In 1834, the largest organized German emigration group to ever set out for Missouri arrived. They came from small villages and large cities, were Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Free-Thinkers. They were lawyers, doctors, and teachers; and blacksmiths, tanners and farmers as well. They were organized, with good character references, who had pledged their entire life savings to join others with the same dream – Freedom and America! This was the life that they had sought for long.
These five-hundred Germans emigrated to the United States, with an intention to establish their own state. Decades of revolutionary struggles had failed, convincing them that the power of their rulers could not be broken, for the time being. Yet, as passionate democrats, they were determined to establish a new German Republic – in North America. This bold, now almost forgotten, venture of the Giessen Emigration Society, was an event much-discussed across Germany at that time.The Society’s founders were unable to achieve their goal they had stated. However they did find the conditions right to contribute to the strong democratic beliefs they found in the fertile United States. Settling in Missouri, they began to create a lively intellectual center that exists even to this day. They led in the struggles against religious intolerance, and fought to abolish slavery during the Civil War. They promoted the State’s rich viticultural assets, and encouraged further emigration, ultimately achieving a State rich with German heritage, that still exists today.
In St. Charles County, members of this huge emigration group created various settlements, such as Hamburg and St. Paul, they turned earlier American settlements such as Cottleville and Augusta into German Settlements. These new emigrants in turn wrote letters home to their friends and relatives bringing even larger waves to settle here.
On a frigid New Years day in 1861, in St. Louis, Missouri, a slave auction was halted when heated Germans crowded the sale block. Outraged, they kept the auction from going forward. A slave named Jim was sold that day. But this was not the last slave sale by far. In fact, Jim’s former owners sold other slaves on a much warmer day, the fourth of May 1861.
In 1861, Missouri’s Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson, a secessionist, was determined to take the state out of the Union. He also wanted the muskets stored in the Federal Arsenal at St. Louis. But when he attempted to gain those muskets by force he found a force that included thousands of Germans, gathered from St. Louis, St. Charles and counties to the west. Emigrants who had drilled in secret, with sawdust on the floors and windows covered for secrecy. Germans who had come to America, where “the sun of freedom” shone. Germans who had made America home and could not go back. Germans who understood the deprivations and hated slavery. They also knew that as long the slave holders held power over Missouri politics, their freedom from Nativism and other oppression, the lives they envisioned for their families was endangered.
When Jackson had attempted secession he failed. Germans had begun emigrating to Missouri in the early 1830s, settling along the Missouri River valley. They had reached a position, small but respected in Missouri politics by the 1860s. The Convention had to recognize the German voice of Friedrich Muench and it failed in its attempt to secede. Jackson fled, exiled and powerless. But the Germans stayed and Missouri became a border State divided.
Two years later, on another New Years day in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” These applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the border state of Missouri. It also announced that black men would be accepted into the Union Army. The proclamation changed the Civil War from a states rights issue, to the real issue of slavery vs. freedom. These were issues the Germans understood and took to heart. They would fight, in the field and in the Statehouse.