Lincoln’s German-Socialist Legacy
Eager for fellow revolutionaries to prosecute the war against the American South, Lincoln found many willing mercenaries and conscripts in the form of German radicals ready to continue Europe’s 1848 socialist revolution. According to author Reinhart’s "August Willich’s Gallant Dutchmen," Willich was president of the Communist League in Cologne in 1848 when the revolution broke out, and then fled to England through Switzerland where Karl Marx helped him gain membership in the League’s central committee. Willich wanted an immediate start to a new revolution, which caused a rupture with Marx—but Lincoln provided him with a golden opportunity.
Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402
Lincoln’s German-Socialist Legacy:
"After 1865 most Forty-eighters tempered some of the radical idealism that drove them in the 1850’s and worked to bring about changes in more practical ways. While these men were looked upon as dangerous radicals by most Americans in the 1850’s many of the changes they crusaded for have been enacted into law or are now accepted. For example…universal suffrage is in effect, the Bible and religious instruction have been removed from public schools, temperance and Sabbath laws have been eliminated in most places, labor unions are common, and antimonopoly legislation is in effect. In addition, land in the West was given to homesteaders after the Civil War. Americans, though, have rejected both total socialism and communism as economic systems, as well as the Forty-eighters call for the elimination of organized religions and the taxation of church property. Nevertheless, German-born revolutionaries would be pleased that many of the social and economic changes they so fervently espoused have been realized.
In 1871, the executive committee of the (American) Turnerbund issued a manifesto stating the organization’s position regarding public issues and expressed its position as to socialism. "Socialism of today, in which we Turners believe, aims to remove the pernicious antagonism between labor and capital. It endeavors to effect a reconciliation between theses two, and to establish a peace by which the former are fully protected against the encroachments of the latter. In short, socialism wishes to set up business honesty."
(August Willich’s Gallant Dutchmen, Joseph R. Reinhart, Kent State University Press, 2006, page 184)