September 9th

The letters of the Stille and Weitz families and consequent context given by the authors served to humanize the experiences of the German emigrants of the Antebellum period we previously only understood through class lecture notes. The expression of German pride and strong in-group connections were present and represented on a variety of occasions in both series of letters. Stille in one of his letters back home praised the German culture for its emphasis on thriftiness and diligence when describing the immigrant experience particularly of immigrant men with wives and children. The was brought up to impugn single men who often spent money frivolously, lacked a drive to work, and consequently found themselves in avoidable debt. Weitz also implies a superiority of German culture in comparison to American culture when describing the ideological foundation of individualism on which American culture is built. He recounts to his father about how every man is expected to look out for himself and himself only. The implication here is that in Germany neighbors would support each other when they were in need, and that therefore Germans were more compassionate and generous in nature.

One aspect of these letters I found interesting was the political engagement of these immigrant groups. These two letter-writers expressed investment in both the political events in America and in Germany. They recognized and discussed how certain in both countries political events affected them and the broader German immigrant community. This demonstrated a unique political identity for this specific community. When speaking of the presidential cycle for example, Stille was intrigued by the American system of presidential election and described how the relatively frequent turnover of leaders compared to what he came to know before in Germany negatively impacted the function of the country. Just as a policy is begins to take full effect throughout the country, Stille recounts, the next president comes in and ruins the progress. Weitz tells his family in Germany of how he and the broader German immigrant community are at odds, largely due to misunderstandings of the American political sphere, in regards to political allegiance to the Democrat and Republican parties. This conflict mainly stemmed from the issue of slavery, which the German immigrant population largely opposed. Both Stille and Weitz expressed curiosity and worry about the German Revolution as well. Concerned with the well-being of their respective families, they had a vested interest in the success of said revolution.

Another aspect of these letters I found particularly interesting was the pattern of seasonal migration these men and many other immigrants of German descent around them found themselves in. Both sets of letters described a very unstable labor market, particularly for immigrants. While the two letter-writers, as well as many other German immigrants, aspired to acquire land and work as farmers, many were not able to realize this goal immediately due to pricing barriers. Instead, they and many other immigrants migrated throughout the country, mainly between Cincinnati and New Orleans, to work as factory weavers or brickmakers. Both writers also frequently encouraged their family members to emigrate with after them during the spring and strongly discouraged during the winter months. This was mainly due to production largely coming to a halt in the winter from disruptions from snowfall. To avoid starvation many immigrants had to migrate to warmer parts of the country in search of new work. These letters demonstrated the unique struggles seasonal migrants face in terms of economic instability and brings in to question the very concept of the “American Dream.”

4 thoughts on “September 9th

  1. I also noted that Weitz had a lot of pride for German culture! In addition to comparing Americans negatively to German, he wrote about the appreciation of German singing and music in America, with the rise of singing clubs and festivals. It was interesting to read about their thoughts and feelings towards politics in both Germany and the United States, with the German Revolution and American Civil War brewing. I am curious about whether the Stille and Krumme families read German newspapers, as Weitz almost certainly did, as they seemed aware of politics and current issues events. I had not thought about the seasonal migration these immigrants experienced, and I think that is an interesting observation.

  2. Noell – I really appreciated and thought that it was interesting that you talked about how the letters from each family member humanized their experiences. I think a lot of the time when we are learning about immigrants, we often to understand how diverse different people’s experiences actually are. In my post, I also talked about how being connected and the togetherness that they had back home persisted through their time I the U.S. as well. How you brought up the concept of the “American Dream” was also interesting. I almost feel as if it is a falsehood and something that doesn’t exist, so if they were doing better and “living the dream” here I can’t imagine what it must have been like in Germany at that time.

  3. The political activism of the German immigrants is an interesting topic. To see their commentaries on the current political landscape examples like the brawl in Ohio show what it was like for those early immigrants. I also found it an interesting window to how they view the president and how he ruined the progress made.

  4. I also thought your idea of the “american dream” was quite interesting as well. They risked coming to an unknown place to give their families a better life, They worked hard to succeed in a place so new to them.

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