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The Austin Atheists Meetup Group Message Board › Texas German Freethinkers Part 1

Texas German Freethinkers Part 1

Austin, TX
I have discovered there is a 5000 character limit to each message. This paper I wrote as a UT student is over twice that length. I wanted to share it because we've mentioned these people.

The Political Attitudes Of German Immigrants In Texas, 1847-1872
by Larry Williamson

In this paper, I will examine the political attitudes of the German immigrants who came to Texas before the Civil War. First, I will explain why the Germans wanted to leave Germany and why they chose to come to Texas. Secondly, I will describe their settlements and give a brief account of their political activities. Finally, I will discuss why the Germans in Texas, after the Civil War, were less politically influential. I will pay special attention to the most politically progressive of the German Immigrants and describe a few of their settlements. The most dramatic examples of their activities occurred during the years from 1847 to 1866. Given my limitations of length and time, I may not be able to discuss many of their activities after 1854. As a conclusion, I will suggest reasons for the decline of their influence.

Of the estimated 72,000 Germans living in the South at the beginning of the Civil War (Rippley, 69) an estimated number of more than 30,000 lived in Texas (Jordan, 49). The first major wave of German migration to Texas took place in the period from 1844 to 1860 (Jordan, 41). Although the second wave of German migration to Texas, after the Civil War, was larger, the first wave included those who established many of the first settlements and the first political organizations of German immigrants (Biesele, 196).

Conditions in Germany contributed to the desire to emigrate. During the 1840s, Germany felt the impact of a rapid increase in its population, of two severe economic slumps and of a potato blight, which although not as severe as Ireland's, had as a consequence, the effect of causing a general rise in food prices. For students and professionals, dim career prospects and strict political controls were factors. The idea of emigrating to Texas had been made appealing by the publication of travel accounts, letters, poetry and novels which described Texas in mythic terms as naturally bountiful, fertile and as a place of freedom (Gish, 161-162).

In the 1840s, members of the German nobility formed emigration societies to encourage people to leave. With the establishment of overseas German settlements under their sponsorship, they hoped to profit from them as markets for German goods and to use them as centers of international trade. They also wanted to encourage discontented intellectuals to leave Germany (Fischer, 62). The most important of these societies encouraging German emigration to Texas was the Adelsverein, formed in 1842. In 1844, the Adelsverein announced to the public through notices in various newspapers (Gish, 163) and in 1846 through a speaking tour of the campuses of the Universities of Geissen, Heidelberg and Darmstadt (Perry, 5) that it would assist people wanting to emigrate to Texas. The Adelsverein's goal was to settle 12,000 immigrants (Perry, 5) on a 3000 acre tract of land, known as the Fisher-Miller grant, in the Texas Hill Country, 90 miles northwest of Austin. Only later did officials of the Adelsverein discover that they had been swindled by Fisher and Miller. The land grant was too far from the coast to make trade profitable, much of it was too rocky and infertile for agriculture and it was entirely controlled by Comanches (Jordan, 45). The Adelsverein went bankrupt in 1847, leaving stranded the 7,380 settlers they had brought to Texas between 1844 and 1847 (Jordan, 45).

Some of the earliest settlements such as New Braunsfels and Fredericksburg were established by Adelsverein officials as way stations from the port of entry to the land grant. Other settlements were established by those settlers the Adelsverein had abandoned when it went bankrupt in 1847. These settlements were strung along the route of migration from the coast to the land grant (Jordan, 45).

One of the few settlements established on the actual site of the Adelsverein land grant was founded by a group of radicals that the Adelsverein had brought to Texas in 1847. The settlement, named Bettina in honor of the German writer Elizabeth (Bettina) von Arnim, was established by a group who called themselves 'The Fortyers'. The name refers to the original number of their group, thirty-three of whom came to Texas. They had been inspired by William C. Weitling, a German advocate of the theories of the French utopian socialist Charles Fourier (Fischer, 60-61). An official of the Adelsverein had obtained the consent of the Commanches to the establishment of Bettina (Fischer, 68) along with two other small settlements (Perry, 5). The Bettina group and other similar groups of intellectuals were humorously nick-named 'Latin Farmers' by contemporary observers. They were much more notable for their ability to recite the classics in Lat
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