Carl Schurz was an American politician, soldier and diplomat, and a dedicated Socialist. He was born in Liblar, Germany and after attending a gymnasium, in 1847 he began pursuing a doctorate in History at the University of Bonn, with a view to ultimately teaching in a university. His studies were interrupted by the German Revolution of 1848. Like many idealistic students, 19 year old Carl became imbued with revolutionary fervor and Schurz became a leader of a student movement that promoted Social Democracy, being strongly influenced by Gottfried Kinkel. He joined the revolutionary socialists, fighting in several battles against the Prussian Army which had vowed to stamp out all political reform.
When the revolutionary army was finally crushed at Rastatt in 1849, Schurz escaped to Switzerland, aware that the Prussians intended to murder all their prisoners. He returned to Germany on a secretly to free his revolutionary mentor Kinkel from prison. The political climate in Europe after the suppression of the rebellions being hostile to all political reform, Schurz migrated to America, marrying and becoming involved in American politics, where he found like-minded folk such as himself in the new-born Republican Party.
Moving to the upper Mid-West, he reunited with a number of former “Forty-Eighters” who had settled there, many of whom were becoming involved in growing reform movements there such as Abolitionism and Women’s Suffrage. Schurz joined the Republican Party and actively campaigned for Lincoln in the election of 1860.
When the Civil War broke out, Schurz, with his previous military experience, volunteered for the Union Army and was active in motivating fellow German immigrants to also join the army. Eventually he rose to the rank of general, fighting in a number of battles. Lincoln sent him back to Europe as Ambassador and after the war Schurz served in various capacities in government and politics.
Throughout the late nineteenth century, the Republican Party remained a haven for Socialists and other Progressive thinkers, of whom Schurz was one of the most prominent. He often aroused the ire of political opponents for his attempts at political reform, his championing of Native American rights, and his opposition to Imperialism. This speech, made later in life, reflects his views on true patriotism–versus the boastful and bellicose “jingoism” that was becoming popular. Many of the sentiments expressed by Schurz in this speech are–unfortunately–as relevant today as when he spoke them.
“The True Americanism”
— Carl Schurz, “The True Americanism“, address delivered in New York City at a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York, January 2, 1896.
What is the rule of honor to be observed by a power so strongly and so advantageously situated as this Republic is?
Of course I do not expect it meekly to pocket real insults if they should be offered to it. But, surely, it should not, as our boyish jingoes wish it to do, swagger about among the nations of the world, with a chip on its shoulder, shaking its fist in everybody’s face.
Of course, it should not tamely submit to real encroachments upon its rights. But, surely, it should not, whenever its own notions of right or interest collide with the notions of others, fall into hysterics and act as if it really feared for its own security and its very independence.
As a true gentleman, conscious of his strength and his dignity, it should be slow to take offense. In its dealings with other nations it should have scrupulous regard, not only for their rights, but also for their self-respect.
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.
It is its noblest vocation, and it will be a glorious day for the United States when the good sense and the self-respect of the American people see in this their “manifest destiny.”
It all rests upon peace. Is not this peace with honor? There has, of late, been much loose speech about “Americanism.” Is not this good Americanism?
It is surely today the Americanism of those who love their country most. And I fervently hope that it will be and ever remain the Americanism of our children and our children’s children.