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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Radical Republican

150 years ago one of Europe’s most notorious radicals rode into the village of Watertown after several years on the run. As a student in Germany in the late 1840s, Carl Schurz (born on this day in 1829) had been a colleague of Karl Marx and other visionaries who insisted that people should be able to vote for their leaders. When their movement was brutally suppressed, the so-called Forty-Eighters fled for their lives, Marx to London and Schurz and his new bride to (who'd have guessed it?)Dodge County, Wisconsin. First, however, Schurz snuck back into Germany to spring a friend from a government prison in a famous jailbreak that made him loved by the people and hated by the authorities.

He wrote a short memoir of how and why he settled in Wisconsin (scroll to the bottom of that page), where he ran for public office and his wife Margarethe opened the first kindergarten in the U.S. Schurz soon became a leader in the new Republican Party and during the election of 1860 played a crucial role in electing Lincoln by delivering the German American vote. For this he was rewarded with an ambassadorship, but when the Civil War broke out he turned it down in order to fight as a brigadier general. You can read letters and speeches from his Wisconsin years in our online collection, Turning Points in Wisconsin History.

After the war Schurz settled in St. Louis, where he was elected a U.S. senator (1869-1875); he later served as U.S. secretary of the interior (1877-1881). He moved to New York in the 1880s, where he supported himself with his pen and served in various public capacities until his death in 1906.

““My country, right or wrong” Schurz once said; “if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” [in the Senate, February 29, 1872; Congressional Globe, vol. 45, p. 1287]. Tip your hat to him on this, his 176th birthday.

:: Posted in Odd Lives on March 2, 2005
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