Descendants of Germans who immigrated in 1848 still vote overwhelmingly liberal. Strong beliefs are handed off for generations, if they are nurtured.
My heritage is solid Republican. My great-grandfather, George Scheinder, was oner of the founders of the Republican Party in 1854, only six years he arrived in the Unites States. He fled Germany in 1848 after Prussian troops crushed the fledgling German Republic.
Schneider settled in Chicago where he became a banker and started two German language newspapers. He led the anti-slavery movement among German Americans before the Civil War and knew Abraham Lincoln. At the end of his life. he was appointed to Denmark as the American Consul for his service to the party.
A surviving photograph of the family in the 1860’s shows Schneider and his wife with their surviving daughters. He’d had eleven, but four died in childhood or infancy. They are standing in their Michigan Avenue mansion.
Family legend had it that Schneider generously gave a half million dollars to each of his seven son-in-laws, a considerable fortune in the 1870’s. The truth is, Schneider lent his bank’s money to his son-in-laws who defaulted, caught up in the banking crisis of 1873, one of the largest in American banking history.
His fortune was gone by the end of the 1893 depression, because he personally paid off many of his bank’s depositors.
Our only inheritance was Schneider’s ideals. He was a follower of The Enlightenment, the 18th Century movement that inspired America’s founding fathers. The Enlightenment came late to Germany, and it put down its deepest roots in the Rhineland along the French border. Schneider lived in Pirmasens.
Intellectuals like Schneider dreamed of a unified Germany modeled on the liberal tradition of Great Britain. He was at the 1848 Frankfurt Assembly, which some historians call “as distinguished a parliament as the world has ever seen.”
Prussian soldiers crushed the German Republic in 1848.
Several hundred thousand German progressives fled to the United States, Switzerland, and England. Intellectuals who stayed in Germany turned their backs on the Enlightenment and began to argue that state power was more important than individual liberty. German “Liberalism” became “National Liberalism,” a small step from “National Socialism” and Adolph Hitler.
What role do ideas play in the evolution of nations? If those hundreds of thousands of German progressives had stayed in Germany and fought for Enlightenment principles, would Adolph Hitler’s Nazis have become the largest party in the German parliment in less than century, in 1933, leading to Hitler’s appointment as Chancelor?