The Relationship between Carl Schurz and Abraham Lincoln

Seminar Paper, 2003

19 Pages, Grade: 1




I. Short Biography
1. Abraham Lincoln
2. Carl Schurz

II. Schurz and Lincoln - an interesting Relationship
1. Schurz’ first Contact with Lincoln
2. Lincoln’s first Presidential Election Campaign
2.1 Similarities and Differences between Lincoln and Schurz
3. The Time after the Election: Lincoln in Office
4. The Civil War
5. Lincoln’s Death

III. Bibliography


We are fortunate to have a lot of information about Schurz’s life and political career in the United States from his own pen - on the one side his Lebenserinnerungen (Reminiscences) and on the other side different letters he has written to his wife or his former fellow student Theodor Petrasch. But we also have to be careful with using these sources of information because one has to keep some aspects in mind. First, although Schurz claims that he has written down his Reminiscences only on request of his children and therefore only for them and his closer family and friends, he might still have had in the back of his mind that it would be published for a much larger audience as it was originally supposed to be.1 Second, the same thought applies to the letters he has written to different people. He might already have know that he would turn so famous that his letters will be published and so he might have written down exactly the thoughts and stories the reader nowadays should read and remember. He might have reproduced only the world view the reader should get. I do not want to state that this compellingly is the fact, but one has to keep these assumptions in the back of his mind when relating to Schurz’s letters and Reminiscences.

It is also important to know that all of the letters Schurz had received and written to his wife during his military service were lost in a fire. So we do not have as much information about that time as we do have about the time before and after that.2

In the following pages I want to take a closer look on the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Carl Schurz. Both men influenced each other in a way that is not negligible. It was a complex relationship in which both men respected each other with similar aims and the same ability to persuade and inspire an audience. They also had their differences and especially these differences are interesting and let us gain an insight into the way the two friends coped with each other.

After the most important facts about the lives of Lincoln and Schurz I will take a closer look at the first meeting of the two, the Presidential Election Campaign in which Schurz was extremely involved, the time after the election with Lincoln in office and the development of his friendship with Schurz, the Civil War in which Schurz took over a command and acted as correspondent from the front to Lincoln, and last Lincoln’s assassination and its impact on Schurz and the American people.

I. Short Biography

1. Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was born near Hodgenville, Kentucky in 1809. Raised in a poor family he left his family at the time of his majority. After taking over different occasional jobs and living from hand to mouth he began to work in the post service of New Salem. He turned to the field of law and jurisdiction in the year 1836 and developed into a successful lawyer in Springfield, Illinois. Because of his conscientious and outstanding work as a lawyer people started calling him ‘Good Abe Lincoln’ . Between 1834 and 1841 he was appointed a member of parliament in Illinois and was re-elected three times in this period. 3 1846 he was elected into Congress and held his office there until 1849. When he was offered the position as governor from Oregon he refused. With the beginning of the year 1856 he worked his way up to a leading position in the Republican Party. He was famous for his skilful rhetoric and also a brilliant tactician. 1858 he ran for a seat in the senate against the Democrat Stephen A. Douglas but lost the election. Two years later he was nominated presidential candidate for the Republican Party and turned out to be the sixteenth president of the United States from 1861 until 1865. The consequence of his election was the outbreak of the war of secession. The abolition of slavery was his highest aim during the Civil War although he acted with restraint and looked upon it as war measure. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation from 1863, which freed all slaves in the separated Southern states, is considered to be one of the most important documents of the constitution of the United States of America. His Reconciliation and Reconstruction Policy after the war and the plan to re- integrate the defeated Southern states as soon as possible met with the criticism of many radicals. But they could not prevent his re-election in 1864. Shortly after the beginning of his second term of office he got assassinated in April 1865 by the fanatic J.W. Booth in Washington in the year 1865. His assassination encouraged the legend of Lincoln as personification of all political virtues of the American people.4

2. Carl Schurz

Carl Schurz was born in Liblar, Germany in 1829. While studying at the University of Bonn he took part in the revolution in 1848. He became the closest collaborator of Professor Gottfried Kinkel, local leader of a radical fraction, whom he later helped to set free from Prussian imprisonment. After the breakdown of the revolution in Germany he immigrated to America and settled, together with his wife, in Watertown, Wisconsin. Soon he established himself as a spokesman for the German-Americans and later dedicated himself to the Republican Party. Because of Schurz’s efforts to influence his compatriots and his strong antislavery convictions most of the German- Americans turned away from the Democratic Party and strengthened now the Republican Party. In 1857 he was rewarded for his commitment with a nomination for lieutenant governor. He lost but in 1860 he was appointed chairman of the Wisconsin delegation to the national convention in Chicago. Schurz was one of Lincoln’s loyalist followers and took a great effort in the presidential election campaign. After Lincoln’s election in 1860 his accomplishments were recognized by Lincoln by appointing him ambassador to Spain. Schurz left Spain in 1861 to serve as division commander in the Civil War. He was present at different theatres of war such as Chattanooga, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. There, he established a mixed record but he was greatly respected by his countrymen and other fellow soldiers.

After Lincoln’s Death he took a trip to the South on behalf of the new president Andrew Johnson in order to write a report. Since he did not agree with Johnson’s Reconstruction policies he soon broke up with him and after the report of his journey was printed by Congress, criticism of Johnson’s policies were revealed there, too. At that time, Schurz started working as a journalist first in Washington and Detroit, and later in St. Louis, where he became part owner and editor of the Westliche Post, a German newspaper. In 1869 he reached the top of his political career by becoming United States Senator and in 1876 was rewarded for his support of Rutherford B. Hayes, who was nominated for the presidency, with a seat in the cabinet as Secretary of Interior.

He never retired completely from his political career and spent the rest of life in New York with his journalistic work and involvement in political reform movements. He died in 1906.5

II. Schurz and Lincoln - an interesting Relationship

1. Schurz’ first Contact with Lincoln

It was already a great time before Schurz met Lincoln that he had made himself a name with his political speeches. So, when he met Lincoln for the first time, he already was a man of influence. But this did not mean that he was not very impressed when he got to know Lincoln personally on the occasion of a debate between Douglas and Lincoln.6

Lincoln was the only Republican candidate from Illinois running against Douglas for the office as senator.7

The first meeting of the two took place in a train on the evening before the debate. Schurz was travelling to Quincy, the place where the debate was going to take place. After some time he became aware of a large crowed, that pushed around a big man who had just entered the train - Lincoln. Schurz later states, that he had expected a man of an appearance according to his position but Lincoln was not even a bit like he had imagined. He was surprised to see how Lincoln looked like. He describes him as a man whose appearance was unpolished and grotesque: A huge man with “kind and melancholic eyes and of lean build”. He points out that Lincoln was wearing a crumpled top hat and a tailcoat, which already looked a bit shabby and had too short sleeves - a man of unassuming simplicity. Schurz was impressed of the way Lincoln greeted him because he treated him with such warmth. After they had talked to each other for a while, Schurz felt as if they had known each other for a long time and used to be very good friends. Especially Lincolns humour and his sincere laughter made an impression on Schurz.8

In his essay about Lincoln he describes the character of Lincoln as follows:

Vieles von seiner Hinterwälder-Sprache und - Lebensart hafteten ihm noch an. Obwohl er für seine späteren Bekannten der ‘Mr. Lincoln’ war, blieb er ‘Abe’ […]. In seiner Art zu denken und zu fühlen, war er ein Gentleman im höchsten Sinne geworden, aber der Fortschritt der Verfeinerung hatte seine äußere Form nur wenig geglättet.9

Although he was impressed by Lincoln’s character and behaviour he first was not really impressed by his gift of rhetoric. Schurz disliked the opening speech Lincoln held in the debate both concerning the contents and the way he spoke. But although he criticised those aspects he states that he thought the speech was logical, convincing and showed sympathy.

Lincoln’s last speech in the debate should change Schurz mind a little, though. Schurz was very impressed of the way Lincoln used humour and quickwittedness. In the years to come he reflected this moment, that in his opinion, Lincoln was on his best way to the outstanding speech at Gettysburg a couple of years later at his inauguration day.

After this first meeting between the two, it took 20 month until they met each other again at an even more memorable occasion, that is, to deliver Lincoln the official announcement of his nomination.

Although Lincoln lost this election campaign he prepared the ground for the anti-slavery party in the Presidential Election Campaign with his leadership qualities and his accurate political view.10

Later in his Reminiscences Schurz referred to the year 1858 as the period of time that was marked with great developments because it brought to the American people the personality of Abraham Lincoln.11

2. Lincoln’s first Presidential Election Campaign

Although Schurz did not support Lincoln at first, and rather supported Seward, he soon turned to Lincoln when he was nominated:


1 Carl Schurz, Lebenserinnerungen (Offenbach und Frankfurt 1952), p.8. Abbreviation: Lebenserinnerungen.

2 Schurz to Heinrich Wener, dated 10th of June, 1866, in Schurz, Carl, Lebenserinnerungen (Berlin 1912) Bd. 3 von Lebenserinnerungen Carl Schurz, 3 Bde. (1912), p. 276. Abbreviation: Letters.

3 Joachim Maas, Der unerm ü dliche Rebell: Leben, Taten und Verm ä chtnis des Carl Schurz: mit einem Anhang: Carl Schurz ü ber Abraham Lincoln (Hamburg 1949), p. 123-130. Abbreviation: Lincoln.

4 O.A., dtv-Lexikon, 4. Auflage (Mannheim und München 1999) Bd. 11 von dtv-Lexikon, 4. Auflage O.A , 20 Bde. (1999), p. 63.

5 Charlotte L. Brancaforte (ed .), The German Forty-Eighters in the United States (New York 1989), p. 179-182. Abbreviation: Forty-Eighters.

6 Lebenserinnerungen, p. 342.

7 Ibd., p. 346.

8 Lebenserinnerungen, p. 348-349.

9 Lincoln, p. 137-138.

10 Lebenserinnerungen, p. 350-352.

11 Ibd., p. 344.

Excerpt out of 19 pages


The Relationship between Carl Schurz and Abraham Lincoln
Ruhr-University of Bochum  (Englisches Seminar)
The Culture of the American Civil War
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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abraham lincoln, carl schurz, civil war, Presidential Election Campaign, The German Forty-Eighters, Lebenserinnerungen
Quote paper
Anna Zafiris (Author), 2003, The Relationship between Carl Schurz and Abraham Lincoln, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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