“To friends and fellow citizens”

Following the reasoning of American historian Frederick Jackson Turner, Ross describes democracy in America as a product of the country’s pioneers in the wilderness.

Driving through the thick forests of the Smoky Mountains, in Tennessee, Ross realizes what a formidable obstacle the Appalachian mountain range must have been in pre-Revolutionary times. But it was more than just a geographic obstacle. After the Seven Years’ War, in 1763, the tramontane territory between the Appalachians and the Mississippi passed from French into British possession. In that same year the British government issued a proclamation banning its settlement. The measure was meant to solve the ‘Indian problem’—although it may also have served to continue the profitable fur trade undisturbedly. It has been argued that the ban was received with disappointment, as it came at the very time when many farmers and laborers who had lost their business and/or home after war’s ending were looking for a second chance beyond the mountain range. Yet as the ban’s enforcement was impracticable, many a pioneer decided to take that chance and ventured across into the seemingly borderless American wilderness.1

It is these pioneers, of English, Scottish, Irish, and ‘German’ descent who, says Ross, founded America anew. There, in continental America, the democracy of the common man replaced the lordly republicanism of the revolutionary generation in the 13 original colonies along the eastern seaboard. In the American wilderness, in the small communities of scattered farms where people knew and depended upon each other, democracy became a practice that was as natural as it was necessary.2 Ross, never one to shun taking big steps in an argument, claims that they created the America that acted like a magnet on the German-speaking political refugees and other immigrants of the mid-19th century after their failed revolutions of 1830 and 1848.3

How in the meantime, as he claims, this democratic “spirit” jumped back to the eastern seaboard, destroyed the “Virginian dynasty”, and eventually put Andrew Jackson in the White House, Ross omits to detail. Obviously he was unaware of the recorded emergence of democratic ideas and demands in early republican America and, most astonishingly given the program of his ‘history’ book Unser Amerika, of one of its earliest advocates, the German Republican Society of Philadelphia. In a printed appeal in the National Gazette of April 11, 1793, titled ‘To friends and fellow citizens’, this society, its name notwithstanding, criticized republicanism for limiting the franchise and political participation, proclaimed the rights of citizens—by whom “the spirit of liberty, like every virtue of the mind, is to be kept alive only by constant action”—, and embraced the term “democracy”, shorn of its then pejorative connotations. The publication inspired the founding of many similar societies, often calling themselves “Democratic-Republic”.4 Clearly, Ross had missed a propaganda opportunity here.

Nico de Klerk

Colin Ross. Die Erschließung von Niemandsland. In: Unser Amerika. Der deutsche Anteil an den Vereinigten Staaten. 1. Aufl. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1936; 176-181.

Topic: Auslandsdeutsche
Case: American journeys


1 An argument—unacknowledged by Ross—by his contemporary, American historian James Truslow Adams in his The epic of America. Garden City, NY: Blue Ribbon; 1941 [1931]; 72-95. See also: Michael A. Lofaro. Daniel Boone: an American life. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press; 2003; 10.

2 What Ross implicitly means here is assembly democracy (of which Athens is the model), not a representative democracy. See: John Keane. The life and death of democracy. London: Pocket Books; 2010 [2009]; 22-54. Ross’s particular notion of democracy sets up his later criticism of America’s political system as having become a caricature of itself with the country’s expansion and the unfettered power of its industries—“the pirates of democracy”; see: Ross. 1936; 280-281. See Library.

3 In a later chapter Ross even claims that these later arrivals were better Americans than its settled residents, because “they carried the European-born idea of America as pure and clear as the Pilgrims”, an idea for which they fought and for which many died. See: Ross. 1936; 209. See Library.

4 At the same time, as an interesting parallel to the 1765 Stamp Act and its role in the call for independence, the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion, a protest to a tax imposed by the Washington administration, sparked the formation of political parties, foreshadowing the end of republicanism. See: Keane. 2010; 284-289. See also: David Reynolds. America, empire of liberty. A new history. London: Allen Lane; 2009; 127-129.

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