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2. How others see us: How were German immigrants perceived?

A. Campaign Pamphlet of the American Party (1856)

“The poverty or misrule which has overborne large numbers of the subjects of European monarchies, and the attractions which have been offered by the United States to many who desire to better their fortunes, have, for some years past, turned an immense current of emigration toward our shore. [...] The emigrant, ignorant of our institutions and laws, often ignorant of our language, necessarily in all cases unimbued with the traditional and native sentiment which give life and permanence to our institutions – a sentiment without which no American citizenship can be relied upon as the support of a true American policy – has been permitted, after the probation of a few years, to be brought into the circle of national fellowship, armed with all the powers for good or evil which belong to the natives of the soil.

Nor is this all that enters into the topic of our complaint. A very considerable portion of this yearly emigration, perhaps the majority of it, is evidently, and, without meaning any disparagement, we might say bigotedly attached to a church which is regarded with jealousy and suspicion by the greater number of our people.”

Source: Wolfgang J. Helbich: “Alle Menschen sind dort gleich…” Die deutsche Amerika-Auswanderung im 19. Und 20. Jahrhundert. Düsseldorf 1988, p. 140.

B. Josiah Flynt: “The German and the German-American”

“[...] Perhaps, to an American, the most striking feature in the character of the Germans at home is their respect for law and authority. [...] but I venture to say that Germany is what it is to-day, probably the least politically corrupt country in all Europe...

Patience and perseverance are the next prominent characteristics. Germans stick to a thing that they have begun. [...] The Germans are also an industrious people. They work at something, men, women, and children, the whole day long. [...]

Finally the Germans are a healthy people. [...] Taking them as a race, I think they are better fitted for life, physically, than we are, and they seldom have to rely so much on nervous power to do their work. [...]

Theoretically, the German immigrants whom we get ought to have these characteristics, and in so far as they are intelligently retained here they help to make our life better. With these, however, they bring others which are not so desirable, and I must note them too.

The first characteristic, and it is the worst of all, is their view of women and the treatment they apply to them [...] The woman exists merely to bear his children and keep his home clean. [...] It is probably also the military spirit which makes the Germans such rough people. [...]

The Germans are also somewhat inclined to be petty and small. They are so crowded together, and so afraid that someone will trample on their rights, that it is fairly impossible for them to overlook little things [...]

Finally the German is a Gemüthsmensch; he lives pretty much for and by his feelings. This is both a good trait and a bad one, and the Germans show both sides [...]

The striking thing, however, in German children born in this country is the ease and almost eagerness with which they throw off their nationality. Except possibly the Irish, there is no other race which so quickly becomes American and anti-European [...]

Our first and greatest debt to the Germans is for their help in developing our country [...] As a people the Germans work more slowly than we do, and in certain branches where quickness is necessary they are not equal to the demand, but they have contributed a steadying element to our working classes which has been most salutary [...]”

Source: Josiah Flynt: “The German and the German-American”, in: Atlantic Monthly 78 (1896), 655-64, hier p. 655, 657-64.


American Party: As a reaction to large numbers of immigrants a xenophobic, nativist movement was started in the early 1850s. This movement, which became the American Party, was mostly anti-Catholic and therefore strongly protested against the Germans and the Irish. Their main concern was that Catholicism might destroy morals and democracy. After 1856 most of its members joined the newly founded Republican Party.


  1. Sum up the first text in your own words. What is the picture the American party has of European immigrants? What are they afraid of?
  2. Compare the opinions about migrants with the opinions about contemporary migrants.
  3. Please sum up text number two: What was the image of Germans?
  4. Imagine you are a German craftsman and you have read these texts. Describe how you feel reading them.

Display teacher's view to find the answers.

Description and Analysis

  • The first text shows the fears of many American citizens concerning the migrants, namely: their ignorance of the law, language and traditions. The American Party dreaded the Catholic immigrants the most. The line of argumentation sounds familiar considering the arguments that are brought up against Muslim migrants in Europe nowadays.
  • The second text shows a positive image of German migrants, but at the same time makes use of quiet a few widespread stereotypes about Germans.

Geographical/Historical Context

During the first five years of the 1850s immigration reached a level five times greater than a decade earlier. Most of the immigrants were poor Catholic laborers or peasants from Ireland and Germany who lived in cramped quarters of large cities. As a result, new problems emerged: Boston's expenditures on poor relief tripled during the same period. During the 1850s nativism in the USA was extremely high. The first nativist movement started during the 1830s. It was rooted in protestant revivalism and was aimed at the Irish.