A.G. Roeber, Palatines, Liberty, and Property: German Lutherans in Colonial British America

Subjects: Immigration, Religion, Revolution.

Using a number of German-language (and thus oft-overlooked) primary sources, A.G. Roeber here successfully portrays how German immigrants with substantially different views on liberty, property, and freiheten than your average Anglo-American colonist managed to buy into the British political thought that enabled the Revolution.

Beginning his tale in the Old World (after a brief "Middle Ground"-type tale of some grievous misunderstandings in New York over land use and land possession), Roeber delves into German cultural antecedents for thought on liberty and property, including the belief that fealty to the prince created space for positive liberty; the positive liberties and freiheten associated with village customs such as midwifery elections; the negative liberties that are suggested by the contemplative inwardness of pietism; and the positive (philanthropic) conception of property suggested by the Halle school of pietism. I personally wish Roeber had shied away from the use of Berlin's "positive" and "negative" connotations (they're loaded terms, by their valence) and just used (the admittedly equally loaded) "liberal/libertarian" and "republican," but ah well. Roeber also takes time to explicate the variations in political thought over different areas of Germany, and how these variations account for different opinions on liberty and property among different waves of immigrants.

Roeber then moves to the New World, examining the cultural brokers (again, shades of the Middle Ground here) who helped colonists transition from German villagers to British citizens. Among the most important of these cultural brokers were Christopher Saur and Henry Miller of Pennsylvania, who published German almanacs and newspapers that helped to explain English conceptions of liberty and property in German terms and give German colonists the ability both to use these concepts to their own advantage and to grapple with the rhetoric of the revolution.

Also posted at http://www.kevincmurphy.com/roeber.html.

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