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from Vermont spent a night over the Canadian border before they were
driven back; and for several days Fort Erie on Niagara River was held
by about 1500 Fenians.[23] General Meade was thereupon sent by the
Federal authorities to put an end to these ridiculous breaches of

Neither Meade nor any other authority, however, could stop the flow of
Fenian adjectives that now issued from a hundred indignation meetings
all over the land when Canada, after due trial, proceeded to sentence
the guilty culprits captured in the "Battle of Limestone Ridge," as
the tussle with Canadian regulars near Fort Erie was called.
Newspapers abounded with tales of the most startling designs upon
Canada and Britain. There then occurred a strong reaction to the
Fenian movement, and the American people were led to wonder how much
of truth there was in a statement made by Thomas D'Arcy McGee.[24]
"This very Fenian organization in the United States," he said, "what
does it really prove but that the Irish are still an alien
population, camped but not settled in America, with foreign hopes and
aspirations, unshared by the people among whom they live?"

The Irishman today is an integral part of every large American
community. Although the restrictive legislation of two centuries ago
has long been repealed and a new land system has brought great
prosperity to his island home, the Irishman has not abated one whit in
his temperamental attitude towards England and as a consequence some
40,000 or 50,000 of his fellow countrymen come to the United States
every year. Here he has been dispossessed of his monopoly of shovel
and pick by the French Canadian in New England and by the Italian,
Syrian, and Armenian in other parts of the country. He finds work in
factories, for he still shuns the soil, much as he professes to love
the "old sod." A great change has come over the economic condition of
the second and third generation of Irish immigrants. Their remarkable
buoyancy of temperament is everywhere displayed. Bridget's daughter
has left the kitchen and is a school teacher, a stenographer, a
saleswoman, a milliner, or a dressmaker; her son is a clerk, a
bookkeeper, a traveling salesman, or a foreman. Wherever the human
touch is the essential of success, there you find the Irish. That is
why in some cities one-half the teachers are Irish; why salesmanship
lures them; why they are the most successful walking delegates,
solicitors, agents, foremen, and contractors. In the higher walks of
life you find them where dash, brilliance, cleverness, and emotion are
demanded. The law and the priesthood utilize their eloquence,
journalism their keen insight into the human side of news, and
literature their imagination and humor. They possess a positive genius
for organization and management. The labor unions are led by them; and
what would municipal politics be without them? The list of eminent
names which they have contributed to these callings will increase as
their generations multiply in the favorable American environment. But
remote indeed is the day and complex must be the experience that will
erase the memory of the ancient Erse proverb, which their racial
temperament evoked: "Contention is better than loneliness."


[Footnote 21: The immigration reports were perfunctory and lacking in
accuracy. Passengers were frequently listed as belonging to the
country whence they sailed. An Irishman taking passage from Liverpool
was quite as likely to be reported English as Irish. Large numbers of
immigrants were counted who merely landed in New York and proceeded
immediately to Canada, while many thousands who landed in Canada and
moved at once across the border into northern New York and the West
did not appear in the reports.]

[Footnote 22: According to the _Edinburgh Review_ of July, 1854,
"Liverpool was crowded with emigrants, and ships could not be found to
do the work. The poor creatures were packed in dense masses, in
ill-ventilated and unseaworthy vessels, under charge of improper
masters, and the natural results followed. Pestilence chased the
fugitive to complete the work of famine. Fifteen thousand out of
ninety thousand emigrants in British bottoms, in 1847, died on the
passage or soon after arrival. The American vessels, owing to a
stringent passenger law, were better managed, but the hospitals of New
York and Boston were nevertheless crowded with patients from Irish

[Footnote 23: Oberholtzer, _History of the United States since the
Civil War_, vol. 1, p. 526 ff.]

[Footnote 24: Thomas D'Arcy McGee (1825-1868), one of the leaders of
the "Young Ireland" party, fled for political reasons to the United
States in 1848, where he established the _New York Nation_ and the
_American Celt_. When he changed his former attitude of opposition to
British rule in Ireland he was attacked by the extreme Irish patriots
in the United States and in consequence moved to Canada, where he
founded the _New Era_ and began to practice law. Subsequently, with
the support of the Irish Canadians, he represented Montreal in the
Parliament of United Canada (1858) and was President of the Council
(1862) in the John Sandfield Macdonald Administration. When the Irish
were left unrepresented in the reorganized Cabinet in the following
year, McGee became an adherent of Sir John A. Macdonald, and in 1864
he was made Minister of Agriculture in the Taché-Macdonald
Administration. An ardent supporter of the progressive policies of his
adopted country, he was one of the Fathers of Confederation and was a
member of the first Dominion Parliament in 1867. His denunciations,
both in Ireland (1865) and in Canada, of the policies and activities
of the Fenians led to his assassination at Ottawa on April 7, 1868.]



As the Irish wave of immigration receded the Teutonic wave rose and
brought the second great influx of foreigners to American shores. A
greater ethnic contrast could scarcely be imagined than that which was
now afforded by these two races, the phlegmatic, plodding German and
the vibrant Irish, a contrast in American life as a whole which was
soon represented in miniature on the vaudeville stage by popular
burlesque representations of both types. The one was the opposite of
the other in temperament, in habits, in personal ambitions. The German
sought the land, was content to be let alone, had no desire to command
others or to mix with them, but was determined to be reliable,
philosophically took things as they came, met opposition with
patience, clung doggedly to a few cherished convictions, and sought
passionately to possess a home and a family, to master some minute
mechanical or technical detail, and to take his leisure and his
amusements in his own customary way.

The reports of the Immigration Commissioner disclose the fact that
well over five and a third millions of Germans migrated to America
between 1823 and 1910. If to this enormous number were added those of
German blood who came from Austria and the German cantons of
Switzerland, from Luxemburg and the German settlements of Russia, it
would reach a grand total of well over seven million Germans who have
sought an ampler life in America. The Census of 1910 reports "that
there were 8,282,618 white persons in the United States having Germany
as their country of origin, comprising 2,501,181 who were born in
Germany, 3,911,847 born in the United States both of whose parents
were born in Germany, and 1,869,590 born in the United States and
having one parent born in the United States and the other in

The coming of the Germans may be divided into three quite distinct
migrations: the early, the middle, and the recent. The first period
includes all who came before the radical ferment which began to
agitate Europe after the Napoleonic wars. The Federal census of 1790
discloses 176,407 Germans living in America. But German writers
usually maintain that there were from 225,000 to 250,000 Germans in
the colonies at the time of the Declaration of Independence. They had
been driven from the fatherland by religious persecution and economic
want. Every German state contributed to their number, but the bulk of
this migration came from the Palatinate, Württemberg, Baden, and
Alsace, and the German cantons of Switzerland. The majority were of
the peasant and artisan class who usually came over as redemptioners.
Yet there were not wanting among them many persons of means and of

Pennsylvania was the favorite distributing point for these German
hosts. Thence they pushed southward through the beautiful Shenandoah
Valley into Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, and northward into
New Jersey. Large numbers entered at Charleston and thence went to the
frontiers of South Carolina. The Mohawk Valley in New York and the
Berkshires of Massachusetts harbored many. But not all of them moved
inland. They were to be found scattered on the coast from Maine to
Georgia. Boston, New York City, Baltimore, New Bern, Wilmington,
Charleston, and Savannah, all counted Germans in their populations.
However strictly these German neighborhoods may have maintained the
customs of their native land, the people thoroughly identified
themselves with the patriot cause and supplied soldiers, leaders,
money, and enthusiasm to the cause of the Revolutionary War.

Benjamin Rush, the distinguished Philadelphia physician and publicist,
one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, wrote in 1789 a
description of the Germans of Pennsylvania which would apply generally
to all German settlements at that time and to many of subsequent date.
The Pennsylvania German farmer, he says, was distinguished above
everything else for his self-denying thrift, housing his horses and
cattle in commodious, warm barns, while he and his family lived in a
log hut until he was well able to afford a more comfortable house;
selling his "most profitable grain, which is wheat" and "eating that
which is less profitable but more nourishing, that is, rye or Indian
corn"; breeding the best of livestock so that "a German horse is known
in every part of the State" for his "extraordinary size or fat";
clearing his land thoroughly, not "as his English or Irish neighbors";
cultivating the most bountiful gardens and orchards; living frugally,
working constantly, fearing God and debt, and rearing large families.
"A German farm may be distinguished," concludes this writer, "from the
farms of other citizens by the superior size of their barns, the plain
but compact form of their houses, the height of their enclosures, the
extent of their orchards, the fertility of their fields, the
luxuriance of their meadows, and a general appearance of plenty and
neatness in everything that belongs to them."[26] Rush's praise of the
German mechanics is not less stinted. They were found in that day
mainly as "weavers, taylors, tanners, shoe-makers, comb-makers, smiths
of all kinds, butchers, paper makers, watchmakers, and sugar bakers."
Their first desire was "to become freeholders," and they almost
invariably succeeded. German merchants and bankers also prospered in
Philadelphia, Germantown, Lancaster, and other Pennsylvania towns.
One-third of the population of Pennsylvania, Rush says, was of German
origin, and for their convenience a German edition of the laws of the
State was printed.

After the Revolution, a number of the Hessian hirelings who had been
brought over by the British settled in America. They usually became
farmers, although some of the officers taught school. They joined the
German settlements, avoiding the English-speaking communities in the
United States because of the resentment shown towards them. Their
number is unknown. Frederick Kapp, a German writer, estimates that, of
the 29,875 sent over, 12,562 never returned - but he fails to tell us
how many of these remained because of Yankee bullets or bayonets.

The second period of German migration began about 1820 and lasted
through the Civil War. Before 1830 the number of immigrants fluctuated
between 200 and 2000 a year; in 1832 it exceeded 10,000; in 1834 it
was over 17,000; three years later it reached nearly 24,000; between
1845 and 1860 there arrived 1,250,000, and 200,000 came during the
Civil War.

There were several causes, working in close conjunction, that impelled
these thousands to leave Germany. Economic disturbances doubtless
turned the thoughts of the hungry and harassed to the land of plenty
across the sea. But a potent cause of the great migration of the
thirties and forties was the universal social and political discontent
which followed in the wake of the Napoleonic wars. The German people
were still divided into numberless small feudalities whose petty dukes
and princes clung tenaciously to their medieval prerogatives and
tyrannies. The contest against Napoleon had been waged by German
patriots not only to overcome a foreign foe but to break the tyrant at
home. The hope for constitutional government, for a representative
system and a liberal legislation in the German States rose mightily
after Waterloo. But the promises of princes made in days of stress
were soon forgotten, and the Congress of Vienna had established the
semblance of a German federation upon a unity of reactionary rulers,
not upon a constitutional, representative basis.

The reaction against this bitter disappointment was led by the eager
German youth, who, inspired by liberal ideals, now thirsted for
freedom of thought, of speech, and of action. Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, a
German patriot, organized everywhere _Turnvereine_, or gymnastic
clubs, as a tangible form of expressing this demand. Among the
students of the universities liberal patriotic clubs called
_Burschenschaften_ were organized, idealistic in their aims and
impractical in their propaganda, where "every man with his bonnet on
his head, a pot of beer in his hand, a pipe or seegar in his mouth,
and a song upon his lips, never doubting but that he and his
companions are training themselves to be the regenerators of Europe,"
vowed "the liberation of Germany." Alas for the enthusiasms of youth!
In 1817 the _Burschenschaften_ held a mass reunion at the Wartburg.
Their boyish antics were greatly exaggerated in the conservative
papers and the governments increased their vigilance. In 1819
Kotzebue, a reactionary publicist, was assassinated by a member of the
Jena _Burschenschaft_, and the retaliation of the government was
prompt and thoroughly Prussian - gagging of the press and of speech,
dissolution of all liberal organizations, espionage, the hounding of
all suspects. There seemed to remain only flight to liberal democratic
America. But the suppression of the clubs did not entirely put out
the fires of constitutional desires. These smoldered until the storms
of '48 fanned them into a fitful blaze. For a brief hour the German
Democrat had the feudal lords cowed. Frederick William, the "romantic"
Hohenzollern, promised a constitution to the threatening mob in
Berlin; the King of Saxony and the Grand Duke of Bavaria fled their
capitals; revolts occurred in Silesia, Posen, Hesse-Cassel, and
Nassau. Then struck the first great hour of modern Prussia, as, with
her heartless and disciplined soldiery, she restored one by one the
frightened dukes and princes to their prerogatives and repressed
relentlessly and with Junker rigor every liberal concession that had
crept into laws and institutions. Strangled liberalism could no longer
breathe in Germany, and thousands of her revolutionists fled to
America, bringing with them almost the last vestige of German
democratic leadership.

In the meantime, economic conditions in Germany remained
unsatisfactory and combined with political discontent to uproot a
population and transplant it to a new land. The desire to immigrate,
stimulated by the transportation companies, spread like a fever. Whole
villages sold out and, with their pastor or their physician at their
head, shipped for America. A British observer who visited the Rhine
country in 1846 commented on "the long files of carts that meet you
every mile, carrying the whole property of these poor wretches who are
about to cross the Atlantic on the faith of a lying prospectus." But
these people were neither "poor wretches" nor dupes. They had coin in
their pockets, and in their heads a more or less accurate knowledge of
the land of their desires. At this time the German bookshops were
teeming with little volumes giving, in the methodical Teutonic
fashion, conservative advice to prospective immigrants and rather
accurate descriptions of America, with statistical information and
abstracts of American laws. Many of the immigrants had further
detailed information from relatives and friends already prospering on
western farms or in rapidly growing towns. This was, therefore, far
from a pauper invasion. It included every class, even broken-down
members of the nobility. The majority were, naturally, peasants and
artisans, but there were multitudes of small merchants and farmers.
And the political refugees included many men of substantial property
and of notable intellectual attainments.[27]

Bremen was the favorite port of departure for these German emigrants
to America. Havre, Hamburg, and Antwerp were popular, and even London.
During the great rush every ship was overcrowded and none was over
sanitary. Steerage passengers were promiscuously crowded together and
furnished their own food; and the ship's crew, the captain, the agents
who negotiated the voyage, and the sharks who awaited their arrival in
America, all had a share in preying upon the inexperience of the
immigrants. Arrived in America, these Germans were not content to
settle, like dregs, in the cities on the seacoast. They were land
lovers, and westward they started at once, usually in companies,
sometimes as whole communities, by way of the Erie Canal and the Great
Lakes, and later by the new railway lines, into Ohio, Indiana,
Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Iowa, where their
instinct for the soil taught them to select the most fertile spots.
Soon their log cabins and their ample barns and flourishing stock
bespoke their success.

The growing Western cities called to the skilled artisan, the small
tradesman, and the intellectuals. Cincinnati early became a German
center. In 1830 the Germans numbered five per cent of its population;
in 1840, twenty-three per cent; and in 1869, thirty-four per cent.
Milwaukee, "the German Athens," as it was once called, became the
distributing point of German immigration and influence in the
Northwest. Its _Gesangvereine_ and _Turnvereine_ became as famous as
its lager beer, and German was heard more frequently than English upon
its streets. St. Louis was the center of a German influence that
extended throughout the Missouri Valley. Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit,
Buffalo, and many of the minor towns in the Middle West received
substantial additions from this migration.

Unlike the Irish, the Germans brought with them a strange language,
and this proved a strong bond in that German solidarity which
maintained itself in spite of the influence of their new environment.
In the glow of their first enthusiasm many of the intellectuals
believed they could establish a German state in America. "The
foundations of a new and free Germany in the great North American
Republic shall be laid by us," wrote Follenius, the dreamer, who
desired to land enough Germans in "one of the American territories to
establish an essentially German state." In 1833 the Giessener
Gesellschaft, a company organized in the Grand Duchy of Hesse, grew
out of this suggestion and chose Arkansas as the site for its colony.
But unfavorable reports turned the immigrants to Missouri, where
settlements were made. These, however, never grew into a German state
but merged quite contentedly into the prosperous American population.

A second attempt, also from Hesse, had a tragic dénouement. A number
of German nobles formed a company called the Mainzer Adelsverein and
in 1842 sent two of their colleagues to Texas to seek out a site. The
place chosen was ill-suited for a colony, however, and the whole
enterprise from beginning to end was characterized by princely
incompetence. Thousands of immigrants, lured by the company's liberal
offers and glowing prospectus, soon found themselves in dire want;
many perished of disease and hunger; and the company ended in
ignominious disaster. The surviving colonists in Texas, however, when
they realized that they must depend upon their own efforts, succeeded
in finding work and eventually in establishing several flourishing

Finally, Wisconsin and Illinois were considered as possible sites for
a Germany in America. But this ambition never assumed a concrete form.
Everywhere the Americans, with their energy and organizing capacity,
had preceded the incoming Germans and retained the political
sovereignty of the American state.

But while they did not establish a German state, these immigrants did
cling to their customs wherever they settled in considerable numbers.
Especially did they retain their original social life, their
_Turnvereine_, their musical clubs, their sociable beer gardens, their
picnics and excursions, their churches and parochial schools. They
still celebrated their Christmas and other church festivals with
German cookery and _Kuchen_, and their weddings and christenings were
enlivened but rarely debauched with generous libations of lager beer
and wine. In the Middle West were whole regions where German was the
familiar language for two generations.

There were three strata to this second German migration. The earlier
courses were largely peasants and skilled artisans, those of the
decade of the Civil War were mostly of the working classes, and
between these came the "Forty-eighters." Upon them all, however,
peasant, artisan, merchant, and intellectual, their experiences in
their native land had made a deep impression. They all had a
background of political philosophy the nucleus of which was individual
liberty; they all had a violent distaste for the petty tyrannies and
espionages which contact with their own form of government had
produced; and in coming to America they all sought, besides farms and
jobs, political freedom. They therefore came in humility, bore in
patience the disappointments of the first rough contacts with pioneer
America and its nativism, and few, if any, cherished the hope of going
back to Germany. Though some of the intellectual idealists at first
had indefinite enthusiasms about a _Deutschtum_ in America, these
visions soon vanished. They expressed no love for the governments they
had left, however strong the cords of sentiment bound them to the
domestic and institutional customs of their childhood.

This was to a considerable degree an idealistic migration and as such
it had a lasting influence upon American life. The industry of these
people and their thrift, even to paring economy, have often been
extolled; but other nationalities have worked as hard and as
successfully and have spent as sparingly. The special contribution to
America which these Germans made lay in other qualities. Their artists
and musicians and actors planted the first seeds of æsthetic
appreciation in the raw West where the repertoire had previously been
limited to _Money Musk_, _The Arkansas Traveler_, and _Old Dog Tray_.
The liberal tendencies of German thought mellowed the austere
Puritanism of the prevalent theology. The respect which these people
had for intellectual attainments potently influenced the educational
system of America from the kindergarten to the newly founded state
universities. Their political convictions led them to espouse with
ardor the cause of the Union in the war upon slavery; and their sturdy
independence in partisan politics was no small factor in bringing
about civil service reform. They established German newspapers by the
hundreds and maintained many German schools and German colleges. They
freely indulged their love for German customs. But while their
sentimentalism was German, their realism was American. They considered
it an honor to become American citizens. Their leaders became American
leaders. Carl Schurz was not an isolated example. He was associated
with a host of able, careful, constructive Germans.

The greatest quarrels of these German immigrants with American ways
were over the so-called "Continental Sabbath" and the right to drink
beer when and where they pleased. "Only when his beer is in danger,"

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Online LibrarySamuel P. OrthOur Foreigners A Chronicle of Americans in the Making → online text (page 7 of 14)