Curated Groupings

Deutsch-Amerikanisches Erbe : German-American Heritage

From 1845 to 1855, more than one million Germans fled to the United States to escape economic hardship and political unrest in Germany.  German immigrants possessed a wealth of political and military knowledge that President Abraham Lincoln would utilize in the coming Civil War. Early on in his political career, Lincoln was aware of large groups of German-Americans-and their anti-slavery sentiments-in his hometown. Lincoln befriended German political figures in Springfield and leaned on them for guidance. He also took a few German lessons to help him communicate with the German population.

Illinois was not the only state to experience a steady growth of German immigrants. Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, and Wisconsin also saw a rise in German residents. German-Americans were active in society, publishing around 200 German-language newspapers and magazines. They became involved in politics, expressing their stances on important topics and events such as the Lincoln-Douglas debates and popular sovereignty, both of which centered on the issue of slavery.

After the mid-1850s emergence of the Know-Nothing Party, known for their anti-immigrant views, many German-Americans believed the Know-Nothing Party and the new Republican Party were linked, and thus were hesitant to vote Republican. Democrats falsely claimed that Lincoln supported the Know-Nothings before joining the Republican Party. However, Republicans demonstrated to German-Americans their party's lack of nationalist views by including German-born men in their convention. The Republican Party also published articles in German-language newspapers. Lincoln's speech on July 10, 1858 in which he stated that the Declaration of Independence included all white male immigrants-not only white men who were native-born Americans-was a significant factor in German-Americans deciding to support Lincoln.

Following the start of the Civil War, numerous German-Americans joined the side of the Union to defend freedom. As members of anti-slavery societies they rallied for a Union victory and railed against slavery. Some German-Americans feared that secession made the United States vulnerable to attack from other countries, which had occurred in Germany prior to its unification. Throughout the war, many German-American soldiers rose quickly through the ranks, playing an important part in the Union victory.