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Civil War and Reconstruction(Part1)

Germans and Political Interest

Immigrants of the nineteenth century had generally shunned slavery and the areas where it was prevalent. Without showing a particular fondness for Blacks, most Germans were appalled by "the peculiar Institution" and could not reconcile its existence with the lofty ideals of America. Yet there were few German abolitionists before politically articulate Forty-Eighters made emancipation their own cause. These men, in the forthright manner of crusaders, unhampered by considerations of the practical politics of compromise, stumped the backwoods and beerhalls of Missouri, Wisconsin and Iowa to enlist German votes for the new Republican Party. Many formerly Democratic stalwarts of an earlier wave of immigration joined in this new movement. John Bernhard Stallo, an Oldenburg-born judge in Cincinnati, Gustav Koerner, Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, and Frederick Muench, pioneer "Latin farmer" in Missouri, all threw their energies into local campaigns.

Friedrich Hecker was one of the most
celebrated Forty-Eighters.
The legend to this picture reads:
"For Unity, For Freedom, Against Slavery,
Against sanctimonius Hypocrites."

The new German wing of the Republican Party initially favored New Yorker William Seward for the presidency in 1860. But it willingly followed Abraham Lincoln after he endorsed a liberal homestead law and an anti-nativist "Dutch plank," written by Forty-Eighter Carl Schurz, a member of the platform committee. The party was well aware of the crucial importance of the German vote in many localities. Abraham Lincoln shrewdly bought the German newspaper Illinois Staatsanzeiger, press and all, before he set out for the national convention in Chicago and the Republicans employed German orators to stress German issues throughout the campaign.

The election campaign of 1860 was an unusual one, of course, because not only the presidency, but the very existence of the nation was in question. German audiences, even Catholics and other loyal Democrats, were generally receptive to arguments in favor of national unity. Of the 265 German language newspapers in the country in 1860, only three -all Southern weeklies- favored secession.

When secession, and later, hostilities ensued, President Lincoln's calls for volunteers met an enthusiastic response among German-Americans, especially from well-trained Turner and rifle clubs, whose members were among the first to report for duty. Turners and students of St. Louis' Humboldt Institute, the medical school founded by Forty-Eighter Adam Hammer, sped into action even before the call to arms, saving the local arsenal from takeover by Southern sympathizers. Turners from Washington, D.C., were among the first to man the defenses of the capital and the colorful United Turner Rifles, the Twentieth New York Regiment, quickly marched off to its first assignment. Some 6,000 German volunteers in New York, another 6,000 in Illinois and 4,000 in Pennsylvania enlisted immediately. Boston quickly dispatched two companies. Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa and, above all, Ohio sent large contingents. Some rural sections In the Midwest, especially in Wisconsin, were less ready to contribute troops, but these were the exception. German communities, in general, staged elaborate farewell ceremonies for their fighting men, not least because they wanted to demonstrate German participation in the war to those who had so recently been questioning their Americanism.

SPAN200 by Klaus Wurst and Norbert Muehlen. Published in behalf of Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, Stuttgart

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