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Gustavus Köerner



Of the German-American leaders in Illinois politics none deserves more general recognition than Gustav Koerner. Coming to Illinois in 1833 as a result of the revolutionary uprising in Frankfort, he never lost his affection for his fatherland. Yet he was equally loyal in the service of his adopted country. He insisted always that it was the duty of the German-American to work with his neighbors for the promotion of sound ideals in politics and higher standards of civilization. This attitude won him the respect of the community in which he lived and he held a series of important public appointments. He was successively a member of the legislature, judge of the State Supreme Court, lieutenant governor, and United States minister to Spain.

During his long public career he gained a wide acquaintance among the public men of his time in Illinois and elsewhere. He was an active correspondent and left to his family an interesting collection of letters, some in English and some in German, written by many of his most prominent contemporaries. Through the courtesy of his daughters, Mrs. R. E. Rombauer of St. Louis and Mrs. Henry Engelmann of Lakewood, Ohio, I have been able to present for the annual volume of the transactions a few of the letters written to Koerner in English. The copies were carefully prepared for this purpose by his grand-daughter, Miss Bertha E. Rombauer, of St. Louis.

Brief accounts of Koerner's life may be found in Ratterman, Gustav Koerner, Ein Lebensbild; in the Illinois Historical Society's Transactions, 1904 (article by R. E. Rombauer); in Deutsch-Amerikanische Geschichtsblätter, April, 1907, (article by E. B. Greene); also in Koerner's Deutsche Element, Chicago, 1884. Koerner's autobiography, which contains much matter of great interest, still remains unpublished.



Letter from Gustavus Isaac.

WILMINGTON, No. CA., June 14, 1856.


Although not personally acquainted with you I have known your name in honorable connection with events which transpired over 20 years ago and from this indirect acquaintance I claim the right of addressing you.

As an adopted citizen of this country I ever looked upon you with pride; I looked upon you as a true exponent of the adopted citizens true and faithful to their country her constitution & her laws.

So much the more I was surprised to find the annexed lines which I cut out of the organ of the Know Nothing faction in this city. They were inserted in the same undoubtedly with the object of suspicioning the devotion of the adopted citizens residing in this city to this country, and thus make political capital with every true patriot and particularly with every Southerner be he a Democrat, Whig, Know-Nothing or anything else.

Being convinced what means these Know-Nothing Organizations sometimes employ to reach their object and having had many opportunities to see the liberty of the press soiled by publishing falsehoods and lies, I felt compelled to doubt the veracity of the statement made concerning you and therefore herewith take the liberty to ask yourself whether I am right to disbelieve the assertion made (viz: in the annexed scrip) or whether you recognize the right of the people to make their laws to suit them & exclude or introduce slavery from their territory.

Hoping that I was right in doubting the veracity of the assertion made in our K. N. organ and that your views on the Kansas & Nebraska Bill are in conformity with the resolutions passed thereon at the late National Democratic Convention at Cincinnati I shall consider it a great favor to receive information from you to that effect and your permission to publish the same if circumstances during our local canvass should require it.

With my best wishes for yourself I remain
Your obt. servt.

Hon. Lieut. Gov.