We Are the Revolutionists: German-Speaking Immigrants and American Abolitionists after 1848

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Overview

A Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title

Widely remembered as a time of heated debate over the westward expansion of slavery, the 1850s in the United States was also a period of mass immigration. As the sectional conflict escalated, discontented Europeans came in record numbers, further dividing the young republic over issues of race, nationality, and citizenship. The arrival of German-speaking “Forty-Eighters,” refugees of the failed European revolutions of 1848–49, fueled apprehensions about the nation’s future. Reaching America did not end the foreign revolutionaries’ pursuit of freedom; it merely transplanted it.

In We Are the Revolutionists, Mischa Honeck offers a fresh appraisal of these exiled democrats by probing their relationship to another group of beleaguered agitators: America’s abolitionists. Honeck details how individuals from both camps joined forces in the long, dangerous battle to overthrow slavery. In Texas and in cities like Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and Boston this cooperation helped them find new sources of belonging in an Atlantic world unsettled by massive migration and revolutionary unrest.

Employing previously untapped sources to write the experience of radical German émigrés into the abolitionist struggle, Honeck elucidates how these interethnic encounters affected conversations over slavery and emancipation in the United States and abroad. Forty-Eighters and abolitionists, Honeck argues, made creative use not only of their partnerships but also of their disagreements to redefine notions of freedom, equality, and humanity in a transatlantic age of racial construction and nation making.

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher

“Extraordinarily well researched . . . Honeck argues persuasively that these Forty-Eighters drew upon Enlightenment ideology to champion equality and racial reform by challenging privilege and hierarchy in the United States, just as they had tried unsuccessfully to do in Europe.”—John David Smith, Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of American History, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

“Combining German- and English-language sources as few Americanists can do, Honeck’s smart and ambitious book connects the American abolitionist movement to immigration, the midcentury revolutions of central Europe, and the ways activists on both sides of the Atlantic found to end human bondage in the United States.”—Paul Finkelman, President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law, Albany Law School

"We are the Revolutionists is transnational history at its best. Delineating the intricate ways in which the German American and the African American experiences of American slavery and racism intersect, Mischa Honeck's well researched and compellingly argued analysis not only offers powerful examples of transatlantic alliances in the struggle against slavery; he also captures the limits of this interethnic interaction in a period of fierce renegotiations of nation, race, class, gender, and religion."—Maria Diedrich, author of Love Across Color Lines: Ottilie Assing and Frederick Douglass

"Lucidly written, with a focus on the human story, this fascinating volume tells the story of the fight to abolish slavery in the U.S. with a new perspective: the active role played by radical democrats from Germany, who had immigrated to America after the war of 1848, and went on to fight alongside abolitionists to spread their ideals that all should be free."—Book News

"Breaks important new ground in examining the interactions between the Anglo and German American elites in the antislavery movement and extends explorations of the transatlantic dimension of the abolition movement beyond Britain to continental Europe . . . . Unquestionably demonstrates the value of a transnational perspective and the wealth of U.S. history buried and unexploited in languages other than English."—Walter D. Kamphoefner, American Historical Review

“Honeck’s book is a successful examination of the tensions and interconnections between two different groups of abolitionist radicals. . . . This study provides a good example of how the German background of the Forty-Eighters shaped the way they interacted with American social and political movements.”—Kristen Anderson, Journal of American Ethnic History

“[A] great contribution to the literature, for it makes a new, detailed examination of German-speaking immigrants’ involvement in abolitionism from the period of the European revolutions of 1848-49 until the end of US Civil War. . . .Honeck expands understanding of not just the antebellum abolitionist movement, but also conceptions of race and nationality in the mid- 19th century.”—T.K. Byron, CHOICE

“In his engaging new book, Mischa Honeck explores the relationships that German refuges of the failed revolutions of 1848. . .formed with native-born abolitionists in the United States.”—Alison Clark Efford, Journal of American History

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Mischa Honeck is assistant professor at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments Introduction

Chapter 1. Entanglement Is Certain: 1848 and the Challenge to American Slavery Chapter 2. A Firm Phalanx of Iron Souls: Free Men on Texas Soil Chapter 3. The Only Freedom-Loving People of This City: Exiles and Emanicpators in Cincinnati Chapter 4. Why Continue to Be the Humble Maid? A Transnational Abolitionist Sisterhood Chapter 5. Let Us Break Every Yoke: Boston's Radical Democracies Chapter 6. A Revolution Half Accomplished: Building Nations, Forgetting Emancipation

Notes Bibliography Index

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