Conditions In Germany Which Led to Mass Emigration
We do not know the exact reason that our forebears
emigrated from Germany, nor do we know for certain yet, who came at what time.
We do know that they were not alone in leaving. The history of Germany at the
time indicates that between 1830 and 1855 a steady stream of people left Germany
for greener pastures. Many went to the United States, some to Canada, others to
South America and Australia. Between 1846 and 1857 more than 1 million Germans
emigrated to the United States alone. It was not only young people, but men and
women in their forties and fifties, with families, newborns included, that left
in this exodus. This attests to how very poor the conditions must have been.
The following excerpts serve to paint the picture of
overall bleak conditions in Germany over a 60 year or greater, period. The
following excerpt is from the history of the Schaus family, written by Lloyd
Schaus (my maternal uncle), whose ancestors
also emigrated from Germany, in the region of the Black Forest.
This first paragraph details factors of political unrest.
First of all, these people had just
come through an exhausting period of war. For a quarter of a century,
from 1790 to 1815, the armies of Napoleon had been marching back and
forth across Europe, and Germany was under Napoleon's power for many
years, supplying the necessities of war, such as food and manpower.
During this period it is not surprising to find in Germany, records of
births, marriages and deaths recorded in French. With the defeat of
Napoleon and the terms of the Continental Congress of Vienna in 1815,
the people of Germany looked forward to an era of peace.
Although the German states received considerable political
independence, all attempts to bring the many separate principalities
into some form of union failed. As a result of this disunity the
autocratic rulers were able to suppress any efforts to establish
democratic forms of government. From 1820 to 1848 there were
numerous revolts against the authorities and, when the great revolts
of 1848 failed, the leaders of the outbreak despaired of freedom ever
being established and fled by the thousands to other countries.
Another reason, no doubt, that many German families left
their homeland was overwhelming economic hardship.
The war years had left their mark on the economy of the
country and the political unrest slowed the rebuilding process.
Germany was one of the last countries to throw off the feudal system
under which the peasants were still at
the mercy of the landowners. Add to this a series of crop
failures in the 1830's and 1840's and you have the main reason for
looking elsewhere for the means to exist and raise a family.
The following text taken from “In Search of your German
Roots” by Angus Baxter also sheds some light on the social or religious strife
at this time in German history.
By 1818 one bad
harvest had followed another, the Napoleonic Warshad taken their toll of life and property, and religious
disputes within the Lutheran Church
had led to ill feeling and a disruption of orderly life. All these
events led to another wave of emigration - this time from Bavaria (Bayern)
and Württemberg, and later from Hesse (Hessen), Thuringia (Thuringen),
and West Prussia (Westpreussen). By 1840 all the Germanic areas were
contributing to the floodtide, but the majority still came from the
southwest-mainly because of the close association with America and
family connections with those already established in the great
republic beyond the ocean.
disputes I mentioned above were caused in the main by a compulsory
union of the Reformed and Lutheran churches ordered by King Frederick
William III of Prussia. A breakaway sect opposed to union and known as
the “Old Lutherans” took the lead in the new emigration. More than a
thousand went to the United States in 1839 - 700 to Wisconsin and the
rest to Buffalo. In 1847 a large organized party left Lippe-Detmold in
the North Rheinland for Missouri and Wisconsin and in the following
year more Missouri settlements were established by immigrants from
Westphalia (Westfalen) and Hamburg. Smaller family groups went to the
cities of Milwaukee and Cleveland.
At this time many
Germans who were destitute had their passage overseas paid by their
local community to save the increasing costs to the public purse. In
the early 1840s a number of emigrant societies (generally known as
Auswanderungsverein) were set up in various parts of the German area.
They were organized on a cooperative self-help basis with the support
of the various state governments. Their objectives were to help
members to emigrate, and this help included both money and advice. The
records of many of these societies--but by no means all--are in the
state or city archives in Germany, together with copies of early
newspapers devoted to the subject of emigration. The main centers were
in the following places (the name of the existing state is given in
(now Wroclaw, in Poland)
The high points in
immigration into the United States in the nineteenth century were in
1854 when more than a quarter of a million Germans arrived, and in the
period 1866-1873. The latter years saw the emergence of Prussia (Preussen)
as the dominant state in the German area and a series of wars against
Austria, Denmark, and France, culminating in the proclamation of the
German Empire in 1870. In 1880 more than 200,000 Germans immigrated to
North America. The estimates - and they can be no more than that - are
that between 1820 and 1900 the number of immigrants totaled between
three and five million.
Since those days
there has been a steady flow of German immigrants, but not on the
scale of the last century. The end of constant wars between the
various states, the unification of Germany, and the end of cheap land
in the United States all made the Fatherland a more attractive place
in which to live, and this was reflected in smaller immigration
figures. In 1900 the annual total was down to 20,000.[iii]
The following excerpt entitled “REASONS FOR
EMIGRATION-ONE OUT OF THREE MECKLENBURGERS LEFT HIS COUNTRY”, edited by Carol Gohsman Bowen also paints a picture
of bleak conditions in Germany in a district just north of our forebears’ home
province of Sachsen-Anhalt, that province was Mecklenburg-Schwerin.
In the middle of
the past century Mecklenburg was one of the areas in Europe that was
most affected by the emigration movement. Mass emigration is a sign of
severe social crisis in any country. What reasons did so many people
have to leave their country and hope for a better life abroad in the
The emigration wave
was not limited to Mecklenburg alone. It also covered all other parts
of the fragmented German Empire. In all, several million people
emigrated from Germany. The emigration movement spread to other
European countries as well, but Mecklenburg was especially hard hit.
In fact, after 1850, Mecklenburg had the third highest emigration
count in Europe, superseded only by Ireland and Galicia (land which is
currently Poland and the Ukraine).
"And why have you
left Germany?" asked Heinrich Heine in 1834, when he met some German
emigrants in France on their way to North Africa. "The land is good,
and we would have liked to stay", they replied, "but we just couldn't
stand it any longer."
If asked that same
question, many of the 261,000 Mecklenburgers that left their home
country (the Grand duchies of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz)
between 1820 and 1890 would have given the same answer. Many people,
especially those from the lower social classes, didn't have any
prospects or future in Mecklenburg, since their lives were totally
uprooted by the change from feudal rule to a civil-capitalist one.
Between 1850 and
1890 approximately 146,000 Mecklenburgers emigrated overseas, most
going to the United States of America, but some also going to South
America. Between 1820 and 1890 those going overseas accounted for two
thirds of all the emigrants from Mecklenburg. The defeat of the
civil-democratic revolution in 1848/49 and the return of the old
social and political problems gave fresh impetus to this emigration
This loss of
population was most prevalent from the so-called flat or farmland.
88.5 % of all emigrants came from rural areas. Most of them came from
the lands of the knights, from the manor houses of noble and titled
big landowners. These were the people who had the most compelling
reasons for leaving Mecklenburg. This was mostly due to the miserable
social conditions caused by the right of abode and the right of
establishment rules that existed almost unchanged between 1820 and
came about when serfdomwas
annulled in Mecklenburg in 1820/21. At that time, many landowners took
the opportunity to get rid of a lot of their day labourers who were
now considered personally free according to the law. They began to run
their lands with a minimum of permanent workers. The landowners did
this so that they would not have to pay for any labourers who were
injured or take care of them when they grew old. It was very difficult
for day-labourers who were thrown out to find permanent work elsewhere
because they needed to receive the right of establishment from the new
employer. But that wasn't easy to get.
In 1861, an expert
on Mecklenburg history, Ernst Boll, explained the right of abodeand right of establishment
in his Abriss der Mecklenburgischen Landeskunde this way: "a
Mecklenburger does not belong to the country as a whole as far as his
home is concerned. Rather, he belongs to the one city or village that
he happens to be born in, or to the city or village where he has
received the right of establishment."
The granting of the
right to marryalso depended on the
granting of the right of establishment, and all subjects needed
permission to marry before they could have a family. A man or woman
who did not have the right of establishment could never establish a
home. Therefore, the main problem for a common Mecklenburger was to
get his own "Hüsung", but many did not succeed. A lot of people that
worked as paid labourers were refused the right of establishment by
the ruling class for their whole lives. They were given only a limited
right to residence - only for as long as they had work. These were the
inhumane conditions that existed. Mecklenburgers could become homeless
in their own country.
Therefore it is no
surprise that tens of thousands decided to emigrate rather than
walking around homeless. In fact, the knights and landowners
encouraged emigration at times. The loss of population in rural areas
grew larger and larger. While there still was a population growth of
55,000 people between 1830 and 1850 despite the emigration, new births
could not make up for the high number of emigrants between 1850 and
1905. The rural population dropped by 25,000.
After the German
Empire was founded in 1871, industrialisation spread and some cities
expanded rapidly. The number of people that emigrated overseas
decreased and internal migration increased. More people that were
willing to emigrate went to cities and industrial towns outside of
Mecklenburg, such as the areas of Berlin and Hamburgrather than to America.
approximately 224,692 people who were Mecklenburgers by birth lived
outside of their home country. That was almost one third of the
Mecklenburg total population.
[i] The History of the
Schaus Family in Canada 1846-1979, Dr. Lloyd H. Schaus, 1979
[ii] The History of the
Schaus Family in Canada 1846-1979, Dr. Lloyd H. Schaus, 1979
[iii] In Search of Your
German Roots, by Angus Baxter, Third Edition. Genealogical Publishing
Co., Inc, 1001 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD, 21202.
The following link to the Mecklenburg-Schwerin Homepage also gives insight
into the hopeless situation many Germans of the day faced. It states that one
out of three Mecklenburgers left their country. Similar situations surely faced
inhabitants of other parts of Germany.
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