Shaping the Circle



EXHIBIT: Cultural Conflict and Acculturation


Proposed Guide
Proposed Guide for Instructions in Morals from the Standpoint of a Freethinker by Clemens Vonnegut.

Freethinkers Minutes
Minutes for the Freethinker Society of Indianapolis, pg. 1.

Minutes of the Freethinker Society of Indianapolis
Minutes of the Freethinker Society of Indianapolis, pg. 2

Minutes of the Freethinker Society of Indianapolis
Minutes of the Freethinker Society of Indianapolis, pg. 3


The Forty-eighters, as a whole, did not accept the conventional tenets of Christianity. They rejected both the orthodox and the more liberal varieties of Christian religion as being unreasonable, and they accepted only what could be proved by scientific method. Hence they were called freethinkers. By contrast, the Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Evangelical, and Methodist churches stood on very conservative theological grounds. By these and other advocates of Christian religion—Germans and natives alike—the freethinkers were considered to be radical infidels. And since the churches of America were passing through a period of religious bigotry, the division was sharp. . . .

For some time it had become evident that a center should be created for the free-thinking element in Indianapolis. Among the German Vereins, and especially among the teachers, there was excellent potential for an organization dedicated to fight against antiquated prejudices and to inspire intellectual pursuits through free public lectures and debates on topics from all fields of knowledge.

Following the example of other cities, the "Freethinkers' Society of Indianapolis" was founded in the gymnasium of the Indianapolis Turnverein on Sunday, April 10, 1870. . . by Professor Karl Beyschlag, who wrote its constitution. Other prominent members of this society were Clemens Vonnegut, H. Reese, [Carl] A. Biedenmeister, August Kuhn, Charles E. Emmerich, Herman Lieber, Alexander Metzger, Karl Pingpank, and Phillip Rappaport. The Freethinkers rejected all creeds and ecclesiastical beliefs and accepted only such conclusions as could be established by scientific method. . . . [Their] goal was to encourage the free-thinking Germans to band together and agitate through lectures, debates, and the circulation of liberal tracts, and especially to attend to the young generation. . . . From the concise minutes we can deduce that the members made sincere efforts to broaden their intellectual horizons through free exchange of opinion and criticism.

In the early 1880s the Freethinker Society lost its appeal. A number of the leading members had shifted their interest to the Turnverein; others dedicated their energies to the Socialist Section which had been in existence for several years. Before the society vanished completely, it stimulated a project of general public usefulness . . . the founding of a trade school. The idea found support from all sides. Hundreds of young people were instructed in technical drafting by Bern[ard] Vonnegut, Arthur Bohn, and Th. R. Bell—all first-rate teachers. The trade school finally developed into the public "Industrial Training School."



Updated: 29 April 2004, RKB

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