We Are the Revolutionists: German-Speaking Immigrants and American Abolitionists after 1848

Article excerpt

We Are the Revolutionists: German-Speaking Immigrants and American Abolitionists after 1848. By Mischa Honeck. Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900. (Athens, Ga., and London: University of Georgia Press, c. 2011. Pp. [xvi], 236. Paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8203-3823-1; cloth, $59.95, ISBN 978-0-8203-3800-2.)

Mischa Honeck's We Are the Revolutionists: German-Speaking Immigrants and American Abolitionists after 1848 examines radical German-speaking immigrants and their engagement with reform movements in the United States from 1848 through the Franco-Prussian War and Reconstruction. It focuses on radicals who formed relationships with U.S.-born opponents of slavery and slavery expansion. It employs "the tools of microhistory and collective biography" to chart variations in these radicals' ideologies, personalities, and contexts and to trace their collaborations and disagreements with U.S.-born abolitionists and antislavery partisans (p. 9). The book's introduction and first chapter situate German-speaking radicals within a nineteenth-century Atlantic world marked by increasing migration, the legacies of Enlightenment thought, and evolving notions of race and nationality. Honeck deftly reviews the revolutions of 1848, the rise of U.S. nativism, and the more conservative politics of most German immigrants to the United States. After this opening section are four chapter-length studies of German radicals in central Texas, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Boston and a concluding chapter on the waning of radicalism within German immigrant communities after the Civil War.

Each of the book's central four chapters excels in its detailed analysis of a handful of German radicals and their evolving relationships with native-born Americans. Chapter 2 addresses the efforts of Friedrich Kapp, Eduard Degener, Charles Riotte, and Adolf Douai to speak out against slavery in Texas and these men's pivotal relationships with Charles Loring Brace and brothers Frederick Law Olmsted and John Hull Olmsted. Chapter 3 concentrates on ethnically diverse Cincinnati, home to a vibrant community of German-speaking radicals that included emigres from the 1830s and 1848. In that Ohio city, abolitionism, socialism, and religious freethinking fueled particularly rich exchanges among African American educator Peter H. …