“German Americans on the Middle Border: From Antislavery to Reconciliation, 1830-1877,” by Zachary Stuart Garrison, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, 2020. This 213-page paperback examines the settlement of Germans along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers from Cincinnati to St. Louis and related small communities including Evansville, IN and Belleville, IL. The focus is the politics of these Germans, their influence on the formation of the Republican Party, the election of Abraham Lincoln, and their role in Reconstruction. This is a well studied subject. The bibliography runs 19 pages and lists about 300 references. This is an excellent reference to literature.
Germans began to settle in the area in the 1830s after Gottfried Duden settled in Dutzow, Warren Co., MO in the 1820s. He returned to Germany and published a pamphlet that described the area as excellent for farming. His work was widely circulated and resulted in a wave of arrivals known as followers of Duden. Many appreciated the low cost of land–often sold by the government for $1.25/acre. The laws of primogenitor in Germany gave all the land to the oldest son. In America, one could afford land for all the sons and the grandsons. Garrison cites forced military service and a weak economy as reasons to leave Germany and repeatedly mentions homesteading as attractive to Germans. He overlooks the agriculture part and instead deals with the writings of newspapers and “Latin farmers,” the intellectuals in the group.
Conditions in Germany were a factor in the decision to immigrate. Germany like much of Europe was dominated by the aristocracy, especially the princes who led the many small states in the German speaking area. After the American and French revolutions, Germans sought revisions that would give individuals more freedom. That came to a head with the 1848 Revolution which failed. Immigrants are usually divided into two groups, the Dreissigers, who arrived in the 1830s and the Forty-Eighters who arrived after 1848. The latter group was more liberal. In 1860, St. Louis was the epicenter of German liberalism. The Turnvereine or Turners were known for their athletics but also for liberal politics.
Garrison cites “bildung” as a driver. Bildung is usually translated as education but there is a moral obligation to improve oneself. Slavery interferes with bildung and hence Germans opposed slavery. In moving to the good land along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, they were often exposed to the horrors of slavery. Both Kentucky and Missouri were slave states. Slavery was not allowed in the Northwest territory, but slave owners could bring their slaves into the northern states. Slave auctions were reportedly held in Illinois; mines in Illinois were known to rent slave labor.
Generally the German settlers identified themselves as Democrats in the egalitarian style of Andrew Jackson. That aligned them with support for slavery. Germans were strongly opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska Act which allowed voters to decide on slavery. Slavery in western territory would exclude other workers who could not compete with slaves. As a result they joined the Republican party and helped elect Lincoln. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was sponsored by Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois and is the subject of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Lincoln also supported homesteading. He signed the Homestead Act in 1862.
Slavery seemed to dominate Missouri politics. Thomas Hart Benton was Missouri’s first senator. He was a strong supporter of western expansion. Western trails and later railroads were major drivers of Missouri’s economy. He was born in North Carolina and supported slavery but in time his view became more moderate. His position on slavery resulted in his defeat in 1850. In St. Louis, Benton’s free soil branch of the Democrats became the basis of the Republican party.
During the war many Germans fought for the Union. They were not strongly patriotic but seemed to be driven by economics.
After the Civil War, Radical Republicans took charge and called for drastic restrictions on those who fought for or supported the Confederacy. In Missouri, Charles Drake backed the 1865 state constitution which was Reconstructionist. To vote, individuals had to sign a loyalty oath and pass an 81 point checklist. Former slaves could vote.
Germans were moderate in their position on Reconstruction, but after emancipation former slaves flooded into the border states. There was also nativism about which generally opposed immigrants, especially Catholics. And the first temperance measures came under consideration. Illinois Republicans passed a state temperance law in 1872. Germans saw temperance as anti-German as Germans were well known for their beer gardens. Germans returned to the Democrats. In 1884, John Marmaduke, a Confederate general under Sterling Price was elected governor of Missouri.
This is an excellent source on the creation of the Republican party and the election of Lincoln at least in the Midwest. We learn much about the complexities of the slavery issue. We also learn about the role of key players and their background. This book is detailed in its coverage and has excellent references. References. Bibliography. Index.