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America - The Teutonic Tide

( Originally Published 1921 )

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 lei-sure and his amusements in his own customary way.

The reports of the Immigration Commissioner disclose the fact that well over five and a third mil-lions 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 Germany."'

According to the Census of 1910 the nationality of the total number of white persons of foreign stock in the United States is distributed chiefly as follows:

Germany 8,582,618 or 55.7 per cent
Ireland 4,504,360 or 14.0
Canada 2,754,615 or 8.6
Russia 2,541,649 or 7.9
England 2,325,442 or 7.2
Italy 2,098,360 or 6.5
Austria 2,001,559 or 6.2

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 Iiving 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, Wurttemberg, 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 learning.

Pennsylvania was the favorite distributing point for these German hosts. Thence they pushed southward through the beautiful Shenandoah Val-ley 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 in-land. They were to be found scattered on the coast from Maine to Georgia. Boston, New York City, Baltimore, New Bern, Wilmington, Charles-ton, 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 comfort-able 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. " 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 con-junction, 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 over-come a foreign foe but to break the tyrant at home. The hope for constitutional government, for a. re-presentative 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 Ger-many 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 grants 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.

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. Steer-age 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 Ger-man 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 terri-tories 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 Ger-man 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 be-ginning to end was characterized by princely in-competence. 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 communities.

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 Ger-man 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 back-ground 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 ex-pressed 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 of-ten 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 aesthetic appreciation in the raw 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 news-papers by the hundreds and maintained many Ger-man 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, " wrote one of the leading Fortyeighters, " does the German-American rouse himself and become a berserker." The great numbers of these men in many cities and in some of the West-ern States enabled them to have German taught in the public schools, though it is only fair to say that the underlying motive was liberalism rather than Prussian provincialism. Frederick Kapp, a distinguished interpreter of the spirit of these Fortyeighters, expressed their conviction when he said that those who cared to remain German should remain in Germany and that those who came to America were under solemn obligations to become Americans.

The descendants of these immigrants, the second and the third and fourth generations, are now thoroughly absorbed into every phase of American life. Their national idiosyncrasies have been modified and subdued by the gentle but relentless persistence of the English language and the robust vigor of American law and American political institutions.

After 1870 a great change came over the German immigration. More and more industrial workers, but fewer and fewer peasants, and very rarely an intellectual or a man of substance, now appeared at Ellis Island for admission to the United States.' The facilities for migrating were vastly increased by the great transatlantic steamship companies. The new Germans came in hordes even outnumbering the migrations of the fifties. From 1870 to 1910 over three and a quarter millions arrived. The highest point of the wave, however, was reached in 1882, when 250,630 German immigrants entered the United States. Thereafter the number rapidly subsided; the lowest ebb, in 1898, brought only 17,111, but from that time until the Great War the number of annual arrivals fluctuated between 25,000 and 40,000.

The majority of those who came in the earlier part of this period made their way to the Western lands. The Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and the Far West, still offered alluring opportunities. But as these lands were gradually taken, the later influx turned towards the cities. Here the immigrants not only found employment in those trades and occupations which the Germans for years had virtually monopolized, but they also be-came factory workers in great numbers, and many of them went into the mining regions.

It soon became apparent that the spirit of this latest migration was very different from that of the earlier ones. "I do not believe," writes a well-' informed and patriotic Lutheran pastor in 1917, "that there is one among a thousand that has emigrated on account of dissatisfaction with the Ger-man Government during the last forty-five years." Humility on the part of these newcomers now gradually gave way to arrogance. Instead of appearing eager to embrace their new opportunities, they criticized everything they found in their new home. The contemptuous hauteur and provincial egotism of the modern Prussian, loathsome enough in the educated, were ridiculous in the poor immigrants. Gradually this Prussian spirit increased. In 1883 it could still be said of the three hundred German-American periodicals, daily, weekly, and monthly, that in their tone they were thoroughly American.

But ten or fifteen years later changes were apparent. In 1895 there were some five hundred Ger-man periodicals published in America, and many of the newer ones were rabidly Germanophile. The editors and owners of the older publications were dying out, and new hands were guiding the editorial pens. Often when there was no American-born German available, an editor was imported fresh from Germany. He came as a German from a new Germany — that Prussianized Germany which unmasked itself in August, 1914, and which included in its dream of power the unswerving and undivided loyalty of all Germans who had migrated./ The traditional American indifference and good nature became a shield for the Machiavellian editors who now began to write not for the benefit of America but for the benefit of Ger-many. Political scandals, odious *comparisons of American and German methods, and adroit criticisms of American ways were the daily pabulum fed to the German reader, who was left with the impression that everything in the United States was wrong, while everything in Germany was right. Before the United States entered the Great War, there was a most remarkable unanimity of expression among these German publications; afterwards, Congress found it necessary to enact rigorous laws against them. As a result, many of them were suppressed, and many others suspended publication.

German pastors, also, were not infrequently imported and brought with them the virus of the new Prussianism. This they injected into their congregations and especially into the children who attended their catechetical instruction. German "exchange professors," in addition to their university duties, usually made a pilgrimage of the cities where the German influence was strong. The fostering of the German language became no longer merely a means of culture or an appurtenance to business but was insisted upon as a necessity to keep alive the German spirit, der Deutsche Geist. German parents were warned, over and over again, that once their children lost their language they would soon lose every active interest in Kultur. The teaching of German in the colleges and universities assumed, undisguised and unashamed, the character of Prussian propaganda. The new immigrants from Germany were carefully protected from the deteriorating effect of American contacts, and, unlike the preceding generations of German immigrants, they took very little part in politics.

Those who arrived after 1900 refused, usually, to become naturalized.

The diabolical ingenuity of the German propaganda was subsequently laid bare, and it is known today that nearly every German club, church, school, and newspaper from about 1895 onward was being secretly marshaled into a powerful Teutonic homogeneity of sentiment and public opinion. The Kaiser boasted of his political influence through the German vote. The German-American League, incorporated by Congress, had its branches in many States. Millions of dollars were spent by the Imperial German Government to corrupt the millions of German birth in America. These disclosures, when they were ultimately made, produced in the United States a sharp and profound reaction against everything Teutonic. The former indifference completely vanished and' hyphen-hunting became a popular pastime. The charter of the German-American League was revoked by Congress. City after city took German from its school curriculum. Teutonic names of towns and streets were erased — half a dozen Berlins vanished overnight — and in their places appeared the names of French, British, and American heroes.

But though the names might be erased, the German element remained. It had become incorporated into the national bone and sinew, contributing its thoroughness, stolidity, and solidity to the American stock. The power of liberal political institutions in America has been revealed, and thousands upon thousands of the sons and grand-sons of German immigrants crossed the seas in 1917 and 1918 to bear aloft the starry standard upon the fields of Flanders against the arrogance and brutality of the neo-Prussians.

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