Title Reviewed:
Against the Current: The Life of Karl Heinzen (1809–80)

Author Reviewed:
Carl Wittke

Elfrieda Lang


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 92-93

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

Against the Current: The Life of Karl Heinzen (1809–80). By Carl Wittke. (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1945, pp. x, 342. Frontispiece, preface, bibliographical note, illustrations, and index. $3.75.)

Karl Heinzen, who came to the United States with many other "Forty-eighters," was born in Grevenbroich in the district of Düsseldorf, Germany, February 22, 1809. This small town of the lower Rhine lay on the road traveled by warring armies. When Heinzen was four years old, his mother died, and the next eight years were spent with relatives. He was a problem child, and his record at the Gymnasium "was essentially that of an unruly, prankish youngster who had brains enough but who would not submit to discipline." Trouble seems to have been Heinzen's companion wherever he went.

After the publication of his book on the Prussian administrative system, he left Germany. "Prussia had become, in his mind, the symbol of feudal and medieval obscurantism and absolutism, of intrigue, police, censorship, and broken promises." In Brussels he met Ferdinand Freiligrath and Karl Marx. Later, he went to Switzerland and there continued his pamphleteering which led to difficulties and finally forced him out of this country.

Heinzen kept a diary of his trip to America which was published in 1859 and 1860 in a series of articles in the Pionier under the caption of "Two Voyages to America."

Although Heinzen edited a number of papers, his better-known and more successful one was Der Pionier. It did not afford him sufficient satisfaction to be known only as journalist; he sought recognition as a poet, a playwright, and an author of books. He was "frank, blunt, uncompromising, and impervious to popular reactions." "He wrote as though he could command the world from his editor's desk. He never pricked with a needle when he could hit over the head with a hammer." He never enlisted in the Civil War because he had more confidence in the use of his pen than the sword.

Heinzen did not approve of unrestricted immigration because he was of the opinion that most immigrants came to the United States "not because of idealism but on account of empty stomachs." He advocated a comprehensive examination in the geography, government, and history of the United States and in the English language in place of the five-year residence requirement of naturalization. He detested the German system of compulsory military training and attacked this system in his "Thirty Articles of War for the New Day," and his German Soldiers’ Catechism, published on the eve of the Revolution of 1848. His formula for world peace was to destroy all thrones and remove all monarchs.

"Heinzen was an uncompromising, unbending, militant, radical republican, a crusader against censorship, bureaucracy, militarism, and reaction in his native Germany, a radical abolitionist, and a champion of equal rights for women and many other political, economic, and social reforms in the United States, which became his adopted fatherland in 1850 and in which he labored for thirty years."

This is not only an interesting but a scholarly biography. The author has done an excellent piece of work, particularly, in the manner in which he has treated historical events related to the life of Heinzen.

Elfrieda Lang

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.