My Beautiful Wickedness

A brief corrective lesson on the history of German “immigration”
May 11, 2007, 12:48 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Dear Kleinheider:

Your riposte to Aunt B. indicates that you don’t really know much about German immigration history. So, as the resident smarty-pants on subjects historical, here’s the quick and dirty overview:

1) The English government in North America first included Germanic populations when they took over the Dutch empire on the North American mainland in 1664 (as part of the Anglo-Dutch Wars). The Germans were already in what is now New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Yep, sort of like the Mexicans when we took over Texas in the Mexican-American War. Or the Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Filipinos during the Spanish-American war. So your first assertion — that the British “could have stopped it” is just…wrong. The British took over a region in which they were a majority and the British a minority.

2) From 1680-1740, immigration from the British Isles lagged. Economic conditions were better in England, there were better places in the British Empire to make a pound, and so forth. British recruiters actively sought out people in what is now Germany (but then a bunch of various duchies) to resettle. So, far from trying to keep them out, they actually encouraged German immigration into places like the Mohawk Valley of New York and Bucks County, PA. Germans also were recruited as indentured servants through the port of Philadelphia. Moravian populations were considered ideal settlers for undeveloped places like North Carolina. The British were not terribly concerned with cultural homogeneity; they wanted a population of defenders and consumers, ready to buy things from English manufacturers (as trade was the engine of empire and a German can buy things just as well as an Englishman). Their expectation for assimilation, further, was low. They wanted Germans to speak a little English (the better to trade), to follow local law, to buy English goods, and to avoid being a burden on their communities. It’s abundantly clear to historians of the period, moreover, that the English policing authority was very, very, weak. Not only did they not want to police immigration, they could not have done much if they had wanted to do so.

3) Moving into the Early Republic period, the imperative for the early national government is to build population, especially in the interior. So, immigration policies are deliberately lenient and it’s fairly easy to naturalize. However, by 1830, German immigration was greatly diversifying and had multiplied tenfold from its previous level. Some (mainly Catholics) came as urban poor or would-be artisans. Some came as prosperous Protestant farmers, with Catholics having less money to begin to farm. Some were utopians like the Rappites, considered by Americans as raving lunatics. Some were Jews, fleeing persecution. Some were radical socialists, who left after the revolutions of 1848-1850; this group was feared for their political radicalism and labor-destabilizing tendencies. So there was a lot of pressure on German communities to assimilate, especially between 1840-1860, when German immigration rose to 200,000 people. The more Catholic, the more poor — the less welcome. (Hmmm…so tell me again how is this so much different?)

4) Germans were the foremost anarchists of the late 19th century. German Jews (second only to Russian Jews) filled the shtetls of New York and Chicago. German language newspapers, singing clubs, gymnasia, German-only churches…these are common features of early 20th century America. Germans as an ethnic group had been on the North American mainland at the time for over 250 years. (In other words, you’re underestimating the amount of time that assimilation takes by about 150 years.) Germans who did not assimilate faced very hard times 1915-1945 and older people in German communities remember the forcible assimilation and social humiliations with anger, regret and shame. (So you are also romanticizing the degree to which Germans willingly assimilated, preferring to imagine that they were drawn to some imaginary “American” norm rather than being ok with cultural pluralism.)

5) 40 million people now claim German ancestry. Looks like the US withstood the German anschluss ok. Have a little fucking faith in the system that you claim to admire so profoundly. It’s more durable than you think.


4 Comments so far
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Awww, Bridgett! That’s so cute, bringing “facts” into the immigration debate.

(Heh. Seriously though, this was an awesome post. I just wish it weren’t at a time when I’m really supposed to be doing something else. =p )

Comment by magniloquence

[…] Carter and Aunt B. It’s all very enlightening, and B’s post about it is hilarious.  Bridgett chimes in with real facts, that kind of ruin the party atmosphere, but hey, it takes all […]

Pingback by Shoot The Moose If Only Mack Would Come Off His Sabbatical «

Well, I was aware of the broad strokes but an excellent post. Thanks!

Comment by Kleinheider


Saying nuthin just now…



Comment by imfunny2

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