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The Spirit of 1848: German Immigrants, Labor Conflict, and the Coming of the Civil War.

This work by Bruce Levine provides a welcome and largely successful attempt to integrate immigration, labor and political history through a consideration of the role of radical German democrats in the Civil War era United States.

It opens with an excellent pair of chapters on the German background to the emigration, chapters which synthesize much of the latest literature on the subject and which provide the best short history now available in English. Given the importance of radical democratic, republican and social republican ideas to the work as a whole, Levine would have done even better if he had paid more attention to the broader international context of radical democratic and social republican agitators and organizations which had such a great impact on Germany in 1848-50 - and on German immigrants to the U.S. after 1850.(1) Still, he makes clear the inextricable political component of the mass migration following the failure of the 1848 revolutions and the mistake made by a generation of American historians who followed Marcus Lee Hansen's lead and assumed that only middle-class intellectuals were real forty-eighters.

If his synthesis of the literature on the German emigration is excellent, it pales before his treatment of the industrial development of the United States and the part played by German immigrants in that development. In the process, Levine provides a fine synthesis of a crop of local studies of industrialization with another crop of studies which focus on German immigrants. These studies have been produced by a generation of historians responding to the influences of Herbert Gutman and David Montgomery, but they have not been pulled together into a national context until now.

Levine's exploration of the roles played by religion and anti-religion in the creation of German-American communities is incisive, and his description of the development of the German-American labor movement in the 1850's is superb (his analysis of the often described 1850 NYC tailors' strike is the best yet). While much of the latter material has been covered by others in other contexts, Levine's integration of it with the broader context of U.S. labor and radical history makes his telling especially worthwhile.

In the long run, the book's strategy is to integrate the German-American experience through consideration of their role in the political realignments of the 1850's. The Turners and other radical 1848ers are followed as they made the transition from radical democrats in a European context, to Radical Republicans in an American one in the aftermath of the Kansas-Nebraska act of 1854. Levine explores the ways in which German-American radical democrats shared in the national experience of mobilizing over the slavery issue, and the ways in which their reactions were shaped by their German experience.

In the process, Levine is extremely sensitive to the variations in German-American politics and considers the roles played by German Democrats like August Belmont and Oswald Ottendorfer. Levine makes it clear that despite the myth that German-American voters elected Lincoln, Republicans won the support of only about a third of them and he goes a fair way towards explaining why that was the case though, in the end, he fails to really explain the strength of the German Democracy and tends to fall back on the German Republicans' notion that it was basically a result of the "limited mentality" of German-American voters who put anti-prohibition principles above anti-slavery ones).

Despite his sensitivity to differences among the German immigrants and the strength of his presentation of the broader American context, Levine does not do so well with differences within some groups of Anglo-Americans. The nativists of the Know-Nothing movement appear simply as a malign force hostile to the Germans. The pro-labor activists of the Know-Nothings and any relationships they might have had with the German-American labor movement are left unexplored, as are the ties which sometimes developed between Anglo-American and German-American anti-Catholics. The German-American role in the Know-Nothing interlude between the Whig and Republican parties has again been left for others to examine.

In a way, the greatest weakness of this work is its strongest point, the integration of German-American history with the Civil War crisis and the creation of the Republican coalition. In aiming the entire work in that direction, Levine undermines the possibility of integrating the German-American experience with the broader contours of American history through its influence on the American labor and radical movements. If the labor upsurge of 1886 or the larger pattern of immigrant radicalism had been the focal point aimed at, rather than the Civil War, Levine might have come up with an integration which would have been more representative of both the German-American and the American experiences in the longer run.

On the other hand, Hans Trefusse wants more attention paid to prominent German-American Republicans like Gustav Korner and Karl Schurtz, a very different (if more traditional) sort of synthesis. At the same time, Levine's approach could be criticized in diametrically opposed terms for only beginning to touch on the majority German-American experience of those who continued to vote for the Democratic Party.(2) Suffice it to say that there is much research yet to be done on the largest and most complex ethnic group in American history, and that Levine shouldn't have to bear the burden of our collective failure. He does what he set out to do and, as he does it very well indeed, we should simply be thankful for his fine synthesis.


(1.) For more on this topic see Stanley Nadel, "From the Barricades of Paris to the Sidewalks of New York: German Artisans and the European Roots of American Labor Radicalism," Labor History (Winter, 1989): 47-75. (2.) In this regard, Susanne Schick's recently completed Ph.D. dissertation, "For God, Man, and Country. The Political Worlds of Midwestern German Democrats During the Civil War Era" (Urbana, IL, 1993), should open up this much neglected portion of the German-American experience.

Abstract: David A. Gerber, "Anger and Affability: The Rise and Representation

of a Repertory of Self-Presentation Skills in a World War II

Disabled Veteran"

People with visible physical disabilities must learn to manage a singular form of oppression - unwanted attention from strangers in the form, for example, of being stared at and being asked prying questions. While the management of oppressive attention has been extensively described and analyzed in recent ethnographical and biographical literature on disability, historians have taken little interest in the lived experience of people with disabilities. This essay analyzes the development of these management skills in the case of a disabled World War II veteran, Harold Russell, a bilateral hand amputee, and contrasts Russell's personal rehabilitation experience with that of the disabled character Russell played in the popular post-war feature film, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Russell's acquisition of these management skills took place in a cultural and political context that placed an emphasis on repression of bitterness and anger. The essay seeks to explain how the opportunity to play the fictional disabled character in the movie functioned for Russell as an outlet for emotions that disabled veterans were discouraged from displaying in public.

Abstract: Donna Harsch, "Public Continuity and Private Change? Women's

Consciousness and Activity in Frankfurt, 1945-1955"

This article explores the personal, socio-cultural, and political characteristics and determinants of urban German women's consciousness and behavior after World War II. Three questions form its interpretive framework: Did "1945" lead to significant changes in gender relations in West Germany or were continuities across this divide more prevalent than discontinuities? How did developments in the family influence the public activities of women? Can one find evidence of interaction between attitudes that can be broadly defined as egalitarian or socially tolerant and views about women's rights or roles? The essay evaluates qualitative and quantitative indices of attitudes towards single women, marriage, and abortion as well as evidence on women's sociability and the language of women's groups. Two determinants of women's attitudes are examined closely: immediate post-war social and economic conditions, and demographic trends in fertility, out-of-wedlock births, marriage, divorce. In less detail, the essay weighs the impact of employment and education on women's activities as well as the influence of American ideology, democratic language, and Christian paternalism on the programs of women's organizations.

Abstract: Timothy B. Smith, "In Defense of Privilege: The City of London

and the Challenge of Municipal Reform, 1875-1890"

This article shows how the traditional, oligarchic city corporation of London defended itself from municipal reformers during the late nineteenth century. It explores the relationship between national and municipal politics and civic ritual, pageantry, and other less public forms of public relations, such as lobbying. It tests the "invention of tradition" thesis put forth by Eric Hobsbawm, David Cannadine, and others, on a local level and finds evidence to support it. Employing elaborate ceremonies and rituals - traditional and "invented" - the city of London identified itself with a glorious national past, thereby ensuring the survival of an anachronistic body in an age of incipient democracy.

Abstract: Pamela Radcliff, "Elite Women Workers and Collective Action:

The Cigarette Makers of Gijon, 1890-1930"

Through focusing on a special group of women workers in the Spanish city of Gijon, this article explores the relationship between gender and collective action. It argues that the existing models of working-class female politicization do not explain the behavior of these activist women. The cigarette makers had a strong work identity that had more in common with male artisans than with the typical female laborer. And yet, the collective identity that they developed, as well as the collective action that they pursued, did not match those of the typical male artisan. Instead, the cigarette makers seemed to have formed a collective identity rooted in their varied roles in the factory, in the community and in the family, as mothers, wives and daughters. Because of the gender division of labor, the result was a collective agenda that set them apart from their male colleagues, even though their work experience was similar. Because of this difference, the cigarette makers were never integrated into the history of the working-class movement," either by their contemporaries or by historians. Thus, the cigarette makers'story raises a challenge to push further the ongoing process of integrating gender into labor and social history.

Abstract: Kevin R. Hardwick, "'Your Old Father Abe Lincoln Is Dead

and Damned': Black Soldiers and the Memphis Race Riot of 1866"

A violent race riot exploded in Memphis, Tennessee, on the first day of May 1866, and continued for three days. The riot was the culmination of economic and social tensions, deriving from large scale in-migration to the city and from labor shortages in the country-side, that had been mounting for several years. Its proximate cause was the effort of black men and women to demand more equalitarian and dignified treatment, in the face of the attempt by many white Southerners to retain the old social etiquette and economic discipline of slavery. Black soldiers were at the forefront of this effort in Memphis, and were sheltered from white retaliation by the uniform that they wore and the institutional affiliation that it signified. As soon as they were mustered out of Federal service, they lost that shelter. The riot occurred the day after Union authorities discharged the last regiment of black soldiers. The rioters aimed, in the most brutal and direct way possible, to subordinate and disempower the black veterans, as the first step towards subordinating the black community in Memphis.

Abstract: Donald Reid, "Schools and the Paternalist Project at Le Creusot,


The Le Creusot metalworks was the most famous paternalist employer in nineteenth-century France. The key to its success was the establishment of a school system which instilled a company culture into male students while preparing them to fill the specific needs of the mines and factories. Within the parameters established by the company, the school system offered selected Le Creusotins a much-vaunted form of social mobility. The weak points in company hegemony at Le Creusot, evident in the turn-of-the-century strikes, were those whom the school system integrated least well: unskilled workers, outsiders, and women. Le Creusot's response to these strikes was in keeping with its past experience: it used the school system to extend its control over the training of managerial personnel and introduced home economics courses for schoolgirls.
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Article Details
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Author:Nadel, Stanley
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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