From German Revolutionary to Missouri Statesman
Dorris Keeven-Franke April 14, 2011
Never one to shirk his duty, no matter how difficult, Friedrich Muench, Chairman of the select committee on the establishment of an Invalid Asylum, somberly addressed the Senate Chamber on February 6, 1864, “We would be unworthy the services rendered by our brave soldiers for the rescue of our country, if we would fail to provide for the welfare of those who were disabled in its defense.” Then continued, “On the other hand, it is our painful duty to take into consideration the financial condition of our down-trodden State… Should Congress, as we hope and have a right to expect, refund our expenses for the services of our militia, then we will have the necessary means to establish a home for our disabled soldiers.”(1)
The German born, former Lutheran minister, had faced many obstacles, and suffered many personal losses in his life, and his remarks were received with great respect by every member present, witnessed by the fact that the minutes of the Senate Journal simply stated, ‘Which report was read and agreed to.’ No debate, no discussion and no vote was needed. His fellow Senators, knew that Muench’s assessment would be accurate, and had received a full and deliberate investigation before it was presented to his peers. And, it was this same intellectual, and yet compassionate nature, which he had addressed his entire term as Senator, that garnered him such deep respect. When even the threats to his life, and Warren County farm were made, should he consider taking the 1st District Senate seat he was elected to, he did not back down. Considered the nestor, a leader among men, of the German people in America, he was highly respected for his passionate belief in what was right, first in Germany, and then in Missouri, for his fellow men.
Muench was born June 25th, 1799, to Georg and Louise (Welcker) Münch the sixth in a family of nine children, of which six survived to adulthood.(2 )All three sons, Ludwig, Georg and Friedrich had followed their father in his profession, by becoming a Lutheran minister. Reared in the rural village of Nieder Gemünden, life was simple and the family self-sufficient. Muench’s education began with his father, who was later aided by his older brother Ludwig. In his autobiography, he refers to himself as a “somewhat awkward country boy” (3) when he entered the Gymnasium at Darmstadt in 1814. In less than two years, he entered the University of Giessen, as one of its youngest students.
There he entered a dramatically different world, of students who had charged themselves with a huge mission. The Wartburg Festival in October of 1817, followed by Karl Sand’s
assassination of Kotzebue, had laid suspicion on his friend Karl Follen. As Follen was forced to flee, Muench writes “my intimate connection with those young friends, mostly older than myself, who built the so-named ‘union of blacks’ meant more to me than all the theology. I believe more remains in my whole being, from the deep impression of that stirring time than may be the case with most others.” (4) Those experiences, and his role and involvement in the student rebellions, with the Giessen Blacks would be part of Friedrich Münch forever and would take shape in hismwritings for the German people later.
Forced to finish his studies early, because of financial needs, with his brother George’s admission to the University of Giessen, he took his examinations in 1819. Soon, when he hoped to take a job as a private tutor, he encountered difficulty due to his close friendship with the Follenius family and his recent activities at the University. When he requested permission to tutor, he would be given a choice: if willing to report on the activities of his companions, permission would be forthcoming. Münch declined. Assisting his father in his activities at the parsonage in Nieder Gemünden, he privately continued his own intellectual studies, and wrote “I resigned myself to a confined existence from then on.”
By 1823, Friedrich Münch was trying to live the life of a country pastor, and had begun to find relief in writing. He published the sermon Jesus, the Son of God (5) in Giessen, by C.E. Müller. On the 21st of March 1825, his best friend Paul Follenius, became his brother-in-law when he wed Münch’s younger sister Marie. But, less than a month later, his father died, and Münch fell critically ill. He recovered, took over his father’s pulpit, and in June of 1826 wed Marian Borberg, and two children, Pauline and Adolph were born. However, in 1830, Friedrich lost both his wife and mother. His devastation was tremendous.
In 1819, a wealthy attorney named Gottfried Duden, had purchased property in the Missouri Territory, about 50 miles west of St. Louis. (6) Duden immigrated to the new State of Missouri with his cook and professional farmer Ludwig Eversmann, in 1824, and then purchased more property, thereby establishing both of them as residents. Duden lived along Lake Creek, a tributary of the Missouri River, for three years. He returned to Europe, then Germany, and published 1500 copies of A Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America(7) in 1829 at his own expense. His book romantically extolled the virtues of the Missouri river valley, and hit the market with great timing. In Germany, political intrigue and persecution were rampant, as the population had swelled, and many felt the need for desperate measures.
Follenius and Münch debated Duden’s book with its suggestions, especially the advice that emigration should take place in groups, for each emigrant’s safety and benefit. Contact with Duden was made to gain his advice on a plan that was forming in the two young men’s minds. In February of 1832, Friedrich married Louise Charlotte Margaretta Fritz, giving both men the desire to immigrate to America in order to build a better life for their young families.
They co-authored the 1st edition of A Call for and an Explanation of an Emigration on a large Scale from Germany to the North American Free States (8) to test the waters. Circulation done mainly it seems, by passing from friend to friend, and village to village. A loud broadcast or advertisement of such a plan would only have caused closer inspection by the government, and made both of their lives even more difficult. Enthusiasm for the plan grew rapidly, meetings were held, and by July, another edition including Statutes to govern the group had been written, and the Giessen Emigration Society was born. Membership required not only a good moral character, with references, but sufficient funds to make the trip, funds to purchase the necessary land, and to carry one through the most difficult first years. Interest was huge, and agents were sent to the Arkansas territory. With over a thousand applying for membership, the cut off for what was to be the first contingent was set at five hundred.
Departure was set for the spring of 1834. Follenius and his group left for New Orleans aboard the ship, the Olbers, first. Then we gain a true insight into the character and leadership of Friedrich Münch. As his wife Louise was in precarious health after son Richard’s birth, and bedridden, plans were difficult, and in danger of being postponed. Agents returned word that Arkansas was definitely not a place to establish settlement, and a last minute decision to meet in St. Louis was made.
Münch anxiously arrived late at the new port of Bremerhaven, due to last minute paperwork and large fees the government demanded. Shocked, he discovered the ship which had been booked had not yet arrived. The ship’s owner told Muench that a letter had been sent, informing him of the situation advising him not to come, suggesting that Muench and his group might just as well go home. But what home?! The group was stranded, with no home, no longer
German and not yet in America, their Utopia. The coffers for the group were with Follenius, and he had 250 members of the society; men, women and children, depending upon him. No homes, and no place to go, the group that had already renounced their citizenship, yet had no way to reach the United States. For over five weeks, Münch managed to hold the group together, on the nearby Harriersand Island in the Weser River. There the group was given shelter in a cow barn that was vacant due to the season. Time wore on, funds were in jeopardy because of food and housing needs, and weeks passed, before Münch was finally able to book passage on an American ship, the Medora.
Upon reaching Baltimore, the group took up the route of Duden ten years earlier. In Cincinnati they encountered Johann Wilhelm Bock, who had just platted his village Dutzow, on his way to Philadelphia. Bock informed Muench that Follenius had settled near him, and Duden’s farm, but that the Society had already disbanded. This news devastated Muench, who had worked to overcome so many obstacles to the Giessen Emigration Society’s goals.
Münch and Follenius purchased adjoining farms, where Duden had lived just ten years before, and spent the next ten years carving a new life for their families. By 1840, Muench was writing for Cincinnati’s newspaper, Der Licht Freund, edited by Eduard Muehl, who he eventually convinced to move to the nearby new colony of Hermann, Missouri. Muench uses the pen name of Far West, and authors countless articles published in newspapers and in periodicals, in both the United States and in Germany. In 1844, Follenius is publishing a political newspaper, Die Waage in St. Louis, when he is suddenly struck by typhoid and dies, leaving Muench to go forward alone. He is determined more than ever to encourage Germans to join him in the land “where the sun of freedom shines.”(9)
Muench’s writing has gained him international recognition by this time. He enters politics as he joins Frederick Hecker and others, giving speeches to large crowds in Buffalo, Rochester, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. In 1859, he continues to write on everything from religion to viticulture and poetry to emigration, with one of his most notable books, The State of Missouri,(10) followed by a fast book tour through Switzerland and Germany.
It would come as no surprise when asked to be Warren County’s representative at the Republican Convention in Chicago in May of 1860. He not only attended the Convention at the Wigwam, but family lore passed down through the generations has him aiding and abetting in the alleged falsification of the tickets, that helped to derail Seward’s campaign hopes, and likewise achieve the nomination for Lincoln. Thoroughly involved in politics by this time, he was asked to run for Missouri’s Senate seat representing the 1st District, consisting of St. Charles, Warren, and Montgomery counties. These counties had been settled early on by Anglo-Americans, and those of French and Spanish descent. There were many friends and family of Daniel Boone, also with a pro-slavery sentiment. Attempts were made to derail this charismatic German leader. His home, his family and his life was threatened. He refused to flee.
In August of 1861, the Civil War had begun, and at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, took Muench’s youngest son, Berthold, who was barely 17 years old. That November, Muench was elected to the Missouri Senate. “The four years, precisely, during which I occupied this office, were the most important and most decisive for our state. In those years, among grave troubles and constant combat, the new order of things had to be established. In consequence of the excessive exertion, particularly during the last session, I returned home so physically weakened that it was some years before I regained my health.”(11)
Friedrich Muench had gained so much of the respect of his peers. In the Senate Chambers, he and only he, was permitted to call a certain favorite chair – his own, and be permitted to smoke his long stemmed pipe, contemplating the dubious times. Appointed by the Governor to the State Boards of Agriculture and Emigration he would continue to serve successive terms on both of these. The young man who had first tasted the spirit of freedom in the student rebellions in Germany, had led countless Germans to find that dream in the United States. He would face a second challenge in the Missouri Senate, to see that dream remain alive and the Union whole. This time he had stood his ground and worked to see it through. Muench would continue to lead, through speeches and his writing, for nearly two decades, and through his spirit for countless generations.
1 Missouri Senate Journal, 1863-64, Session minutes addendum, page 427
2 Muench Family Stammbuch, Karl Muench
3 Muench, Frederick; The Autobiography of Frederick Muench, Translated from the German Language by Ralph Gregory, Three Pines Publishing Company, Marthasville, MO, 2001. page 4
4 Muench, Frederick; The Autobiography of Frederick Muench, Translated from the German Language
by Ralph Gregory, Three Pines Publishing Company, Marthasville, MO, 2001, page 4
5 Jesus.der Gottes Sohn ober Welt Messias nach Darstellungen des Lieblings-Jüngers Johannes, ein neuer Versuch über den Logos Joh.1, 1.ss., mit Berücksichtigung anderer Stellen der Joh. Schriften, besonders 1.Joh.1, 1.ss. C.E. Müller, Giessen 1823
6 U.S. Land Sales, Volume 1, 1818-1827, page 12, Missouri State Archives, Microfilm Box S, Roll 2, Jefferson City, Mo. Abstract of all lands sold at he land office at St. Louis since its establishment. Also Receipt number 1493 for the amount of $69.63, St. Louis, Missouri Credit Receipts, 1818-1822. The abstract book for St. Louis, Vol. 2 begins with the record of February 1819. Account of monies received from individuals by Samuel Hammond, Receiver of Public Monies for the Land District of St. Louis, Missouri Territory on account of Lands Purchased or intended to be purchased from the 1st day of February to the 28th inclusive 1819. On file in the National Archives, Bureau of Land Management, Springfield, Va.
7 Duden, Gottfried, Bericht über eine Reise nach den westlichen Staaten Nordamerika’s und einen mehrjährigen Aufenthalt am Missouri (in den Jahren 1824, 25, 26 und 1827), in Bezug auf Auswanderung und Übervölkerung, oder: Das Leben im Innern der Vereinigten Staaten und dessen Bedeutung für die häusliche und politische Lage der Europäer, dargestellt a)in einer Sammlung von Briefen, b)in einer besonderen Abhandlung über den politischen Zustand der nordamerikanischen Freistaaten, und c)in einem rathgebenden Nachtrage für auswandernde deutsche Ackerwirthe und Diejenigen, welche auf Handelsunternehmungen denken, von Gottfried Duden. Gedruckt zu Elberfeld im Jahre 1829 bei Sam. Lucas, auf Kosten des Verfassers. Elberfeld, 1829. The full title translated is Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America and a Stay of Several Years along the Missouri (during the Years 1824,’25,’26, and 1827) Concerning emigration and Overpopulation or Life in the Interior of the United States and its Significance for the Domestic and Political Situation of the Europeans, Presented a) in a collection of letters b) in a special treatment of the political situation in the North American Free States and c) in an advisory supplement for emigrating German farmers and those who are planning to engage in trade. For convenience the excellent translation edited by James W. Goodrich, with George H. Kellner, Elsa Nagel, Adolf E. Schroeder, and W.M. Senner (Editors and Translators) published by The State Historical Society of Missouri and University of Missouri Press,1980
8 Muench, Friedrich and Follenius, Paul, Aufforderung und Erklärung in Betreff einer Auswanderung im Grossen aus Deutschland in die nordamerikanischen Freistaaten, J. Ricker, Giessen, Juli 1833 Translated by Rowan, Steve, Call and Declaration Concerning An Emigration En Masse From Germany To the North American States, non-published, 2009
9 Muench, Friedrich, Auswanderungslied, 1834; Gesammelte Schriften, C. Witter, St. Louis, MO 1902, page 3
10 Muench, Friedrich, Der Staat Missouri, geschildert mit besonderer Rücksicht auf deutsche Einwanderung. Mit zwei Karten, New York, 1859
11 Muench, Frederick; The Autobiography of Frederick Muench, Translated from the German Language by Ralph Gregory, Three Pines Publishing Company, Marthasville, MO, 2001, page 16