In 1829, some said Gottfried Duden’s Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America, in the years 1824, 25, 26 & 27 portrayed Missouri as a place similar to the Garden of Eden. He told of a place where food was abundant, where you were free to chose where you lived, who you married, and what you said. Freedom was the key word. You had the freedom, dearly fought for, to live a life only dreamed of in Germany at that time.
Duden’s critics called him a dream spinner! There couldn’t truly be such a place. In a hard world ruled by Kings, Dukes and monarchs, a freely held election to decide your leader? You were free to chose which state, and on what land, your own efforts afforded you, and not be dependent on what the inheritance laws insisted? Laws that you had a voice in making? Freedom to say what you thought with fear? Incredible! Could there truly be such a place? Or was this only an El Dorado, a dream, a Utopia?
America prides itself on its freedoms and democracy. We celebrate those who work daily to keep it safe, and commemorate those who have made the greatest sacrifice already. Today, residents in many countries still see America as a Utopia. They sacrifice everything, just as those early emigrants did, to be able to call it home. And unfortunately, many still show prejudice, in the same form as what was called nativism in the 19th Century. What are we learning from these lessons in history?
We must examine that history closer, and gain insight, and remember those words our Country’s founders first wrote in our Declaration of Independence. To an emigrant, those are not empty words. They are what they based their decision to come here, to struggle and sacrifice, those very freedoms described.
In 1834, nearly 500 Germans left their families, their homes, and everything they had, behind them forever. They had hopes of creating a new State in America! One filled with Germans, where they could live as Americans. During the Civil War, they held that state, Missouri, filled with slave holders, determined to secede as all other Confederate states had, keeping it for the Union. They paid that sacrifice willingly, proving that emigrants can indeed make the best citizens.
“The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”
wrote Winston Churchill. One hundred eighty years ago they believed. Will it still be Utopia in another 180 years? Lets hope so.
To learn more about the Giessen Emigration Society, visit Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America. The Exhibition from the Traveling Summer Republic in Bremen Germany will visit the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis beginning November 22, 2014. As part of the STL250 Events of the City of St. Louis, it explores the German heritage that made the city great.