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From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-rev...@lists.h-net.org>
Date: Mon, Jun 29, 2020 at 2:29 PM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-TGS]: Astor on Garrison, 'German Americans on the
Middle Border: From Antislavery to Reconciliation, 1830-1877'
To: <h-rev...@lists.h-net.org>
Cc: H-Net Staff <revh...@mail.h-net.org>

Zachary Stuart Garrison.  German Americans on the Middle Border: From
Antislavery to Reconciliation, 1830-1877.  Carbondale  Southern
Illinois University Press, 2019.  232 pp.  $30.00 (paper), ISBN

Reviewed by Aaron Astor (Maryville College)
Published on H-TGS (June, 2020)
Commissioned by Alison C. Efford

Untitled[German Americans on the Middle Border: From Antislavery to
Reconciliation, 1830-1877 by Zachary Garrison]

The literature on nineteenth-century German immigration to the United
States and participation in the American Civil War continues to
develop. Historians like Bruce Levine, Walter Kamphoefner, Alison
Efford, Mischa Honeck, Andre Fleche, and Kristen Layne Anderson have
offered robust and nuanced explanations of German immigrants'
distinctive role in the political, cultural, and ethno-racial
transformations shaping mid-nineteenth-century America.[1] Zachary
Garrison's _German Americans on the Middle Border: From Antislavery
to Reconciliation, 1830-1877_ adds to this growing body of
literature. Like most other books in this vein, Garrison focuses on
the "midwestern" United States primarily, leaving aside sizable
German communities in places such as New York, New Orleans, Texas, or
Pennsylvania. But his interpretation stands apart by altering the
chronological framework and reassessing the ideological principles
animating many German American communities.

Garrison's book examines the mid-nineteenth-century "Middle Border,"
a region defined by many American "Border States" historians to
include both free and slave states. Specifically, the "Middle Border"
incorporates southern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, the Ohio River
portion of Kentucky, and the state of Missouri. At the heart of the
Middle Border were the cities of St. Louis, Louisville, Evansville,
and Cincinnati, though smaller towns like Cape Girardeau and Hermann,
Missouri, and Belleville, Illinois, are also included. In this
heartland area of the United States, Germans arrived in large numbers
beginning in the 1830s, and they immediately altered the political
landscape of an already divided region. By 1860, they had become a
decidedly antislavery element, regardless of their residence in free
or slave states. In fact, as Garrison points out, Germans living in
proximity to slavery were more antislavery than those living further
north in cities like Milwaukee. These German immigrants volunteered
early for the Union cause and vigorously supported emancipation,
often before other Union soldiers. After the war, their politics
started to shift away from Radical Republicanism and toward the new
Liberal Republican movement that downplayed matters of Reconstruction
in favor of economic development and national "reconciliation."

How, why, and when Germans contributed to this story is the point of
departure for historians. Garrison offers four new interpretative
points. First, he begins his discussion long before 1848 with the
so-called Dreissigers, who settled in the Ohio and Mississippi
Valleys in the 1830s. From the beginning, German Lutherans,
Catholics, Jews, and freethinkers settled in geographically disparate
American communities while attempting to forge a German American
identity. By starting as early as the 1830s, Garrison assesses the
extent to which the 1848ers actually changed--or solidified--existing
German American political values. Dreissigers invited a whole range
of Germans to settle in the region, some of them religious exiles
like the Saxon Lutherans who rejected the Prussian Union (and formed
the Missouri Synod) and Catholics from Westphalia and Bavaria. Others
were secular liberal nationalists chafing under the Metternich
system. But most were economic migrants dislocated by land-hungry
Junkers and early industrialization. They established newspapers that
welcomed new immigrants to cities and "colonies" in the American

Garrison's second interpretative point is the emphasis on _Bildung
_as an ideological driver of German political identification in
America. _Bildung _referred to intellectual and physical
self-improvement through a combination of education, moral
improvement, community engagement, and gymnastics. Anything standing
in the way of _Bildung_ was to be opposed, whether it be
authoritarian rule, self-righteous temperance and anti-immigrant
reformers, or slaveholding aristocrats. Garrison notes the congruence
of _Bildung _with American Jeffersonian principles and later, with
free soilism. For this reason, German immigrants found themselves at
home in the Jacksonian Democratic Party before shifting to the
Republicans in the late 1850s. By starting with the Dreissigers,
Garrison shows that the 1848ers contributed revolutionary zeal to an
antislavery ideology already in place. Indeed, the new Turner
societies (Turnverein) appearing after 1848 promoted the _Bildung
_that Dreissigers had encouraged a decade before. Garrison rightly
counters Kristin Anderson's claim that Germans were largely
apathetic--or even sympathetic toward--slavery before the
Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Germans may have switched parties in the
1850s or continued to back the Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas, but
they were mostly antislavery all along. They were not abolitionists,
to be sure, and they deeply resented the New England-based
abolitionists who tended to oppose both slavery and immigration. But
they were avowedly anti-"Southern Democrat," which positioned them on
the vanguard of Thomas Hart Benton's 1850 free soil Democratic
campaign in St. Louis, and later the Missouri Republican Party led by
Frank Blair.

The third intervention has to do with German participation in the
Civil War itself, especially the guerrilla conflict engulfing
Missouri. Drawing upon newer scholarship on Missouri's guerrilla war,
Garrison emphasizes both the community protection and retaliatory
logic of guerrilla war. Sam Hildebrand, ironically the descendant of
Germans long before the nineteenth century, became one of the chief
antagonists of German Missourians in southeastern Missouri. But
Germans willingly took the lead against secessionists at St. Louis's
Camp Jackson in May 1861, against Confederate guerrillas across the
state, and for General John C. Fremont's abortive and premature
emancipation program in August 1861. Germans, labeled "Black Dutch"
by their opponents, were targets of guerrillas, but enthusiastically
filled the ranks of pro-Union militias. Germans also squared off
against conservative Unionists who dragged their feet on

Garrison's fourth intervention has to do with the timing of German
abandonment of radicalism. Unlike Alison Efford, who argues that
Germans supported the principle of black suffrage in 1865 (albeit
with an ethnic strain of citizenship), Garrison finds that Germans
expressed misgivings about black suffrage from the beginning.[2] Much
of this is obscured by the role of Charles Drake, a former Whig and
Know Nothing who alienated Germans long before he proposed a
proscriptive constitution. Drake's constitution rejected black
suffrage and removed ex-Confederates from the polity. Germans feared
that disfranchisement of ex-Confederates would undermine _Bildung_,
which requires a more universal freedom and citizenship to function.
Garrison is right that suspicion and fear of racial equality led to
German opposition to black suffrage in Missouri. But his assessment
of the meaning of black suffrage could draw more from Efford's
analysis of Germans' unique conception of political principle as
opposed to personal fear of competition.

_German Americans on the Middle Border_ is an important book and
makes for good reading for those new to the field as well as those
already versed in the debates over mid-nineteenth-century German
Americans. It is clearly written and nicely organized. The focus at
times tends to lean more heavily toward Missouri than other states.
It also emphasizes strongly the opinions of male, middle-class
household heads, although Garrison does not ignore the voices of
individual women or working-class organizations. Historians of German
immigration may disagree with Garrison's emphasis on _Bildung _as the
driving cultural spirit or wonder how that liberal ideal coalesced
with increasingly radical socialists who arrived in the late 1870s.
Garrison also eschews German unification politics in 1870-71, a
significant moment in German American identity formation according to
Alison Efford.[3] But more than anything else, Garrison's _German
Americans on the Middle Border _offers an excellent synthesis and
starting point for readers curious about the German American
experience in the Civil War era.


[1]. Bruce Levine, _The Spirit of 1848: German Immigrants, Labor
Conflict, and the Coming of the Civil War _(Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 1992); Walter Kamphoefner, _The Wesfalians: From
Germany to Missouri_ (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
1987); Alison Efford, _German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in
the Civil War Era_ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013);
Mischa Honeck, _We Are the Revolutionists: German-Speaking Immigrants
and American Abolitionists after 1848_ (Athens: University of Georgia
Press, 2011); Andrew Fleche, _The Revolution of 1861: The American
Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict_ (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 2014); and Kristen Layne
Anderson, _Abolitionizing Missouri: German Immigrants and Racial
Ideology in Nineteenth Century America_  (Baton Rouge: Louisiana
State University Press, 2016).

[2]. Efford, _German Immigrants_, 115-42.

[3]. Ibid., 143-70.

Citation: Aaron Astor. Review of Garrison, Zachary Stuart, _German
Americans on the Middle Border: From Antislavery to Reconciliation,
1830-1877_. H-TGS, H-Net Reviews. June, 2020.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=55376

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Best regards,

Andrew Stewart
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