There is an old cliché that “all politics is local.” That thought is taken for granted in most of the political activities of our nation.

There is another reality, similar in form, which is also very true — “All history is local.” By that is meant that when a person considers all the major events of our national history, there is a very close link to the local communities and families. A walk through a cemetery verifies such. There are markers for many area residents who fought in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and more recently in Vietnam, and the Middle East.

A conversation with an elderly person demonstrates the truth of the notion also. There are many who can describe the Great Depression’s impact on this part of the country. There are many who can talk about all the most memorable national events in recent years as personal experiences. Yes, all history is local. Community museums play a vital role in preserving that truth.

Another demonstration of the truth of the idea is found in old newspapers. One such story which I recently found demonstrates an even larger link — the link between the 19th century governmental policies of Germany’s Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, and Teutopolis, Illinois.

The Fort Wayne (Indiana) Daily Sentinel, on July 2, 1875, carried a story which indicated that:

“A number of German ecclesiastics and others, who had been driven out of the German empire by the operation of the Falk law, have arrived here (i.e., in New York, City), and started for Teutopolis, Ill., via the Erie railroad, where they expect to find an asylum in the Catholic religious institution in that city. Among them are twelve priests and sixty ecclesiastical students, and fifteen families of different religious orders. The exiles were very warmly received upon their arrival, many German citizens going to the dock to welcome them.”

A bit of German history is needed to show the relationship between two geographic areas thousands of miles apart. One has to understand Otto von Bismarck. There is agreement among historians that he was extremely successful as a Prussian prime minister and as German chancellor. His driving ambition was that Germany become the greatest power in Europe. That goal would be possible only if there was national unity. Any person, or group, who seemed to threaten that unity became a target of persecution. In his "Kulturfampf (the struggle for civilization)," Bismarck and his National Liberal Party introduced harsh laws to enforce his views.

There was a problem, however. Pope Pius IX, in the "Syllabus Errorum (Catalog of the Principal Errors of Our Time)," condemned many of the changes taking place in the 19th century, changes countenanced by the German Chancellor. For example, the Papacy spoke out against civil marriages and civil education. The Roman Catholic Church would not let the forces of liberalism and nationalism destroy its view of how life should be lived.

Bismarck, on the other hand, intended to make everyone in Germany submissive to the power of the state. Therefore, the Roman Catholics established the Catholic Centre Party, which became the second largest political party in the land. The Iron Chancellor felt threatened. To the German leader, Centre Party members owed allegiance not to the state, but to another authority. He would not tolerate that divided loyalty. He launched an attack.

In the early 1870s, there were several actions which posed a danger to Roman Catholics. In 1871, the Catholic division of the Prussian Ministry of Culture was abolished. Then a leading anti-cleric, Adalbert Falk, was appointed as minister. The next year, in 1872, the leaders in education, the Jesuits, were expelled from Germany.

Then by the 1873 "May Laws", Falk widened the division between church and state. as evidenced in the legal structure of the Kulturkampf. In content, the law provided that: 1. The state was given control over education; 2. State control was extended over the education of the clergy (This meant that the government established what the required subjects for ordination were.; 3. Candidates for the priesthood had to attend a German University for three years before entering a seminary; 4. The state had complete control of marriage; and 5. Disciplinary authority over the church was given to state agencies, e.g. civil appointment of bishops, thereby weakening the power of the Papacy in Germany.

There was, of course, great public outcry. Tensions were high as the struggle intensified. 1874 was a year which showed the extent of the battle. There were more restrictions placed on the power of the church after Roman Catholicism refused to accept the validity of the laws. In the midst of the turmoil, there was an attempt to assassinate Bismarck. In the next year, 1875, the Pope issued an encyclical which denied the validity of all the measures. The German government countered by cutting off all financial aid to bishops until they recognized the laws, and by expelling from Prussia all monastic orders except those engaged in medical work and by securing the power to expel all clerics who did not meet the requirements found in the 1873 laws. There was truly a culture war.

In this Prussian police state, numerous bishops and priests were imprisoned, among whom were the Archbishop of Posen, the Archbishop of Cologne, and the Bishop of Treves. A great many were expelled from Prussia, resulting in the fact that a total of 1,400 parishes — one third of those in Prussia — were left without priests.

Where could they go? Who would welcome them? Who would provide them with a social and political setting where they could practice their faith freely? There is no clear answer to these questions. However, what had been intended as a “meritorious footnote” to Canon Joseph Salzbacher’s 1845 book, "Meine Reise Nach Nord-Amerika Im Jahre 1842," contained a description which certainly would have been enticing to those who wanted to find a place where the forces which were sweeping across portions of Europe did not have a foothold. The church leader and author quoted from the Rev. Charles Joseph Oppermann, who had written:

“… I went to Teutopolis, . . . a community conceived by poor north Germans with the intention of preserving the precious jewel of faith in its purity. Joyfully, I was surprised when I saw from afar how much this place had developed and had improved. I hardly recognized the town, except when the bell sounded and the jubilant inhabitants came to welcome me: I was near Teutopolis. Tears of joy overflowed when with old German honesty they shook hands with me. I felt that I should not leave, but should be the shepherd and father to them. It broke my heart that I had to tell them I could stay only a few days. The devotion and piety of this parish deeply edified me; there are no squanders or braggarts, no drunkards and gluttons here. The love of order, the thrift and industry of the local farmers will soon transform Teutopolis into a pleasant and charming place of residence. Already more than 90 families live within six or seven miles of the town.

The church, which I had visited three years earlier and which had offended the Bishop had, in its poverty, been able to build a tower and to secure a bell weighing over 900 pounds to call to all the inhabitants to worship God on Sundays and holidays. Through their eagerness for religion and their love for God, these poor north Germans have already accumulated $500 earned in the sweat of the brow, to the erection of a new church. It is to their credit that five times they have presented 80 acres to the church, along with 40 acres for the parsonage and to the schoolhouse. Happy is the priest, who is in charge of a community with such holy beliefs! Happy the parish which is aware that sacrifices made for God’s sake do not impoverish but enrich.

... If a German wants success in agriculture and wants at the same time to preserve his pure Catholic faith, then he will find his wishes satisfied in and around Teutopolis. Through their desire to maintain Catholicism, these good North Germans are not at the present affected by a destructive sectarian spirit although there have been repeated occasions when the community could have been divided. They continued firmly, to the joy and honor of their old countrymen, who dedicated themselves gloriously in Cincinnati; to be like many good Catholic Christians, who by word and deed contribute to the propagation of the faith and to sanctifying the soul!”

Whatever the motivation may have been, when those exiles from Bismarck’s Germany migrated to Teutopolis in 1875, they demonstrated how even a small Midwestern village could be part of a major era in world history, as well as showing how those characteristics which make the United States so attractive to the world’s populace is found in places like Effingham County.

Recommended for you