Title Reviewed:
The Forty-eighters: Political Refugees of the German Revolution of 1848

Author Reviewed:
A. E. Zucker

Elfrieda Lang


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 428-431

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

The Forty-eighters: Political Refugees of the German Revolution of 1848. Edited by A. E. Zucker. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1950, pp. xviii, 379. Index, bibliographical notes, biographical dictionary, illustrations, frontispiece portrait of Carl Schurz. $4.50.)

The Forty-eighters were "the group of German idealists who fought to establish a liberal and unified Germany and then came to the United States as refugees from the reaction" (p. vii). Throughout this volume the term Forty-eighter refers to "one who came to the United States from German-speaking territory as a result of his participation in the Revolution of 1848" (p. ix). Many who emigrated for economic reasons or political refugees of an earlier date have been excluded.

Eleven scholars pooled their knowledge and research to produce The Forty-eighters. The "Preface" and "Biographical Dictionary of the Forty-eighters," which contains 317 names, represent the contribution of A. E. Zucker. Scholars will welcome the compilation of so many sketches of Forty-eighters in one book each of which "deals with an uprooted life, with all the hardships and handicaps that such a career entails" (p. 269).

Arthur D. Graeff supplied the introduction, which is followed by information on the authors.

The first chapter, "The European Background," by Carl J. Friedrich emphasizes "the broad ideological and cultural elements" rather than specific events which took place on the continent in 1848.

In the next chapter, "The American Scene" by Oscar Handlin, the fact is stressed that the newcomers were considered as an asset in the development of the United States. Furthermore, in this country, there was a place reserved for refugees who had fled from political oppression.

Hildegard Binder Johnson in her chapter on the "Adjustment to the United States" gives a good description of how a Forty-eighter may have looked as he landed in one of the American ports. In most instances he was young, and a glance at his delicate hands signified that he had not been subjected to physical labor. While some of this number were poets who enjoyed the freedom of America, they also became victims of Heimweh which is reflected in their lines. Nevertheless, the westward movement made an indelible impression upon the Forty-eighters many of whom settled in the Middle West. While Milwaukee was the choice of a large number, those who located in Chicago played a more important role in politics. For approximately one generation the Forty-eighters controlled the German life of Davenport, Iowa. Other areas could be mentioned in which these German political refugees of 1848 became prominent. No mention is made of Indiana, although quite a few Germans who were victims of the disturbance in Europe in 1848 settled in Indianapolis. They made their mark in the field of journalism and in the Turnverein.

Throughout the United States where there was a German settlement, as a rule a Turnverein also came into existence. So one would expect to find a chapter on the Turner movement in The Forty-eighters. Augustus J. Prahl was responsible for this section of the book and in addition to a brief history of this organization has included a number of typical Turner poems.

In view of the fact that the Forty-eighters were particularly interested in politics, a chapter on this phase was written by Lawrence S. Thompson and Frank X. Braun. At the same time that the Know-Nothing movement became prominent, many Forty-eighters assumed political and intellectual leadership of the German masses. As a result some of the most radical groups of the day developed. The term "radical," however, cannot be justly applied to the majority of the Forty-eighters since they were a heterogeneous group.

The only woman listed among the Forty-eighters, Mathilde Franziska Giesler Anneke, was a suffragist. An unhappy marriage at the age of nineteen, a divorce the following year, and difficulties encountered in her struggle to obtain the custody of her child made her an advocate of women's rights. To promote her cause, she edited the Frauenzeitung in Cologne until 1848 when it was suppressed. A year later she came to America and settled in Milwaukee. Here again she pursued her journalistic talents for three years until she was forced to leave that city, whereupon she took up residence in the East and continued in her chosen field. Finally ill health forced her to withdraw from journalism, but she continued to campaign for women's rights until her death in 1884.

Because of the very liberal views of some of the Forty-eighters, they were referred to as radicals. A chapter, therefore, on this group by Eitel W. Dobert serves as an important link in the chain of this book. "The radical Forty-eighters were not always comfortable company" (p. 157). Many were tactless, impractical, and impatient. Dobert claims that "radicals are born, not made. An unwillingness to follow the well-trodden path, a very sensitive social conscience, the feeling of a personal responsibility for the world about, an urge to reform—all these go into the making of a radical" (pp. 158-159). Some of the more outstanding men who fall in the above-mentioned category furnish the bulk of the material for this chapter.

There is no question about the fact that the United States during the days of the Civil War was greatly aided by the addition of the Forty-eighters. A chapter on their contribution is ably treated by Ella Lonn. Of particular interest to Hoosiers is the part August Willich, who commanded the Thirty-second Regiment Indiana Volunteers (or first Indiana German regiment), took in this great strife. He was later succeeded by Heinrich von Trebra. The Indiana regiment was commanded in the German language and each company was provided with a book in which the orders of the colonel or superior officer were written in German.

The Forty-eighters were also prominent in the field of special services as physicians and chaplains during the Civil War. Among the latter were many freethinkers. Journalists were also associated with the army, and one of the best known of the war reporters was Otto von Corwin.

Miss Lonn concludes her chapter by stating that, "The value of the presence of the Forty-eighters in the Union army was threefold: first, their help in winning the war; second, the reaction on the Forty-eighters themselves; third, the advantage to the United States in appreciable assimilation of a hitherto critical group" (p. 217).

Probably no Forty-eighter was better known or more closely touched the lives of the rank and file throughout the United States than Carl Schurz. The last chapter of the book, therefore, has been devoted to a sketch of this popular leader by Bayard Quincy Morgan. "Schurz was a true German-American, with a double loyalty but not a divided one, a citizen whose foreign birth was not a detriment to his Americanism but an asset to it" (p. 249).

While this is a very good book, a definitive work on the Forty-eighters still remains to be written. There are few typographical errors, but the spelling of one man's name varies. On pages 46, 65, 69, 144, 151, and 323, it appears as Theodor Olshausen, and on pages 63, 75, and 370 as Theodor Ohlshausen.

The Carl Schurz Foundation is to be congratulated for making possible the publication of this volume. Scholars interested in German immigration will want to add it to their library.

Indiana University

Elfrieda Lang

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.