The Post-War Betrayal of Missouri’s German Population.

Though often described as an inept leader, Abraham Lincoln promoted Franz Sigel to the rank of Major General, knowing it would entice German immigrants to enlist in the Union army.

I have written many articles on the history of Missouri, specifically, articles about the effect that “Mr. Lincoln’s War” had upon the state.

Missouri was originally settled by the French, then the Scots-Irish, who had also settled the majority of Southern states.

The Scots-Irish who settled the South ( and Missouri) had a much different culture than the English who had settled the North or the Germans who would later immigrate to America.

Fred DeArmond,in an article titled “Scotch-Irish Heritage”, (published in the Summer, 1971 issue of the White River Quarterly), wrote:

“The chief ethnic strain among native Ozarks people is called Scotch-Irish.”1

Katrina Garstka wrote in a 2009 article titled “The Scots-Irish in the Southern United States: An Overview”, described the Scots-Irish as follows:

“Once in America, they formed a more-or-less cohesive unit, if that can be said of a people who nurtured a proud and sometimes argumentative spirit, and a disdain for authority.”2

Missouri Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson called Abraham Lincoln’s call for Missouri to furnish four regiments of militia to put down the rebellion ,”illegal, unconstitutional, and revolutionary “

After the firing on Fort Sumter, South Carolina on April 12-13, 1861, President Lincoln called for the states to supply their share of 75,000 troops to put down the rebellion and it is this disdain for authority which led Missouri Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson to issue the following response to Lincoln:

“Sir: Your dispatch of the 15th instant, making a call on Missouri for four regiments of men for immediate service, has been received. There can be, I apprehend, no doubt that the men are intended to form a part of the President’s army to make war upon the people of the seceded states. Your requisition, in my judgment, is illegal, unconstitutional, and revolutionary in its object, inhuman, and diabolical and cannot be complied with. Not one man will the State of Missouri furnish to carry on any unholy crusade.”3

This set the stage for a showdown between Missouri’s Unionists and Secessionists, which can be more accurately described as a showdown between Missouri’s Scots-Irish and the German immigrants who had settled in the state over the past decade.

These German immigrants had concentrated in the area in and around St. Louis and were looked upon with suspicion, long before the outbreak of the war. Dr. Diane Mutti-Burke described the image that Americans (especially Missourians) held of German immigrants during the mid-nineteenth century:

“Louis Gerteis, a Civil War historian, recalls a common image that Americans had of Germans in the mid-19th century: that of a lager-drinking, Sabbath-breaking, and tenaciously proud group of people.”

Unlike the Scots-Irish who held great disdain for authority, the Germans of Missouri embraced it and admired Lincoln’s vision of a strong central government. This did not go unnoticed by leaders of Missouri’s Unionists factions who used them to capture an encampment of the Missouri State Guard at St. Louis named “Camp Jackson” after the Governor of the state.

“[General] Lyon responded to the perceived threat to control of the Arsenal with force. On May 10, 1861, Lyon surrounded Camp Jackson with pro-Union volunteer “Home Guards” (mostly drawn from the German immigrants of St. Louis), and took the Militia prisoner. As the prisoners were marched to the Arsenal, a riot broke out on the streets. During two days of rioting and gunfire, several soldiers, prisoners, and civilian bystanders were killed. Alarmed by the incident, the Missouri Legislature immediately acted on Governor Jackson’s call for a bill dividing the state into military districts and authorizing a State Guard.”4

After the “Camp Jackson Affair” (also referred to as the St. Louis Massacre by Southerners), Missouri’s German population was no longer looked at as simply crude, prideful guzzlers of lager, they were looked at as the ultimate enemy, the killer of innocent parties by the native Missourians, who were now flocking in to the Southern ranks and aligning themselves with the Confederacy.

Lincoln saw the value of using the Germans to put down the rebellion and promoted Germans to leadership positions in the Union army. One such appointment Lincoln made was to Franz Siegle who was made a colonel after the capture of Camp Jackson. Sigel was later promoted  to the rank of Major General. 

The move worked and Germans joined to fight for him. During the war, Sigel:

“…developed a reputation as an inept general, but his ability to recruit and motivate German immigrants kept him employed in a politically sensitive position. Many of these soldiers could speak little English beyond “I’m going to fight mit Sigel”5

By the time the war ended , Missouri was controlled by the Radical Republicans who implemented harsh Reconstruction policies through the adoption of the Drake Constitution. The Germans would soon learn that authoritarianism wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Charles Drake, was the namesake for Missouri’s constitution of 1865. Through his leadership and proposals the “Drake Constitution” ensured the Radical Republican rule of the state through its disenfranchisement of Missouri’s former Confederates as well as the State’s loyal German immigrants.

The Drake Constitution’s namesake was Charles Drake, a Cincinnati, Ohio born lawyer who had moved to St. Louis in 1834.

Drake was a staunch opponent of slavery and a staunch proponent of the disenfranchisement and harsh treatment of Southerners. He was a member of the Missouri House of Representatives from 1859-1860 , became a delegate and Vice President of the Missouri Constitutional Convention of 1865 and was influential in implementing his authoritarian vision for the state:

“The new Constitution was adopted [in 1865 ] and became known as the “Drake constitution.” The Radicals maintained absolute control of the state from 1865 to 1871, with Drake as their leader. 

To maintain power, Drake and the Radical Republicans disfranchised every man who had supported the Confederacy, even indirectly. 

They made an 81-point checklist of actions. The United States Supreme Court reversed the imposition of the oath on ministers, and became a highly controversial political issue across the state. 

The German Republicans in particular were angry.To further bolster his voting base, he secured the franchise for all black men in Missouri, despite qualms held by many Republicans. “6

Kristen L. Anderson, in an article published in the Fall, 2008 issue of the Journal of American Ethnic History noted that one particular point of contention of the Germans concerning the Drake Constitution were the religious provisions of the document. Anderson writes:

“More upsetting to most was the provision requiring priests and ministers to take the same loyalty oath as voters in order to preach or perform marriages.”

Anderson notes that Conservative Germans:

“Mocked radical Germans for finally realizing that the politicians they helped elect did not share their views on religion.”

Anderson quoted one newspaper correspondent who stated his opinion of Charles Drake noting that:

“[Drake] has been all his life time a religious and political fanatic and has never concealed his hatred against the “German infidels”.

The correspondent also added that:

“Republican politicians, including B. Gratz Brown, were just as bad and were trying to establish the dominance of Puritan Christianity in Missouri.”7

Andrew L. Slap, in his book “The Doom of Reconstruction: Liberal Republicans in the Civil War Era”, writes:

“Despite cooperating with him to keep Missouri in the Union, the German had distrusted Drake since the 1850’s, when he belonged to the anti-immigrant Know – Nothing Party. 

The German community saw new signs of Drake’s prejudices in several of the proposals for the new constitution, particularly restrictions on churches, exclusion of immigrant suffering, and realignment of voting districts in St. Louis. Not only would priests and ministers be forced to take a Loyalty Oath to preach but Drake wanted to give the State the right to tax churches. He singled out the Catholic Church , to which many Germans belonged, as a “money making” machine that was generally disloyal during the Civil War.”8

Though the Germans were loyal to the Federal authoritarian government in Missouri during the war, after the war they suffered the same fate of their former foes, Missouri’s Scots-Irish settlers and continued to suffer with them until 1871 when the state stopped forcing its citizens to take the “Loyalty Oath.”

In 1875 Missouri adopted a new , less stringent constitution, thus officially ending the Reconstruction era of the state allowing former Confederates , their sympathizers and their foes, the Germans, to once again hold political office, bringing an end to the Radical Republicans authoritarian regime in Missouri.

Bibliography:

  1. “Scotch-Irish Heritage”, Fred DeArmond, Summer, 1971 issue of White River Heritage.
  2. “The Scots-Irish in the Southern United States: An Overview”, Katrina Gatska, Archives (online) magazine, October 16, 2009.
  3. Christensen, Lawrence O., Dictionary of Missouri Biography, University of Missouri Press, 1999, pp. 423–425
  4. Christensen, Lawrence O., Dictionary of Missouri Biography, University of Missouri Press, 1999, pp. 423–425
  5. Wikipedia, Franz Sigel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Sigel
  6.  “Enforcing a Vision of Community: The Role of the Test Oath in Missouri’s Reconstruction.” Civil War History 40.4 (1994): 292-307.
  7. “German Americans, African Americans, and the Republican Party in St. Louis, 1865-1872”, Journal of American Ethnic History, Fall, 2008, pp. 34-51, Kristen L. Anderson
  8. “The Doom of Reconstruction: The Liberal Republicans in the Civil War Era”, Andrew L.Slap, pp. 3-4.

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