The first emigration to the United States of persons of German birth—that is, in any considerable numbers—took place immediately after the Thirty Years War, and was a proximate consequence of that struggle. The draughts on its resources for over a quarter of a century had made Germany a very poor country, and, like all poor countries, a very undesirable place for those dependent for a livelihood on the labor of their hands, since with the capital of the country went—as even the tyro in political economy must know—the wage-fund, the support of its mechanics and peasantry. Thousands of these classes, with no alternative but gradual starvation or immediate emigration, chose the latter as the lesser evil, and turned their eyes to our shores, then as now the land of promise to the Israelites of fortune.
Queen Anne of England had promised free passage to America to those Germans desiring to emigrate thither. She expected but a few ship-loads of the exiles. Great therefore was her consternation, and that of the generous Londoners, when they saw themselves threatened by a foreign invasion. History informs us that there were at one time thirty-two thousand German emigrants, poor, ignorant, and. war-worn, in London, awaiting an opportunity to embark for America. The hospitality of the English had been over-eagerly accepted; of their too willing guests only twelve thousand were carried across the Atlantic.
Such was the advent among us of the German element, — an element worthy of our best and most careful study; for we are sure that in the coming man—the future citizen of homogeneous America, an individual whose day is perhaps a hundred years in the future—the German blood will “tell,” and go far to make him what he will be.
The first German emigrants were, for obvious reasons, far beneath the German emigrant of our own times, both in intelligence and position for whereas they came almost paupers to the country, the German who lands here to-day does not, except in rare cases, come penniless. He comes generally with the ability to read and write, and with means sufficient to support himself and his family, if he has one, until his labor shall provide him with an income. Indeed, the German who comes to-day comes relatively independent. The first colony of Germans came as hewers of wood and drawers of water, the lowest of the low, the most ignorant of the ignorant, bearing to our forefathers about the same relation that the Chinese do at present to our brothers on the Pacific Coast. Such, at least, is the view of their status taken by a countryman of theirs, Friedrich Kapp, the historian of German emigration to the State of New York.
There were, however, some exceptions to this rule, and in course of time the exceptions became less rare; for with their economy and tact it was impossible that these German emigrants should long remain at the point at which they were compelled to begin. The richest man in New York city at the end of the seventeenth century was Jacob Leisler, a German, as was also—witness his name—Johann Peter Zenger, who distinguished himself in his day by his tirades on the English.
The German, never exceedingly modest in his claims and always ready to compliment his country and his countrymen, even at the expense of everything and everybody else, is enthusiastic in his admiration of Zenger. We have read, and heard it insinuated by our adopted countrymen, that Johann Peter Zenger, and not George Washington, was the real father of his country. But not only of having given us a Johann Peter Zenger does the German boast. If he gave us the founder of the Republic, he initiated, too, he claims, the struggle against slavery; for did not his countrymen, in 1688, present to the government a petition to abolish slavery in the Colonies? Nay, more: the Germans taught us the arts; they were, according to their own account, the first to engage in this country in the manufacture of iron, of linen, cloth, and paper; the first in this country to carry on agriculture and the raising of stock on really scientific principles. Indeed, could our German cousins establish all their claims, not only would Washington have to descend from his pedestal to make place for the less classic figure of Zenger, but the enterprising Yankee himself would have absolutely nothing to his credit.
It may be instructive to say a few words on the fate of the first German emigrants to this country. Part of them settled among the colonists of English descent, and part of them in colonies exclusively German, as, for instance, those of the Mohawk and the Schoharie in the State of New York. Previous to the war of the Revolution, there was not much calculated to bring them in contact with the colonists of a different origin, and they continued in their isolation, almost exclusively German, clinging to their own customs, and speaking their own language.
One of the effects of the War was to bring all classes of the population of the country nearer to one another, and to induce more friendly and more intimate relations among them. In this manner it came to pass that the Germans, who had thus far lived as if they constituted a commonwealth apart, began to feel themselves in some way related to the rest of the country. But the union of the two races was not yet complete. In one sense—not in a technical one—the fusion of the two peoples was only political. Their social amalgamation took a longer time, and was brought about by other and more subtile means.
The first step towards the complete assimilation of the German and American races was taken when the German gave up his own language and adopted the English. So long as they could not even exchange ideas, there was little hope that much progress would be made towards a coming together; but the young German found it to his advantage to know English; he learned it, spoke it, and was proud of the accomplishment; for among his countrymen it was an accomplishment. With the German language disappeared the peculiarly German customs, and the young German differed now from the young American only in his origin. The latter invited his young German friend to church on Sundays, and later to an evening party at his home. The young German of that time found the young American girl fairer to the eye than his lady friend of German descent, — it speaks well for the good taste of the Germans of to-day that they do the same, — and offered her his hand and his heart, both of which, in some cases, not to say all, were accepted; and thus love bridged over the chasm that separated the German from the American, and under Gods fusing influence both became indistinguishably one. All that remains of the primitive German emigrant to our shores is a name which his great grand-children make terrible havoc of, and which their reverend sire, the early settler, could he rise from his grave, would by no possibility recognize as that which he thought it would be his to transmit. A name, and that a mutilated one, is all that is left of him. Will it be so with the Germans now among us?
The great majority—it would not be far from the mark to say all—of our present population has come here within something less than a quarter of a century, nine-tenths of all who have come being from the artisan and laboring classes, the other tenth from the middle classes, with an occasional Baron or Count—whom German and American alike declare to be generally “no count”—thrown in by way of variety,
Owing partly to political and partly to other causes, the tide of German emigration assumed, about the year 1848, dimensions altogether unwonted; and up to the present time there has been no falling off in the numbers that land from Germany every year upon our shores. Statisticians have estimated them at the yearly average of 100,000 souls, for about twenty years. There are those—German authorities—who claim that of the present population 10,000,000 are Germans and their descendants, and, as the writer takes it, descendants in the first generation, and about as much American as if born in Westphalia. In 1864 they claimed one-sixth of our entire population.
It is not easy to obtain trustworthy information as to the number of Germans in the United States. Of this we are certain, — it is very great. There are as many Germans in many of our large western cities as there are Americans; in some of them there are more. They are found scattered over the East; in the West, they are thick as autumn leaves; they cover the country and swarm in the city.
Un-American in language, un-American in education, to some extent un-American in their views; socially, and in a degree commercially, isolated from the native-born population, yet endowed with all the rights of American citizens; Americans de jure but not, in a sense, de facto, — they present an object of study, political and social, second to none that can engage the attention of the American patriot or statesman. What are they? How do they live? What are their customs? What attitude do they take toward the rest of the population? What of their future? Will they found an imperium in imperio, or will they be absorbed into the American body? Will they permanently affect the American character, and how?
The Germans in this country are clannish, gregarious in their instincts. It is sometimes objected to the Germans that they herd together thus but, as we think, unjustly. What else could be expected on their arrival? To find fault with them for not becoming Americans in a day is, to say the least, very unphilosophical; and whoever does so makes no allowance for the inevitable, and would go to law with gravitation itself.
Their quarters—and they have separate quarters in all large cities where they have settled in any numbers—are readily distinguished, so unlike are they to other quarters of the town, so un-aristocratic, so un-American, so un-pretending in their architecture. The stores and dwellings wear a strange aspect. The huge German characters on the sign-boards, generally gilt or some exceedingly dazzling color, flare down on the spectator, and tell him that he is not among those “to the manner born,” while the English on the same is frequently so inhumanly butchered that he feels very certain he is among no very near relations, even of the King’s subjects.
The never failing lager-beer saloon opens its hospitable door to him at every step. He advances, and lager-beer saloons multiply. He advances at an arithmetical rate; but lager-beer saloons increase in a geometrical ratio. They gain upon him. He finds them at his right and his left, behind and before him. They meet him in such numbers that he begins at last, as it seems to him, to realize the infinite; for saloons are countless, and what metaphysician will split hairs, and tell the difference between the countless and the infinite? Just at this point it is that the observer is in danger of coming to a wrong conclusion from all he sees; for he is lost in wonder how all these saloons are supported, and, if given to hasty generalization, soon comes to the conclusion that either all German saloon-keepers must starve, or that all Germans who do not keep saloons must be the most punctual of tavern patrons, and the least temperate of men: neither of which conclusions, as his further acquaintance with German saloons and German saloon-keepers will satisfy him, is, owing to lack of data, correct; for German saloon-keepers do not starve, and a confirmed German inebriate is as rare almost as a German advocate of total abstinence. Our German population may, relatively, support the largest number of saloons. They by no means produce the greatest number of drunkards.
The appearance of the people is in keeping with the quarters in which they live. The men, as a rule, are large, vigorous, and handsome; the women more noticeable for their robustness than for their beauty; the children, compared with the American children, for their greater size, strength, and weight.
Here no waterfall, Grecian bend, or Dolly Varden. Here only original Teutonic simplicity and severity. Here no affected gait, no strained attention to the style of locomotion. Here men and women who seem to believe that it is more important they should walk than how, that they should be dressed than how; who care more to live in the present and provide for the future than after what fashion they shall do the one or the other. Here no fastidiousness of any kind, and yet nothing that can shock the most fastidious; for if there is nothing ornamental here, there is nothing here that is indecent. The Germans are a prolific race, raise large families, and enjoy doing so. Here, therefore, children swarm. Here children scream and grow large-chested; climb up piles of wood, over their father’s heavy wagons, and grow broad-shouldered and muscular. Here infants drink from the fountain nature intended they should feed at; here “soothing-syrup” and the nursing-bottle are unknown. Here no effeminacy, — no effeminacy even in woman. Here the five-year-old learns sometimes to earn his daily bread, and the ten-year-old divides his time between school and work. Here men and even children who know the value of a penny, — men and children who are willing to work, who understand from the cradle that life is a struggle, who. earn relatively much, and spend relatively little; who are willing to live on beer and coarse meat and brown bread, and think it no self-denial to do so. Here, in fact, in the sternest of schools, are brought up those whom the children of Americans will have to meet in the battle of life the men into whose hands, or into the hands of whose children the wealth and influence of the West, in less than half a century, will, in a great measure, have passed, and with the wealth and influence of the great West—which in a few years will mean more than half the continent—it may be the wealth and influence of the whole country; provided always the children of American parents are not brought up in a more Spartan-like school than they are at present, and taught that only through those virtues by which their fathers earned the competence they enjoy can that competence be preserved.
The stern early training of the young German is reinforced by the virtues he witnesses about him, economy, honesty, and industry, all of which in a high degree the German claims and obtains credit for wherever he settles.
The man works, the children work, and the women work, and work as hard as if not harder than the men; for the German, although not destitute of romance, is far from believing that woman was made to be only ornamental. Mere accomplishments go a very little way in deciding a German’s choice of a wife. He inquires how well she will wear and how hard she can work, whether she can sew and cook. He has never been guilty of the folly of seeking in his wife an intellectual companion. If he is a philosopher, he does not want his wife to be one. The less she knows of syllogisms the better. Among the opponents, accordingly, of woman-suffrage, the Germans are the stanchest. Even the best-to-do Germans, men of education, professional men, expect their wives to superintend the cooking, and in many cases to do it themselves.
The wife helps her husband in all small businesses. She stands behind the counter and retails beer for him, not ceasing, however, to take care of her baby, usually a fat and rosy one, and so rugged, indeed, that a couple of hours neglect daily could not possibly harm it; or she helps you to fit on a pair of boots or shoes which her husband has made or mended for you, perhaps sold you. The industry of the women is sometimes marvellous. The writer has known German women to walk six or seven miles to market before seven o’clock in the morning, with no burden but a dozen of eggs or a pound or two of butter, and to wait there a half day before they had disposed of it.
As a rule, the German in the West owns his own house and the ground it is built on. It may be, and generally is, a humble one, yet he is proud in the consciousness that its possession constitutes him a land owner. He plants a row of poplars before his cottage, and then the last touch is given to his manorial estate. In addition to his other good qualities he is provident, and at his death rarely leaves any one who cannot take care of himself unprovided for. It is the prevalence of these virtues amongst them that has given the Germans their reputation as good, quiet, respectable, peace-loving, law-abiding citizens, — a reputation which they certainly deserve.
These virtues are sometimes carried to that extreme where they begin to look to the less moderate American like faults. The German is so content to leave well-enough alone that he can see nothing to be gained by incessant and feverish efforts at improvement. Hence, with all his love of immediate gain, he cares little for that which is prospective, if attended with ever so small a risk. German speculation is confined to the regions of philosophy; it never shows itself in the market.
The German is quite social, that is, with his own countrymen. With them he will sit, and smoke, and drink a glass of beer or wine, never of brandy or whiskey, unless perchance he has been Americanized in that one particular, which sometimes happens. With Americans he is more reserved. He seems to feel that between him and them there is an impassable gulf. His only intercourse with them is of a business character, and of that even he has but little. If he keeps a wholesale house, or a very large retail one, he may have a small number of American customers; otherwise, his business relations are confined to those of his own nationality. Americans are practically foreigners to their German fellow-citizens whom it is a kind of petty treason to the fatherland to patronize. Hence the German population have their own merchants, artisans, mechanics, dressmakers, and professional men.
They have their own literary and scientific societies, their own reading-rooms, their own libraries, their own theatre, and their own press, all of which compare favorably, everything considered, with similar institutions among Americans. They like a doctor of their own, and a lawyer, where they can find one. The German seems to have conscientious—it were more correct, perhaps, to say gastronomic—scruples against being physicked by an American doctor; for deep in his soul lies the conviction that no one but a German can understand the intricacies of a genuine German stomach. A Yankee dentist has no vocation to fill a German tooth, or grind at a German molar, not even to extract one from a German jaw-bone. But not the American doctor and the American dentist only, the American shoemaker even is not honored by his German fellow-citizen. There is a something about the American boot absolutely forbidding to him; and much as he may think of Brother Jonathan in other respects, he will not be found in his shoes.
It would not be hard to misinterpret this feature of the German character. Its existence, however, should not be attributed to any dislike of the German for the American. We may love him very well, he loves his countrymen more. And, it is quite natural he should; it is but one instance in a thousand of the effects of the moral chemical affinity of race.
The German has, as might be expected, his own Church—that is supposing him to be of the class that goes to church—and, as might not be expected, his own school, to say nothing of certain institutions peculiarly his own. In religion he is either Lutheran, of the German Reformed Church, or Roman Catholic; and when he professes the creed of any of these his orthodoxy is unquestioned. The opinion obtains very extensively that rationalism, or infidelity, or some form of unbelief, is widely prevalent among the German portion of our population. There is some truth in this. Yet the vast majority of the German population, both East and West, are Christians of some kind. The best educated amongst them, however, are, for the most part, members of no Church; and of the children of German parents born in this country very many, perhaps a majority of those who receive anything approximating to a collegiate education, do not accept Christianity in any form; of these again, probably the greater number favor absolute materialism. It cannot be said that it is American modes of thought or the atmosphere of American opinion that engender this change. American thought, or its equivalent, New-England thought, has no influence on the Germans in America. Of all our authors, Emerson is perhaps the only one who enjoys any reputation as a thinker among them, and his is to be attributed in part to the fact that they claim he is only a popularizer of German speculations. The minds that form theirs are German; they read Büchner, Vogt, and Hæckel.
The German radical or the German materialist is not as fair minded as the American who entertains the same views. It were hard to find any one more positive or more impatient of contradiction than the disciple of Büchner, who assures you with Firdusi,
Von Erde sind, zur Erde warden wir,
Voll Angst und Kummer sind auf Erden wir;
Du gehst von hinnen, doch es währt die Welt,
Und Keiner hat Ihr Räthsel aufgeheilt.
It cannot be said that the German radical’s science is always profound, or that he knows both sides of certain momentous questions; but he never suspects that he is superficial, or seems to care whether there is anything to be said on the other side. Christianity, in the etymological sense of the word, — in all senses, in fact, — is losing among the German population in America faster perhaps than among any other class of people in the world; and should the extreme radicals in religion—that is, those of American birth and parentage—ever attain to any political significance in the country, they will be warmly seconded by a large and growing class of Germans in the West, who, if anything, are much more radical in the matter than Americans are, or think it consistent with the most enlightened liberty to be; for whereas the American is content with the freedom to hold and defend his views, the German, owing perhaps to the atmosphere in which he was educated, is somewhat inclined to act as if no views but those he entertains are entitled to respect. He is not satisfied with dissenting from your opinion, but has, moreover, the greatest contempt for it, and perhaps for you that you entertain it.
The German’s idea of Sunday is anything but Puritanic. It is the very opposite. It is for them a day of amusement. It is no unusual thing to be asked by a German on Monday morning, “Well, how did you amuse yourself yesterday?” There are those among the Germans, of course, who respect and keep the sabbath; but then there are always enough of them who do not; and to judge by the numbers in which they frequent their places of amusement on Sunday, — the parks, beer-gardens, and public-halls, — a stranger might possibly be tempted to inquire whether the Germans had any idea of a sabbath. Men, women, and children, older men with their wives, and younger ones with their sweethearts, throng these places every Sunday, and enjoy themselves, careless of what impression they make on their fellow-citizens of American origin, to whom the sound of brass instruments on the sabbath air is anything but welcome or edifying. In the cold days of winter, when the parks and beer-gardens are dreary and shorn of their beauty, the German seeks amusement in some hall instead. Here he treats himself to a compound of rather heterogeneous elements, — to music, beer, and smoke; and to all of them at once. Any Sunday afternoon in the cold of winter, you may find him, with his wife or child, or both, in some large hall, one of a hundred or five hundred, smoking his meerschaum or his cigar, sipping his beer, wine, or coffee, and listening to a selection from Meyerbeer or Beethoven. Were it summer, he would add the odor of roses to the fumes of his tobacco and the smell of his beer; for he is as fond of flowers as he is of any of these, and is never happier than when the air, trembling to the notes of the orchestra, is redolent with tobacco-smoke, the perfume of the rose, heliotrope, and hop, and he is himself in the midst of them all.
We remarked above that the German has his own school, from which it may be inferred that he does not patronize the public-school system of the country; and this inference, within limits, is not without correctness. A great many Germans do send their children to the public schools. A few of the best-disciplined schools, and of the most thorough that we know, are public schools frequented exclusively by German children; but can such a school be properly called a public school? It may, inasmuch as it derives its support from the public, that the teachers are appointed by the people, through a board of school-commissioners, and that it is open to all children who apply for admission to its classes in all these respects it is a public school; and perhaps this is all that is required to make what is known as a public school; but it is not what the American people understand by that appellation, since, whereas they understand a peculiarly American institution, these are sometimes peculiarly German; for the teachers are German, the moral atmosphere is German, the methods in part German, and the language of the school, to say the least, as much German as English. When Germans can find a school of this kind, their objections to the public-school system are in part, if not entirely, removed; and no doubt could our school system be Germanized to this extent everywhere, all objections would be removed.
The Roman Catholic German keeps his child from the public school for the same reasons that the vast majority of Roman Catholics in the country do, namely, because they claim that the schools are not sufficiently unsectarian. The Lutheran German builds a Lutheran school-house next to his Lutheran Church, and then sends his children to be brought up Lutherans. His objection to the public-school system is, that it does not do this for him. But even with the German who professes no adherence to creed or church, the public-school system is no favorite; and that, of course, for quite different reasons. Generally—this is not the place to inquire why—much better educated than the rest of his country-men, perhaps with all the advantages which Germans could afford for education, with a mind of his own on most points, and fully able to decide what is best for his children, he chooses rather to send them to some private institution, to one, if possible, as near in character to those of his fatherland as he can find. He objects to the employment of women in the schools. The school-ma’am is one of the American institutions least consonant with his modes of thought and his ideas of the sex and its sphere. He is of opinion, and not at all humbly, that neither physically nor mentally is woman competent for the labor of teaching. He would as lief his daughter should shoulder a musket as seek a teachers diploma. Again you meet one who occasionally finds fault with the public-school system because it is too religious. For the Roman Catholic it has not religion enough, nor of the right kind; for some Germans it has a vast deal too much. The name of God, or an allusion to Providence, or something else equally unscientific, in a reading book in a school, is sufficient to warn a thorough German radical of its dangerous influence on the young mind. What he wants in the way of an educational establishment is an institution in which there shall be no praying, no reading of the Bible, no allusion to a heaven or a God; where science shall be taught without any reference to a first cause, and literature without specimens from the writings of bishops, priests, or deacons, or even from a Milton, who, though a great man and gifted with real poetic genius, was so unfortunate in his choice of a subject—inasmuch as he chose a theological one—that all he has earned is a right to be forgotten. Another reason why this class of Germans do not patronize the national system of schools is, that they look upon them as de-Germanizing in their influence, and destructive of an individuality which they are anxious to preserve.
To secure this end, that is, to avoid their denationalization, and what they think to be evils in the public-school system, they have erected schools of their own all over the country. Their teachers are generally competent, and compare very favorably with the teachers in the public schools Their methods of teaching are the same that are followed in Germany, and the results the same, — scholars thorough and accurate in their knowledge, who are, besides, as gentlemanly, as well-behaved, and as respectful to their teachers as the children that frequent the most orthodox schools in the land. In the matter of education, at least, they lose nothing from the fact that they do not frequent our public schools.
There are branches of education, sometimes neglected by Americans, which are attended to by our German friends with scrupulous care. We refer particularly to physical education and education in music. The German sends his little boy, and his little girl when he can, to a school of physical training, where they are exercised in calisthenics and kindred arts. The young man grows up and becomes a member of a Turnverein, or society of gymnasts. These institutions for physical and intellectual development are looked upon with suspicion by a great many people, and even by a great many Germans, as the members of them are frequently, most frequently, members of no church, and antagonistic to religion in every shape. Occasionally the best gymnasts from the various localities in the country meet in some large city, and go through competitive evolutions, — marks of distinction, honors, or diplomas being granted to those who distinguish themselves by feats of strength or skill.
The Saengerfest is peculiarly German. Wherever a number of Germans are to be found in any place, it would be very strange if a musical society did not start into being. Such societies are to be found in all large cities where there is a German population, and in many smaller ones. A German community without music is unthinkable; as well talk of a German community without a language or a brewery. The Americans soon catch the contagion. So great, indeed, is the influence of the Germans upon the taste of the Americans in this respect that we believe it possible our western cities may shortly take the lead in point of musical, as much as the eastern cities do in point of literary, talent in this country. As in the case of gymnasts, so it is with the various German musical societies. At a specified time and place they meet to try their relative musical powers; and they come from all directions for that purpose. They generally meet, of course, where their countrymen are well represented and the occasion of their coming together is a gala-day. Evergreens adorn the streets, arches are erected in various places, devices and mottoes are abundantly displayed in prominent localities, flags, German and American, flutter from German houses, the entrance to the lager-beer saloons are made as inviting as the grotto of a nymph, German faces in extra supply are met with at every corner. The Saengerfest is held in some place of public amusement; the various societies compete and are awarded prizes according to merit.
Another “fest” is the Schützenfest in which the prizes awarded are to the best marksmen. These feasts are all good, and the American who believes in physical education and the influence of good music will be glad that they exist.
We have mentioned so many points in which the German is isolated from the American that the question, in what do the two agree, would not be impertinent. Have they anything in common? We think they have. We think that in their common adherence to the rights of humanity, and in their devotion to the principles of human liberty, they are one; that the German in America would fight side by side with the American for any broad principle of liberty or human right, for the dignity or independence or union of the country, — with this distinction, however: the American would fight for the country and the principle, the German, we think, for the principle only; that is, it the two could be separated. In other words, the German does not love America as his fatherland; he loves that which alone makes America—we do not say dear but—supportable to him, — liberty, and the opportunity it affords him to better his condition.
Although he does not mix with the American portion of the community, and has no very great love for it, he is no enemy of the American, he bears him no ill-will. That he does not mingle in American society or positively love the native American is not his fault. He cannot, and it should not be expected from him. There is nothing to bring the two together but a common adherence to a few abstract principles, — principles which have no active opponents, and which, therefore, do not tend to cement the union of the German and American peoples as they would were they threatened from without or within.
His language, customs, education, and traditions, his daily mode of life, even, are different; hence he does not meet his American fellow-citizen as often as he would were any of these things held by the two in common. Germans and Americans cannot meet even at the same table, which, however good it may be for one or the other, never can suit both at the same time, so different are their culinary tastes. The German tells you that he can get nothing to eat at an American boarding-house or hotel; and in a German one the American assures you there is nothing he can eat. In this way it happens that not only the requirements of the head and heart, but those of the stomach even, tend to keep the two people separated; and in the process of their amalgamation, the stomach of the German must be educated to the American standard, before that amalgamation will be complete.
From all that has been said, it may be inferred that the German does not frown on or flatter the American. He gives him credit for perseverance, enterprise, and pluck, for his ability for self-government; but here ends his praise. He can tell us, on the other hand, and his less intelligent fellow-countryman learns to repeat it after him, that we, compared with the people of Europe, possess a purely colonial character; that we have produced nothing in literature, art, or science that is peculiarly American; that in the little we have accomplished, we have been imitators ; he will add, perhaps, if he cares to be severe, that to this there is one exception: that the world is indebted to us for originating spirit-rapping and table-turning and Mormonism, — all of which bear an unmistakable American character.
Such being the light in which we appear to those of our German population who trouble themselves at all with speculations as to the probable future of their race in the United States, it is not much to be wondered at that they do not wish to be Americanized any faster than they can help it; that they resist the change, if Americanization means changing them into anything like what the American is to-day, east or south, or north or west. In fact, the German looks upon the invitation to Americanize himself as an invitation to forget his early associations and European impressions, to exchange the Alps for the Alleghanies and the Rhine for the Hudson; to efface Heidelberg and Berlin from his memory, and fall in love with Cambridge and New York; “to throw Goethe and Schiller into the fire, and read the Bible and Miles Standish”; to turn away from the grand old minster, and feast his eyes on ordinary houses built of fiery red brick. To hear him discourse of how much he would be under the painful necessity of giving up to become an American, you would imagine him certainly the heir, and the exclusive heir, of all the ages. He dilates on the merits of Schiller and Goethe, as if Schiller and Goethe did not belong as much to the world as to Germany, and might not be appropriated by any one who wished and was able to make them his own, in Cambridge as in Weimar itself. In fact, you might imagine that Schiller, Goethe, and Lessing were his ever-attendant spirits, forever whispering in his ear. Between him and the American alike, and the old cathedrals of Europe and its celebrated galleries of art, the Atlantic rolls; yet he speaks as glibly of them as if, by some mysterious influence, they were where he might inspect them at any moment he chose; and although his great grand-father may be the last of his kin that saw them, he, according to all appearances, knows as much about them as if he carried them all in his breeches-pocket.
But what of the future? By the very force of circumstances, and in spite of what the German wishes, his descendants will be American. If we are ever to become one nation, a homogeneous people, the distinction of German and American must cease. The German does not like this. He does not like to be swallowed up by the great American people, body, bones, and all. He does not like to be told that he will disappear and leave not a trace behind, for he has within him the instinct of immortality.
Will he live in America in any sense? We think he will. Even at present German ideas are not without their force. It is not for us to say whether this is always for the best. Let others decide whether the German boast—that they are the born enemies of “Yankee” thought and “Yankee” ideas—is true or not, and, if true, whether for the best or not. All we aim at is to take an objective view of them, not sparing them where their faults are patent, nor caring to spare the reader who would fain find everything as he would wish it to be.
Wherever they have settled in any numbers, they hold—or may hold if they so choose—the balance of power, and it would be almost impossible to pass a Maine Liquor Law, or a Sunday Law, or if passed, to enforce it. The principle that Christianity is part of the common law is fast disappearing wherever they settle. In any question involving that point no judge, anxious for the German vote and caring more for the vote than the principle, or the dignity of the bench, would dare to affirm it.
They claim exemption from taxes for institutions professedly devoted to the combating of Christianity on the same ground that churches and schools are exempt from taxation; and there are places where it is not improbable they will carry their point. On all of which we leave it to the reader to make his own comments.
The German will affect the American community in two ways: by his blood and by his ideas. The resultant will be neither “Yankee” nor German; it will be American. The German character—there are enough of the nation among us to do it—will complement the American, and of all characters it is in some respects the one most able to do it. The American is too much taken up with the pursuit of gain: an infusion of German blood will have the effect of making him less so, but, at the same time perhaps, more saving; less abstemious in the matter of wine and beer, if this could be considered desirable, more so in that of brandy and whiskey; less given to commercial speculation, fonder of music and the drama, of flowers and of nature.
It is not probable that they will influence our form of government or our political principles at all. The mission of the Anglo Saxon race appears to be to educate men into governing themselves. Here Germany must come to school to America. Her genius is not political, however contemporaneous events may seem to favor the opposite view. Among no people are the ties of friendship and the family stronger. Among no people is political coherency less powerful. As a people, they may be manipulated by a skilful hand. Bismarck’s success in moulding them in a short period into a great nation, if it proves the ability of the man, proves also a lack of political self-assertion in the people themselves. Were their political prejudices stronger, they could not have been overcome so easily. Of the thousands of Germans who have come to our shores, the late Dr. Lieber is, perhaps, the only political writer of any prominence they have given us; and of distinguished states- men, they have not produced one. Their own most eminent writers do not hesitate to confess that, as a people, they have no political genius. They had no idea of the State until they came in contact with the Romans; and they have always considered the government as an estate, and not as a trust. We should be inclined to think that, if true to their instincts, they would in this country favor State rights, for they have always been impatient of universal governments, ecclesiastical and civil, and a tendency to decentralization runs through the whole of their history. Hence, the small States which only yesterday were united into an Empire, — a union of which no one feels warranted to prophesy the perpetuity. We repeat it, therefore, it is only socially, and in our religious history that the Germans will act upon us; and, in the long run, perhaps, more in the latter respect than in the former. There seems to be a tendency in the German character that is anti-Christian. We recollect finding ourselves one Christmas day in the house of a venerable German patriarch, — a man with hair as white as the snow that covered the ground outside. His little grandchildren were about him, climbing his knee, and talking of the “Christ-kind” or Christ-child, who had sent them all the pretty golden fruit, and the tree that bore it, their aged grandparent the while extolling Rénan, and arguing against the existence of God. Before these children and doffed their small clothes, Santa Claus and the Christ-kind were both relegated to the mythic age of the nursery. And something like this is taking place every day among the Germans in the West.
When it is known that one of the objects of the Turnvereins is the propagation of the most radical ideas in matters of religion and politics, and that these societies are to be found in every state of the Union, something is learned of how they are affecting us in that direction. These and other influences will survive the German in America. He will go; but they, for good or evil, will remain. The German’s character will not die out, but will change; his name, his feelings, his thoughts, and his aspirations will cease to be German, and, in ceasing to be German, become American; but on the other hand, not American in precisely the signification that word bears to-day; for America, even, is not exempt from the laws which produce the vicissitudes of nations and the constant variation of national character.
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