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XI. THE PLACE OF THE GERMAN ELEMENT IN AMERICAN HISTORY.
By JULIUS GOEBEL,
THE PLACE OF THE GERMAN ELEMENT IN AMERICAN HISTORY.
By JULIUS GOEBEL.
Permit me to preface this paper with a few remarks of a reminiscent nature, which may, perhaps, serve as the most suitable introduction to my subject.
It was in October, 1883, when the bicentenary of the founding of Germantown, the first permanent German settlement in America, was celebrated. I still have a vivid remembrance of the marvelous effect of this celebration upon my own historical thinking and that of German-Americans in general. Although traditions of previous generations of German colonists had never been wanting, the American-Germans suddenly discovered themselves in the line of a historical development of their nationality upon American soil, the beginnings of which coincided with the founding of the present State of Pennsylvania, the very colony that had first proclaimed the principle of religious freedom.
A few weeks after the Germantown celebration the five hundredth birthday of Luther, the champion of liberty of thought and conscience, was commemorated, adding depth to the widening of the psychological horizon, produced by the former event. For who could have failed to recognize the causal relation between Luther's great deed and the planting of Penn's colony, the prototype of all the modern polities in which liberty of thought and conscience, originally unknown to the New England theocracy, is the animating soul? Indeed, the little band of modest German colonists who shared as faithful helpers in Penn's immortal creation, and who, moreover, filled with the true spirit of liberty, uttered the first protest against slavery in America, thus appeared among the first representatives of historical ideas which have since revolutionized all modern States.
The remarkable awakening of interest among German-Americans in the history of their American past, which I have briefly described, was due chiefly to the labors of the late Prof. Seidensticker. His papers on the early history of the Germans in Pennsylvania, pub
lished during the seventies,1 may still be considered as unsurpassed models of scholarly accuracy and thoroughness, behind which there can be felt the pulse of a strong patriotic feeling that easily communicates itself to the reader. And this feeling, I may say here at the outset, has a tone and a ring so peculiarly its own that its characteristic quality may escape the ear of the American as easily as it is generally misunderstood by the occasional visitor from Germany. While its keynote is an ardent American patriotism, it is mingled at the same time with the strains of an equally fervent love for the ideal cultural heritage from the Fatherland and with proud sounds reverberating the consciousness of racial achievements. Despite the denunciation hurled against the hyphenated American by one of our famous public men in the days of his youth-he has learned better now-there is such a thing as a distinct German-American spirit.
It was soon remembered that Prof. Seidensticker's historical work had been preceded by the researches of other men, scholars and antiquarians, in various periods of German-American history. As early as 1847 Franz Löher, the historian, during his visit to the United States had made the bold attempt to write a history of the Germans in America based on the limited source material then available. It is worth mentioning that he undertook the attempt because as an historian he keenly felt even at that time the gap caused by the failure to do justice to the German population in American histories of that time.
Twenty years later Friedrich Kapp, perhaps the most distinguished of the refugees of 1848, following a suggestion of J. R. Brodhead, wrote his history of the Germans in the State of New York.2 Though the author is somewhat prejudiced with regard to the causes of the great Palatine immigration of 1710, his book is, nevertheless, 66 one of the best social historical studies of which our literature can oast," as Prof. Osgood says in Larned's Literature of American History.3
No less a contribution to the history of the German element in America was Gustav Körner's book on the Immigration of the Period between 1818 and 1848, published in 1879. Written by an eyewitness, and the most distinguished figure among the GermanAmericans of his generation, his work was justly called by Friedrich Kapp, in a lenghty review in the Deutsche Rundschau (1881), a storehouse of facts, equally valuable to the historian, the political economist, and the novelist."
Another storehouse of historical facts from which recent writers on German-American history have taken almost all their material is
1 For articles by Seidensticker, see Griffin, Bibliography of American Historical Societies (Am. Hist. Assoc. report, 1905, II), index.
2 Friedrich Kapp, Geschichte der Deutschen im Staate New York, New York, 1867. * Page 95.
the periodical Der Deutsche Pionier, published under great difficulties and with great personal sacrifices by H. A. Rattermann, the veteran historian and antiquarian.1
Although the books I have mentioned covered only certain periods or episodes of German-American history, they nevertheless pointed to a strong historical continuity of a nationality held together by the bonds of a highly developed civilization, such as language, customs, religious and ethical ideas; bonds, moreover, that were strengthened continuously by the perpetual influx of immigration, contributing from 30 to 40 per cent to the present population of the United States. And it was but natural that the cultural ties uniting them were felt so strongly by German-Americans, for the great majority of them had emigrated from the fatherland when the latter was still what E. Meinicke calls a "culture state "-that is, lacking the political and constitutional organization which came only with the unification of Germany in 1870.
As a matter of course the question suggests itself: To what extent has American historiography recognized this powerful ethnic element which to-day constitutes at least one-third of our population, which has participated so conspicuously in the founding and upbuilding of the American commonwealth and which, while thoroughly American in spirit, still presents a cultural unity that makes itself felt in our national life? I am not asking this question in order to see exploited in our histories the special virtues of the German immigrant. I am asking it for the sake of American historiography, which, in my opinion, has, strange to say, almost utterly failed to perceive one of the most vital problems which the history of our Nation presents to the historical student. The very fact that in a decade or two societies have sprung up among us which have for their object the investigation of the history of particular races points to serious errors in the traditional conception and method of our science of history. Instinctively or consciously, it was felt in those quarters that our American histories were concerned really with only a section of the Nation that they mistook for the whole; that they were operating with a fictitious type of man, whom they called the American; that, in short, they were far from the truth of historic reality. Instead of frowning upon these criticisms as being untrue or even un-American, as some historians have done, we had better ask to what extent they are justified. Besides, have not my children the same right as the offspring of the Puritan or of the Hollander to find recorded in our histories what their forefathers did for our country?
Since the social historical reality which the historian desires to comprehend is, in the last analysis, composed of individuals, it can
1 Cincinnati, 1869-1887 (18 vols.).