Coming to America
By mid-century, the transatlantic voyage had lost many of its earlier horrors. Moving emigrants had become a regular and lucrative business.
From 1843 on, Bremen shippers held the lead in people export, loading their boats with tobacco, rice and cotton for the homeward journey. Faster and larger sailing vessels and, soon, steamships shortened the emigrant's
trip at sea, while railroads eagerly sought him as a passenger In the new land. The only fear that remained, though It was not restricted to the transatlantic traveler, was cholera and other dreaded diseases that took
heavy tolls both at sea and in the American port cities. In 1834, nearly 1,000 Germans died from yellow fever in New Orleans.
American authorities frequently found small groups of paupers and even criminals
among the crowds of emigrants. Investigations showed that some communities in Germany, notably in Oldenburg and Hesse, financially assisted the departure of such undesirables. Through the good offices of the German
Society of Maryland, the Bremen senate, in 1838, was prevailed upon to pass an ordinance "preventing the exportation of paupers and vagrants." But Ingenious town fathers could avoid the law by shipping their
poor via English ports. The village of Grosszimmern in Hesse did so in 1846, creating an International Incident with negative repercussions for the entire German immigration. The German Society of New York actually paid
for the return of some deportees to Europe. A refreshing footnote to this somber chapter is the fact that the paintings of three German-born almshouse inmates, Charles Hofman, John Rasmussen and Louis Mader, now hang in
the foremost American folk art collections, including the National Gallery.
Numerous other young Germans in America were technically criminals, but worried no one. The German states whose laws they had
broken sometimes traced them and used local newspapers to notify them of their trial dates. Frederick Gniffke in Dubuque, Iowa, read in the local Express and Herald
in June, 1849, that he should appear In the Danzig district court on the charge of "leaving In order to avoid joining the army." Gniffke, by the way, became active in Iowa politics and founded the
Dubuque National Demokrat, a newspaper that lasted 75 years. He was one of an ever-increasing number of draft dodgers among the Immigrants.
Despite long periods of apparent calm, some people in the
German states felt that the smoldering liberal movement on one hand and the repressive measures of the governments, especially in Prussia and Austria, on the other hand, would lead to a revolution. Some went on their
way to America to avoid becoming involved in it, particularly as conscripts in an army that would shoot its fellow citizens. Others participated and fled after the failure of the uprising.
The revolution came to Germany and neighboring countries in
1848, and initial successes in Berlin, Vienna and Southwest Germany encouraged many to hope for unification and democracy. Liberal refugees of the 1820's and 1830's in the
United States watched with emotion, many other Americans with genuine sympathy, as the German National Assembly in Frankfurt debated the future of Germany. But reactionary
forces regained control, suppressed renewed outbreaks in 1849 and relentlessly persecuted the men and women involved in the uprisings. Ten thousand or more fled to Switzerland and
England; eventually some 4000 participants came to America. Among the first to arrive were sons of German-Americans, like Oscar Montgomery Lieber and Adolf Engelmann, whose father
was one of the "Latin farmers" in Belleville, Illinois, who had rushed to Germany to help the cause of freedom.
Picture shows the uprising at Berlin on March 8, 1848.
SPAN200 by Klaus Wurst and Norbert Muehlen. Published in behalf of Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, Stuttgart