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Register of the Papers of



4.5 ft.

MSS 79


Ernest K. Giese


Monique Bourque

July 1990


Carl Schurz was born in Liblar, a village some distance from Cologne, Prussia in 1829.  His mother Marianne Schurz (nee Jussen) was the daughter of a tenant farmer on the lands of Gracht Castle.  His father was a schoolmaster.  Schurz had two sisters, Anna and Antoinette.  Shortly after Schurz started school his father gave up his poorly-paid teaching position and opened a hardware store.  He hoped to earn enough to send his son to secondary school and university for a classical education.  Schurz attended secondary school in Cologne, but family financial troubles forced him to return home and help support the family.  He was, however, eventually able to matriculate at the University of Bonn, where he studied history and philology.  Here Schurz joined the Franconia Fraternity, and became involved with a group of democratic students who advocated sweeping reforms of government and universities.  Here also he studied rhetoric with Professor Gottfried Kinkel, who became his friend and mentor.  Schurz worked under Kinkel on the editorial staff of the democratic student club's daily newspaper, the Bonner Zeituna.

Schurz first distinguished himself as an intellectual and radical as a participant in a 1848-1849 revolt aimed at deposing Frederick William IV of Prussia.  When the uprising was crushed, Schurz was imprisoned in the fortress of Rastatt.  He managed a daring escape through a storm sewer and fled to Switzerland.  From there he organized and carried out the rescue of Professor Kinkel, who had been confined in Berlin's Spandau Prison for his part in the revolt.

After the rescue of Kinkel, Schurz stayed in Paris briefly, then moved to London and settled near the Kinkels.  Here he met Margarethe Meyer, the sister of the wife of a fellow exile, and they were married in July 1852.  Not wanting to remain in political exile in Europe, they sailed for New York the following month, arriving in September 1852.  After a brief stay in New York, they settled in Philadelphia.  Here Schurz studied English intensively.

Schurz visited Washington, D.C. in 1854 and met with several senators and President Franklin Pierce.  They advised him of political opportunities in the Midwest, and Schurz and his wife accordingly moved to Watertown, Wisconsin in 1854.  By 1856, Schurz's parents and two sisters had also come to Watertown.  The Schurzes had a total of five children: Agathe, Marianne, Emma, Carl Lincoln, and Herbert.  Margarethe, periodically weak in health, died in 1876 of complications resulting from Herbert's birth.  Emma died at age three, and Herbert died in 1900, not long after his graduation from Cornell University.

Schurz was active in the Republican party, and began speaking publicly to groups of German-Americans during rallies in the 1856 Wisconsin state elections.  In 1858 he met Lincoln, whom he greatly admired.  In 1859, he was admitted to the Wisconsin bar and began practice as a lawyer; he continued his practice largely in order to support his political activities.  In 1860, he was appointed a member of the Board of Regents of the state university at Madison, and at the Republican State Convention was named as one of the delegates to the Republican National Convention in May 1860.  Here he was a member of the Committee on Resolutions, and commented on Lincoln's nomination for the presidency.  During Lincoln's campaign, Schurz traveled extensively, speaking to meetings of German American voters on the values of the Republican party and specifically on Lincoln's behalf.

With Lincoln's victory Schurz was appointed ambassador to Spain.  In 1862 he resigned the position to enter the Union army.  He served as a major-general until 1864, when he resigned in order to travel as an orator in Lincoln's re-election campaign.

After the war Schurz became a journalist.  He served as the main correspondent for the Washington Bureau of the New York Tribune during the winter of 1865.  He then took a position as editor-in-chief at the Detroit Post, where he remained until 1867.  Then he moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to work with the Westliche Post, a German daily newspaper.  In the meantime, Schurz continued active in Republican political affairs.  He campaigned for Grant, and in 1868 he became the first German American elected to the Senate, serving as Senator from Missouri between 1869 and 1875.  Schurz quickly became disillusioned with Grant's administration.  By 1870 he was publicly criticizing the administration, and in the 1872 election he led a reform-minded third party force of Liberal Republicans in opposition to Grant.

Under the Hayes administration, he was appointed Secretary of the Interior in 1877.  As Secretary he adopted progressive policies, implementing legislation aimed at protecting forests, advocating better treatment for American Indians and African Americans, and implementing a merit system in the civil service.  He retired from the Department of the Interior in 1881.  Later he settled in New York, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Schurz left public service after the Hayes administration, but continued to attack the "spoils system" in the United States government.  He also led the New York Civil Service Reform League.  He served as editor of the Evening Post from 1881-1885, and as an editorial writer for Harper's Weekly.  He remained politically active as a recognized leader in the German American community.

Schurz's last public struggle was against United States imperialism, centering around the Spanish American War.  He denounced the war and United States acquisition of the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico as a battle of conquest which violated the intent and principles of the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Schurz died in May 1906 after a brief illness.


The Carl Schurz papers in the collections of the Balch Institute were accumulated by the National Carl Schurz Association.  These papers were separated as a collection from the records of the NCSA, which were acquired in 1989 through the Association's former Director, Mrs. Alice Finckh.


The main body of the Carl Schurz Papers are in the Library of Congress; the Balch Institute Library possesses a microfilm copy of these papers.  This smaller collection of papers of and relating to Carl Schurz was accumulated gradually by the National Carl Schurz Association, and is of interest as an adjunct to the primary collection of Schurz papers.

The correspondence in this collection is largely concerned with the observance of Schurz's seventieth birthday, but illustrates the breadth of Schurz's activities in the German American community in regard to both cultural matters and politics.  While they provide little illumination of Schurz's family life, the letters between Schurz and Gottfried Kinkel and the notebook of school essays might be of value in examining Schurz's academic experiences and the development of his thought as a radical.

Much of the factual material in the biographical and historical papers and in the reminiscences and writings may be found elsewhere.  These articles are nonetheless of interest to the examination of Schurz's image in the press and in the German-American community.

For materials of related interest, see the records of the National Carl Schurz Association (MSS 82), the Balch Institute Library's microfilm of the Carl Schurz Papers which are held by the Library of Congress, an 1884 letter from Schurz to A.H. Markland (SC 20), and an 1860 letter concerning Schurz written by Otto Albrecht (SC 176).  In addition to Schurz's reminiscences and several biographies of Schurz, the library contains volumes of published speeches from Schurz's 70th birthday celebration, and addresses delivered in his honor at Carnegie Hall in 1906.  The American-German Review, published by the National Carl Schurz Association, contains a number of essays on Schurz's life, including a June, 1952 special issue devoted entirely to Schurz.


The Carl Schurz Papers are divided into three series: I. Correspondence and Personal Papers; II. Biographical and Historical Materials; III. Reminiscences and Writings.

SERIES I: Correspondence and Personal Papers, 1804-1908, (2 ft.).  This series is arranged alphabetically by correspondent, then chronologically.

This series consists of letters between Schurz and various friends, colleagues, and political luminaries.  Included are letters from Schurz's mentor Gottfried Kinkel to Schurz's father, and from Schurz's daughter after Carl Schurz's death, and correspondence between Carl Schurz and Kinkel.  About half of the series is composed of letters to Schurz on the occasion of his seventieth birthday in 1899.  Also included are a school notebook dated 1843-44, containing exercises by Schurz and commentary by an unknown professor, and books of congratulatory telegrams, signatures, and personal messages in honor of Schurz's seventieth birthday.

SERIES II: BIOGRAPHICAL AND HISTORICAL MATERIALS, 1906-1966, (2 ft.). This series is arranged primarily alphabetically by author, with miscellaneous items placed at end of series.

The bulk of this series consists of biographical material and pieces about Schurz and his political and social activities. Specific topics include Schurz's political activities in Watertown, Wisconsin, his Indian policy as Secretary of the Interior, his attitudes toward conservation, and Carl Schurz and German unity.  Some of the articles were taken from newspapers; many are in German.  Also of interest are a 1954 screenplay for a television program, "The Carl Schurz Story," and several addresses on Schurz, one of which was by Booker T. Washington.  Also included in the series are several articles on members of Schurz's family.  Oversize materials have been placed at the end of Series III.

SERIES III: REMINISCENCES AND WRITINGS, 1848-1915, (.5 ft.).  This series is arranged chronologically.

This series consists of reminiscences by Schurz and by his sister, Antonie Schurz Jussen, and writings and transcripts of speeches by Schurz.  Also included are annual reports from his tenure as Secretary of the Interior.

The reminiscences by Schurz present here seem to have appeared in his published memoirs.  Subjects include his childhood and emigration to the United States, the Civil War, and an encounter with a spiritualist during which the spirit of Lincoln prophesied that Schurz would become a senator.  The speeches address such topics as currency, Stephen Douglas and National Sovereignty, Congress and the "spoils system," and American imperialism.  Also included is a manuscript from a 1905 interview with Schurz, his last contribution to the Evening Post.

Photographs have been removed to Photo Group 284.

The box list of the Register of the Papers of Carl Schurz is ten pages long.