There are as many reasons to emigrate, as there are people. It’s one of the most personal moves one will ever make. It’s not easy to leave everyone that one loves behind, for what could be forever. It’s not easy to sell or give away all of one’s worldly possessions, one’s home, car, everything. Then there is security. Even a wretched situation can be secure, if one already knows it. But to leave it all for the unknown.
What motivates people to do this? Throughout history people have left the security of the known, their families, their homes, for so many reasons. Political, social, economic, and religious are all big words, words that we latch on to, so as not to have to share what personally motivates us.
Another motivation can be found not in what one wants to escape, but for what one is looking for. Hard to understand for some, who already peacefully enjoy a job, have a home, and security. Too often we take these things for granted, as we have never had to do without. Or, we know that if times are tough, we can work hard and change things. Imagine a life where that isn’t possible? It is even harder to imagine, wrapped in our own American security blanket, that this could be someone’s Utopia.
Imagine a place where a man can buy as much land as he works and affords, not inherits. Imagine a place where one can marry whomever they want, not needing any more “permission” than a marriage license. Where he can feed his family more in a month than he could have in a year, before. Where he does not have to bow to a king, or do military service for a country that affords him no freedoms. Taxation increases, without a vote in who rules. Imagine a country where we can worship in any church we choose. Imagine a country where the people have a say in what kind of education their children receive, who runs their government, and leads their country. For most of us its not hard to imagine. For some it is Utopia. Some call it America.
People have been emigrating to America for centuries, arriving on our doorstep with hardly anything more than the clothes on their back. Starting from nothing, working to build a life. Unless you are a Native American, an American Indian, your family came to America from somewhere.
In the early nineteenth century, Europe had watched our struggle for independence. They had seen this little upstart of a government take on the British king and win. David slew Goliath.
In Germany, they had come to a point where the years of wars had left them struggling from overtaxation, and starving from overpopulation. Crime was rampant. The more they struggled, the tighter the reign. Things were bad, and hundreds of books and pamphlets were written suggesting emigration to Russia, to England, and South America. In 1824, a German writer named Gottfried Duden arrived in Missouri, with the sole purpose of writing an emigration book, suggesting what some called, a Garden of Eden. Did he lose his perspective?
By 1834, thousands had read Duden’s book, including two young men from Hesse, who as students had attended the University of Giessen together. Friends, and brother-in-laws; Friedrich Muench, a protestant minister, and Paul Follenius, a young attorney, would make the decision to emigrate. Turning their back, and considered traitors by many of their friends, they plotted and planned an emigration “society”, a large group, en masse! They would create a new Germany – in America!
Passing among friends, their pamphlet “a Call for emigration” circulated and created a following too large. Thousands wanted to join them! Plans for a first group of five hundred began. Catholics, Protestant, Jewish and Rationalists; Doctors, lawyers, blacksmiths and furniture makers; young and old, large families and single families; all shared a dream.
The story of their journey, on the Medora and the Olbers is saved for another day. They were filled with hope, with anticipation; to reach Missouri, where “the sun of freedom shines” and they could raise their family and future generations. Years later, another Protestant minister at Muench’s small church would come across that last sermon, and tear the pages from the Church’s record book, and would write instead “he has gone to his Utopia” for later generations to discover.
America, where the “sun of freedom shines”, is still Utopia for thousands every year. Have we forgotten that is what brought our own ancestors here? Would they be proud of us today? Do we need to re-discover our own Utopia?