I. Early Emigrants to Colonial and Revolutionary America
Starting with the founding of Germantown, in 1683, examines German settlements in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and the German role in the Revolutionary War. It corrects the view that “sect Germans” such as Amish and Mennonites made up the bulk of colonial immigration, and also explodes and explains the myth that German nearly became the official language of the United States. It concludes by showing how the forces of assimilation eroded ethnicity until mass immigration resumed after 1830.
II. The Push—Sources and Causes of 19th Century Emigration
This chapter examines the push factors operating in the three regional cultures of Germany, the “dwarf agriculture” of the Southwest where equal inheritance prevailed; the bimodal structures of Northwest Germany, divided between a prosperous peasantry upheld by indivisible inheritance and a growing tenant farmer class; and the great estates of Eastern Germany where agricultural laborers were poorest and most oppressed. Investigating the occupational structure and selectivity of emigration, it contradicts the view that emigrants were “people who had something to lose, and were losing it,” stressing instead the relative poverty of those leaving. Also exposes the German practice of providing free or subsidized passage to convicts and other undesirables such as poor relief recipients, and demonstrates that the mortality rates of passengers, even in the days of sail, were lower than often believed.
III. 19th Century Immigration: Organized vs. Individual
This chapter seeks to correct the overemphasis on emigrant guidebooks and organized emigration societies, emphasizing instead the role of immigrant letters and chain migration as the major influence on immigrant destinations. It does, however, examine the fate of several of the most important immigration societies, particularly the “Adelsverein” in Texas and some religiously motivated societies. It shows that economic factors were the main motivator, though economic disadvantages and political powerlessness were interrelated. It also examines the Forty-eighter political refugees and their contrasts and commonalities with other emigrants.
IV. Where They Settled
This chapter examines the German avoidance of the South and New England, and their concentration in the urban and rural Midwest and the reasons behind it. It also examines their overrepresentation in urban areas, and how Germans from different regions were concentrated in different states and cities.
V. German Americans and Politics through the Civil War
This chapter traces how Germans started out as Jacksonian Democrats and their (partial) conversion to Republicanism by the election of Lincoln. It then analyzes their role as the ethnic group most overrepresented in the Union Army, constituting 10 percent of the total, enlivened by quotes from immigrant letters which we have published. It examines the role of German generals and charges of ethnic discrimination in the Union Army, which led to the Fremont presidential candidacy in 1864 in which Germans played a large part. It also refutes claims that Germans in the South were “unremarkable” in their attitudes to slavery, race, and secession.
VI: Race, Reconstruction, and Late 19th Century Politics
Although German Americans largely rejected slavery, their views on the intertwined issue of race are more complicated. Germans were no more likely than other whites to support black voting rights in post-Civil War referendums. But in the Southern and Border States, Germans were more dedicated to the Union than other whites of these regions, attitudes that carried over into Reconstruction. In a few instances, there were political alliances of German and black Republicans that persisted well into the twentieth century. Missouri was probably the state where Germans had the most political influence in Reconstruction, even electing one of their own, Forty-eighter Carl Schurz, to the U.S. Senate. But Schurz was also a leader in the Liberal Republican movement that distanced itself from radical Reconstruction, although this was not primarily based on race. Relations with the Republican Party remained shaky in the late 19th century, and this alliance was undermined whenever the GOP went on moralistic crusades against alcohol. But this gave Germans considerable bargaining power. Surprisingly, at the city level Germans were nearly as likely to be elected mayor as Irish Catholics, despite the reputation of the latter as born politicians.
VII:The Interactions of Ethnicity and Religion
German-Americans were never as unified as the Irish, in part because of their religious diversity. This chapter looks at the major German confessions, their institutional development, their relations with one another and with other ethnic religious groups. It first examines the German position within American Catholicism, then two different transplanted denomination, the German Lutherans and Lutherans, as well as the most important offshoot of Anglo-Protestantism, German Methodists. It then poses the question of German Jews: a part or apart? Finally, it examines interethnic relations, finding a considerable degree of antagonism even between German Catholics and the Irish, but surprisingly friendly relations with Slavic immigrants, especially in Texas and the Midwest. This amity and antipathy is also reflected in intermarriage rates with various groups.
VIII:German-Language Education in America: Parochial, Public, and Private
Many ethnics, Protestant as well as Catholics, believed that “Language saves Faith,” and endeavored to provide parochial schools often operating largely or entirely in heritage languages. Motivated both by ethnic politics and a desire to give children more exposure to the English language and American culture, authorities in a number of cities introduced German instruction into public elementary schools. Sometimes this involved just an hour of German per day, but at least four cities had programs of “two-way immersion” teaching subject matter in both languages. San Antonio Germans supported a similar private school over three decades. There was also much German instruction in rural districts, with or without official sanction. Many of these programs persisted until World War I.
IX:The German American Press and other Literary and Cultural Expressions
This chapter traces the development of the German-language press, the largest foreign language press in America for at least two centuries, and the roles it played in the ethnic community: from the first announcement of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in any language to the 100th anniversary of the New Braunfelser Zeitung in 1952. It also examines other German-American cultural expressions such as literature, art and music, and the bridging role the ethnic community played between Europe and America.
X:German Niches in the American Economy:
This chapter first explores the paradox that 19th century German-Americans were more urbanized than either Germany or America at the time, but made up one-third of the American farm population by the end of the 20th century. It then examines Germans’ role in American industrialization. It identifies areas of the U.S. economy where Germans were particularly concentrated, and examines the industrial and geographic niches where transatlantic connections were of greatest consequence. Shifting focus from global to individual patterns, it then explores what was German and what was American about German-American entrepreneurship in the mid and late nineteenth century, and what allowed some family firms to persist as long as 150 years.
XI:German Immigrants, the Labor Movement, and Urban Socialism
This chapter traces the important role played by Germans in the American labor movement, including its radical socialism and anarchist elements, especially those involved in the Haymarket affair. The Socialist movement saw its peak influence in Wisconsin, supporting war opponents Robert Lafollette and Victor Berger during World War I and electing the last socialism mayor of a major city, Frank Zeidler Milwaukee, who only left office in 1960 and survived into the 21st century.
XII:The German American Experience in World War I
This chapter offers an overview of both the attitudes and actions of German-Americans in the Great War and the effects of the war on this ethnic group and its language and culture. It is evident that German-Americans were misunderstood both by their former countrymen back in the Fatherland and by their fellow Americans. Germans often assumed that because German-Americans were unable to prevent Woodrow Wilson’s re-election or American entry into World War I, it meant they had quickly shed their ethnicity and immersed themselves in the Melting Pot, abandoning the German language and culture. Anglo-Americans, on the other hand, often confused these cultural loyalties or mere language preservation with political loyalty to the Fatherland. The effect of German-Americans on the war effort, and the effect of the Great War on German-Americans, can be briefly summarized thus: although most would probably have preferred that the United States remain neutral, German-Americans served in the U.S. military at rates only slightly lower than the national average, and at higher rates than some ethnic groups that were presumed beneficiaries of a defeat of the Central Powers. While the war certainly had an impact on the survival of the German language and culture in the United States, this impact was far from universal, and it merely accelerated trends that were already underway well before the fateful shots were fired in Sarajevo or the deadly torpedoes launched against the Lusitania.
XIII:The Twilight of German Ethnicity, 1920 to the Present.
This chapter examines the persistence and decline of German language and culture in the wake of World War I, the varied reactions of German-Americans to the rise of Nazism, the wave of refugees fleeing Nazi persecution and a second wave from 1945 to 1955 precipitated by the devastation of war, and the reasons why neither of these migration waves created the kind of ethnic communities that earlier immigration did. The 1980 census revealed that people of German heritage were the largest ethnic group in the United States, raising the question what significance this fact holds.
Kamphoefner is able to convincingly offer these types of correctives not only through his wide reading of contemporary scholarship but also his use of letters and other documents written by the German immigrants and settlers themselves. Indeed, one of the best qualities of this book is the way in which it balances the secondary source syncretism with the voices of the historical communities under study. Kamphoefner’s sources range widely across places of origin, classes, occupations, genders, and political persuasions. What comes across is a picture that truly reflects the wide variety of people that shared a German-American identity and the many ways in which they adapted to and navigated in their adopted country through three centuries of turbulence.— Europe Now
In Germans in America, Kamphoefner finds evidence of German language retention and cultural distinctiveness in small enclaves across the US from the 19th century to the present, albeit waning today. A seasoned expert in the field of immigration history, Kamphoefner draws on more than 11,000 German American immigrant letters to explore the meaning of ethnicity and the still-understudied group’s place in American society and history. This engaging, much-needed synthesis is at its best when readers hear immigrants’ voices directly…. Mostly focused on the political and economic German refugees of the 19th century, Kamphoefner includes fascinating evidence from his own family history in the Midwest and Texas…. Recommended. General readers.— Choice Reviews
This is a book by a preeminent scholar that fills an obvious void. There is no other contemporary study that matches it in depth, perspective, and underlying scholarship. It is a must read for both the serious scholar and the amateur historian and should serve these audiences as an indispensable reference for years to come.— Southwestern Historical Quarterly
This is a necessary book for the field of German American history. Scholars of German America have lacked a single-volume synthesis that reflects recent work in the field, and much of the German American history that was written for a popular audience has lacked a strong scholarly background. With this volume, Kamphoefner has addressed both of these issues, and I expect that his work will be in use for years to come.— Missouri Historical Review
Germans in America is a veritable tour de force. It is a work of remarkable synthesis, breathtaking in both breadth and scope, from a leading scholar in the field of American immigration history. Kamphoefner is a gifted writer and storyteller, employing clear, jargon-free, and at times witty prose to weave together a comprehensive, sweeping narrative of the German experience in the United States from colonial times to the present that is at once academically rigorous and imminently readable. ...This is history brilliantly told from the bottom up in the best tradition of the New Social History’s concern for lived experience and inclusivity with regard to race, class, and gender.— Timothy G. Anderson, Department of Geography, Ohio University
This volume consolidates and synthesizes decades of work by one of the leading scholars of German America, one who can plumb the depths of personal letters as well as quantitative and genealogical records. The chapters explore key issues from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for this group and the author presents them for a general audience. As an overview, it shines.— Suzanne M. Sinke, Director of Graduate Studies, Department of History, Florida State University, Editor, Journal of American Ethnic History
Finally! Germans in America is the engaging interpretive history of German America I’ve been waiting for. Kamphoefner pairs his encyclopedic knowledge and deep research with vibrant writing and arresting anecdotes, producing a book that will be widely enjoyed and long consulted.— Alison Clark Efford, co-editor of Radical Relationships: The Civil War–Era Correspondence of Mathilde Franziska Anneke
Professor Kamphoefner’s book provides scholars and general readers alike with an impressive overview of the history of German-speaking immigrants and their descendants in America. Written in an engaging and accessible style, Germans in America draws on key primary and secondary sources to connect the German-American experience with the larger social, political, and cultural currents in America from the colonial era into the twentieth century. Prof. Kamphoefner rightly focuses much of his attention on the nineteenth century, which marked the demographic high point of German immigration to the United States. This book underscores the social, religious, linguistic, and cultural heterogeneity of German America while addressing important questions related to ethnicity and identity in America more broadly.— Mark Louden, Professor of Germanic Linguistics at University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of the Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies
Kamphoefner’s Germans in America makes interesting reading. Kamphoefner is a gifted storyteller whose voice and German-American background echo through every sentence. Unlike many historical texts, this one draws the reader in and brings to life the essence of what our immigrant ancestors experienced. Should this work be published again in a second edition.— MKI Friends Newsletter
This is a welcome contribution from a leading figure on this topic, Walter D. Kamphoefner, who describes his goal as making "the latest scholarly research on German Americans accessible to the educated general reader without any specialized background knowledge, particularly those interested in their ethnic heritage". He succeeds. A variety of myths and tales often heard from the public and occasionally scholars are dispatched. As we would hope from "a concise history," the book is an easy and engaging read.— H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online