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Summary

Description
English: Profile black-and-white portrait of Judge Aaron Goodrich of Minnesota, a personality from the mid-19th century
Date published 1907
Source Carl Schurz, Reminiscences, Volume Two, McClure Publishing Co., 1907, facing p. 130; scanned by Bob Burkhardt
Author Unknown

On pp. 143-147 of Volume Two of his Reminiscences, Carl Schurz writes:

In the autumn of 1859 I was on duty not only in Wisconsin, where it was my special business to allay the dissatisfaction caused among my friends by the action of the State Convention which I have described, but I was also urgently asked to make some speeches in Minnesota, where the first State election was to be held in November. I obeyed the call. I remember that journey with pleasure, and may be pardoned for indulging myself in giving a picture of what political campaigning with its humors was at that period in the "Far West." The population of Minnesota was thin, the western part of the State still occupied by Sioux tribes. The twin cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which now count their population by the hundred thousands, were then still in their infancy. St. Paul, if I remember rightly, had about 12,000 inhabitants, and the name of Minneapolis did not yet exist at all. That settlement was called the Falls of St. Anthony, and had a population of about 2,000 souls. At St. Paul I was received by the Republican candidate for Governor, Mr. Alexander Ramsey, a man of moderate gifts, but blessed with one of those winning countenances which betoken sound sense, a quiet conscience, good humor, and a kind heart for all men. I was to meet him again at a later period in the Senate of the United States and in the cabinet of President Hayes.

I found myself put down in the plan of campaign for one or two speeches a day, with an itinerary spreading over a large part of the State. I was to travel for several days in the company of a gentleman who introduced himself to me as "Judge Goodrich." There being at that time no railroads in that part of the State which I was to visit, Judge Goodrich and I rode in a buggy from place to place, to small country towns and sparsely populated settlements. He was a middle-aged man of slim stature, a clean-shaven, somewhat haggard face, and lively dark eyes. I soon discovered in him one of those "originals" who at that time seemed to abound in the new country. I do not know from what part of the Union he had come. He had received more than an ordinary school education. His conversation was, indeed, rather liberally interspersed with those over-emphatic terms of affirmation which are much in use on the frontier, so that it seemed the Judge liked to appear as one of the people. But sometimes he made keen observations touching a variety of subjects — political, historical, philosophical, even theological — which betrayed an uncommonly active and independent mind and extensive reading. As we became better acquainted he began to confide to me the favorite trend of his studies. It was the discovery and unmasking of sham characters in history. He had, upon close investigation, found that some men whom conventional history called very good and great, had not been good and great at all, and did not deserve the credit which for centuries had, by common consent, been bestowed upon them, but that, in fact, that credit and praise belonged to others. His pet aversion was Christopher Columbus. His researches and studies had convinced him that Christopher Columbus had made his voyage of discovery according to the log-book of a shipwrecked seaman who had sought shelter with him, whom he had treacherously murdered, and whose belongings he had made his own. Judge Goodrich told me long stories of the misdeeds of Christopher Columbus which he had found out in their true character. He spoke of the so-called "Great Discoverer of the New World" with intense indignation, and denounced him as an assassin, a hypocrite and false pretender, a cruel tyrant, and a downright pirate. He was industriously pursuing his inquiries concerning that infamous person, and he was going to expose the fraud in a book which he hoped to publish before long.

This impeachment of the character and career of Columbus was indeed not entirely new to me, but I had never heard it argued with such warmth of feeling, such honesty of wrath. As I traveled day after day with Judge Goodrich and slept with him in the same rooms of the primitive country taverns of Minnesota, and sometimes in the same bed, and as our intimacy grew, I liked him more and more for the rectitude of his principles, the ingenuousness and generous breadth of his sympathies, and the wide reach as well as the occasional quaintness of his mental activities. He appeared to me as a representative of American sturdiness of manhood and of the peculiar American intellectual ambition developed under the rough conditions of primitive life in a new country. Some of his oddities amused me greatly. When he shaved himself he always sat down on the edge of the bed, rested his elbows on his knees, and then plied the razor without any looking-glass before him. I asked him whether this was not a dangerous method of performing that delicate function; but he assured me solemnly that it was the only way of shaving that made him feel sure that he would not cut his throat.

His oratory, too, was somewhat singular. We agreed to alternate in the order of proceedings in addressing audiences; Judge Goodrich was to speak first at one meeting and I at the next, so that we listened to one another a great deal. His speeches always had a sound, sober, and strong body of argument, enlivened by some robust anecdotes after the fashion of the stump, but he regularly closed with an elaborate peroration couched in wonderfully gorgeous and high-sounding phrase, in which the ruins of Palmyra and the decline and fall of the Roman Empire played a great and mysterious part. That a man of such a practical intellect and large reading, and so capable of strong reasoning should please himself in such a sophomorical display, astonished me not a little. It actually troubled me. One night, when after a very successful meeting and after an especially cordial and confidential talk we went to bed together, I picked up courage to say: "Judge, those sentences about the ruins of Palmyra and the downfall of the Roman Empire are very poetical. But I have not been able exactly to catch their meaning and application to the slavery question. Will you tell me?" The Judge gave a good-natured laugh. "Well," said he, "I have thought all along that the ruins of Palmyra and the downfall of the Roman Empire would strike you. The fact is, I composed the piece in which those sentences occur, many years ago when I was young, and I have always been fond of it and kept it in my memory. I thought it would do splendidly to wind up a speech with. It's true, its bearing upon the slavery question is not quite clear. But don't it sound beautiful? And don't you believe it sets folks to thinking?" Of course, I thought it did, and there was nothing more to be said.

The next day I was sent by the campaign managers upon an expedition on which Judge Goodrich could not accompany me, and we parted with very sincere regret. I never saw him again. But he sent me a copy of his book on Christopher Columbus — a book full of ingenious ratiocination and righteous wrath — as soon as it appeared in print, and I heard that after a long bachelorship he had married a beautiful and accomplished lady of Spanish or South American birth, and was sent as Minister of the United States to Brussels. I have often thought how careful he would be in that place to tone down the Western vigor of his vocabulary, and how difficult he would find it to reduce and adapt it to the diplomatic usage.

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