Illinois Staats-Zeitung -- January 23, 1872[Concerning the Fire Ordinances]
(Three and one-half columns, more than half of the editorial page, are filled with a letter by the Unitarian Rev. Robert Collyer to Mr. A. C. Hesing, originally published in the Chicago Tribune. Hesing's answer, and an editorial about the two letters.)
The Reverend says among other things:
On the 8th of October, I had a beautiful home on the North Side; it was my own, I was proud of it, and I was so proud of my position as an American citizen, that I told the audience in the Crystal Palace, where I made a speech last summer, I did not know if I should not feel insulted that Queen Victoria had not invited my wife for tea, as we were all sovereigns. My children have received in our public schools a wonderful education that cost me hardly anything.2
Now the question arises: How shall we rebuild? Our municipal authorities demand that we build so that our city cannot burn again. These authorities are, no matter who are the members of it, a part of that great people in which we have found such inestimable worth. I believe, that the majority of those who, a few days ago, made so infamous an attack on our American customs, consisted of people who owed almost everything that they possess to the magnanimous reception that they have found here. I would therefore be very cautious in my attitude toward the good government that the Americans and their forefathers bought with their most precious blood. I would also be wary to talk so much about "poor people," here, where nobody (except in consequence of bad conduct) can be as poor as we have been.
Mr. Hesing's answer contains the following sentences:
I have found that you have addressed to me a very beautiful, a very unctuous treatise on the duties of adopted citizens. Perhaps I must be grateful for this honor. In any case I will try to feel such gratitude as our excellent mayor would experience if you dedicated to him a sermon against stealing, or as Mr. H. W. King would, if you addressed to him a sermon against unchastity. That flag, my dear Mr. Collyer, before which you uncovered your head in Heidelberg, as you so edifyingly describe, belonged to your very devoted servant A. C. Hesing.....Those Stars and Stripes, my dear sir, I let proudly wave in the air wherever I found cause to point to the symbol of Republican free government. So in Berlin, when there the Kaiser "was trump". And I may add that the Stars and Stripes were in Berlin not blasphemed and reviled by the people (as the German flag is here), but were greeted with cheers and jubilation. Nowhere have I found a mob so low and mean-spirited as to call them "That dirty Yankee rag",as the German flag here is called by the mob that "dirty Prussian rag".4
Thirty-two years ago, in 1839, I came to America, a young man, almost a boy. My father had been well-to-do. I gave my heritage on my own free will to my brothers and sisters, and emigrated to America. Every cent I own has been gained by honest industry. So far our life stories run parallel. But you say, Mr. Collyer, that you and your family found everywhere the warmest welcome. That such generosity and goodness as you met with you had not dreamed of. There the comparison between us ceases.
You don't seem to know that in my memory lives a time when Germans were persecuted by American mobs with such brutality, with just as diabolical cruelty as ever Europeans in China, Chinese in California, or Jews in Rumania have been persecuted. You have not seen it - I, Mr. Collyer, did see it; how packs of native Americans, drunk with the desire to kill, burnt down churches of the "damned Germans". You have not seen it (though you might have, you were already in the country), how peaceful Germans were hunted down and butchered in the streets of Louisville. You have probably never heard the land of your 5birth maligned in your presence by people who count themselves among the better classes with that intensive contempt of which only the most ignorant and uncouth hoodlum is capable. And, Mr. Collyer, you probably have never tried to put yourself into the place of decent people - conscious of the most sincere love to the land of their choice - who are mocked and jeered at because they are not able to speak the English language as fluently as those whose mother tongue it is. If you had seen and experienced all that you would not so rashly suppose that a German-born American citizen could forget his German extraction as quickly as a British-born his English birth.
But in spite of all that I maintain that the citizens of German birth are just as good and true Americans as those born in this country; that they regard themselves as citizens of the American Republic, and act as such, even though the language difference and the reluctance of the Americans towards intimate social intercourse, may occasionally produce the apperarance as if differences of opinion about public questions were rooted in racial differences. In the present case that is certainly not so.6
As your letter was addressed to me personally it will not be taken amiss when I explain my personal attitude. I was only 18 months in this country and did not yet have the right to vote when I stood at the ballot box exhorting my countrymen to vote for "Old Tippecanoe". That was at a time when the bestial brutality of native American Democrats made it dangerous for "foreigners" to stand on the side of the Whigs. The Cincinnati Enquirer then called me a "Dutch renegade". In 1844, I made public speeches for Henry Clay and his American Policy and was bombarded by native American citizens, with stones and rotten eggs. In 1854, the first meeting of German-born citizens for the formation of an anti-Slavery Party was called together by Mr. Hassaurek and me, in Cincinnati. Soon afterwards I came to Chicago where I owned a kiln together with Mr. Chas. S. Dole. I was then, as I am now, in favor of a fire ordinance.7
You say, Mr. Collyer, that I demanded everybody should build, if he so pleased, exactly as before the fire. But about that you are completely misinformed.........Listen to the facts.
Shortly after my return from Europe I met Mr. Val Turner who proposed a meeting of the citizens of the North Side. I readily agreed, and soon afterward a number of citizens met in the office of Mr. Nixon and a petition written by Mr. Sheldon to the City Council was endorsed. In this petition the establishment of fire limits which should include the whole area south of Chicago Avenue (with two small exceptions in favor of two wood firms), was urged. These limits furthermore should coincide with Wells Street to North Avenue and from there east to the lake. In the first days of December, I received a round robin signed by about 100 names calling me to a meeting at the Metropolitan Hotel. There, Mr. Collyer, I, the only German-born citizen present met with many of your 8friends, E. C. Larned, W. Nixon, Julian Rumsey, Geo. F. Rumsey, Val. Turner, Aug.Burley, C. H. McCormick, W. H. Kerfoot, Nat. Mears, Ely Bates, Messrs. Page and Adams, Geo. Taylor, S. F. Winston and possibly eighty more. At this meeting the above mentioned petition regarding fire limits was read and it was proposed, that all present should sign it. I objected not because I thought the suggested measure too oppressive, but on the contrary, because in my opinion it did not go far enough. I therefore moved an amendment, proposing to include not only the part of the North Side, that the petition points out, but also the two wood courts and the area east of an imaginary line 125 feet west of Clark Street until Fullerton Avenue.
That is the point of view I have embraced in this question. When you, Mr. Collyer, tell me that the people demand fire limits coincident with the city limits then you assert something for which you lack all proofs........Neither Mr. Medill nor the editors of two or three papers are the people of Chicago. The opinions of the people manifest themselves 9according to American usage in popular meetings. Where have any such meetings taken place in which the proposal of Mr. Medill has been endorsed? Put your hand to your heart - has not perhaps the persistent and mendacious clamor, that the opposition against Mr. Medill's plan is only a Dutch movement, obscured your otherwise so clear and critical vision?
A. C. Hesing.
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