, without assistance outside of its party. It was mere nonsense to suppose a minority could put down a majority in rebellion. Mr. Schurz (now Gen. Schurz) was about here then & I do not recollect that he then considered all who were not republicans, were enemies of the government, and that none of them must be appointed to military positions. He will correct me if I am mistaken. It so happened that very few of our friends had a military education or were of the profession of arms. It would have been a question whether the war should be conducted on military knowledge, or on political affinity, only that our own friends (I think Mr. Schurz included) seemed to think that such a question was inadmissable. Accordingly I have scarcely appointed a democrat to a command, who was not urged by many republicans and opposed by none. It was so as to McClellan. He was first brought forward by the Republican Governor of Ohio, & claimed, and contended for at the same time by the Republican Governor of Pennsylvania. I received recommendations from the republican delegations in Congress, and I believe every one of them recommended a majority of democrats. But, after all many Republicans were appointed; and I mean no disparagement to them when I say I do not see that their superiority of success has been so marked as to throw great suspicion on the good faith of those who are not Republicans.
Yours truly,
A. Lincoln


Letters (From) General Schurz

Watertown, Wis., May 22, 1860.    As a man of honor and faithful to the wishes of my constituents, I stood by Governor Seward for the nomination. If I am able I shall do the work of a hundred men for Abraham Lincoln's election. I congratulate you upon having received at the hands of the Republican party so high an acknowledgment of your merits; I congratulate the party on so strong and unobjectionable a candidate; and the country upon the prospects of an able, high-toned and pure administration. I feel some delicacy in telling you this, for I do not belong to those worshippers of success whose hearts and minds are readily turned by the changing breezes of fortune. But I deem it my duty to establish between us that confidence which must exist between the head of the party and those who are to fight in the front ranks — and, so let me assure you, that after I have done my duty in paying a debt of honor to the old chieftain of the anti-slavery movement, there is no feeling of disappointment left in my heart, and I shall carry into this struggle all the zeal and ardor and enthusiasm of which my nature is capable. The same disinterested motives that led me and my friends to support Governor Seward in the Convention, will animate and urge us on in our work for you, and wherever my voice is heard and my influence extends you may count upon hosts of true and devoted friends.
Now let us turn to things of practical moment. I was elected a member of the National Central Committee and, as a matter of course, the “foreign department,” if it may so be called, fell to my special charge. The plan I wish to carry out is as follows: I intend to get up a complete list of all the Germans, Norwegians, Hollanders, etc., who can serve our cause in the way of public speaking and to make regular contracts with them. I would then send them in little squads into those States in which the principal work is to be done, have them stump township after township in regular succession as the exigencies of the case may demand, and as soon as they get through with their work in that particular State, have them relieved by another party and sent off into another State. In this way we can carry on the agitation in a regular and systematic way, keep the work going without interruption, and concentrate our forces where it may seem most desirable. I would, of course, go to all the principal points and do the heavy work myself. In order to carry out this system of canvassing the doubtful States efficiently, it will be necessary for me to take a survey of the whole ground first, to make my arrangements in detail with the different State central committees, to organize local committees and clubs where there are none, and to establish a complete system of correspondence. In 1856, piles of money and much work were spent for no purpose, because it was done at random and without plan and direction. The plan I propose will, in my opinion, be the cheapest and most efficient. It seems to me that much work is to be done, especially in Indiana and Pennsylvania, before the Democrats nominate a candidate. The field is all our own for four weeks, and we ought not to neglect the opportunity of committing people before they receive an impulse from the other side. This work will of course occupy all my time from now till election day, and I am now endeavoring to arrange my private affairs so as to be able to devote myself exclusively to it. I intended to start this matter in a meeting of the National Committee before we left Chicago, but people were in such a hurry that nothing could be done. You are undoubtedly now in active correspondence with the principal managers of the party and I wish you would direct their attention to it. By a canvass of this systematic kind I have no doubt we can at least double the foreign Republican vote in the Northern States and may secure Indiana, Pennsylvania and New York beyond peradventure.
In the first and second week of June I shall in all probability go down to Pennsylvania and open my campaign there. If I can get ready by that time I shall make a leading campaign speech (I hope at least it will become a leading one) on your doctrine of the “irrepressible conflict” on account of which the Democratic papers are already attacking you. If you should wish this or that topic to be brought prominently into the foreground, please let me know. I wish to consult you about several matters before I start out, but I do not know whether I shall have an opportunity to see you.
Let me again press the above plan upon your attention. Time is precious and not a day ought to be lost before the Baltimore Convention comes off. I would not have troubled you with this matter, but our friends are scattered all over the country, and you are now the natural centre towards which everything converges and from which everything radiates. I shall address a circular to the members of the National Committee as soon as I find time to write it.
We shall have ratification meetings all over this State during this and next week, and you may be sure that Wisconsin will give a good report of herself.


Headquarters 3d Div., 11th Corps,
New Baltimore, Va., Nov. 8, 1862.
Will you, after the great political defeat we have suffered, listen a moment to the words of a true friend who means to serve you faithfully, and in whose judgment you once, perhaps, reposed some confidence?
The defeat of the Administration is owing neither to your proclamations, nor to the financial policy of the Government, nor to a desire of the people to have peace at any price. I can speak openly, for you must know that I am your friend. The defeat of the Administration is the Administration's own fault.
It admitted its professed opponents to its counsels. It placed the Army, now a great power in this Republic, into the hands of its enemies. In all personal questions to be hostile to the party of the Government seemed to be a title to consideration. It forgot the great rule, that, if you are true to your friends, your friends will be true to you, and that you make your enemies stronger by placing them upon an equality with your friends. Is it surprising that the opponents of the Administration should have got into their hands the government of the principal States after they have had for so long a time the principal management of the war, the great business of the National Government?
Great sacrifices and enormous efforts had been made and they had been rewarded only by small results. The people felt the necessity of a change. Many of your friends had no longer any heart for the Administration as soon as they felt justified in believing that the Administration had no heart for them. I do not speak of personal favors but of the general conduct of the war. A change was sought in the wrong direction. This was the true cause of the defeat of your Government.
You have now made a change. This evening the news reaches us that the command of the Army of the Potomac has passed into new hands. But the change of persons means little if it does not imply a change of system. Let us be commanded by generals whose heart is in the war, and only by such. Let every general who does not show himself strong enough to command success, be deposed at once. Let every trust of power be accompanied by a corresponding responsibility, and all may be well yet.
There is but one way in which you can sustain your Administration, and that is by success; and there is but one thing which will command success, and that is energy. In whatever hands the State governments may be, — as soon as you are victorious, they will be obliged to support you; and if they were all in the hands of your friends, — if you do not give them victories, they will after a while be obliged to oppose you. Therefore let us have energy without regard to anything that may stand in your way. Let not the Government be endangered by tender considerations. If West Point cannot do the business, let West Point go down. Who cares? It is better that a thousand generals should fall than that the Republic should be jeopardized a single moment.
To-day we are still strong enough to meet the difficulties that stand against us. We do not know what we shall be to-morrow.


Headquarters 3d Div., 11th Corps,
Centreville, Nov. 20, 1862.
To the President of the United States.
Dear Sir: Your favor of the 10th inst. did not reach me until the 17th. If there was anything in my letter of the 8th that had the appearance of presumption I ask your kind indulgence. You must forgive something to the sincerity of my zeal, for there is no living being on this continent, whose wishes for the success of your Administration are more ardent than mine. The consciousness of perfect good faith gave me the boldness to utter my honest convictions without reserve. I do not know how many friends you have sincere enough to tell you things which it may not be pleasant to hear; I assure you, they are not the worst. In risking the amenities of undisturbed private relations they fulfil a duty, which many, who call themselves friends, have not the courage to understand and appreciate. In this spirit I wrote to you, with full confidence in the loftiness of your own way of thinking. If the opinions I expressed were unjust, it will be a happy hour for me when I shall be able conscientiously to acknowledge my error. But whatever I may have said it was but a mild and timid repetition of what a great many men say, whose utterances might perhaps have more weight with you than mine.
I fear you entertain too favorable a view of the causes of our defeat in the elections. It is of the highest importance, that, amidst the perplexities of your situation and the enormous responsibilities of your office, you should sift the true nature of the disaster to the very bottom. I throw myself upon your patient kindness in replying to some of your statements.
That a large proportion of Republicans have entered the Army, and that thereby the party vote was largely diminished, cannot be doubted. But you must recollect, that at the commencement of the war you were sincerely and even enthusiastically sustained by the masses of the people, and that the “Administration party” was not confined to the old Republican ranks. You had the people of the loyal States with you. This immense Administration party did not insist upon your regulating your policy strictly by the tenets of any of the old party platforms; they would have cheerfully sustained you in anything and everything that might have served to put down the rebellion. I am confident, you might have issued your emancipation manifesto, you might have dismissed your generals one after the other, long before you did it — and a large majority of the people would have firmly stood by you. All they wanted was merciless energy and speedy success. You know it yourself, there are now many prominent Democrats supporting you, who go far beyond the program of the Chicago platform.
Whatever proportion of Republicans may have entered the Army, — if the Administration had succeeded in preserving its hold upon the masses, your majorities would at any moment have put the majorities of 1860 into the shade and no insidious party contrivances could have prevailed against you. But the general confidence and enthusiasm yielded to a general disappointment, and there were but too many Republicans, who, disturbed and confused by the almost universal feeling of the necessity of a change, either voted against you or withheld their votes. I know this to be a fact.
That some of our newspapers “disparaged and vilified the Administration” may be true, although in our leading journals I have seen little else than a moderate and well-measured criticism. I know of none that had ever impeached your good faith or questioned your motives. If there were no real and great abuses, the attacks on your Administration were certainly unjustifiable. But if there were, then, I think, the misfortune was not that the abuses were criticised, but that the responsible individuals were not promptly and severely held to account. It is my opinion, and I expect I shall hold it as long as I live, that a party, in order to remain pure and efficient, must be severe against its own members; it can disarm the criticism of its opponents by justly criticising and promptly correcting itself. But however that may be, I ask you in all candor, what power would there have been in newspaper-talk, what power in the talk of demagogues based upon newspaper-talk, had the Administration been able to set up against it the evidence of great successes?
I feel that in regard to one important point I have not been quite clear in my letter of the 8th. When speaking of “your friends,” I did not mean only those who in 1860 helped to elect you; I did not think of old, and, I may say, obsolete political obligations and affinities. But I meant all those, who fully understanding and appreciating the tendency of the revolution in which we are engaged, intend to aid and sustain you honestly in the execution of the tremendous task which has fallen to your lot. Nor did I, when speaking of the duty and policy of being true to one's friends, think of the distribution of favors in the shape of profitable offices. But I did mean that in the management of the great business of this revolution only such men should be permitted to participate, who answer to this definition of “friends” and on whose sympathies you can rely as securely as upon their ability.
I am far from presuming to blame you for having placed old Democrats into high military positions. I was also aware that McClellan and several other generals had been appointed on the recommendation of Republican governors and Members of Congress. It was quite natural that you appointed them when the necessities of the situation were new and pressing and everybody was untried. But it was unfortunate that you sustained them in their power and positions with such inexhaustible longanimity after they had been found failing — failing not only in a political but also in a military sense.
Was I really wrong in saying, that the principal management of the war has been in the hands of your opponents? Or will anybody assert, that such men as McClellan and Buell and Halleck and others of that school have the least sympathy with your views and principles, or that their efficiency as military leaders has offered a compensation for their deficiency of sympathy, since the first has in eighteen months succeeded in effecting literally nothing but the consumption of our resources with the largest and best appointed army this country ever saw; — since the second by his criminal tardiness and laxity endangered even the safety of the metropolis of the Middle States, and since the appearance of the third on the battlefield of Shiloh served suddenly to arrest the operations of our victorious troops and to make shortly afterwards the great Army of the West disappear from the scene as by enchantment, so as to leave the country open to the enemy? Has it not been publicly stated in the newspapers and apparently proved as a fact, that the enemy from the commencement of the war has been continually supplied with information by some of the confidential subordinates of so important an officer as Adjutant-General Thomas? Is it surprising that the people at last should have believed in the presence of enemies at our own headquarters, and in the unwillingness of the Government to drive them out? As for me, I am far from being inclined to impeach the loyalty and good faith of any man; but the coincidence of circumstances is such, that if the case were placed before a popular jury, I would find it much easier to act on the prosecution than on the defense.
You say that our Republican generals did no better; I might reply, that between two generals of equal military inefficiency I would in this crisis give a Republican the preference. But that is not the question. I ask you most seriously — what Republican general has ever had a fair chance in this war? Did not McClellan, Buell, Halleck and their creatures and favorites claim, obtain and absorb everything? Were not other generals obliged to go begging merely for a chance to do something for their country, and were they not turned off as troublesome intruders while your Fitzjohn Porters flourished?
No, sir, let us indulge in no delusions as to the true causes of our defeat in the elections. The people, so enthusiastic at the beginning of the war, had made enormous sacrifices. Hundreds of millions were spent, thousands of lives were lost apparently for nothing. The people had sown confidence and reaped disaster and disappointment. They wanted a change, and as an unfortunate situation like ours is apt to confuse the minds of men, they sought it in the wrong direction. I entreat you, do not attribute to small incidents, the enlisting of Republican voters in the Army, the attacks of the press etc., what is a great historical event. It is best that you, you more than anybody else in this Republic, should see the fact in its true light and acknowledge its significance: the result of the elections was a most serious and severe reproof administered to the Administration. Do not refuse to listen to the voice of the people. Let it not become true, what I have heard said: that of all places in this country it is Washington where public opinion is least heard, and of all places in Washington, the White House.
The result of the elections has complicated the crisis. Energy and success, by which you would and ought to have commanded public opinion, now form the prestige of your enemies. It is a great and powerful weapon, and, unless things take a favorable turn, troubles may soon involve not only the moral power but the physical existence of the Government. Only relentless determination, heroic efforts on your part can turn the tide. You must reconquer the confidence of the people at any price.
One word in vindication of myself, the writer of this letter. I pray you most earnestly not to attribute the expressions of grief and anxiety coming from devoted men like myself to a pettish feeling of disappointment in not “seeing their peculiar views made sufficiently prominent.” When a man's whole heart is in a cause like ours, then, I think, he may be believed not to be governed by small personal pride. Besides, the spectacle of war is apt to awaken solemn and serious feelings in the heart of one who has some sympathy with his fellow-beings. I command a few thousands of brave and good fellows, entitled to life and happiness just as well as the rest of us; and when I see their familiar faces around the camp-fires and think of it, that to-morrow they may be called upon to die, — to die for a cause which for this or that reason is perhaps doomed to fail, and thus to die in vain, and when I hear the wailings of so many widows and orphans, and remember the scenes of heartrending misery and desolation I have already witnessed — and then think of a possibility that all this may be for nothing — then I must confess my heart begins sometimes to sink within me and to quail under what little responsibility I have in this business. I do not know, whether you have ever seen a battlefield. I assure you, Mr. President, it is a terrible sight. I am, dear sir,

Truly your faithful friend.