Duden’s Confession on Account of his American Travel Report of 1837

I’ve received my copy of the Yearbook of German-American Studies, Volume 44, 2009 with great anticipation.  All of my expectations were fulfilled as well, with the fantastic treatment of Steven Rowan’s North American Democracy and the Work of de Tocqueville and Duden’s Confession on Account of his American Travel Report of 1837.  The Introductory Essay by Rowan is followed by his translation of the work, and a transcription of the work with the assistance of Franziska Bergmann.

Today’s immigrants worry more about the reception they will receive here in the United States, than they do about what the people at home think about their new life. While it is still a hard step to take, what many immigrants sacrifice to begin a new life in a new world, hasn’t changed much.  However, when Duden first published his Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America, he received criticisms for his work citing the differences between his description and what they actually found when they arrived. Anyone who lives in Missouri for more than one year, soon discovers what many here know, and that is as the famous Missourian Mark Twain stated “wait a bit and it will change” because there are never two years alike.  Unfortunately for Duden, he did not head – or hear – the locals advice about their weather being a bit unusual when he lived here from 1824 until 1827. Duden must not have understood, just how unusual, it really was. Or, perhaps he would not have advised for them to leave the feather ticks and comforters at home.

Rowan’s work finally gives voice to a man frustrated with his attempt to lead his fellow countrymen into a place he thought perfect. It reveals in much greater depth than his Report, Duden’s opinions and explanations for America’s politics, even on the issues of slavery. As we enter the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, Duden reveals a foreigners’ views on many issues of the days leading up to war, and forecasts accurately.  He does not gloss over the situation either, so it cannot be stated that the earliest followers of Duden, were not aware of the issue. By sharing Duden’s work, Rowan finally gives us a picture of the Missouri that Duden wanted so desperately to promote to his fellow countrymen, in a far different manner than the Report ever did.

Anyone studying the issues of immigration will find Duden’s attack on Tocqueville, and his self-accusation in the accounts of his Report, will find it most revealing. Today’s social media, moves lightning fast. Essentially, I found Duden’s Confession, as self-revealing as today’s facebook posting of a friend. Just quite a bit longer.

The Society for German-American Studies Yearbook ISSN 0741-2827 can be purchased I am told. For membership inquiries, one should write J. Gregory Redding, Wabash College, Crawfordsville, IN 47933. For $30 year, members receive the yearbook and a newsletter.

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