In St. Louis the two election districts with the highest percentage of German-born immigrants were the First and Second Wards, each about 55% German. In the 1860 election, only 10% of Missouri voters went for Lincoln, but the First and Second Wards went 65% for the Republican. The formerly Democratic German had moved towards Lincoln because they opposed the expansion of slavery.1
When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, many Missouri Germans were angry with the president, not because they opposed emancipation, but because the proclamation did not end slavery in Missouri. Lincoln believed that he only had the power to end slavery as a war measure in those states in revolt against the United States. Germans believed that Lincoln ignored the fact that Missouri’s governor had run off with a sizable portion of the old state militia to join the Confederates and that the state was regularly invaded by highly mobile Confederate forces. The state was also riven by pro-Confederate guerrilla activity. The German community argued that slaveholders were behind the Missouri rebels and that ending slavery was necessary to break their power.2
St Louis was the most important city west of the Mississippi in 1865.
As German-born soldiers filled up the ranks of Missouri’s Union regiments, they fought beside black soldiers. Some of the blacks were from Kansas, where they had gone in the 1850s after escaping slavery. Others were black refugees freed by the advance of Union armies into the Confederacy. German antipathy towards slavery was heightened by a sense of comradery with black troops fighting for the same cause. The German immigrants became advocates for their black fellow soldiers, but their voices were not always heard.3
When a delegation of Missouri Germans travelled to Washington to speak with Lincoln about the expansion of the Emancipation Proclamation to cover their own state, he refused to see them. Lincoln’s Postmaster General Montgomery Blair had written the president to beware of the Missouri Germans, calling them “revolutionists, not reformers.”4
In 1864 some of the Missouri Germans backed an attempt to challenge Lincoln from the Left by nominating a Radical anti-slavery man for president. When Lincoln outflanked them by endorsing the 13th Amendment ending slavery, the Germans returned to the Republican fold and put their energies into revising the Missouri constitution to abolish slavery in their state.5
Eight of the sixty-six delegates to the Missouri Constitutional Convention were born in Germany. One of the immigrants, Arnold Krenkel, was elected Convention President. While nearly all native-born Republicans believed that Missouri’s blacks should be freed, the status of blacks in freedom was contentious. Many thought that blacks, if they were free, should not be given the right to vote. Even among whites, women and young people under the age of 21 were not allowed to vote. One could be both a citizen and be deprived of the privilege of voting in 19th Century America.6
In early January 1865 Missouri adopted a German-backed ordinance abolishing slavery. On January 15, the German community held a mass meeting to celebrate its victory in ending slavery and to call for citizenship rights for blacks. The editor of the leading German-language newspaper in the state, Emil Preetorius, told the immigrants that they could not stop at emancipating the slaves. “The principle of freedom and equality,” he said, required that black men being given the right to vote. He said that the “principles of the Declaration of Independence” required that “distinctions based on color” be eliminated. 7
The Ordinance Abolishing Slavery was so important that it was printed as a commemorative print.
The meeting was held in Turner Hall, the center of German American liberalism in the state. Speaker after speaker tied the struggle for the vote for African Americans back to the failed struggle for democracy in Germany in 1848. They rejected the idea of many native-born white Americans that blacks could live in the United States as both free and barred from the vote. The attorney Georg Hillgartner asked the audience, “Is he a free man who is muzzled on account of his skin color? Or is that a free state…whose people’s hands are bound in regard to their custodians and lawmakers?” If blacks could not vote, they would be at the mercy of their white neighbors, including those who had fought for the Confederacy.8
Arnold Krenkel, the Constitutional Convention’s president, told the assembled Germans to disregard the racially charged rhetoric of the opponents of black citizenship. He said that the possibility that citizenship might one day lead to the election of a “Negro president or governor” should not frighten them. The German assembly agreed to petition the Constitutional Convention for the vote for African Americans.9
As the Constitutional Convention did its work of drafting a charter for post-war Missouri, the German delegates consistently tried to move the document towards equality. They were not always successful, but they forced the Convention delegates to confront their own prejudices. For example, when the new Constitution defined the qualifications for governor to include that he be “white,” the Germans took their fellow Missourians to task. They backed a minority report calling for the elimination of the racial requirement. 10
The German members of the drafting committee dealing with the Executive office wrote that “we believe that the all-merciful God is the Father of all, and that, before Him, all men are equal.” The German delegates said that their consciences and their constituents demanded that they protest against “any distinction” to be made in the Missouri Constitution “between white, black, red, or brown.” They rejected the suggestion by moderate Republicans that racist exclusions be incorporated into the Constitution to secure its passage in a state with a segregationist native-born electorate. They wrote that “we were not sent here to pander to a prejudice…but to deal equal justice to all, without regard to color.”11
Echoing Krinkle’s speech at the Turner Hall, the Germans refused to be bullied by the fear that blacks might rise to the highest offices in the state. They wrote boldly that they were “not afraid that a colored man will ever be an aspirant to the office of Governor, or any other state office.” Instead, they argued, “should he-though sprung from a race systematically kept in ignorance by the tyranny of the white man—still be the superior of his white competitor…we do not wish that he be barred out because…his skin was not as white.”12
The Austrian Jewish delegate, Isidor Bush, argued in a speech from the Convention floor that voting was not a privilege that whites could choose to extend or deny to free blacks. Instead, he said, it was “the right of everyone who lived in the civil society of a free government.” He told his fellow delegates that extending the vote to blacks was the “necessary, unavoidable, logical consequence of freedom.” 13
The Germans, who had less than a decade before been the targets of the Know Nothings because of their immigrant identity, drew parallels between the discrimination they had faced and the even greater persecution of blacks. Newspaperman Preetorius wrote that “differences of race and color should be as unimportant as those of belief or descent,” fully understanding that just a few years earlier immigrants had been attacked because of their religion and “descent.”14
When the Missouri Constitution did not go adopt the full platform of racial civil equality advocated by many Germans, the immigrants denounced the more conservative delegates as embodying the prejudices of the Know Nothings. They warned that “racial intolerance” might soon be coupled with efforts to clamp down on immigrant communities.15
While the Germans failed to achieve civil equality for blacks in Missouri, their accomplishments were marked. They had helped keep the state in the Union when Missouri’s governor had plotted to take it out in 1861. They had pressured Lincoln into supporting the 13th Amendment. They had helped end slavery in a state that had been slave from its founding. Most importantly, they had spoken, fought, and died for the most racially egalitarian program proposed by any large group of whites in the state. 16
German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era by Alison Clark Efford published by Cambridge University Press (2014) is an excellent new study of German immigrants during the Civil War Era. This article relies heavily upon Professor Efford’s research.
1. German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era by Alison Clark Efford published by Cambridge University Press (2014) Kindle Location 6784 ; Civil War St. Louis by Louis S. Gerteis published by University of Kansas Press (2001) page 308; The Civil War in Missouri: A Military History by Louis S. Gerteis published by University of Missouri Press (2011); The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War by Adam Arenson published by Harvard University Press (2011); Lincoln and the Thirteenth Amendment by Christian G. Samito published by Southern Illinois University Press (2015); Reelecting Lincoln: The Battle For The 1864 Presidency by John Waugh published by DeCapo Press (2001); Abraham Lincoln: Volume 2 by Michael Burlingame published by Johns Hopkins Press; Lincoln by David Herbert Donald published by Simon and Schuster; The Radical Republicans by Hans Trefousse (1969); Lincoln and the Radicals by Harry T. Williams (1941); Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man by David Donald (1970); 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History by Charles Bracelon Flood published by Simon and Schuster (2009); The Story of a Border City During the Civil War by Galusha Anderson (1908); Germans for a Free Missouri: Translations from the German Radical Press, 1857-1862 by Steven Rowan, University of Missouri Press (1983).
2. Missouri’s German Uniionists.
3. The Election of 1864
4. German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era by Alison Clark Efford published by Cambridge University Press (2014) Kindle Location 2505
5. German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era by Alison Clark Efford published by Cambridge University Press (2014) Kindle Location
6. German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era by Alison Clark Efford published by Cambridge University Press (2014) Kindle Location 2615—2737
7. German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era by Alison Clark Efford published by Cambridge University Press (2014) Kindle Location 2460
8. German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era by Alison Clark Efford published by Cambridge University Press (2014) Kindle Location 2749
9. German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era by Alison Clark Efford published by Cambridge University Press (2014) Kindle Location 2745
10. Missouri Constitutional Convention Journal 47-48.
11. Missouri Constitutional Convention Journal 47-48.
12. Missouri Constitutional Convention Journal 47-48. Minority Report Com. on the Executive prepared by George Husmann and G. Thilenius.
13. German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era by Alison Clark Efford published by Cambridge University Press (2014) Kindle Location 2757
14. German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era by Alison Clark Efford published by Cambridge University Press (2014) Kindle Location 2806
15. German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era by Alison Clark Efford published by Cambridge University Press (2014) Kindle Location 2820
16. German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era by Alison Clark Efford published by Cambridge University Press (2014) Kindle Location
The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:
1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.
2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.
3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.
5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants
10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.
12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.
17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers
39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.
40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.
43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.
49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.
50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.
54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.
60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation
106. The Draft Riots End in a Sea of Blood-July 14-15, 1863.
157. A Scottish Socialist and a German General Work to Help Slaves Become Freedpeople-Robert Dale Owen, Carl Schurz and the founding of the Freedmen’s Bureau.
Immigration Vacation -Civil War Sites