Carl Schurz

  • Sculptor: Karl Bitter
  • Exedra: Henry Bacon
  • Dedicated: 1913
  • Medium and size: Overall about 50 feet wide. Bronze figure (9 feet) on a pedestal, with granite reliefs below the figure (4 x 3 feet) and at the ends of the exedra (each 4 x 9 feet)
  • Location: Upper Morningside Drive at 116th Street
  • Subway: 1 to 116th Street - Columbia University

Schurz whole

Schurz figure

What Is Imperialism?

Schurz's speech "The Policy of Imperialism," delivered in 1899, was a brilliant 13,000-word exposition that started with a definition of "imperialism" as "the policy of annexing to this republic distant countries and alien populations that will not fit into our democratic system of government" - territories that would be ruled indefinitely as subject provinces, rather than admitted as equals into the United States. After giving the background of the conflict in the Philippines, he refuted arguments for having Americans fight there and offered specific suggestions about what the United States ought to do. His analysis delved into such issues as executive vs. congressional authorization for war, the deleterious effect of precedent, and the commercial and military implications of a liberated Philippines. The most thought-provoking and memorable line, and the one still relevant today, came at the very end of the speech: "Our country - when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right." Here’s some of the earlier speech.

The American people ... should be specially careful not to permit themselves to be influenced in their decision by high-sounding phrases of indefinite meaning, by vague generalities, or by seductive catchwords appealing to unreasoning pride and reckless ambition. More than ever true patriotism now demands the exercise of the soberest possible discernment.

I am far from denying that this republic, as one of the great powers of the world, has its responsibilities. But what is it responsible for? Is it to be held, or to hold itself, responsible for the correction of all wrongs done by strong nations to weak ones, or by powerful oppressors to helpless populations? Is it, in other words, responsible for the general dispensation of righteousness throughout the world? Neither do I deny that this republic has a “mission”; and I am willing to accept, what we are frequently told, that this mission consists in “furthering the progress of civilization.” But does this mean that wherever obstacles to the progress of civilization appear, this republic should at once step in to remove those obstacles by means of force, if friendly persuasion do not avail? Every sober-minded person will admit that under so tremendous a task any earthly power, however great, would soon break down. – Carl Schurz, “The Policy of Imperialism,” 1899 

Further reading

  • Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan discusses the details of the Schurz ensemble and the context of American expansionism ca. 1900.
  • Guides Who Know Monuments of Manhattan app has an episode on Schurz, with illustrations; the web page related to it is here.
  • A favorite Schurz quote: "From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor's rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own."

Copyright (c) 2013 Dianne L. Durante