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German Immigration
U.S. Immigration and Migration Reference Library. 2004. From U.S. History In Context.
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German Immigration

In 2000, people of German descent comprised the largest nationality or ethnic group (group of people who are not from the majority culture in the country in which they live and who keep some part of their former culture, language, and institutions) in the United States. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 46.5 million people, or 15.2 percent of the population, claimed German ancestry. About seven million Germans have immigrated to North America since the eighteenth century. Some left the Old World in response to the many historical events in Europe over the last two centuries. Most Germans came to the United States seeking economic opportunities or religious or political freedom. There were many different motivations behind the mass migrations (the movement of thousands, or even millions, of people from one country to another within a relatively short period of time) from Germany that took place between 1800 and 1920.

Diversity (difference) among the people called German Americans is great. When many of them left the Old World, there was no nation called Germany. They came from nation-states in the large German-speaking area of Western

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uimr_01_img0113 German Immigration: Fact Focus

  • German Americans in Pennsylvania have come to be known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, although they are not from the Netherlands. In the German language, the word for "German" is "Deutsch" (pronounced doytch). It is likely that other settlers mistook the word for the English "Dutch."
  • A form of Protestantism that arose in Germany was called the "plain" churches, or Anabaptists. Among them were the Mennonites and the Amish, the German Brethren, or Dunkards, and the Society of Friends, or Quakers. All these groups believed in nonviolence and simple worship. Anabaptists differed from most Protestant groups in their belief that an individual should be baptized as an adult rather than in infancy.
  • In 1848 German rebels who wanted the German states to unify under a democratic, constitutional government set off a series of uprisings. The movement did not succeed. Afterward, facing arrest and persecution at the hands of the German princes, between four and ten thousand "forty-eighters" immigrated to the United States.
  • German American craftspeople brought their guild system to the United States. These craft guilds evolved into trade unions, giving rise to the general labor-union movement.
  • Until World War I (1914–18), millions of German Americans continued to speak the German language. Many lived in German-speaking enclaves, and even those who did not tried to maintain their native language. German Americans even took political action to make sure their children could be educated in the German language.

Europe. German immigrants came from three religious backgrounds: Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish. They moved to many parts of the United States, some becoming farmers and others entering trades in the cities and towns. Some lived in German American communities in which the German language was spoken and German customs prevailed; others assimilated (blended) quickly into the American mainstream. German immigrants had a high rate of returning to the old country. Though the German states of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries experienced political and economic turmoil, many Germans came from far better circumstances than the Irish Catholics who were migrating to the United States in large numbers at the same time because of faminePage 223  |  Top of Article and oppression in Ireland. Unlike the Irish Catholics, many Germans had professional skills and capital with which to get started in America.

Historical background

Until 1871, Germany as a nation did not exist. At the time of the voyage to the New World in 1492 by explorer Christopher Columbus (1451–1506), the cities and states where Germanic-speaking people lived were part of the Holy Roman Empire. In earlier centuries, an emperor had ruled over the entire empire with the approval of the Roman Catholic pope. The empire's territory roughly included present-day Germany, Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, and parts of northern Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. But in the thirteenth century the central rule of the emperor weakened, and local rulers became powerful in their districts. One royal family line, the House of Habsburg, took over and then held onto the crown, but the princes of the large towns and districts had more control of their people than the central monarch. At that time, many of the German nation-states were flourishing, becoming major European centers of finance and the arts. The people of the empire were Roman Catholics, but a time of reform of the church was at hand.

On October 31, 1517, German priest and scholar Martin Luther (1483–1546) nailed to the church door in Wittenberg, a city in the state of Saxony in eastern Germany, his list of ninety-five theses, or statements, questioning the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther believed that people should live their lives by following the Bible, not the pope. Pointing to the corruption he had witnessed in the church, he urged people to find their own salvation through faith; they did not need the Catholic church. His call for reform brought about the rise of Protestant churches throughout Europe. As it would in other European countries, the era of reformation and Protestantism brought about widespread religious dissension (disagreement and conflict) and led to war in the German states of the Holy Roman Empire. From 1517 to 1555, the Roman Catholics warred against the Lutherans. In the peace accord that ended these wars, Lutheranism (a Protestant church following the teachings of

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uimr_01_img0114 German Immigration: Words to Know

Anabaptist:
A category of radical Protestants, including the Mennonites and the Amish; the German Brethren, or Dunkards, so called for how they baptized adults; and the Society of Friends, or the Quakers, who believe in nonviolence and in simple worship based on readings of the Bible. Anabaptists believe that knowledge of God must come from within oneself and that the rituals and politics of existing churches are a hindrance to true faith and worship. The Anabaptists believe that an individual should decide to be baptized as an adult, when he or she fully understands what it means, rather than in infancy.
Anarchist:
Believing that governments are unnecessary and should be eliminated, and that the social world should be organized through the cooperative efforts of the people within it. Some anarchists have encouraged violence to overthrow the government.
Anti-Semitic:
Hostile toward Jews.
Assimilation:
The way that someone who comes from a foreign land or culture becomes absorbed into a culture and learns to blend into the ways of its predominant, or main, society.
Colony:
A group of people living as a political community in a land away from their home country but ruled by the home country.
Discrimination:
Unfair treatment based on racism or other prejudices.
Emigration:
Leaving one's country to go to another country with the intention of living there. "Emigrant" is used to describe departing from one's country—for example, "she emigrated from Ireland." "Immigrant" is used to describe coming to a new country—for example, "she immigrated to the United States."
Enclave:
pronounced AHN-klave; A distinct cultural or nationality unit within a foreign territory.
Ethnic:
Relating to a group of people who are not from the majority culture in the country in which they live, and who keep their own culture, language, and institutions.
Exiles:
People who have been sent away from their homeland.
Immigration:
To travel to a country of which one is not a native with the intention of settling there as a permanent resident. "Immigrant" is used to describe coming to a new country—for example, "she immigrated to the United States." "Emigrant" is used to describe departing from one's country—for example, "she emigrated from Ireland."
Indentured servants:
Servants who agreed to work for a colonist for a set period of time in exchange for payment of their passage from Europe to the New World. At the end of the service term (usually seven years), the indentured servant was given goods or a small piece of land to help set up a new life in the colony.
Industrialization:
The historic change from a farm-based economy to an economic system based on the manufacturing of goods and distribution of services on an organized and mass-produced basis.
Labor unions:
Organizations that bring workers together to advance their interests in terms of getting better wages and working conditions.
Mass migration:
The movement of thousands—or even millions—of people from one country to another within a relatively short period of time.
Migration:
To move from one place to another, not necessarily across national borders.
Multiculturalism:
A view of the social world that embraces, or takes into account, the diversity of people and their cultures within the society.
Nativism:
A set of beliefs that centers around favoring the interests of people who are native-born to a country (though generally not concerning Native Americans) as opposed to its immigrants.
New World:
The Western Hemisphere, including North and South America.
Old World:
The regions of the world that were known to Europeans before they discovered the Americas, including all of the Eastern Hemisphere—Europe, Asia, and Africa—except Australia.
Persecution:
Abusive and oppressive treatment.
Quaker:
A member of the Society of Friends, a radical Protestant sect in England founded by George Fox (1624–1691) in the late 1640s.
Reparations:
Payments to the other side for damages and expenses attributed to the war.
Socialist:
Believing in a society in which no one owns private property, but rather, the government or public owns all goods and the means of distributing them among the people.
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Martin Luther) was finally accepted, and each German state was allowed to choose its own religion.

After the peace of Augsburg in 1555, the biggest German nation-states grew very powerful, wealthy, and militaristic. The states of Bavaria, Brandenburg (later known as Prussia), Saxony, and Hanover all formed their own governments and economies. Austria acquired Hungary and parts of the Balkan countries. Later Prussia and Austria would become fierce rivals for power.

After these wars, other forms of Protestantism arose, many of which were not accepted. One of the largest was Calvinism. Established by John Calvin (1509–1564) in Geneva, Switzerland, Calvinism applied more rigid "puritanical" interpretations to Luther's Reformation. Calvin felt that the purpose of life was to know or understand God as well as possible and then to follow God's will. Calvinism demanded that all people strive to live a moral lifestyle. The church was to be an instrument of strict moral discipline. Calvinism also believed that the world had been a corrupt place since the time of the original sin (when Adam and Eve fell from grace in Eden). In the Calvinists' view, churches, with their rituals and bishops, could not bring about religious enlightenment. They believed that only elite persons, through the grace of God, could be saved. Calvinism spread quickly among the German peoples, as did several other forms of Protestantism, including the "plain" churches, called the Anabaptists, the Mennonites and the Amish, the German Brethren, or Dunkards, so called for the way they baptized members by dunking them, most likely in a stream; and the Society of Friends, or the Quakers. All these groups believed in nonviolence and in simple worship based on readings of the Bible. They believed that knowledge of God must come from within oneself and that the rituals and politics of existing churches were a hindrance to true faith and worship. The Anabaptists believed that an individual should decide to be baptized as an adult, when he or she fully understood what baptism meant, rather than in infancy as was the custom in the Roman Catholic Church. These beliefs brought persecution upon the Anabaptists, particularly the Mennonites, especially those living near the shores of the Rhine River in a region known as the Rhineland.

With more Protestants taking control in their countries in the late sixteenth century, Catholic rulers armed themselves for war. The complicated, long, and terrible Thirty

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William Penn receiving the charter of Pennsylvania from Charles II. Reproduced by permission of Mary Evans Picture Library.

William Penn receiving the charter of Pennsylvania from Charles II. Reproduced by permission of Mary Evans Picture Library.

Years' War began in 1618, with the German states forming opposing alliances. It is estimated that one-third of the population of the German states died during and after these wars. When the Peace of Westphalia ended the fighting, there were three hundred independent German states, many only the size of a small city. Unfortunately, the small states were often unable to defend themselves against neighbors and were vulnerable to armed attacks. Fearing the ongoing violence and uncertainty, some Germans began to emigrate.

Colonial immigration and the Pennsylvania Dutch

From sixty-five thousand to one hundred thousand German-speaking people made their way to the United States during the colonial era (before 1776). One of the first points of settlement was Germantown in the British colony of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania's founder, William Penn (1644–1718), was a member of the Quakers, a radical Protestant sect in EnglandPage 228  |  Top of Article founded by George Fox (1624–1691) in the late 1640s. The British king had awarded Penn a proprietorship in the American colonies. The proprietorship made him the owner of a large tract of land and gave him the authority to create the government and make the laws. Penn set out to establish a holy commonwealth, characterized by peace, brotherly love, and religious toleration. (A commonwealth is a form of government based on the common good of the citizens rather than the rule of a monarch.) As a member of the Society of Friends, he rejected formal creeds and worship. Like other proprietors in the New World, Penn hoped to profit from the sale or rent of land in his colony, but his primary aim in setting up a colony was a religious one. His search for settlers started among English people, especially Quakers. Before long, he was recruiting among the Mennonites (an Anabaptist group founded by Menno Simons [1496–1561], a Dutch priest) in the Rhineland, where Anabaptists were experiencing persecution.

The founding of Germantown

In 1683 thirteen families from Krefeld, Rhineland, boarded the ship Concord and sailed for Philadelphia, arriving in October. Most were Mennonites who wished to participate in Penn's noble experiment. An agent for a German land investment company, Francis Daniel Pastorius (1651–1720), though not a Mennonite, became their leader. He obtained from Penn a large tract of land close to Philadelphia, which he split, giving half to the Krefelders and keeping half for the land investors. This was the settlement of Germantown.

The settlers in Germantown quickly built stone houses and a church. Most of these early German settlers were farmers or craftspeople. Besides selling their farm produce in Philadelphia, the Mennonites in Germantown also established a successful linen-weaving business. They were the first known group to formally protest the institution of slavery in the American colonies. More and more families came to join the original settlers, and by 1790 the Germantown population had grown to three thousand.

Pennsylvania Dutch

Germantown was just the beginning of the settlement of large portions of Pennsylvania by German-speaking people. ThePage 229  |  Top of Article Germans in Pennsylvania have come to be known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. Despite the name, they are not from the Netherlands. In the German language, the word for "German" is "Deutsch" (pronounced doytch), and it is likely that other settlers mistook the German word for the English "Dutch." Although many people associate the Pennsylvania Dutch with the Amish (another Anabaptist sect), the term "Pennsylvania Dutch" includes all German-speaking immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and areas immediately surrounding. Many of the Pennsylvania Dutch came from the Rhineland states, especially the Palatinate (Pfalz).


Present-day Amish in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Amish are a portion of the Pennsylvania Dutch and have maintained a culture apart from mainstream American society. Reproduced by permission of Mr. James Blank.

Present-day Amish in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Amish are a portion of the Pennsylvania Dutch and have maintained a culture apart from mainstream American society. Reproduced by permission of Mr. James Blank.

Immigrants from the Palatinate started arriving in larger numbers after 1710. The first settlers sent home flattering reports of the new colony, leading to more people making the journey and settling in the increasingly German areas. Pennsylvania's population was one-third German by the time of the American Revolution (1775–83). Living in a dense concentration of German-speaking people, the Pennsylvania Dutch maintained old-world language and customs. Their language was, and in some places still is today, the same basic language used in the Palatinate in Germany, with a little standard German and English mixed in. Many of the new German Americans successfully resisted assimilating into American culture for many years. Since many of the Anabaptist settlers had come to the new country to lead a simpler life according to their religion, they often isolated themselves and their children from American culture and society, even rejecting public schooling. The Amish and the Mennonites were pacifists, meaning they favored peace and would not fight in wars. The Amish were especially separatist (wanting to live apart from other people) and strict about how they dressed, what kinds of tools and machines they could use, the language they spoke, and their methods of worship. The Amish in areas like Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who make up aPage 230  |  Top of Article very small portion of the Pennsylvania Dutch, have maintained a culture apart from mainstream Americans right up to modern times. They are well known for not using electricity or driving cars and living a simple, rural life.

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uimr_01_img0117 The Hessians

In the American Revolution (1775–83), British King George III (1738–1820) did not have enough soldiers to fight the rebels in his American colonies, so he purchased the services of approximately thirty thousand soldiers from the German states and shipped them to America to fight. Quite a few of the states provided him with soldiers, but the majority of them came from the state of Hesse-Kassel. Because there were so many soldiers from Hesse-Kassel, all the Germans fighting on the British side came to be called Hessians by the Americans. The prince of Hesse-Kassel sold at least twelve thousand soldiers to King George, receiving a significant sum per head. The prince did not pay the soldiers, however, and many of them had been forced into the service against their will. About six thousand Hessians deserted the British army and fought on the side of the colonists. After the war was over, as many as twelve thousand of these soldiers stayed in the new country and became U.S. citizens. This was made easier for them because there was already a fairly substantial German American population that they could join.

Germans who were not Anabaptists were arriving in the British colonies as well. The shipping companies hired recruiters to travel through the German states. They would arrive in a village or a town in brightly colored wagons with a fanfare of trumpets and drums. When a crowd had assembled, the recruiters would describe the wonders of the New World and urge the people to migrate. Their advertising campaign was successful. Many Germans, seeking better opportunities, contracted themselves out as indentured servants, people who agreed to work for a colonist for a set period of time in exchange for payment of their passage from Europe to the New World. At the end of the service term (usually seven years), the indentured servant was given a small piece of land or goods to help set up a new life in the colony. By 1790 the German American population in the American colonies had reached about 360,000.

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Passage to America

Although political turbulence and religious repression in Europe triggered small waves of German migration to the United States, most historians note that the mass migrations were mainly motivated by the desire for economic opportunity and prosperity. For many years rural Germans had lived on small family farms. As the German states faced industrialization (the change from a farm-based economy to an economic system based on the manufacturing of goods and distribution of services on an organized and mass-produced basis), the old way of rural life was quickly disappearing. Many were forced to move into cities and learn new skills. Yet, with unemployment in Germany rising, the cities did not always hold much hope. Among those who emigrated, some had few options left in Germany and sought more opportunity. Steady migrations were ongoing starting in the early nineteenth century.

It was a dangerous and difficult trip across the Atlantic. Germans began the journey by making their way to a port city. During the high peaks of emigration there was a steady flow of traffic on the roads to the ports made up of families pushing carts loaded with their belongings. In Germany, most emigrants left from Bremerhaven or Hamburg. Some made their way to Britain in the early eighteenth century, hoping to find passage to North America from there. Others went to Rotterdam, Holland, or Le Havre, France, and sought a ship there. They were often robbed or swindled when they arrived in ports.

The conditions on the sailing ships that took the German immigrants across the Atlantic were terrible. Many people could not afford to purchase a first- or second-class ticket, and so they traveled in steerage, in the lower decks of the ship that were designed to carry cargo. Aside from being miserably overcrowded, the accommodations often lacked clean drinking water and adequate toilet and washing facilities. Rats, head lice, and bedbugs were common, and infectious diseases spread quickly. In the years after, steamships would shorten the voyage and regulations on ships would correct some of the worst abuses of travelers. Even so, throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many immigrants faced misery and even death to get to the United States. DespitePage 232  |  Top of Article the hard trip, for over a century Germans immigrated by the hundreds of thousands to the United States.

Mass immigration begins

Immigration from Europe to the United States overwhelmingly increased in the mid-1800s. The U.S. population recorded in the census of 1860 was 31,500,000; of that population, 4,736,000, or 15 percent, were of foreign birth. The greater part of these immigrants had come from two countries: 1,611,000 from Ireland, and 1,301,000 from Germany (principally from the southwestern states of Württemberg, Baden, and Bavaria). The mass migration from Germany had begun in the 1830s, but the peak decades were the 1850s, with more than 950,000 immigrants, and the 1880s, with nearly 1.5 million.

By the 1850s, New York had become the principal port of arrival for German immigrants. Many chose to stay in the East, while others moved westward along the Erie Canal through Buffalo and out to Ohio. By the 1840s large numbers of German immigrants went to New Orleans on cotton ships from Le Havre, France. The majority moved to the valleys of the upper Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. By 1880, Wisconsin had more German Americans than any other state. Here, as in the East, those who settled in urban centers brought a range of crafts and professional skills, while others setting up farms brought their farming skills from Germany. In the years between 1860 and 1890, three-fifths of German immigrants moved to rural areas, while two-fifths moved to the cities. When they settled, they often established German-speaking communities, setting up their own churches, schools, newspapers, and other institutions, and keeping their cultural traditions alive in the New World.

Religious backgrounds

Most of the German immigrants were Protestants, and among them Lutherans were the majority. About one-third of German immigrants were Catholics. A substantial segment—about 250,000—of the German immigrants were Jews. Jews had lived in Germany since the fourth century, many having settled in the Rhine area. Jews had long beenPage 233  |  Top of Article assimilated in German cultures when suddenly, from the 1830s into the 1880s, several German states began to pass anti-Semitic laws (laws hostile toward Jews). In southern Germany, these laws prohibited young Jews from marrying or starting a family in their communities. Some decided to immigrate to the United States. The first Jews from Bohemia, Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg, and Alsace-Lorraine came in the 1820s. Many of these immigrants were young, aspiring, and middle class, skilled at a trade or a profession. Often they were equipped with savings to get themselves started in a trade in the new country. A significant portion were well educated. Many of the Jewish immigrants settled in New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, but other cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, and New Orleans, had large Jewish communities as well. (For more information, see chapter 15 on Jewish immigration to the United States.)

Political dissidents: the forty-eighters

In the early 1800s many people hoped that the German states would unify under a democratic, constitutional government. Some organized into groups of resistance to fight against the tyrannical princes of the various German states. In 1848 the rebels, or the "forty-eighters," so nicknamed because of the year of their uprising, set off a series of uprisings in Vienna, Berlin, Baden, and southwest Germany. For a time after the uprisings, the princes of the states worked with the rebels toward establishing a constitutional government for a united Germany. Within months, though, the process had fallen apart. The rebels faced arrest and persecution at the hands of the German princes. Between four and ten thousand bitterly disappointed forty-eighters immigrated to the United States at that time. The forty-eighters were an elite group; many had been educated at the finest European universities and had highly prestigious careers ahead of them.

The forty-eighters had little in common with the farmers and craftspeople who had preceded them to America. German American farmers had tended to live quietly in German-speaking communities. The forty-eighters came from a world of radical politics, idealism, debate, and activism. Conflicts arose between the old immigrants, called the "Grays,"

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uimr_01_img0118 A Leading Couple: Carl Schurz and Margarethe Meyer Schurz

Carl Schurz (1829–1906) was a forty-eighter who led the German American community in the late nineteenth century. Of humble origin, he was reared a Roman Catholic, but as an adult he considered himself a freethinker. Schurz attended university at Bonn and there began to make a name for himself in politically liberal circles. Then came the revolutionary fervor that led to the uprisings of 1848. Schurz eagerly joined in the fight to establish a unified German state with a democratic constitution. When the revolutionaries were forced to surrender, Schurz fled into exile, barely escaping with his life. In 1850 he decided to leave the Old World for America. If he could not be a citizen of a free Germany, he concluded, he would become a free citizen of the United States. Before leaving, he married Margarethe Meyer (1833–1876).

Meyer came from a prominent family and had received a distinguished education. She and her sister both became involved in the teachings of Friedrich Froebel (1782–1852), the founder of kindergartens (in German, the word means "garden of children") in Germany. Meyer's sister had opened several kindergartens and Margarethe taught in one of them before marrying Shurz.

Schurz and his wife arrived in the United States in 1852, eventually settling in Watertown, Wisconsin, in 1855. They were quite well off financially. Margarethe's dowry (the money a woman brings into a marriage) alone was enough to set Schurz up in business. His fame as a daring fighter for freedom in Germany, his solid education, his gifts as a writer and speaker, and his political ambition combined to make him a well-known figure almost immediately. Although he rarely stood for election himself, his persuasiveness with German American voters made him a force to be reckoned. His wife, too, was active in bringing new ideas in education to the United States. In 1856 Margarethe Schurz founded what many consider the first kindergarten in the United States in Watertown. Like many German schools in the United States, the kindergarten was conducted in the German language until World War I (1914–18).

Schurz was antislavery and became an avid supporter of Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) in the presidential campaign of 1860. He is said to have traveled more than twenty-one thousand miles campaigning for Lincoln, speaking in both English and German. He was credited with swinging much of the German American vote. After


Influential German Carl Schurz. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Influential German Carl Schurz. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

the American Civil War (1861–65), in which he served as a general, Schurz settled in St. Louis, Missouri, and became a U.S. senator. In Washington, D.C., he turned to issues of corruption. Because of his criticisms of U.S. politicians, some alleged that he was not a patriotic American. He responded with a phrase that has become famous: "My country right or wrong: if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right."

In 1876, Margarethe Schurz died, but by that time she had passed on her knowledge to others who established more kindergartens and set a standard for preschools in the nation. Schurz was made Secretary of the Interior that year. He attempted to initiate environmental controls, particularly over forestlands, and to follow a humanitarian (promoting human welfare) policy with respect to the Indians, but stronger powers within the nation overpowered his liberal idealism. Schurz left government office for good in 1881 and began a second successful career as a journalist, author, and lecturer. He made New York his home, where he became editor-in-chief of the Evening Post and eventually Harper's Weekly.

Schurz saw himself as a mediator between German and American culture. He continued to be equally fluent in German and English, writing his widely read memoirs in both languages. He traveled back and forth many times between the United States and Germany, filled with pride for both. When accused of mixed loyalties, he responded that he loved equally his "old mother" and his "new bride."

and the new immigrants, known as the "Greens." However, the intellectuals' presence gave a new depth and vitality to the German American community and gave them a more powerful voice in national politics.

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Anti-immigrant reactions

In the 1840s, nativist groups (organizations that promoted the rights of the native-born as opposed to immigrants)Page 236  |  Top of Article took up an anti-immigrant, particularly anti-Catholic, campaign. One of the primary nativist organizations was the American Party, which promoted "traditional American ideals" and claimed that immigrants were threatening to destroy American values and democracy. The party, originally called the Know-Nothing Party (because when asked what their political agenda was, members of the secretive party would say they knew nothing about it), mounted very successful political campaigns across the nation. Nativist politicians called for restricting the rights of aliens (who live and work legally in the country but are not citizens) and foreign-born citizens, especially with respect to voting and holding political office. Their primary target was the Irish Americans who were immigrating in great numbers at the same time as the Germans. German Americans probably became the targets of the nativists because of their large numbers. With a different language, customs, and in some cases, a different set of religious or political beliefs, Germans were viewed by some as foreign and therefore dangerous. Many German Americans were Catholics, another target of the Know-Nothings, who claimed that the pope was conspiring to get political control in the United States. Some Americans, too, were beginning to feel the intense competition from German American tradesmen and merchants.


Know-Nothing Party 1844 campaign ribbon. Reproduced by permission of © David J. & Janice L. Frent Collection/Corbis.

Know-Nothing Party 1844 campaign ribbon. Reproduced by permission of © David J. & Janice L. Frent Collection/Corbis.

Among the Germans who immigrated after the 1848 revolutions, there were quite a few politically radical intellectuals who continued to pursue their ideals in the United States. Some of these people had come from socialist or anarchist groups in the old country. (Socialists believe in a society in which no one owns private property, but rather, the government or public owns all goods and the means of distributing them among the people. Anarchists believe that governments are unnecessary and should be eliminated, and that the social world should be organized through the cooperative efforts of the people.) Although their goals were usually right in line with the American values of equality, justice, and personal freedom, the political reformers were viewed as radical extremists. The Know-Nothings seized some of the radical political beliefs to stir up the public against German Americans.

By the mid-1850s, the Know-Nothing Party was so popular that its candidates had been elected to important politicalPage 237  |  Top of Article offices throughout the United States. German Americans, who were typically divided amongst themselves, united in their efforts to fight back against the discrimination directed at them. They were greatly aided by mounting tensions over the issue of slavery in the United States, which divided the Know-Nothing supporters and weakened them as a political group.

German Americans in the labor movement

German Americans were instrumental in the labor-union movement of the late 1880s. (Labor unions are organizations that bring workers together to advance their interests in areas such as work benefits, wages, and working conditions.) German American craftspeople had brought their guild system (associations of craftspeople or merchants) along with them to America. These craft guilds evolved into trade unions, giving rise to the general labor-union movement. Some of the German Americans in the labor movement were influenced by German political philosopher Karl Marx (1818–1883), whose theories of socialism had swept through European intellectual and working-class circles. The more radical German Americans in the labor movement drew criticism from the American public, but in later years their demands would not seem radical. Into the twentieth century, the labor movement in the United States had elements of Marxism. The leaders of the large unions, such as the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), usually tried to steer clear of the radical political agendas. The work of German American union leaders eventually led to many reforms in the workplace in the areas of benefits, pensions, working conditions, and safety. The well-known president of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) from 1946 to 1970, Walter Reuther (1907–1970), was German American.

The World Wars and German Americans

In 1871, after a series of wars, Prussian prime minister Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) brought about the union of the German states (with the exception of Austria) into the

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uimr_01_img0121 The Haymarket Square Riots of Chicago

In the 1880s the rise of trade unions nationwide had given voice to the long-suppressed complaints and demands of the workers. The result was widespread striking across the nation in the attempt to obtain better working conditions and pay. Big businesses were not pleased with the labor movement, fearing that conceding to labor's demands would diminish corporate profits and the system of free trade. Many wanted to stop the unions and went to great lengths to thwart them at every possible opportunity. One of the businesses' best weapons was the press, which could stir up the public against the workers.

After the newly organized union, the Knights of Labor, won a significant victory against the railroads in 1885, other organizations prepared to join the fight. On May 1, 1886, hundreds of thousands of workers participated in a general nationwide strike in an attempt to make the employers agree to a standard eight-hour workday. Three days later, the atmosphere got violent. At a related strike in Chicago at the McCormick Reaper Works, a bomb was thrown at the police in Haymarket Square, killing one policeman and two civilians, and wounding many more.

Eight men were arrested for the bomb-throwing murders, although there was no evidence linking any of them to the bombing. Apparently some of them had not even been present at the rally. Of the eight arrested, six were German Americans. The Chicago press and business and political leaders united in turning the public against these men. Their trial was full of improprieties that were allowed to pass because of the public furor over the incident. The prosecution focused mainly on the previous political statements of the eight accused, rather than on any crime. All were convicted of murder. The trial was seen by many as unjust. Labor leaders throughout the nation protested, but the general mood of intolerance prevailed. Four of the accused were hanged and one committed suicide while in jail. The other three remained in jail.

In 1892 German-born American John Peter Altgeld (1847–1902) was elected to the governor's office in Illinois. Altgeld had risen through the ranks by means of successful investments and a strong sense of adventure. He was very wealthy and very politically ambitious—anyone might have thought at the time of his election that he would help to preserve the existing state of affairs. Altgeld knew very well that the powerful business interests in Illinois would end his political career if he brought justice to the three men who had been languishing in prison cells since the Haymarket riots. Nevertheless, he signed pardons for them and, along with the pardons, released a report exposing the shocking misdeeds of their trials. The three men went free after seven years in jail. Altgeld, on the other hand, was attacked on all fronts. According to Robert D. Sampson in "Governor John Peter Altgeld Pardons the Haymarket Prisoners," the Chicago Tribune proclaimed that the governor had not "a drop of true American blood in his veins. He does not reason like an American, does not feel like one, and consequently does not behave like one." The Washington Post declared that this was what was to be expected from someone who was "an alien himself." Altgeld, with personal knowledge of what it meant to be an outsider because of one's origins, continued to protect the poor. By 1896, as he had suspected, his political career was finished.

Second Empire, or Reich. Germany quickly became the strongest military, industrial, and economic power in Europe. While Bismarck governed, an elaborate system of alliances (unions among groups for a special purpose) with other European powers was created. In 1888, however, Wilhelm II (1859–1941) took over the rule of Germany and the delicate international balance was disturbed. After a series of crises, in 1914 World War I began. Despite initial successes, the German armies—allied with Austria-Hungary and Turkey against the Allies (United Kingdom, France, Russia, and eventually the United States)—were defeated in 1918. About 1.6 million Germans died during the war. In the Treaty of VersaillesPage 239  |  Top of Article (1919) following the war, the Allies stripped Germany of its colonies (many of them in Africa), demanded the nation's almost complete disarmament, and imposed harsh reparations (payments to the other side for damages and expenses attributed to the war). Germany became a republic, governed under a liberal constitution. But the nation was devastated by the serious economic and social dislocations caused by the military defeat and by the subsequent economic depression.

Despite the harassment of the Know-Nothings and the business elite, German Americans had, as a whole, settled quietly into American life, often creating large German American

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During World War I, anti-German hysteria was directed at German Americans at home. This propaganda poster issued by the U.S. government depicts the wartime view of evil Germans (called

During World War I, anti-German hysteria was directed at German Americans at home. This propaganda poster issued by the U.S. government depicts the wartime view of evil Germans (called "Huns," a negative word for German soldiers). Created by Henry Patrick Raleigh. Reproduced by permission of © Corbis.

enclaves (distinct ethnic communities within a city or other social environment) in which they could maintain their language and culture. Their days of peaceful obscurity in the United States were numbered, however. With the start of World War I, German Americans suddenly became the face of the enemy in the United States, and they suffered through violent harassment. Anything remotely "German" was attacked and/or destroyed. Books were burned, street names changed,Page 241  |  Top of Article and German businesses boycotted. Music by German composers like Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) was removed from public performances. Hamburgers, sauerkraut, and dachshunds were renamed "liberty burgers," "liberty cabbage," and "liberty hounds." German Americans were physically attacked, tarred and feathered, and even killed. Robert Paul Prager, a German-born coal miner who was lynched by a mob in 1918, became the symbol of anti-German violence. On April 5, 1992, the first annual Prager Memorial Day was held in remembrance of all the victims of anti-German hysteria during World War I.

After World War I ended, thousands fled the resulting economic disaster in Germany. Between 1919 and 1933, some 430,000 Germans immigrated to the United States. Many were Jewish people fleeing from the anti-Semitism of the rising Nazi Party. (For more information, please see chapter 15 on Jewish immigration.) As a result of the anti-German sentiment in the United States, German Americans started to hide their ethnicity, attempting to blend in as much as possible. Many Americanized their names. German heritage festivals were suspended for a number of years. New immigrants arriving from Germany joined in the drive to be assimilated, losing their German characteristics as quickly as possible.

When Nazi leader Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) came to power in Germany, another surge of intellectuals, many of them Jewish, fled his regime and came to the United States. A total of 130,000 Germans immigrated between 1933 and 1945. It is worthwhile noting that although the United States understood that the Jews who were fleeing Nazi Germany were in grave danger, the government hesitated to change the number of German immigrants it would allow to enter the country. Some fleeing Jews were turned back at American ports and forced to face the cruel conditions in Germany. During World War II (1939–45), the freedom and rights of thousands of German American citizens were restricted. Certain citizens were labeled enemy aliens and required to carry identification cards. Their property was often searched or seized. They could not travel freely, and some were placed in internment camps as possible enemies. Although not as many German Americans or Italian Americans were interned as Japanese Americans, it was a very difficult time for many.Page 242  |  Top of Article Still, German Americans made up one-third of U.S. armed forces during the war and served bravely in the war.

Although the wartime hostilities toward German Americans passed quickly after the world wars, it has not been until recent decades that German Americans began to reclaim their ethnic heritage in large numbers nationwide. The 1990s brought about a climate of multiculturalism in the United States.

German American culture

Until World War I, many German Americans lived in German-speaking communities throughout the United States. The communities ranged from tiny rural villages to city districts. Although they are far too numerous to list, a small sampling demonstrates the wide scope. The village of Maeystown, Illinois, was settled exclusively by German immigrants of the forty-eighter movement. New Braunfels, Texas, was established by one of the princes of Prussia for German settlement. Shipshewana, Indiana, was settled by the German Amish. Frankenmuth, Michigan, was founded by German Lutheran missionaries in 1845. The German colonists who established farms in Frankenmuth pledged to keep the community exclusively German Lutheran and to remain faithful to Germany and the German language. German communities or "Little Germanies" developed in many large cities, such as New York, New York; Chicago, Illinois; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Baltimore, Maryland; St. Louis, Missouri; and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Although not all Germans lived in a German-speaking environment, it was very important to many of them to maintain their native language. German Americans took political action to make sure their children could be educated in the German language. Parochial (religious-based) schools, whether Lutheran or Catholic, taught students in German and English, or only in German. In the public schools, the German American parents succeeded in several states to get laws passed that mandated German instruction when a quota of parents in the community wanted it.

Another means for German Americans to maintain their culture was their sophisticated and widespread press.

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The

The "March King," German-Portuguese American John Philip Sousa (1854–1932), composer of "Stars and Stripes Forever." Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

There were more German American newspapers than any other foreign papers in the country. The forty-eighters had come from a tradition of journalism, and many of the papers were liberal, intellectual, and very well written.

Germany has always been known for its brilliant musicians, such as Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), Georg Frederic Handel (1685–1759), Franz Joseph Haydn

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A couple in Sparta, New Jersey, drinking at Oktoberfest. Reproduced by permission of © Corbis.

A couple in Sparta, New Jersey, drinking at Oktoberfest. Reproduced by permission of © Corbis.

(1732–1809), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), Franz Schubert (1797–1828), Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847), and Robert Schumann (1810–1856). German Americans established a multitude of music halls, opera societies, and choral festivals after arriving in the New World. The symphony orchestras in Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston were founded by German Americans. In 1890 eighty-nine of the ninety-four performers with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra were German born. Sängvereine, or singing societies, across the nation provided a forum for amateurs to gather for sophisticated musical entertainment and competitions.

German Americans were abundant in the arts not only in large cities but also in small rural Midwestern towns as well. Unlike many immigrants at the time, many Germans came to the United States well educated and steeped in the cultural achievements of the German people. In fact, non-German Americans often accused them of snobbery.

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In the years during and after World War I, anti-German backlash was severe, causing German Americans to lose many of the cultural traditions they prized. Roger Daniels comments in Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life, that the sudden end of German instruction in schools "hastened the death of most of the other cultural institutions of German America." Nonetheless, German language and culture have had an obvious influence on U.S. vocabulary. German words now in common usage in the United States include kindergarten, gesundheit, ouch, delicatessen, blitz, sauerkraut, and wiener. Many of the Christmas traditions now seen as standard in America, such as Christmas trees (tannenbaum) and Santa Claus (Kris Kringle), were introduced by German Americans, as were New Year's Eve festivities. Early German settlers also brought with them a much more relaxed attitude toward the Sabbath (the day of rest and worship; for Christians, Sunday; for Jews, from Friday evening to Saturday evening) than that preached by the Puritans. German Americans transformed Sundays in America from days of rigid observances to days of rest and relaxation.

German Americans love to gather to eat and drink. Beer, a German specialty, has become one of the favorite beverages in America. Most of the big American brewing companies were founded by German Americans. Foods introduced by German Americans that are now common fare in the American diet include frankfurters, hamburgers, sauerkraut (although some credit Polish Americans with this addition), potato salad, bratwurst, liverwurst, and pretzels.

German American holidays and celebrations

In the middle of September each year, German Americans and many non-German Americans in Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, and a variety of small towns nationwide gather for the Steuben Day Parade. Baron Friedrich von Steuben (1730–1794) was a German general in the time of the American Revolution (1775–83). He offered his services to George Washington. He is credited with transforming the untrained group of rebels into a disciplined military force and thus helping the Americans win their battle against England. The popular parade features German music, dancing, marching, costumes, and elaborate floats.

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German American Day was officially proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan (1911–) in 1987 to be celebrated on October 6, the date on which Germantown, Pennsylvania, was founded in 1683. Oktoberfests and other cultural festivals help promote an understanding of German American heritage and traditions among German and non-German Americans alike.

For More Information

Books

Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.

Frost, Helen. German Immigrants, 1820–1920. Mankato, MN: Blue Earth Books, an imprint of Capstone Press, 2002.

Hoobler, Dorothy, and Thomas Hoobler. The German American Family Album. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Web Sites

Sampson, Robert D. "Governor John Peter Altgeld Pardons the Haymarket Prisoners," Illinois Labor History Site. http://www.kentlaw.edu/ilhs/prisoner.htm (accessed on February 26, 2004).

Wurst, Klaus, and Norbert Muehlen. "Forty-eighters and Nativists," Part 3. German Corner. http://www.germanheritage.com/Essays/1848/forty-eighters_part3.html (accessed on February 26, 2004).

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
"German Immigration." U.S. Immigration and Migration Reference Library, edited by Lawrence W. Baker, et al., vol. 1: Vol. 1: Almanac, UXL, 2004, pp. 221-246. U.S. History in Context, http%3A%2F%2Flink.galegroup.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FCX3436800018%2FUHIC%3Fu%3Dgray02935%26sid%3DUHIC%26xid%3Defaf4636. Accessed 19 Oct. 2018.

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3436800018