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Gustavus Köerner

A. W. Snyder



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 Koerner's autobiography, which contains much matter of great interest, still remains unpublished.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 A. W. Snyder.

WASHINGTON CITY, No. 13th, 1837.


Your two letters of the 10th Oct. and 1st Nov. came to hand on yesterday two days after my return to this place from my trip to the north, and now for the business part first Weirheim's deed is made out and signed and acknowledged, I must have by mistake left it in my private papers if you or Mr. Hay has not got it, the note of Wood and Co. given me by Rapier for Collection I certainly intended to hand you if I have not done so it is likewise with my private papers, and if insisted on you will examine my desk for the purpose, Rapier has got the amount, and the transfer of my receipt will be sufficient unless they wish to bring suit, in that event I suppose they must have it, my note to Isabella Lynn you will please pay out of my individual funds when collected, & for that purpose you will receive of Mr. Dawson on the enclosed $60.00 money that I have advanced to his brother at this place to enable him to move to Illinois, the other ten and interest please pay out of same collection, the reason why I say my individual funds, I wrote Semple that he could take what was collected in your hands. — of our Tamaroa Funds, please pay over to him all you may collect should he desire it. — I would very willingly have Mr. Hilgard interested in Tamaroa and for that purpose will sell one hundred and fifty acres at $8 per acre, 75 to be taken on the west and 75 on the south part adjoining the town time to pay with interest on the money, I feel certain I offer him a Bargain, Land will continue to rise in our County in my opinion, I have had B. Millim appointed P. M. at Tamaroa, the mail will be carried from Belleville to Kaskaskia via Tamaroa I presume, on 1st January Robt Morrison contractor, on the subject of the enquiries you make for Jos Beer I have answered him in a letter of yesterday — fin des affaires — allons pour le politique.

You seem to communicate to me, your objection to my course with hesitation — acquainted as I am with your sincerity of heart, and true


friendship for me, you certainly know me well enough to believe that any difference of political views could not in the slightest degree affect my friendship for you, the very sincerity with which you speak about it is an additional reason for my regard, and makes me more solicitous to retain your esteem — you do me but justice when you say I am sincere in the course I have adopted and conscientious, fear not that I have left my party or forsaken my principles, all my hopes all my fears and all my sympathies, are with the democratic party, they were principles imbibed by me in my infancy they have strengthened with my years and for the very short time destined for me to live I feel no disposition to change them, as well might you expect to hear of my taking poison as to hear of my embracing the principles advocated and avowed by the Leaders of the opposition. I do not know that I can in this letter explain to you the whole of the reasons which actuated me in my votes, should I fail to do so in this letter I shall either in speaking in my place should my health permit, or in another letter to you give all of them — suffice I voted against the issuing of Treasury notes because it was averred by many of my political friends in congress the object was to lay the basis of a treasury Bank, for which you know I have always expressed the utmost repugnance, the dangerous tendency of such an institution I need not point out — when I saw the party would carry the measure I voted for the interest on them in order to sustain their credit & that of the Government, I could not go with the party in the measure yet I threw as little impediment in their way as possible — I was willing to give it a fair trial, the circulation of them so far has not disappointed me, they are under par notwithstanding their bearing interest, for it is idle to say anything is at par that will not command gold or silver at its face, the vote for postponing the fourth installment to my state I could not make and represent the wishes & interests of my constituents, as you must know, our party had used every shift and device to apply the surplus revenue to fortifications on the seaboard rather than distribute it to the states immense sums were lavished on the seaboard to the most useless and extravagant objects, our State that like Egypt was to the Romans, collected for her public Lands millions had nothing disbursed in it, the money of her citizens was taken and applied in the Atlantic States towards objects useless in themselves & unworthy the patronage and attention of the Government, the state upon the expectation of its share had anticipated the sum by its Legislation, the disappointment would work confusion and injury to our system of internal improvement, there was in the Bank of Shawneetown & in the hands of the receivers of public monies in Illinois more than our quota of the amount, all the states were willing to take the amount due them in debts due from the Banks to the Government, there was no good reason that I could perceive why this was refused, for you perceive we postpone to the States first then issue treasury warrants then give time to the Banks.

I come now to the subtreasury bill, my vote upon which is the one that startles my friends, I had prepared in a speech to give my reasons for my vote, but owing to my bad health was prevented, you saw my vote on the Resolution declaring it inexpedient to charter a Bank of


the United States, I thought I perceived very plainly by the passage of that bill that it would insure the immediate creation of one, the States have built up local institutions for good or for evil, they exert their influence on the community I too well know, but when I was called upon to decide upon institutions of the States or one of the United States my mind was soon made up — I thought by aiding the State Banks to resume specie payment, the country would be relieved and the reform of banking monopolies and abuses should take place where it had its origin with the people. I thought I saw in the coming contest, a struggle between money and the Liberties of the people, and need I add that I feared by adopting the system of cutting loose at one abrupt move, the revenues of the government from all paper, that we were hastening the catastrophe — I was for adopting moderate measures to sustain my party in power, to get through this crisis, to enable us to adopt such measures as the most sanguine democrats could have wished, need I add that my worst fears are realized — by attempting to correct abruptly the evil we have increased its malignity. That kind of revulsion in politics has taken place that I fear is to end in the prostration of our party and in the consummation of that very measure that I, that you & all of our friends deprecate — flushed as the opposition now are with success. I have no doubt that many of the states will instruct their senators and that the opposition whenever it has the power, will urge on us this winter a plan to charter a Bank of the U States, and that we will again have to fight the battles over by laying the bill on the table time would be given to see its effects upon the people — to learn their feelings in regard to it — the Local Legislatures in the mean time would convene in most of the states & give to their representatives such instructions as the people desired, for myself I wanted none — but I felt anxious for my party for the principles I had long professed, I am now better satisfied than ever my course was right had the majority of the party here thought with me, we might have pursued such measures as in the end would have attained the object. I fear now that some years must roll round before we can succeed, the people must be vet more and more ridden, the Tyranny and influence of monied incorporations must be increased — these then will wake up to a proper sense of their peril and danger of losing their rights. The Jackson party in 1835 on a bill introduced by Bordon of Virginia proposing to disconnect the Government from all paper and Banks, immediately voted it down not a solitary friend of the administration voting for the measure, the increased power and patronage that the appointment and erection of so many receivers of Revenue would give was by the democratic party thought dangerous to liberty. I thought so to, what has now sanctified it? Principles should ever be the same. When my party recommended state banks I was then a member of the Legislature of my state; it was urged on me, that it was a party measure, I refused to give my assent to it, and again differed with the party, you may have noticed my votes in the bill proposing time to the Banks and releasing them from interest for their debts to the Government.

28 Nov. 1837 — I voted against it. No man would go further to coerce them to hold their contracts inviolate than myself — as late as


July long after the suspension of all the Banks in the union the monies in the hands of the receivers of public monies in Illinois was deposited in the Bank of Missouri at a time that it could not have had in circulation one hundred dollars of its own paper, thus building up another state institution by the Government but a few days preceding the meeting of Congress, I mention all these things to you, for I would not wish them public — for the credit of my party — my course in relation to banks has been steady, it has never changed — would that my party had been equally so. — I shall give to the administration a uniform sound support in all measures that a sense of duty to myself and my constituents will permit me.

You seem to regret the appointment of Gen. Semple so far as it prevented the people from naming him for Governor, and testing the Banking principle. I urged his appointment because first he desired an appointment by the Government which I thought did not suit & because he expressed to me a willingness to rest from before the people, he did not apply for this office but for another, all this you are aware is confidential. I hope to hear from you frequently & will on some other occasion write you more fully,

Your sincere friend