Carl Schurz's greatest contribution to the Union?

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Aug 25, 2012
The life of Carl Schurz reads like a novel, but let us concentrate on his service to the Union. Carl Schurz did have experience fighting in Palatinate and Baden against the Prussians, but he would probably be classified as a political general. His popularity in the German/American community had a great impact on the Union war effort. However, perhaps his greatest contribution to the Union war effort was when President Lincoln appointed him minister to Spain in 1861. As minister, Schurz as able to convince the Spanish to not support the Confedercy. So now a couple of questions.

1. Was Schurz a good, fair, or poor general? His performance at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg are often questioned. What about his performance after Gettysburg?
2. Did Schurz really keep the Spanish from supporting the Confedercy. I am not sure there was a real chance of Spain supporting the Confedercy. Any post Civil War expansion of the Confedercy probably would have included Cuba.

One could argue that Schurz was not the best battlefield general, but having him as a general did add to the Union war effort because of the influence Schurz had in the German/American community. If in fact Schurz did convince Spain not to support the Confedercy, this may have helped to keep other nations from supporting the Confedercy. But we may never know if another minister to Spain would not have accomplished the same thing. Is there supporting evidence that Spain was considering helping or supporting the Confedercy?
Sep 15, 2018
South Texas
Carl Schurz was a political pawn who's main goal in Lincoln's eyes and that was to attract the German communitys and make them supportive of Lincoln's run for the White House and his later "crusade".
The following excerpts are from a speech Schurz gave at Cooper Union in New York before a "committee of gentlemen for the purpose of originating a vigorous popular movement in favor of the abolition of slavery by Congressional or Executive action" on March 6, 1862 blaming slavery and the slave owners as the only reason the Southern states rebelled against the Union:

"This rebellion is not a mere momentary whim, and although but a few men seem to have prepared its outbreak, it is not the mere upshot of a limited conspiracy. It is a thing of long preparation; nay, more than that: it is a thing of logical development. This rebellion did not commence on the day that the secession flag was hoisted at Charleston; it commenced on the day when the slave power for the first time threatened to break up this Union. [Applause.]

"Slavery had produced an organization of society strongly in contradistinction with the principles underlying our system of government — the absolute rule of a superior class, based upon the absolute subjection of the laboring population. This institution, continually struggling against the vital ideas of our political life, and incompatible with a free expression of public opinion, found itself placed in the alternative of absolutely ruling or perishing. Hence our long struggles, so often allayed by temporary expedients, but always renewed with increased acrimony. And as soon as the slave interest perceived that it could no longer rule inside of the Union, it attempted to cut loose and to exercise its undisputed sway outside of it. This was logical; and as long as the relation of interests and necessities remains the same, its logical consequences will remain the same also. This is not a matter of doctrine or party creed, but of history. Nobody can shut his eyes against so plain and palpable a fact. How is it possible to mistake the origin of this struggle? I ask you, in all sincerity, Would the rebellion have broken out if slavery had not existed? ['No, no, no.'] Did the rebellion raise its head at any place where slavery did not exist? Did it not find sympathy and support wherever slavery did exist? ['Yes, yes, yes.'] Is anybody in arms against the Union but who desires to perpetuate slavery? What else is this rebellion but a new and logical form of the old struggle of the slave interest against the fundamental principles of our political system? Do not indulge in the delusion that you can put an end to this struggle by a mere victory in the field. By it you may quench the physical power of the slave interest, but you cannot stifle its aspirations. The slave interest was disloyal as long as it threatened the dissolution of the Union; it will be disloyal as long as it desires it. [Cheers.]"

Schurz's solution to end the rebellion was to emancipate the slaves in the District of Columbia and any areas the Federal government had immediate control of; offer "fair compensation" to the slave owners in the loyal Border states and confiscate as enemy property and then emancipate any slave in the states in rebellion:

"And if you ask me what, under ordinary circumstances, I would propose to do, I would say: Let slavery in the District of Columbia, and wherever the Government has immediate authority, be abolished. [Loud and long-continued applause.] Let the slaves of rebels be confiscated by the General Government, and then emancipated [tremendous applause], and let a fair compensation be offered to loyal Slave States and masters, who will agree upon some system of emancipation. [Cheering.] Let this, or some other measure to the same effect, be carried out in some manner compatible with our fundamental laws, I do not care which, provided always the measure be thorough-going enough to render a reaction, a re-establishment of the slave power impossible [cheering]; for as long as this is possible, as long as the hopes and aspirations of the Southern people can cling to such a chance, you will not have succeeded in cutting them loose from the old vicious circle of ideas; their loyalty will be subject to the change of circumstances, and such loyalty is worth nothing. [Cheers.]

"I am at once met by a vast array of objections. 'It would be unconstitutional!' say some scrupulous patriots. Is it not a little surprising, that the Constitution should be quoted most frequently and persistently in favor of those who threw that very Constitution overboard? [Cheers.] Unconstitutional! Let us examine the consistency of those who on this point are so sensitive. Have you not, in the course of this rebellion, suspended in many cases the writ of habeas corpus? Have you not suppressed newspapers, and thus violated the liberty of the press? Have you not deprived citizens of their liberty without due process of law? Have you not here and there superseded the regular courts of justice by military authority? And was all this done in strict conformity with the sacred safeguards which the Constitution throws around the rights and liberties of the citizen? But you tell me that all this was commanded by urgent necessity. Indeed! Is the necessity of restoring the true life-element of the Union less urgent than the necessity of imprisoning a traitor or stopping a secession newspaper? [Applause.] Will necessity which justifies a violation of the dearest guarantees of our own rights and liberties, will it not justify the overthrow of the most odious institution of this age? [Cheers.] What? Is the Constitution such as to countenance in an extreme case a most dangerous imitation of the practices of despotic governments, but not to countenance, even in the extremest case, the necessity of a great reform, which the enlightened spirit of our century has demanded so long, and not ceased to demand? [Cheers.] Is it, indeed, your opinion that in difficult circumstances like ours neither the writ of habeas corpus, nor the liberty of the press, nor the authority of the regular courts of justice, in one word, no right shall be held sacred and inviolable under the Constitution but that most monstrous and abominable right which permits one man to hold another as property? [Great cheering.] Is, to your Constitutional conscience, our whole magna charta of liberties nothing, and slavery all? [Loud applause.] Slavery all, even while endeavoring by the most damnable rebellion to subvert this very Constitution?

"But do not misunderstand me. I am far from underestimating the importance of Constitutional forms. Where Constitutional forms are not strictly observed, Constitutional guarantees will soon become valueless. But, where is the danger in this case? Nobody denies the constitutionality of the power of the Government to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia; nobody will deny the constitutionality of an offer of compensation to loyal slave-owners. Or would the confiscation of rebel property be unconstitutional? The Constitution defines clearly what treason consists in; and then it gives Congress the power to pass laws for the punishment of treason. If Congress can decree the penalty of death, or imprisonment, or banishment, why not the confiscation of property? And if Congress can make lands, and houses, and horses, and wagons liable to confiscation, why not slaves? And when those slaves are confiscated by the Government, cannot Congress declare them emancipated, or rather will they not be emancipated by that very act? Is there any thing in the Constitution to hinder it? And if this can be done, why should it not?

"Do you prefer the death penalty? Will you present to the world the spectacle of a great nation thirsting for the blood of a number of miserable individuals? Do you say that you want to make an example? If you stop the source of treason, no warning example to frighten traitors will be needed. [Loud cheers.] Or do you prefer imprisonment? The imprisonment of the leaders may very well go along with confiscation, and as to the imprisonment of the masses, nobody will think of it. Or do you prefer banishment? ['Yes.'] How would it please you to see Europe overrun with 'exiles from America,' blackening your character and defiling your Government at every street-corner, and incessantly engaged in plotting against their country? And what effect would these modes of punishment have upon the Southern people? Either you are severe in applying them, and then you will excite violent resentments, or you are not severe, and then your penalties will frighten nobody, and fail of the object of serving as a warning example. In neither case will you make friends. It has frequently been said that the punishment of crime ought not to be a mere revenge taken by society, but that its principal object ought to be the reformation and improvement of the criminal. [Cheers.] This is a humane idea, worthy of this enlightened century. It ought to be carried out wherever practicable. But how much greater and more commendable would it be if applied to a people instead of an individual! As for me, it will be to me supremely indifferent whether any one of the rebels meets a punishment adequate to his crime, provided the great source of disloyalty be punished in itself. [Cheers.] The best revenge for the past is that which furnishes us the best assurance for the future. [Applause.]"

Excerpts from:
Speeches of Carl Schurz/09 Reconciliation by Emancipation

edited to correct spelling of "Cooper"