The Forty-Eighters: Immigrants for Social Justice

What is our prevailing image of the 19th century immigrant to America? It’s about the Statue of Liberty inscription, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses and wretched refuse. They crowded into our cities and became the workhorses of industrialization here.

But there is one group of primarily German immigrants, or you can call them refugees, who have a very different profile. The Forty-Eighters were neither poor nor uneducated. They were supporters and in some cases active participants of the revolutions that swept through Germany and some other European countries in 1848. In their homeland they had advocated for unification and a republic. When their revolution failed, they were persecuted and for many their choice was jail or America.

German immigrants arriving in New York
German immigrants arriving in New York

The Forty-Eighters generally settled in places that had a substantial German population. Most went to New York, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Milwaukee. They had a lasting influence on the culture and politics of all of these areas. While German immigrants are known for their contributions in the areas of education, the military, and of course, beer making, the Forty-Eighters brought their ideals with them and their contribution was in the area of social justice at a time when the U.S. was being torn in half.

Slavery had been abolished in Germany in 1794. The Forty-Eighters became avid abolitionists.

Like other immigrants they came to this country and took up low-level jobs, on the railroad, on the farm or in the cities. But they quickly moved into the types of roles they had in Germany, many becoming journalists, educators and artists. It is in these roles that they exerted their influence. Many founded or worked for German language newspapers. Others formed political clubs known as Turner societies. These groups were active advocates of abolition. In some cities they provided bodyguards for visiting abolitionists.

In Texas, the Forty-Eighters, many of whom had come in through the port of Galveston, fought against and voted against that state’s secession from the Union. In St. Louis, they were part of a volunteer group that fought against Confederate forces in what is known as the Camp Jackson Affair. They were strong supporters of the Republican Party. Lincoln’s victory in the 1860 election owes much to the vote of immigrants and in particular the Germans in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Iowa. Some 200,000 German born soldiers fought for the Union in the Civil War, about 10% of the total. The Forty-Eighters both enlisted themselves and used their influence to encourage others to do so. 

Here are a few prominent Forty-Eighters:

Harold Raster.

Raster was born in Anhalt-Dessau. After graduating from the University of Berlin in 1848, he became chief stenographer for the revolutionary Erfurt Union Parliament. After the failure of the revolution, he was given a choice of leaving the country or facing trial. In 1851 he moved to New York where he initially found work as a wood chopper. A year later he moved to Buffalo for a job with a newspaper and by 1853 he became editor of the influential German language New York Abend-Zeitung. He was an active member of the Republican Party, pro-Union and anti-slavery and he used his newspaper to sway other German-Americans in that direction. After the Civil War he remained active in politics and in journalism. He was a delegate at the 1868 Republican Convention and chairman of the platform committee, He was later appointed Collector of Internal Revenue by President Ulysses Grant. At the same time he maintained his position as editor of the Chicago Staats-Zeitung.

Carl Schurz
Carl Schurz

Carl Schurz

Schurz came from Prussia. He was an active supporter of the 1848 revolution, working with an academic fraternity association that advocated for democratic reforms. He fought in the revolutionary army that was defeated in 1849, Schurz fled to Paris, then London and in 1852 arrived in Philadelphia. Shortly thereafter he moved to Watertown, Wis. There he was admitted to the bar. He was active in the Republican Party and the anti-slavery movement. He made speeches on Lincoln’s behalf in German. He became a general in the Union army, fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg, amongst others. He would go on to have a distinguished political career. His first elected position was lieutenant governor of Wisconsin. He would later become a senator from Missouri, the first German born member of that body. He was appointed Secretary of the Interior by President Rutherford B. Hayes. Along the way he became editor of the German language newspaper in St. Louis. After Hayes left office he moved to New York where he had stints with the New York Evening Post, the Nation and Harper’s Weekly.

Karl Daniel Adolph Douai

Douai was the son of a school teacher in Saxon-Altenburg. His family had little money and he worked as a newsboy during his childhood. But he was well educated. He lived in Russia for a time but returned to Germany with the promise of a more democratic country in the air. His efforts to organize workers and students landed him in jail in 1848. When released he was encouraged to leave the country and headed to Texas. He launched a newspaper in San Antonio which he used to rail against slavery. He advocated the creation of a slavery-free state in western Texas. That didn’t go over well in a slave state and he ended up selling the paper and moving to Boston, where he resumed his teaching career. In 1959 he established a three-classroom school there which is credited with having the first kindergarten in the U.S. He later moved to New York and then Newark and was a prominent member of the Workingman’s Party of the United States, which later became the Socialist Labor Party of America.

And then there’s this guy named Breitenbucher. My grandmother had some sort of certificate that showed he fought in the Civil War. I think he was my great, great grandfather. (I might need one more great in that description.) I don’t know too much about Herr Breitenbucher and there is no one left in my family that has any knowledge of him. Ancestry.com shows some 20 Breitenbuchers who fought in the Civil War, several from New York, which is where that side of my family lived. I have no idea if Grandpa Breitenbucher was a Forty-Eighter, but I like to think he had the same ideals and the same commitment to social justice.

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Welcoming With One Open Arm

The Europeanization of America all started with refugees. After the initial wave of fortune-seekers who we have sometimes incorrectly labelled discoverers, the folks who came to these shores with the intention of making a home here were for the most part fleeing persecution. There were Protestants fleeing Catholics. Catholics fleeing Protestants. And Protestant sects escaping the intolerance of other Protestant sects. Once they got here, more often than not they proved not so tolerant themselves.

There is no more iconic an American image that the Statue of Liberty and its famous inscription:

“Give us your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

But over the years, many Americans have not been too anxious to see or the accept huddled masses and wretched refuse. This contradiction well represents the response to immigrants and refugees in the U.S. They have brought out the best in us, but also the worst.

There are many, many organizations in the U.S. that have tirelessly worked to raise money to support the resettlement of refugees here. Churches and synagogues, in particular, have opened their doors to the tired and poor, sheltered and fed them, found them clothes and taught them English. Whether its Central American farmworkers in New York State, or Africans in ice-cold Minnesota, there are, in every part of the country, warm-hearted American families who have welcomed the members of the formerly huddled massses into their homes and guided them into a new life.

Demonstrating for immigrants
(Image by Nitish Meena)

Yet every step of the way there have been those ready to vilify and expel anyone with a different skin color, a different religion or a different language. In the 1850’s there was a national political party, the Know-Nothings, that based their appeal on anti-Catholicism. In the 2020’s there is a national party, guided by a former president, that pegs various immigrant and refugee groups as terrorists, drug dealers and rapists.

Other than the folks like the Pilgrims in the 17th Century and the Syrians in the 21st, refugees fleeing religious persecution or civil war, most of the broad waves of immigrants came to this country for economic reasons. The had no money, no food, no work. Opposition to immigrants is likewise often cast in economic terms. Are they taking jobs from Americans? Are they pushing wages down because they’ll work for less?

Strange Fruit: Comfort Women, by Hung Liu
Strange Fruit: Comfort Women, by Hung Liu

The nativists set their hateful gaze on Irish and German Catholics in the mid-19th century. Later in the century it was the Chinese. In the 1920’s, Jews and Italians were the boogeymen. In the latter half of the 20th century Haitians and Central Americans drew their wrath. And with 9/11, all Muslims came under attack.

Our immigration and refugee policy has also been strongly influenced by politics and ideology. In the latter quarter of the 20th century, the majority of refugees that were admitted to the U.S. were fleeing Communist countries. They were from Cuba, Vietnam, Russia or other Soviets states. On the other hand, refugees from countries with right-wing dictatorships supported by the U.S. were far less likely to be admitted. Using the statistics from 1984 as an example, 100 percent of Cubans who applied for asylum were granted such while 3 percent of the applications from Guatemalans and Salvadorans were approved.

There are two recent events that clearly demonstrate the mixed American reaction to the uprooted and unfortunate who come to our shores. One is the evacuation of Afghanistan. We were all horrified at the thought of Afghan girls and women, as well as those who worked with the U.S. during our military occupation, being left behind at the mercy of the Taliban. It was a truly bipartisan reaction that we needed to do more than we were doing to get these people out. Some of the loudest voices were the Republican critics of President Biden. But wait, does that mean they would be coming here? Some of the same people, following the lead of Trump, started urging that they be turned away, claiming, with no evidence, that there were terrorists among them.

Leaving Afghanistan
Operation Allies Refuge (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Brandon Cribelar)

Not long after, masses of displaced Haitian refugees showed up in the border town of Del Rio, Texas. An organization called World Central Kitchen, founded by Jose Andres, a well-known Spanish-born chef who migrated to the U.S. in 1990, set up shop there and began providing meals for these people. At the same time, we saw images of border patrol chasing them down on horseback brandishing whips.

In spite of all the vitriol that has been aimed at people coming to this country, we have historically been the world leaders in resettling refugees. Since 1975, about 3.3 million have come to our shores. For most of the past couple decades, 70,000-80,000 have arrived each year. That number was reduced during the Trump Administration and Canada passed us up as the top resettlement country. By 2020, the number was less than 12,000. Biden had talked about increasing that, but so far, it doesn’t appear to have happened.

Looking at our history, you can’t say that we’ve welcomed the tired, the poor, the huddled masses with open arms. But Lady Liberty still has one arm aloft holding the torch.

In a series of weekly blog posts over the next couple months, I’ll be looking at how America has historically responded to the people seeking a new home here, including the German Forty-Eighters, the Chinese railroad workers, Jews fleeing Hitler, Haitians fleeing Duvalier.

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An American Artist

Is any artist more American than Norman Rockwell? He has captured the soul of America, drawn the wide-eyed eagerness of our children and painted the steadfastness of our traditions. Some of his works may come across as over-sentimentalized Americana. But he was also a champion of equal rights and created some iconic images of the civil rights movement like the image below of little Ruby Brooks integrating a New Orleans school.

Some critics have been dismissive of the fact that much of his work was done for magazine covers. That in no way should detract from the quality of his creations and the enormity of his talent.

These images are from the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., the town where he lived from 1959 until his death in 1978 at age 84.

Rockwell on race

Rockwell’s Kids

Rockwell on Rockwell

Rockwell on work.

The Four Freedoms (1943, during World War II)

Happy Skiers on Train
Happy Skiers on Train
American LaFrance
An ad Rockwell was commissioned to paint for a subsidiary of the A-T-O Corporation. He painted the scene in front of the fire station in his hometown of Stockbridge.
Rockwell Museum
Rockwell Museum
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A Mass of Contemporary Art

MASS MoCA

MASS MoCA

North Adams, Mass.

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art opened its doors in 1999 in a former industrial complex that was built by the Arnold Print Works in 1860. It has since expanded to include some 250,000 feet of exhibition space. There is an excellent documentary called Museum Town that tells the MASS MoCA story, as well as the impact the museum has had on this post-industrial Western Massachusetts town.

Blane De St. Croix, How to Move a Landscape

Moving Landscape at MASS MoCA
Moving Landscape
Alchemist Triptych at MASS MoCA
Alchemist Triptych

Spencer Finch

Cosmic Latte at MASS MoCA
Cosmic Latte

ERRE, Them and Us

Sing Sing at MASS MoCA
Sing Sing
Eye Chart, Dennis Chavez
Eye Chart, Dennis Chavez

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing

Louise Bourgeois

Richard Nielsen, This is Not a Gag

This is Not a Gag, Richard Nielsen
Richard Nielsen
Self Portrait

Gunnar Schonbeck, No Experience Required

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Old Town, Quito

Winged virgin of Quito
The winged virgin of Quito looks out over the city. This is an aluminum replica of the statue created for the Church of San Francisco in the 18th century. She has occupied this perch atop El Panecillo since 1976.
Winged virgin
Church of San Francisco
Church of San Francisco, 1534
Church of San Francisco
All that glitters is gold (leaf)
The Basilica of the National Vow
The Basilica of the National Vow
Quito street
Plaza de la Independencia
Plaza de la Independencia
Plaza de la Independencia
Republica del Cacao
You are never far from a chocolate shop in Quito
La Iglesia de la Compania
La Iglesia de la Compania,1765
La Iglesia de la Comanie
La Iglesia de la Compania
This is the back of the church. To the left of the door is a stairway. To the right is a painting of a stairway
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Casa del Alabado

Museum of Pre Columbian Art in Quito, Ecuador

The term Pre Columbian is used for art created by indigenous peoples in the Americas up until the 16th century. The IDs on these pieces show the civilization that they came from and the period of time when that civilization existed.

Pre Columbian art
Bahia, in coastal Ecuador, 450-700 ad
Pre Columbian art
Jama-Coaque, northern Manabi Province in Ecuador, 350 bc -1530 ad
Pre Columbian Art
Soldiers. Jama-Coaque, 350 bc-1530 ad
Pre Columbian Art
This feline with human traits is a bottle that makes the noise of the character when filled with water. La Tolita, island in Ecuador which has an acrheological site that has become a tourist attraction. 350 bc – 350 ad
Pre Columbian Art
La Tolita. 350 bc – 350 ad
Pre Columbian Art
Jama-Coaque 350 bc — 1530 ad
Pre Columbian Art
Napo, province in Ecuador. 1200-1600 ad
Pre Columbian Art
Manteno-Guancavilca, coastal Ecuador, 1100-1520 ad
Pre Columbian Art
Carchi, northern highlands of Ecuador, 750-1550 ad
Pre Columbian Art
Bahia 450 bc – 700 ad
Pre Columbian Art
Shaman’s Table, Jama-Coaque, 500 bc -1500 ad
Pre Columbian Art
Pre Columbian Art
Stamps. Jama-Coaque, 500 bc-1530 ad
Pre Columbian Art
The ancestor with six faces. Valdivia 4000-1500 bc
Pre Columbian Art
Valdivia, 4000-1500 bc
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Lava Landscapes and Sunsets

The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos are a group of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean that straddle the equator. They are part of Ecuador. They became part of the Ecuador National Park Service in 1959. The Galapagos has a population of 30,000, most of which are on San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabella islands. Only five of the islands are inhabited. When I visited last month it had been two months since the Galapagos had their last COVID infection. While the islands are primarily known for their wildlife which attracts visitors to play with the sea lions, swim with the sea turtles and gaze at the many species of birds, the Galapagos is also the setting for a good deal of unspoiled natural beauty.

Galapagos
Kicker Rock
Genovese Island
Sombrero Chino
Galapagos
Lava tunnel

Lava tunnel at Santa Cruz
mangroves
Mangroves at Black Turtle Bay
Galapagos
Galapagos sunset
Santa Fe
Santa Fe
Galapagos
Santa Fe
Santa Fe
Crater at Los Gemelos
Crater at Los Gemelos

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Southern Vermont Summer

Equinox Preserve

Equinox Preserve

Manchester, Vt.

The Equinox Preserve consists of 900 acres on the slopes of the Equinox Mountain. The land was donated by the Equinox Resort. The land and trails are maintained by the Equinox Preservation Trust.

Equinox Preserve
Equinox Preserve
Equinox Preserve
Equinox Preserve
Equinox Preserve
Equinox Preserve
Equinox Preserve
Equinox Preserve trail map
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Boobies, Frigates, et al.

The Birds of the Galapagos

The Boobies

The Frigatebirds

Swallow-Tailed Gulls

Galapagos short-eared owl
Galapagos short-eared owl
Molting Galapagos penguin
Molting Galapagos penguin
Pelicans
Pelicans
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Reptilian Paradise

Iguanas and tortoises in the Galapagos

Land iguana
Land iguana
Marine iguana
Marine iguana
Iguana embrace
an iguana embrace
Galapagos tortoise
Napkin please!
Galapagos tortoise
Galapagos tortoise
Nobody passes until I say they can.
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