The Writings of Carl Schurz/German Day
We meet to-day, on the hospitable soil of the American Republic, to do honor to Germany in the peaceful contest of nations. We have come from far and near to render homage to the genius of the German nation. When I received the distinguished invitation to express this homage in the name of my compatriots, many obstacles stood in the way of acceptance, but my German blood would give me no peace; so here I am to mingle my voice with yours in a joyful greeting to the old fatherland. How little they know us, our kinsmen over there, if they believe that a selfish pursuit of the dollar has cooled the German-born American's blood and that he no longer loves the old home. To-day our affection shall speak.
We are, indeed, faithful citizens of the great American Republic—as loyal as the truest. We are proud of our citizenship, proud of our commonwealth, for this self-government is our government, its growth is also our growth, its destiny is our destiny. We are proud of the mighty and noble Nation of which we feel ourselves a part, proud of the glorious Stars and Stripes, the symbol of dearly-won National unity, the emblem of a great past and a still greater future—of all these we are as proud as the proudest. We recognize our duties as citizens and joyfully fulfil them. Whenever our new country has called her sons to arms against foreign or domestic foes her German-born citizen has been among the first to rush to the defense of the flag and on the battlefield to offer his blood and his life to the common cause. On the roll of heroes and martyrs of the Republic, German names have never been wanting. In the domain of thought and in the workshop, the German mind and the German hand have toiled with diligence, and with abundant results; and we may well say that the soil of America has been enriched by the sacrifice of German blood and German labor. Whenever there has been a question of putting into practice those political rights which the new Fatherland has bestowed upon us with such generous liberality in order to serve the cause of justice, of liberty and honest government, we may well boast that the great mass of German-born citizens has always found its way into the ranks of those in whose hands the honor and welfare of the country was most secure. Temporary blunders may have been made, but there have been extremes to which not even the enticing voice of party spirit could allure the German-American citizen. Ask the political humbug and he will confess to you that the “German vote” has always given him much trouble and anxiety. Ask the true patriot and he will tell you that he confidently relies upon the sane and fair sense and the patriotic inspiration of the German-American citizen.
And more than this. However fervent may be the sympathy of the German-American with the fortunes, the aspirations and the struggles of the old home; however ardently his good wishes may follow all the enterprises of his old country, he never allows his sense of duty towards the new Fatherland to become shaken by the idea of leading this Republic away from the secure path of its traditional and wise policy, nor to attempt to involve it in the quarrels or conflict of interests of the old world. Never has he tried to mingle European politics with those of America. One wish, indeed, he has always cherished and will cherish to the end. It is a German wish, but none the less loyally American, and patriotic—that the friendship which has existed between the United States of America and Germany from olden times may never be troubled by a cloud of discord or even of misunderstanding, and that our old and our new Fatherland may give the world the beautiful spectacle of the indissoluble friendship of nations.
We look back upon the dark days of the war of the rebellion, when the Union seemed to be tottering on the verge of ruin, when our armies suffered one defeat after another, when not only our foes and those who wished us ill, but also our good friends prophesied the dissolution of the great Republic; when the credit of the Republic had sunk to its lowest ebb, and the hope of the bravest began to falter. We remember with happy satisfaction that then the German nation alone, of all peoples of the world, did not lose its confidence in the ultimate victory of our good cause and in the future of America. That it unhesitatingly lent millions upon millions of its savings to the Republic and thus gave her new strength in her dire need. That was the friend in deed who confidently gave assistance to the sorely tried friend in need, and this trust was amply rewarded as it deserved to be. Ever to preserve this national amity between the old and the new Fatherland, in its unchanged strength, that is the ardent wish of every German-American, and every magnanimous and patriotic native American will reëcho this sentiment.
He who does not honor the old Fatherland is not worthy of the new. He who does not revere his old mother will not truly love his bride. And so from the fullness of our German hearts we send our greeting across the sea. Proud as we are to belong, of our own choice, to the American Republic, we are also proud to be the offspring of a great nation that for a thousand years has won the laurels of victory in countless hard-contested fields where thought and labor were her only weapons—of a nation that was a mighty power for culture long before Columbus saw the shores of America. Let us proclaim loudly to-day how truly we love the country where our cradles rocked. With tender yearning we see in memory the green waters of our native Rhine, where are reflected the castles gray with age, around which legendary poetry has woven its magic—where grows the precious grape—where man is gay, often without knowing why—where German song seems doubly poetic—where the victorious figure of Germania looks proudly from the Niederwald across the border. We see again the beautiful, dear land of which every foot is precious to us, from the dark woods of the Black Forest and the Bavarian Alps, to the dunes of the North Sea, from the oaks a thousand years old, growing on the red soil of Westphalia, to the Silesian mountains and the beech woods of the Baltic.
How deeply we of the older generation felt the humiliation of the German name when the old Fatherland lay powerless and torn asunder, when Germany was only a geographical idea, when patriotic enthusiasm was being dissipated in thoughtless efforts, when the nation of thinkers appeared to be only a nation of impotent dreamers and the future of the fatherland only a dreary waste! Only we can fully understand how uplifting was the feeling that stirred our hearts when the message came across the ocean that the evil charm was broken and that Kaiser Barbarossa, according to the old legend, had arisen from his tomb in the Kyffhäuser and that the ravens of ill omen no longer wheeled around the mountain. What a spectacle it was when the much ridiculed and scoffed at German Michel was suddenly aroused from his sleep! How he stretched his huge limbs, how he shook his shield until the thunders of Heaven were awakened! How Europe trembled when he stamped upon the ground! How he threw the insolent foe into the dust with a mighty stroke of his sword! How he called with the voice of a trumpet—“Das ganze Deutschland soll es sein!” (“All Germany, united, our fatherland shall be!”) And how all mankind looked with amazement upon the gigantic hero!
What a glorious time! Every German heart, the wide world over, beat with admiration and gratitude for the kinsmen in the old home, and wherever the German mothertongue was heard, the joyful chorus resounded: “At last Germans again have a Fatherland!” Every German breast thrilled with a bolder assurance and every drop of German blood was warmed by the newly arisen sun of German honor and German greatness.
Many years have passed since then, and again we see Germania before us in the wreath of victory: now she is not crowned with the laurel won on distant battlefields; she is here before our eyes, on our own soil, adorned with the civic crown, which she gained in the peaceful contest of nations on the fields of invention, of art, of creative labor, of fruitful endeavor, of civilization. Here she stands, not only one of many, but among the first in the contest. All the world knows, it has heard and read, what she can do in war—but what Germany can do in peace, that she shows us here.
Let us confess that many of us had hardly dared to hope for so much. We still remembered the humiliating display of Germany at the Philadelphia Exposition in the year 1876. That exhibition had not only been insignificant as to quantity but inferior as to quality. It bore the marks of the old time before the new birth of the Empire, when in the dismemberment of the Fatherland, Germans lived the narrow life of the small principalities and their thoughts were provincial; when the idea of competing for the first place in the contest of nations still seemed to most Germans like presumptuous audacity; when in business enterprise the narrow methods of making a small profit by underbidding prices debarred the spirit of enterprise and a bold grasp of future contingencies.
The new German Empire had, indeed, existed for five years, at the time of the Philadelphia Exhibition and Germany had already become the leading power of the continent, but these five years had not sufficed for the national industrial growth to overtake the national political development. The consequences of two great wars had to be overcome, and that old curse of the German, a certain spirit of pettiness and narrowness, had to be broken completely by the development of broader views, more daring aspirations and higher aims. And this development has come, as it must, to a sound, capable people under the most powerful of all inspirations—the inspiration of a noble, proud, national self-esteem. It is with a nation as it is with an individual; self-respect is character.
In the struggle of business competition there are two kinds of business policy which are indicative of the character of the business man and of the business he is engaged in. One is, as I have already indicated, the narrow policy of underbidding in price with the motto, “Cheap and Nasty.” This is the policy of the narrow-minded provincial who seeks his profit by means of petty cunning and appeals to a petty custom; a narrow, cowardly, short-sighted policy, overreaching itself by its own tricks. It may temporarily succeed, but will not long be able to hold the field, and limited success will make failure all the more certain; this is a policy which is unworthy of an honest, capable man and of an honest, capable people.
The other is the policy of offering larger values, with the motto: “The best goods for a fair price.” This is the policy of the business man of a wide outlook and pride of character, of a man who studies the demands of the time with an open mind and seeks the best means to satisfy them, who follows the progress of invention and the development of opportunities with a keen eye, and who, with a liberal mind and generous hand, makes art and science his assistants; who wins an honest custom by honest dealing, and who with bold enterprise ventures greater things where he has inspired confidence. That is the policy of a people who aspire to build up its industry and trade on a great scale—of a people possessing broad intelligence and who understand how to use it—of a people who have confidence in their own strength and respect for their own character. That policy will conquer the world-market and keep it.
The policy of underbidding prices dominated Germany at the time of the Philadelphia Exposition; it was a sad survival of the old times of dismemberment, of impotence, of narrowness, of self-depreciation, of doubt of her own strength. The policy of bidding for higher values is shown in Germany's exhibits in the great white city of Chicago. This is characteristic of the Germany of modern times, of the mighty Empire, the Germany with the exalted love of country, its self-esteem, its great inspiration, its mighty power, its lofty aspirations—great in its glory of war, but no less great in peaceful achievements. It is this Germany that we to-day salute.
With the proud consciousness of accomplishment, Germany can say to the nations to-day: “Come and behold!” In these halls not only the material products are displayed, but here breathes our national spirit. After the victories in the Franco-Prussian war it was said: “That was not merely the result of brutal force, it was the German schoolmaster who had his part in the victory.” The same words can be applied here, if under the head of “schoolmaster” we include the German University. In no other country of the world is science so much fostered for its own sake, for the sake of pure knowledge, and in no other country is science so extensively utilized. We see the example before us, and what a variety of products is here amassed: from the Nurnberg toy to the giant monster cannon of Krupp; from the artistic wonders of wrought-iron and Berlin and Meissen porcelain to the most modern products in the domain of machinery, of mining, of railroads, of chemistry, of electricity used as a motive power and for illumination (and the German electric light is the brightest and reaches the farthest), to the magnificent results of the textile industry and the splendid creations of painting and sculpture; from the simplest type of ordinary book-printing to the gorgeous editions enriched by sumptuous illustrations; from the primer of the German “Volksschule” to the most delicate scientific apparatus;—all these and many more are German products—all that is useful and beautiful has been brought together in a variety, an abundance and splendor, and imbued with the grace that only a people of many hundreds of years of culture can possess. Here all these are so amazing and still so undeniably real and convincing, that criticism is overcome by admiration, and even envy and jealousy are silenced.
We German-Americans feel as if we had had a part in the glorious triumph of our kinsmen. May we be permitted to sun ourselves in the radiance of the old Fatherland. With pride we point out what is exhibited here, and say: “Look, this is Germany, the land that gave us birth. This is the German people, the people from whom we have sprung; honor to this land and to this people!” Without envy we concede to all nations the triumphs they have earned,—we are satisfied with ours. And for this triumph we send to the Fatherland, our heart-felt gratitude. Thanks to the fertile German mind and the prolific German energy that have created all this. Thanks to the Kaiser for the powerful stimulus he has given to this work in Germany by his personal favor, by the care and assistance he has bestowed upon it. Thanks to the commissioner of the German Empire, Mr. Wermuth, who has prepared, promoted and superintended this work with rare circumspection and ability, with unfailing tact and untiring devotion and energy. His name will always be remembered here with high esteem and friendship. Thanks to every German who has contributed his share, be it great or small to this brilliant proof of German skill.
Our warmest greetings go with our thanks. May there be many years of untroubled peace vouchsafed the German Fatherland in which to develop what has been so vigorously begun and so gloriously achieved. May it be strong to endure the trials which destiny may have in store for it. The horizon of Germany is not, indeed, without clouds. Not only its position between two dangerous neighbors, but no less the heated conflict of interests and the ferment of parties that disturb domestic affairs, may well give cause for anxiety to the German patriot. But, I confess, I am not greatly disturbed as to the outcome. What seems a disquieting condition in Germany is not unusual in history. When new national unions are formed consisting of parts that formerly had a separate and independent existence, there is always a period of confusion to be overcome, until the component parts arrive at a realizing sense of what are the essentials and what are the questions of secondary importance in the new composite state. How long did it take our American Union before this process had been accomplished? And as it has been here, so it will be there. The German people will never forget that its unity, personified in the Empire, is the principal condition of its power, its greatness and its prosperity. And the Empire will infallibly find the surest guarantee of its stability in the progressive development of free institutions. The Germans are like every other strong people—fidelity will increase with freedom. So we wish most sincerely and we confidently hope, that united Germany may flourish and blossom forever, a glory and a blessing to herself and to all the world!
And may what we see here be a reminder and an inspiration to us Americans of German blood. May we never forget that we ought to enjoy the fame of our kinsmen only to the extent to which we are worthy of it ourselves. I have said: who does not honor the old Fatherland is not worthy of the new, but I say also he is not worthy of the old Fatherland who is not one of the most faithful citizens of the new. Noblesse oblige. To be a German now means more than it meant before he belonged to one united nation. He who calls himself a German now must never forget his honorable obligation to his name; he must honor Germany in himself. The German-American can accomplish great things for the development of the great composite nation of the new world, if in his works and deeds he combines and welds the best that is in the German character with the best that is in the American. And here, on this day, when we do honor to Germany, let us pledge ourselves faithfully to perform this high task.
This is the greeting which we send across the sea. Great, glorious, dear Fatherland, we salute you, with our affections for what you are, with our gratitude for what you have achieved, with our good wishes for your welfare, with our solemn vows to be worthy of you!
- ↑ Speech delivered in German at the World's Fair, Chicago, June 15, 1893. Translated by Miss Schurz.