Skip to main content

Carl Schurz

German-American revolutionary, journalist, and politician; Born: March 2, 1829 in Liblar near Cologne, Germany; Died: May 14, 1906 in New York, NY

Headshot of Carl Schurz


  • Abitur, Cologne 1847
  • History student at the University of Bonn 1847-1848

Carl Schurz studied Latin and Greek in high school in Germany. During his university entrance exams in 1847, he impressed his examiners because he knew the entire sixth book of Homer's Iliad by heart.

Carl Schurz joined the University of Bonn to study history and philosophy. He also became a member of the Burschenschaft Franconia, a fraternity that brought him into contact with democratically-minded students that advocated political and university reform.

When the democratic revolution broke out in 1848, Carl Schurz joined the republican army in Baden. After the defeat of the uprising, he was imprisoned in Fort Rastatt and escaped execution with a daring flight through the sewers. Although he made it to safety in Switzerland, Schurz then returned to Prussia and helped his mentor and former rhetoric professor at the University of Bonn, Gottfried Kinkel, escape from the Spandau prison in Berlin.

In 1852, Schurz emigrated to the United States where he became a lawyer, newspaper editor, and influential supporter of Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War, he served as a general on the Union side. Later, Schurz became the first German-American U.S. Senator (R, Missouri, 1869-1875) and served as Secretary of the Interior under Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881).

As interior secretary, Schurz implemented legislation to protect forests, reformed the civil service, and promoted better treatment for African Americans and Native Americans. The small reservation town of Schurz, Nevada, is named for Carl Schurz.

Carl Schurz on the Value of Greek and Latin

"I did indeed – and unfortunately – forget a lot of the Latin and Greek that I learned as a student at high school. But I never lost the esthetic and moral impulses which these studies gave me, the idealistic values, which they helped me form, the intellectual horizons which they opened up. ... If I could choose again between classical studies and the so-called "useful" disciplines, I would, without a doubt, choose for myself more or less the same kind of curriculum that I went through."

(Carl Schurz, Lebenserinnerungen (Memoirs), vol. I, Berlin 1906, p. 91, translated from the original German)


Carl Schurz entry in the Biographical Dictionary of the U.S. Congress.

Willamette University

Classical Studies

Willamette University
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.
503-370-6077 voice
503-370-6944 fax