Schurz was one of the most influential foreign immigrants in American history. In exile since the failed German Revolution of 1848, he came to the United States in 1852. As an antislavery activist, he campaigned heavily for Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election and eventually served as envoy to Spain, a Union general during the Civil War, a U.S. senator, and secretary of the interior. Ever the reformer, he supported the rights of freed slaves and Native Americans, attacked the “spoils system,” and was a staunch conservationist.
Born to middle-class parents in the tiny village of Liblar in the Rhineland, Carl Schurz rose from humble beginnings to become one of the premier American statesmen of the nineteenth century. His schoolteacher father taught him to read and write at a very young age. His intellectual abilities eventually led him to attend university in Bonn.
In 1848, working-class discontent over low wages and unemployment pervaded European society, and uprisings against governments were common but often short-lived due to lack of military strength. The Germanic states had a secret weapon in the Prussian army–arguably the most powerful army in Europe at the time–and so the Frankfurt Assembly elected Prussia’s King Frederick William IV emperor of a new German Reich. Not wanting to accept the crown from commoners, Frederick William IV simply took the crown and dismissed the Frankfurt Assembly, establishing himself as absolute ruler. Angered by this turn of events, Schurz joined a revolutionary movement to restore liberty and the rights declared by the Frankfurt constitution.
After being captured by Prussians, Schurz made a daring escape and ended up in exile in Switzerland and France. In 1850, he returned to Berlin under an alias to rescue his former professor Gottfried Kinkel from prison. After fleeing Germany for the last time, Schurz went to London, where in 1852 he met and married Margarethe Meyer. When Louis Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor
While touring New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., Schurz acquainted himself with the ways of American politics. He immediately despised the “spoils system” for its resemblance to the Old Regime political order in Europe and became interested in the plights of African American slaves and Native Americans. He eventually settled in
Carl Schurz in his Union Army uniform during the Civil War.
The recently created
While becoming a well-known lawyer, antinativist speaker, and member of a literary crowd that included Oliver Wendell Holmes and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Schurz served as a delegate at the 1860 Republican National Convention and contributed to the party’s platform. Lincoln shrewdly recognized that close ties to Schurz endeared him to the country’s large German American population. After he was elected, he rewarded Schurz for his support with the ambassadorship to Spain. During the Civil War, Schurz was probably the first high-ranking Union official to declare that an antislavery position would actually assist the Union in preventing international support for the Confederacy. It would be difficult for foreign powers, he argued, to take a proslavery stance by supporting the South if the North were to stand for freedom.
Eventually, Schurz felt called to return to the tumultuous situation in America and was
In 1868, Schurz campaigned for
As secretary of the interior, Schurz directly confronted the issue of Native American rights and was instrumental in preventing the Indian Bureau from being transferred to the War Department. He believed that the best course of action was assimilation of Native Americans into the “white man’s” world, largely through property ownership. If Indians owned their own land, he surmised, then they would be motivated to work and contribute to the economy, and their tribal affiliations would gradually fade away. This view aligned with his belief that anyone could become a loyal and steadfast American citizen as he had himself. However, whereas he decried tribalism, he was more than supportive of European
With the election of
In 1902, Schurz moved to a new home on Manhattan’s East Ninety-first Street in New York City, a traditional German American neighborhood. There he remained until his quiet, peaceful death in 1906. Carl Schurz Park, overlooking the northern edge of Manhattan’s East River, forever associates this legendary statesman with his beloved German American heritage.
Easum, Chester V. The Americanization of Carl Schurz. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1929. Early study of Schurz upon which much of the later scholarship on him has depended. Fuess, Claude M. Carl Schurz, Reformer: 1829-1906. Edited by Allan Nevins. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1932. Gentlemanly biography by a scholar of German American parentage. Kennedy, David M., and Thomas A. Bailey. The American Spirit. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Collection of primary source documents dating from Reconstruction to the early twenty-first century. Schurz, Carl. Carl Schurz: Revolutionary and Statesman. München, Germany: Heinz Moos, 1979. Autobiographical collection of materials based on Schurz’s memoirs, with additional material on his public service, including photographs, sketches, and speeches. Trefousse, Hans L. Carl Schurz: A Biography. New York: Fordham University Press, 1998. Biography of the German American statesman that focuses on his rise in American politics while maintaining a strong connection to his cultural heritage. Based on an exhaustive study of printed and manuscript sources in both the United States and Europe. Excellent notes and bibliography. Wallman, Charles J. The German-Speaking Forty-eighters: Builders of Watertown, Wisconsin. Madison: Max Kade Institute for German American Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1990. Chronicles the experiences of Schurz and other German emigrants who left Europe after the revolutions of 1848 and eventually settled in Watertown, Wisconsin.
European revolutions of 1848
History of immigration, 1783-1891
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