Shaping the Circle

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Letter from
John
Bermont to Mr. Philip Sachs
Letter from John Bermont to Mr. Philip Sachs

WHY GERMANS CAME TO AMERICA

The reasons [the Germans had for coming to America] were varied. . . . Intolerable economic conditions in the German states and a desire for betterment in as short a time as possible was one of the primary causes for the coming of Germans to America. . . . Not only the poorer people were coming to America. There were many of the comparatively wealthy who also came . . . to better themselves economically. They had heard of how easy it was to increase one's wealth in America, and with a typical German interest in making the most of opportunities, some of the families embarked to seek a greater fortune in the new world. . . .

A second significant reason for the coming of the Germans was the religious persecution of the Confessional Lutherans. While the Midwest received many liberal-minded Germans, it also received many of Germany's most enthusiastic conservatives. In 1817 King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia decreed a union of the Lutheran and Reformed churches in Prussia, and his action was followed by the rulers of several of the smaller German states. . . . Compared to previous persecutions the methods were comparatively mild, but the result was that entire congregations came to America, lock, stock, and barrel, in order that they could worship God without interference from the state. . . .

Authoritarian German government was a third factor which caused many Germans to leave their native country. The governments of the German states were headed by princes who refused to be bound by democratic constitutions. . . . The revolutions in the various German states during 1848 proved to many of the liberal-minded Germans that change in their Fatherland was an impossibility at that time. . . .

A fourth important cause for the German immigration was the requirement of long military service. During the first half of the nineteenth century, German young men were compelled to serve up to five years in the army for the handsome sum of four cents a day. The army was full of hardships for those who were not among the officers. In order to avoid military service, some peasants resorted to various methods, such as cutting off a finger or toe. Other young men preferred to leave home rather than to serve for so many years.

 


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Updated: 29 April 2004, RKB
Comments: speccoll@iupui.edu
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