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Carl Schurz (March 2, 1829 – May 14, 1906) was a Germanmarker revolutionary, Americanmarker statesman and reformer, and Union Army General in the American Civil War. He was also an accomplished journalist, newspaper editor and noted orator, who in 1869 became the first German-born American elected to the United States Senate.

His wife, Margarethe Schurz, and her sister, Berthe von Ronge, were instrumental in establishing the kindergarten system in the United States. During his later years, Schurz was perhaps the most prominent independent in American politics, noted for his high principles, his avoidance of political partisanship, and his moral conscience.

He is famous for saying: "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." Many streets, schools, and parks are named in honor of him, including New York Citymarker's Carl Schurz Parkmarker.

Early life

Schurz was born in Liblar (now part of Erftstadtmarker), Germanymarker on March 2, 1829, the son of a schoolteacher. He studied at the Jesuit Gymnasiummarker of Cologne, and also studied the piano under private instructors. Financial problems in his family obligated him to leave school a year early, without graduating, so he could help sort out his family's tangled financial affairs. Later he graduated from the gymnasium by passing a special examination and entered the University of Bonnmarker.

At Bonn, a friendship developed with one of his professors, Gottfried Kinkel, that was to much influence his life for the next few years. He joined the nationalistic Studentenverbindung Burschenschaft Franconia at Bonn, which at the time included Friedrich von Spielhagen, Johannes Overbeck, Julius Schmidt, Carl Otto Weber, Ludwig Meyer and Adolf Strodtmann among its members. In response to the early events of the revolutions of 1848, Schurz and Kinkel started the Bonner Zeitung, a paper advocating democratic reforms. At first Kinkel was the editor and Schurz a regular contributor. These roles were reversed when Kinkel left for Berlin to become a member of the Prussian Constitutional Convention. When the Frankfurt rump parliament called for people to take up arms in defense of the new German constitution, Schurz, Kinkel, and others from the University of Bonn community did so. During this struggle, Schurz became acquainted with Franz Sigel, Alexander Schimmelfennig, Fritz Anneke, Friedrich Beust, Ludwig Blenker and others, many of whom he would meet again in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War.

The revolution in Germany ultimately failed. When the fortress at Rastattmarker, the last holdout, surrendered with Schurz inside, Schurz escaped to Zürichmarker. In 1850, he returned secretly to Prussia, rescued Kinkel from prison at Spandaumarker and helped him to escape to Edinburgh, Scotlandmarker. Schurz then went to Parismarker, but the police forced him to leave France on the eve of the coup d'état of 1851, and he moved to Londonmarker. Remaining there until August 1852, he made his living by teaching the German language. He married fellow revolutionary Johannes von Ronge's sister-in-law, Margarethe Meyer, in July 1852 and then moved to America. Living initially in Philadelphiamarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, the Schurzes moved to Watertown, Wisconsinmarker, where Carl nurtured his interests in politics and Margarethe began her seminal work in early childhood education. Schurz is probably the best known of the Forty-Eighters, the German emigrants who came to the United States after the failed liberal revolutions.

Politics in the United States

In 1855, Schurz settled in Watertown, Wisconsinmarker, where he immediately became immersed in the anti-slavery movement and in politics, joining the Republican Party of Wisconsinmarker. In 1857, he was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for lieutenant-governor. In the Illinoismarker campaign of the next year between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, he took part as a speaker on behalf of Lincoln—mostly in German—which raised Lincoln's popularity among German-American voters. Later, in 1858, he was admitted to the Wisconsin bar and began to practice law in Milwaukeemarker. In the state campaign of 1859, he made a speech attacking the Fugitive Slave Law and arguing for state's rights. Outside of the state, in Faneuil Hallmarker, Bostonmarker, on April 18, 1859, he delivered 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 1860 Republican National Convention, Schurz was spokesman of the delegation from Wisconsin, which voted for William H. Seward; despite this, Schurz was on the committee which brought Lincoln the news of his nomination.

Civil War

In spite of Seward's objection, grounded on Schurz's European record as a revolutionary, Lincoln sent him in 1861 as ambassador to Spain. He succeeded in quietly dissuading Spain from supporting the South. Persuading Lincoln to grant him a commission in the Union army, Schurz was commissioned brigadier general of Union volunteers in April, and in June took command of a division, first under John C. Frémont, and then in Franz Sigel's corps, with which he took part in the Second Battle of Bull Runmarker. He was promoted major general of volunteers on March 14 and was a division commander in the XI Corps at the Battle of Chancellorsvillemarker, under General Oliver O. Howard, with whom he later had a bitter controversy over the strategy employed at that battle, resulting in their defeat by Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. He was at Gettysburgmarker (a victory for the Union) commanding the Third Division of Howard's XI Corps, and at Chattanoogamarker (also a victory for the Unionmarker side). Later, he was put in command of a Corps of Instruction at Nashvillemarker. He briefly returned to active service, where in the last months of the war when he was with Sherman's army in North Carolinamarker as chief of staff of Henry Slocum's Army of Georgia. He resigned from the army when the war ended.

Postbellum politics

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 Mississippimarker. 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, Schurz moved to Detroit, where he was chief editor of the Detroit Post. The following year, he moved to St. Louis, becoming editor and joint proprietor with Emil Praetorius of the Westliche Post (Western Post), where he hired Joseph Pulitzer as a cub reporter. 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" (of war debts) and for "honest money" (the gold standard) during the Presidential campaign of 1868.

In 1869, he was elected to the United States Senate from Missourimarker, becoming the first German American in that body. He earned a reputation for his speeches, which advocated fiscal responsibility, anti-imperialism, and integrity in government. During this period, he broke with the Grant administration, starting the Liberal Republican movement in Missouri, which in 1870 elected B. Gratz Brown governor. Schurz opposed Grant's bid to annex Santo Domingomarker — 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.

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, and the convention did not represent Schurz's views on the tariff. Schurz campaigned for Greeley anyway. Especially in this campaign, and throughout his career as a Senator and afterwards, he was a target for the pen of Harper's Weekly artist Thomas Nast, usually in an unfavorable way. The election was a debacle for the Greeley supporters: Grant won by a landslide, and Greeley died.

In 1875, he campaigned for Rutherford B. Hayes, as the representative of sound money, in the Ohiomarker governor's campaign.

Interior Secretary

Carl Schurz and James Blaine in a Puck political cartoon of c.
1878 by J.
In 1876, he supported Hayes for President, and Hayes named him Secretary of the Interior, following 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. His efforts to remove political patronage met with limited success. As an early conservationist, he prosecuted land thieves and attracted public attention to the necessity of forest preservation.

During Schurz's tenure as Secretary of the Interior, there was a movement, strongly supported by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, to transfer the Office of Indian Affairs to the War Department. Restoration of the Indian Office to the War Department, which was anxious to regain control in order to continue its "pacification" program, was opposed by Schurz, and ultimately the Indian Office remained in the Interior Department. The Indian Office had been the most corrupt of the Interior Department. Positions there were based on political patronage and seen as granting license to use the reservations for personal enrichment. Schurz realized that the service would have to be cleansed of corruption before anything positive could be accomplished, so he instituted a wide-scale inspection of the service, dismissed several officials, and began civil service reforms, where positions and promotions were based on merit, not political patronage.

Schurz's leadership of the Indian Affairs Office was not uncontroversial. His role in the abrogation of treaties made with various native American Indian tribes is chronicled in Dee Brown's work, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. While certainly not an architect of the campaign to push Native Americans off their lands and into tribal reservations, Schurz continued the previous practice of the Bureau of Indian Affairs of resettling tribes on reservations. In response to several nineteenth century reformers, however, Schurz later rescinded his approval of the policy of removing Indians from their homelands, promoting assimilationist policies that were in favor among reformers at the time.

New York City

Upon leaving the Interior Department in 1881, Schurz moved to New York Citymarker. In the summer of 1881, he joined the New York Evening Post as editor-in-chief and one of the proprietors. He left the Post in the autumn of 1883 because of differences over editorial policies regarding corporations and their employees. 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 also succeeded Curtis as editorial writer for Harper's Weekly in 1892 and held this position until 1898. In 1895 he spoke for the Fusion anti-Tammany Hall 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 the 1904 election he supported Alton B. Parker, the Democratic candidate. Carl Schurz lived in a summer cottage in Northwest Bay on Lake George, New York which was built by his good friend Abraham Jacobi. Schurz died in New York City and is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemeterymarker, Sleepy Hollow, New Yorkmarker.


Throughout his life, Schurz never hesitated to deliver his opinion, and was known by politicians as elevated as Presidents Lincoln and Johnson for his frequent, vitriolic letters. Because of his strongly worded speeches and editorials and his deeply held convictions, he was a hero to his supporters, but widely disliked by his critics.

Immigrant connections

He had a strong connection to the immigrant community. He told a group of German immigrants at the Chicago World's Fairmarker in 1893 how he expected them to fit into American society:

I have said: who does not honor the old fatherland is not worthy of the new, but I say also he is not worthy of the old fatherland who is not one of the most faithful citizens of the new. Noblesse oblige. To be a German now means more than it meant before he belonged to one united nation. He who calls himself a German now must never forget his honorable obligation to his name; he must honor Germany in himself. The German-American can accomplish great things for the development of the great composite nation of the new world, if in his works and deeds he combines and welds the best that is in the German character with the best that is in the American. — Carl Schurz,


Schurz published a number of writings, including a volume of speeches (1865), a two-volume biography of Henry Clay (1887), essays on Abraham Lincoln (1899) and Charles Sumner (posthumous, 1951), and his Reminiscences (posthumous, 1907–09). His later years were spent writing the memoirs recorded in his Reminiscences which he was not able to finish — he only reached the beginnings of his U.S. Senate career.

Schurz on "The True Americanism"

Schurz on Patriotism

Schurz expanded on this theme in a speech delivered at the Anti-Imperialistic Conference in Chicago, Illinois, October 17, 1899:

In memoriam

Carl Schurz statue in New York City
Schurz is memorialized in numerous places around the United States:

Several memorials in Germanymarker also commemorate the life and work of Schurz:

The United States Army base in Bremerhavenmarker, Germany was also named for Schurz - Karl Schurz Kaserne. The base served as a logistical hub for U.S. forces in Germany. The base was returned to the German government in 1996, following the end of the Cold War.

See also


  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Yockelson, Mitchell, "Hirschhorn", Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, Heidler, David S., and Heidler, Jeanne T., eds., W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, ISBN 0-393-04758-X.


  1. Wisconsin Historical Society: Schurz, Carl 1829 - 1906
  2. Schurz, Margarethe [Meyer] (Mrs. Carl Schurz) 1833 - 1876
  3. "Nation's Orators Glorify Schurz; Carnegie Hall Memorial a People's Tribute. Country Needs Such Men; Chairman Choate Rebukes New York Senators -- Cleveland, Eliot and Others Speak," New York Times. November 22, 1906. These tributes are available in Wikisource at Addresses in Memory of Carl Schurz.
  4. Schurz, Carl, remarks in the Senate, February 29, 1872, The Congressional Globe, vol. 45, p. 1287. See Wikisource for the complete speech.
  5. Schurz, Carl. Reminiscences, Vol. 1, pp. 93-94.
  6. Schurz, Reminiscences, Vol. 1, Chap. 6, pp. 159.
  7. Hirschhorn, p. 1713.
  8. This story, and the conflict between Nast and Harper's editorial writer George William Curtis, is related by Albert Bigelow Paine in Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures, 1904.
  10. Trefousse, Hans L., Carl Schurz: A Biography, (U. of Tenn. Press, 1982)
  11. Hoxie, Frederick E. A Final Promise: The Campaign to Assimilate the Indians, 1880-1920, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1981.
  12. "Annual Report of the Secretary of the Interior, November 1, 1880," In Prucha, Francis Paul, ed., Documents of United States Indian Policy, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000. See Google Books.
  13. No Longer an Editor; Carl Schurz Severs his Connection with the 'Evening Post'.” The New York Times, December 11, 1883
  14. Sturm und Drang Over a Memorial to Heinrich Heine. The New York Times, May 27, 2007.
  15. Wikisource has the text of two noted letters to Lincoln, and Lincoln's replies. See Letter from Carl Schurz to Abraham Lincoln, November 8, 1862.

Further reading

  • Schurz, Carl, The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz (three volumes), New York: McClure Publ. Co., 1907-08. Schurz covered the years 1829-1870 in his Reminiscences. He died in the midst of writing them. The third volume is rounded out with A Sketch of Carl Schurz's Political Career 1869-1906 by Frederic Bancroft and William A. Dunning. Portions of these Reminiscences were serialized in McClure's Magazine about the time the books were published and included illustrations not found in the books.
  • Bancroft, Frederic, ed., Speeches, Correspondence, and Political Papers of Carl Schurz (six volumes), New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1913.
  • Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, 1971
  • Fuess, Claude M., Carl Schurz, Reformer, (NY, Dodd Mead, 1932)
  • Schurz, Carl, Intimate Letters of Carl Schurz 1841-1869, Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1928.
  • Trefousse, Hans L., Carl Schurz: A Biography, (U. of Tenn. Press, 1982)
  • Twain, Mark, " Carl Schurz, Pilot," Harper’s Weekly, May 26, 1906.

External links

 Retrieved on 2008-08-12

Sister projects

Harper's Weekly Gallery

Image:Schurz Conspirators.jpg|Schurz and other anti-Grant "conspirators" — March 16, 1872Image:Schurz French Arms.png|French Arms investigation — May 11, 1872Image:Schurz Victims.jpg|Schurz and his victims — September 7, 1872Image:Schurz Senate Exit.jpg|Schurz leaves the U.S. Senate — March 20, 1875Image:Schurz Corruption.jpg|Schurz reforms the Indian Bureau — January 26, 1878Image:Schurz Have Patience With Indians.jpg|Schurz counsels a wounded settler — December 28, 1878Image:Schurz and Kaiser Wilhelm II.jpg|Schurz and Wilhelm II — July 14, 1900Image:Schurz Worships Aguinaldo.png|Schurz and Emilio Aguinaldo — August 9, 1902

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