Wednesday, July 04, 2007

From my cousin, a new immigrant, to his family back to Germany:

June 22, 1846
Indiana, USA

" I deem it my duty to let you know where I am and how I am faring. In the first place, there is but little to write concerning the voyage, because these voyages are so frequently described . We were on the ocean for seven weeks, suffered and experienced many heavy storms, and yet the danger is by no means so great as people imagine. I would advise no one to give up his intentions of coming to America for fear of the voyage which I have discussed with many and the majority were satisfied...

All men are equal here and no one thinks that he should have greater respect shown him or that he should enjoy some higher title than his neighbor; it is all the same whether he fills some office or whether he lives by hard work. All stand on common footing. Officials are chosen for one or two years from among the people. The president of the country is elected for four years. Every man who has lived here five years can become a citizen. It costs him one dollar and he can vote on all questions and help elect public officials. There are two parties; democrats and aristocrats, the latter known as Whigs. There is great excitement when there is a governor to be elected, the excitement becomes greater at the time of a presidential election, for the election depends on the majority of votes. As you all know what democracy means, you may know that the greater number here are democrats because they have never been aristocrats anyway. There was a presidential election last year at which the democrats were the victors by a considerable majority. It was said during the campaign that if the Whigs should gain the victory, no German could thereafter become a citizen after less than a twenty-five year residence. Indeed the views of the Whigs are such as to limit our freedom.

The newspaper men really control the situation, especially in a presidential election. Everything comes of reading the newspaper. I wish greatly that the people of Germany might be able to read newspapers of this kind so that they might appreciate the future action of the Whigs. It is certainly necessary, therefore, that the presidential candidate must be a man of spotless, blameless character, for each party tries to belittle the candidate of the opposing party, and even the record of his earliest youth is carefully studied to discover whether he had made any serious mistakes or committed any wrong. At the last election the Whigs went so far as to publish a caricature representing their candidate as a fox, because they thought their party would be successful, and that of the Democrats as a rooster which was already in the clutches of the fox. The Democrats were not frightened and awaited the results. When the election decided in favor of the Democrats, the processions that usually turn out to celebrate such an event marched through the streets and instead of hurrahing, they all imitated the rooster's crowing and the foxes retreated to their holes.

Independence is the greatest of earthly blessings, and when one goes in to the cities on the Fourth of July, the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, one finds such festivities going on as excel all similar celebrations in Germany. It is a celebration that declares Independence over again, speeches are held in English and German, and the people exhorted to do all in their power that this freedom may be preserved; a heartfelt tribute is paid to the men who gained the precious freedom of our land. After the conclusion of the speeches, it is not the custom to give three cheers for the public officials, but all affirm that the United States form a nation of sovereign citizens who recognize no superior power but God. Expressions of this character are so numerous that they might fill whole pages and everyone is filled with enthusiasm, especially a German who hears all this for the first time. It seems impossible to him that there is really a country on earth where the worth of the individual is so recognized as it is to him a delight to hear people say, "Thank God, I am an American!"..."

Finally he closes as I do on this most special of days:

"Many thousand greetings to you from me, my children, and my friends as well as yours. My dearest wish remains that we may soon meet. "

The 'Kan EWA


MarmiteToasty said...

Roots, its all about roots...... this is beautiful.......
I do not even know the names of me grandparents.....

**"Many thousand greetings to you from me, my children, and my friends as well as yours. My dearest wish remains that we may soon meet. "**

back at you tenfold.......xxxxxxx

mamaJD said...

JBelle - I absolutely love this. It is nice to be reminded of where our country was then and how it is now. Isn't wonderful to live in a country such as ours? Happy 4th. And thanks for the words on the other blog.

green libertarian said...

Wow, seriously, this is from your cousin?

Anyway, great thoughts, especially as to the political mudslinging and Democrats vs. Aristocrats.

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

JBelle said...

Mellers, it's a marvel to understand how we got right here from there. A Kunte Kinte moment, as I like to call them. And when we do finally meet, we will have known each other always.

MamaJ, We do live in an extraordinary country, still. I only began to understand when I saw through others' eyes, others who weren't American. I read this letter from time to time and I am filled with immense pride. Pride from where we, I mean those people who share my gene pool, came from because it was so hard and we worked so hard to get here and to be here and from we, as Americans, came. I many, many ways the 4th of July is my very favorite holiday.

GLib! You live! Seriously. This was written by one of my cousins to our family back in Germany. It is a long, long letter, rich with details of immigration and life in the US at that time. He talks about everything at length. It is real treasure and a beloved legacy. I will share more of it this summer; he's quite a prolific guy for a butcher. :) Happy 4th. I hope you are well.

Carla said...

Happy 4th to you...a little late, but better late than never. As it's late, I'll reread the letter in the morning. It seems very interesting. I love old family letters.

toadman said...

Interesting. My mother and her sisters have dabbled in genealogy, and have come up with the fact that I had a relative who fought in the revolutionary war. We also know the name of our first immigrant relative from Germany in the mid-1700s. She also found out that I am directly and more recently related to the Dalton gang. You can't win 'em all I guess. I'd tell you how my Dalton relative closed their letters, but I'm afraid to use that kind of language here....

Southwark Lad said... I am glad that I am related to these type of people. This is a very powerful, moving letter. This is why our family moved here. This is something to show to future generations to remind them who we are and why we are American.


Anonymous said...


I was all set to pony-up something witty and then read the Golden Nephew One's comment. Now where am I going to go after that?

Yes, this is a most special artifact. I'll raise you fifty "fascinatings", twenty-five "humblings" and fourteen "inspirings" and see you on some of that heritage.

I learned this two years ago:
My paternal grandfather, a gentle, quiet meager tailor in the garment industry who died the year before I was born, swam across some river in Germany at the age of ten in order to catch a ride to America. His mom had died in childbirth and his father, newly remarried to a woman who refused to acknowledge his existence, asked him to leave home lest he lose this new wife.

Thank god the relatives I know about were not so heartless. Still, swimming across a river at ten? Way cool. I'd probably have tried to live in the forest for a few nights and curled up and died...from sorrow and fright.

Thanks for sharing this piece of history.



JBelle said...

Carla, this letter is a gem. It was written in German and translated, they give attribution to some high school German teacher and then go to lengths to explain why she's qualified. It's quite long, too; about 8 pages. He writes one letter and 161 years later people still read it and it thrills them. Marvelous!

Toad, I'm not so much into geneaology but I do have The Book that traces our family back to Prussia. It's quite a story. It was my grandmother's fierce pacifist beliefs that got us here.

Dude, this is quite a letter. I have had a copy of it for over 20 years but never read it because it was so long. It's fascinating. I loved the ending, too! I'll be excerpting more as the month goes on...

Wendo, The Germans were not famous for relating to their children in a kindly manner. I can't believe your grandfather let a SON go because he was so valuable as a worker. Fathers collected and kept all the wages, you know. It was the DUTCH who were kindly and valued children; the Dutch Masters painted beautiful children and Dutch children always had toys and books and balls....We, as a general rule, have no idea how brave our grandfathers and grandmothers were. You*gotta*want*it. And they did.

Powerful, eh?

PDX Pup said...

Even though, (sigh) I claim Irish blood I am honored to be related to our German cousin who shows us that we don't really know the meaning of what's hard and difficult to overcome. Our trivial hurdles of everyday life were nothing compared to what he did to bring his(our) family to America.

Carla said...

Playing a game over at my place and I've just tagged you ;-)

toadman said...

JBelle - I sent you a very important email.. please PLEASE check it.. thanks.

The Fool said...

Terrific bit of family meorablia and history, Cheech. Way cool. Thanks for sharing.