What were the experiences and perceptions?


Those Germans who emigrated for political reasons had many varied experiences and perceptions. First there was the decision to leave - the perceptions of the need to escape to a freer society, away from the restrictive and repressive society they had wanted to reform. Then there was the experience of emigration - perceptions of the Atlantic crossing, of deciding upon their destination, and of establishing a new home there. Theodor Erasmus Hilgard was one of the pioneers of this political emigration, in 1835. After the upheavals of the 1848 revolution, he was followed by many more political emigrants, such as Friedrich Hecker, Peter Osterhaus, Gottfried Kinkel and Carl Schurz.

For many of the emigrants, this was a permanent uprooting, a transition to a new life as German-Americans. For many others (including Theodor Hilgard) it was a temporary residence before returning to the homeland. This two-way movement was typical of the 19th century emigration as a whole, not only of the Germans (overall about one-third of European emigrants eventually returned home) but it was especially true of the German ‘politicals’, who had a strong feeling about the German nation. One biography of Theodor Hilgard is subtitled ‘Ambassador of Americanism’, reflecting how he wished to see his beloved Germany influenced by democratic American ideals.