Cavalcade of America (1952–1957)
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Escape: The Story of Carl Schurz 



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Episode credited cast:
David Alpert ...
Carl Schurz (as David R. Alpert)
Ashley Cowan
Frances Morris
Robert Paquin ...
(as Robert A. Paquin)
Lawrence Ryle


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Release Date:

30 March 1954 (USA)  »

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The Road to "Cheyenne Autumn"
29 November 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

If you walk on the fashionable upper east side of Manhattan, near Gracie Mansion, there is a small enclave park that the locals use. It is named for a leading citizen (in his later years) of New York City's Yorkville German enclave. His name was Carl Schurz.

Carl Schurz died in 1906 but I suspect only Civil War aficionados, specialists in the era of Reconstruction, or fans of one John Ford film recall him at all today. It's a shame, because he was a remarkable man. This particular episode of "Cavalcade of America" dealt with his youth. Born in Germany, Schurz fled from there in 1848, after he had fought for freedom in that year of failed revolutions. There was a price on his head, and he headed for the United States.

He settled in Missouri, in St. Louis (which had a large German population). And soon Schurz was writing for and editing a German-American newspaper. He was also outspoken (bravely so in this border state) against slavery. He became very prominent in St. Louis politics, and when the Civil War broke out offered his services to the North. He was commissioned an officer, rising eventually to the rank of Brevet Major General (a field promotion that only lasted during the war). He was an incongruous figure with his curly hair, and meteor shaped beard, as well as his spectacles, as well as his short height. He was a cartoonist's dream (as Thomas Nast would demonstrate in a few years).

After the war he became a Republican Senator from Missouri. But he would make a seemingly fatal error in his political career in 1872. He was one of the leaders (with Charles Sumner of Massachusetts) of a break within the ranks of the Republican Party by those opposed to President Grant being renominated. These "Liberal Republicans" nominated Horace Greeley, the New York Tribune editor, who would be more willing to have an honest government (Grant was being blamed for a large number of scandals in his administration). Greeley was not the best candidate to pick, and went down to such a tremendous defeat (shortly after his wife died) that he lost his mind and died as well. As for the "Liberal Republicans" they were ostracized from the centers of Republican power for four years.

Schurz returned to journalism, but in 1876 he joined the supporters of Ohio favorite son (Governor Rutherford B. Hayes) for President. Schurtz was rewarded after Hayes was inaugurated. He became Hayes' Secretary of the Interior. As such he was responsible for the new National Park at Yellowstone, but also (and more important) for Indian relations with the U.S. In the wake of Custer's Massacre, with the high degree of hostility towards the Indian tribes, Schurz was a lucky break - he actually tried to be fair to them, and hear their complaints. This did not prevent all tragedies - the John Ford film "Cheyenne Autumn" shows what happened to that tribe when they attempted to flee to Canada in 1877. But you notice that Schurz (played by Edward G. Robinson in that film) does try to end the travails of the Cheyenne Indians.

After he left office in 1881, Schurz resumed his journalism career (now in New York City), and would be an outspoken critic of government and advocate of reform until his death. In 1884 he repeated his 1872 bolting of the Republican Party when he supported Grover Cleveland, the Democrat, over James Blaine the Republican - thus making the former "Liberal Republican" a "Mugwump" Republican. This time, however, the Mugwumps helped the Democrats win. He also wrote several books, the most notable being a two volume life of his political hero, Henry Clay, that is still very useful for scholars.

A very useful life indeed - and all from fleeing a failed revolution in Germany.

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