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Marcus Hansen, Puritanism, and Scandinavian
Immigrant Temperance Movements
    by Frederick Hale (Volume 27: Page 18)

No other scholar has contributed more to the emergence of immigration studies as a special historical field than Marcus Lee Hansen (1892-1938). Although he completed only one volume of his projected trilogy before nephritis cut short his promising career, that book won for him a posthumously awarded Pulitzer Prize. Moreover, with his colleague John Brebner of Columbia University, Hansen did much of the groundwork for an important study of migration across the border between the United States and Canada. He was one of the first historians of immigration to conduct extensive, multiarchival research in Europe. But perhaps most significantly, Hansen stepped out of the filiopietistic framework which had hobbled most earlier efforts to analyze immigration and assimilation; he insisted that no American ethnic group of European descent can be understood except in the context of what he termed The Atlantic Migration. {1}

The historiographical field which Hansen tilled during the 1920s and 1930s, however, has been more fruitfully cultivated in recent years by his own students and other historians. His theories have thereby been extensively revised. Few current scholars will accept uncritically his suggestion that immigrants became politically conservative in America and failed to share the Yankee’s interest in social reform. Furthermore, as a progressive historian, Hansen stressed the “push” of economic deprivation in the Old World as the prime mover stimulating emigration; more recently, the “pull” of America - particularly efforts to lure European labor to the United States - has been the object of historical investigation. Finally, historians have found it difficult to apply “Hansen’s Law” of immigrant cultural tension - that “what the son wishes to forget the grandson wishes to remember.” {2} Those who have thus revised or refuted Hansen’s scholarship, however, have generally acknowledged their large debts to his groundbreaking work.

One of Hansen’s briefer treatises, “Immigration and Puritanism,” has influenced several other historians but apparently it has never received thorough criticism. He first delivered it as a lecture at the University of London in 1935, and then published it in Norwegian-American Studies and Records. {3} The elder Arthur Schlesinger included a revised but essentially intact version of the essay in a volume of Hansen’s shorter works two years after the author died. {4}

This essay will sketch in broad strokes Scandinavian temperance movements in Europe and the United States. It will also suggest how post-progressive historiography can go far beyond Hansen’s attempts to analyze these activities. It should be said at the outset that his notion that social control in early New England and in nineteenth-century immigrant moralism were parallel phenomena is a blind alley in which many historians writing since 1936 have lost their way.

In this lecture and article, Hansen sought the roots of what he termed “Puritanism” but were actually immigrant temperance movements in the United States. His analytical approach was simple: to draw parallels between the New England frontier of the seventeenth century and that of the Midwest two hundred years later. Both of these wilderness settings bred moral chaos, he argued; indeed, he maintained that “every frontier lives through its period of lawlessness before government caught up.” As the Puritan had left behind the moral restraints of Britain when settling in New England, the northern European passed beyond the reach of the constricted morality of his old-world community when he left for a new life in the Midwestern outback. “Here was American liberty with a vengeance, and he proceeded to cast off all the restraints that European society had bred into him.” Hansen believed that “the history of every immigrant settlement reveals that at some time it passed through this stage of drunkenness and revelry.”

In early Massachusetts the ministers and civil authorities had concluded that “strict discipline both in criminal offences and in martial affairs, was more needful in plantations than in a settled state, as tending to the honor and safety of the gospel.” Hansen claimed that this passage, which he repeated without the final ten words, “is the clue to immigrant Puritanism,” but he proceeded to discuss attitudes toward the use of alcohol which Massachusetts Puritans never shared.

So among the Scandinavians of the Midwest, immigrant clergymen played a key role in efforts to promote temperance among their frontier flocks; moral reform work constituted in fact a major part of their pastoral duties. “To baptize and confirm,” Hansen asserted, “was not so important as to conduct a clean-up campaign.” But when he attempted to delineate the genesis and motives of the immigrant clergy’s opposition to Demon Rum, he turned his article into a tangle of contradictions and truncated arguments.

First, Hansen’s use of the term “Puritanism” was both inaccurate and anachronistic. During the 1920s, when Hansen was a graduate student at Harvard, the word was commonly used as a pejorative synonym for prohibition. Rather than closely analyzing Puritanism, most progressive historians injudiciously accepted this Menckenesque meaning of the word. As Charles Beard put it, “Puritan” became an epithet for “anything that interfere[d] with the new freedom, free verse, psychoanalysis, or even the double entendre.” {5} Moreover, progressive historians focused their attention on the efforts of the so-called “Puritan oligarchy” to constrain the political and private behavior of the masses in early New England. Given this intellectual climate, it is small wonder that Hansen regarded civil and ecclesiastical discipline as “the clue to immigrant Puritanism.”

At that time, Perry Miller had only begun to elevate the Puritan image by concentrating on the intellectual aspects of the movement. His first book, Orthodoxy in Massachusetts, did not appear until 1933. It is not known whether Hansen was aware of Miller’s pioneering early studies, but it is clear that they had no perceptible impact on his own work. He refused to tie himself to a strict definition of Puritanism, however, insisting that “every person gives it his own meaning.” Having granted himself this semantic license, he proceeded to fall back into the popular definition, which was preventing both him and his generation of progressive historians from understanding the Puritan movement of the past and the “puritanism” of their own times.

Had Hansen been willing to explore the social and intellectual history of sixteenth-century England, he would not have argued that the propensity for the bottle sprang from social disorganization in frontier Massachusetts. Insobriety was one of the principal charges which English Puritans leveled at the Anglican clergy. {6} The extent of drunkenness in Elizabethan England stimulated the poet Nicholas Breton to quip that “a drunken man is a noun adjective, for he cannot stand alone.” {7} When Increase Mather in 1673 warned his Boston congregation that “wine is from God, but the Drunkard is from Satan,” he was continuing a century-old Puritan battle against intemperance. {8}

Similarly, Hansen’s ignorance of the upsurge of drinking on the European continent invalidated his argument that nineteenth-century emigrants learned intemperance only after arriving in the wilds of North America. Nothing in northern Europe made a worse impression on American visitors than the Scandinavians’ tendency to drink prodigiously. The temperance advocate Robert Baird undoubtedly shocked many of his American readers when he reported in the 1840s that Swedish consumption of distilled beverages had climbed to approximately 40,000,000 gallons annually, and that most capital crimes and riots in Norway flowed from the bottle. {9} Baird was more optimistic, but perhaps also less well informed, about the liquor situation in Denmark: “As to intemperance, it is the testimony of all men with whom we have conversed, that it is decidedly on the decrease.” {10} A few years later the globetrotting Bayard Taylor related that he had encountered at least fifty drunks while taking a short walk through Bergen. {11} To Americans, however, such accounts probably had a familiar ring. Distillation of spirits was proliferating in the United States at the same time, and the urban liquor problem was compounded as large waves of Irish and German immigrants landed on American shores.

Theodore Blegen saw a direct connection between rural distillation in Norway and Norwegian migration to the United States. He convincingly argued that the prevalence of small stills among Norwegian bønder threw the nation’s economy out of balance by overemphasizing the production of potatoes and small grains to be turned into brennevin. This produced not only a surfeit of liquor, but also widespread hunger, poverty, and social disenchantment. Blegen cited a government report which found a high correlation between the production of spirits and emigration. “There is no doubt,” he concluded, “that the prevalent home distilling ruined many small farmers, who turned to emigration as an avenue of escape.” {12}

To deal with the burgeoning menace of drunkenness, reformers in Scandinavia, as in the United States, organized broad networks of temperance societies. In fact, the crusade against alcohol quickly became a chief example of international reform work. Nowhere was this co-operation more clearly demonstrated than at the 1893 World Temperance Congress in Chicago. Representatives of dozens of American and European temperance societies convened, reported on progress in their respective lands, and shared strategies for continuing the campaign against insobriety. In the employ of the American Temperance Society, Baird visited Sweden in 1836 and 1840, and his temperance pamphlets were translated and widely read there. He assisted Peter Wieselgren in founding the Swedish Temperance Society and in organizing its local affiliates. George Scott, the Scottish clergyman active in early Methodist missions to Sweden, also participated in the new organization.

These efforts bore fruit in 1855 when the riksdag outlawed the innumerable private distilleries which had dotted the nation’s landscape during the first half of the century. Per capita consumption of liquor declined significantly in the following years. Many attributed this improvement to the widespread adoption of the “Gothenburg system” of disinterested management. Under this scheme, the retailing of liquor was placed in the hands of small committees in co-operating communities. These individuals, usually respectable bourgeoisie, received only a small percentage of the liquor-store profits. The remainder went into the local treasury, theoretically lowering taxes.

Anglo-American influence in the Swedish temperance campaign also assumed other forms. The Order of Good Templars expanded into Sweden in 1879. The Blue Ribbon Union, modeled after the Blue Ribbon Army of Great Britain and the United States, followed suit seven years later.

The temperance movement developed similarly in Norway. {13} A law promulgated in 1845 banned private distillation. In 1871 another statute gave municipalities a near-monopoly in the sale of liquor, regulated their hours of business, provided public drinking with a more respectable facade, and enriched community treasuries. In Norway, however, most of the proceeds from the sale of liquor were used to support charitable institutions, on the strength of the argument that the Swedish plan for the disposition of the profits encouraged drinking by promising lower taxes. Of course, regulation of this sort did not satisfy those who clamored for prohibition. From its founding in 1859, the Norway Total Abstinence Society, which at one time numbered approximately 100,000 members, demanded more control. Its leaders contended that in some cities consumption of alcohol had actually risen since the Gothenburg system was adopted. {14}

In Denmark the temperance movement proceeded more slowly. Baird repeatedly visited that country and some of his works were translated into Danish, but their impact was apparently insignificant. Several of the free church bodies - Baptists, Adventists, Friends, Methodists, and Mormons - engaged in temperance work. The movement remained small and fragmented for many years. In 1878 a Danish-American Methodist minister, Carl Eltzholtz, helped found the Denmark Total Abstinence Society. This and similar organizations grew slowly, and the consumption of liquor remained very high. Eltzholtz reported in 1893 that the average Danish adult male drank sixty-seven liters of brandy annually, as compared to twenty-one by his Norwegian counterpart. Danish beer also continued to be immensely popular; some of Denmark’s temperance advocates promoted the use of beer as an alternative to total abstinence and praised the philanthropy of the Carlsberg brewing empire. {15}

In the Danish colony of Iceland, however, the prohibition movement snowballed until 1908, when a referendum cleared the way for an almost total ban on alcohol. The sale of intoxicants ceased in 1915, making Iceland the first European country to adopt prohibition. Only communion wine and drinks containing less than two and one fourth per cent alcohol were excepted. The experiment was short-lived. Spain, then a major consumer of Iceland’s fish, threatened to impose high tariffs if the Icelanders refused to import Spanish wines. Bowing to this pressure, Iceland’s parliament lifted the ban on light wines in 1922, and eleven years later the country almost completely terminated prohibition, as did the United States and Finland. {16}

This brief review of Scandinavian temperance movements in the Old World provides a clearer picture of the roots of the campaigns engaged in by Nordic immigrants against liquor that Hansen was able to present. It provides several facts which a scholar viewing history from the keyhole perspective of frontier life could not have perceived. First, addiction to alcohol was widespread in nineteenth-century Scandinavia. Many Nordic immigrants were well acquainted with intoxicating beverages before they confronted the New World. Second, this social problem plagued both rural and urban areas. While certain country districts, such as the northern provinces of Sweden, shared some characteristics with the American frontier, city drunks may have posed a problem equal to that created by the peasants’ brennevin stills even before the latter were outlawed. Scandinavia, like the United States and virtually every other western nation, experienced urbanization during the last century. The problem of alcohol was probably as closely linked to the vicissitudes of modernization as to the frontier environment. Third, efforts to alleviate alcoholism also occurred concurrently on both sides of the Atlantic. Finally, like their American counterparts, not all Scandinavian foes of heavy drinking were cast in the same mold. As in other countries, they were divided into prohibition and moderation camps, and frequently they worked at cross purposes.

The Scandinavian-American temperance movements which traced their roots to northern Europe accompanied the immigrants to the New World. Their intemperance demanded this. As Blegen has pointed out, drinking was part of the Norwegian’s cultural baggage. Liquor was often present at baptisms, weddings, funerals, and other social gatherings. The newcomers not only drank, but also manufactured and sold intoxicants. Saloonen found a place alongside kalabusen in their miscegenate vocabulary. Parallel observations could be multiplied regarding the other Scandinavian immigrant groups. {17}

Although Blegen devoted most of his attention to Norwegians who settled in rural regions, the problem of heavy drinking also plagued urban immigrants. In fact, drunkenness in the cities, not in the countryside, became the chief target of social reformers. Concomitantly, not the Scandinavian-American farmer, but his countryman who settled in the city and publicly imbibed there, encountered strong nativist hostility. His habits encouraged Yankee zealots to lump together all immigrants and to brand them as undesirable. Josiah Strong, in his 1885 bestseller, Our Country, warned that the related “perils” of intemperance and urbanization were jeopardizing America’s destiny. The chief offenders, he believed, were the foreign-born and their immediate offspring. “The most effective instrumentality for debauching popular morals is the liquor traffic, and this is chiefly carried on by foreigners.” {18}

Hansen, like most other progressives, never gave the urban immigrant his due. The extent to which he stood in the shadow of the frontier thesis is revealed in his assertion that “before the Civil War the process [of assimilation] usually culminated in the transformation of the European into an independent, landowning American farmer.” {19} This is a poor generalization for the antebellum years, and it is utterly inapplicable to the Gilded Age. Recent studies indicate that it does not even accurately fit Scandinavian immigrants. It may have been tenable when studies of Nordic immigration focused on such settlements as those in Dane County, Wisconsin, and along the Fox River in northern Illinois. But it is now well known that many Scandinavians never left the East Coast, but settled in Worcester, New York, and in other eastern cities. More obviously, those in Chicago have only recently become the subjects of the extensive research they deserve. {20} Only by neglecting these urban settlers could Hansen attribute insobriety to a supposed absence of restraining social institutions.

Shortly after finding homes in North America, Scandinavian settlers in both city and countryside began to establish temperance societies. For many, this movement was a continuation of their fight against alcohol in Europe. Lars Paul Esbjörn, for example, had co-operated closely with Wieselgren and Baird in Sweden before coming to the United States in 1849. His colleague, Tuve Hasselquist, like Esbjörn a Swedish pastor in northern Illinois, had similarly toured his mother country with Wieselgren in the interest of temperance. {21} These societies began to proliferate during the 1850s and multiplied at an accelerated pace when the tide of immigration rose after 1880. It was a rare Scandinavian settlement that did not have at least one afholdsforening. {22} Scandinavian urban communities also spawned temperance organizations. In the 1860s and 1870s, Nordic newcomers in Chicago could join such organizations as the Kristliga skandinaviska nykterhetsforening and the Svenska ungdomens nykterhetsforening, and possibly also some smaller societies. {23} In the Pacific Northwest, they could affiliate with such abstinence groups as those in Seattle or Tacoma. {24} Wherever hard-drinking Scandinavians settled, more temperate immigrants took measures to moderate their habit.

Several editors of immigrant newspapers enlisted in the cold-water army. Nordlyset added its voice to the cacophony of the native American press, describing the ill effects of drinking as the hatchet murdering of spouses by alcoholics. {25} Other newspapers, however, were more restrained in their assessment of the liquor problem. In his careful study of the Norwegian-American press before 1872, Arlow Andersen concludes that its position was generally one of supporting moderation through moral suasion, not legal prohibition. He further states that during the period under consideration temperance was not a major issue in these newspapers. {26} Several fugitive newspapers were founded with the express purpose of exorcising Demon Rum. They continued the rhetorical battle which such periodicals as Maadeholds-Tidende, Afholds-Tidende, and Norsk Afholdstidende had fought in the Old World. {27}

One of the earliest Norwegian-American papers was Afholdenhedsvennen, first published in 1852 at Racine, Wisconsin, to fight “against the physical and moral evil of indulgence in alcoholic stimulants, which has ruined and poisoned our whole social life.” {28} It was apparently short-lived, however. But after 1880, the immigrant press became a major factor in the temperance campaign. Men like the editor-novelist H. A. Foss joined the movement with great vigor. He wrote Den amerikanske saloon, a temperance novel which Blegen called “painfully didactic” but one “which nevertheless embodies much close observation.” {29} Thus, despite its modest beginnings, the temperance movement became one of the major concerns of Scandinavian immigrants by the end of the century.

Hansen was partly correct in stressing the immigrant clergy’s desire for acceptance in the adopted country as a chief motive for temperance work. While it is difficult to determine the extent to which this stimulated Scandinavian-American pastors, it is clear that some of them repeatedly emphasized their contribution to the temperance drive when communicating with their Yankee colleagues. Paul Andersen, whom Hansen mentioned briefly in this context, was a prime example. Supported by the American Home Missionary Society, he frequently referred to the temperance meetings in his Chicago church when writing to his sponsors. Andersen juxtaposed his own parishioners’ behavior and the “gross immorality” of the immigrants in Dane County, Wisconsin, where “all are intemperate and profane.” {30}

There is no reason to question the sincerity of these immigrant friends of temperance. But their rhetoric was also part of their campaign to gain respectability and to elevate the Nordic image in the United States. In an otherwise laudatory article in 1852, the American Lutheran leader William Reynolds included intemperance and unchastity in a short catalogue of Scandinavian vices. Within a few years, however, he had softened his criticism. “They are . . . sober and industrious,” he wrote, “with the exception of some Swedes, who have unfortunately contracted habits of intemperance, fostered by their cheap potato whiskey.” {31}

During the 1880s, when Protestant nativists became alarmed at the rising tide of eastern and southern European immigrants, they began to regard the Scandinavians as like-minded allies in their fight to preserve evangelical America. William A. Passavant, a Pennsylvania Lutheran clergyman and editor of the Workman, spoke for many of his countrymen when he contrasted Scandinavian sobriety with the drinking habits of “new” immigrants. He cited the position of the Augustana Synod on the temperance question, perhaps believing it was representative of all Nordic immigrant church groups. “Saloon men and rumsellers get no countenance from the Augustana Synod. They will not receive them into their churches, nor will they tolerate their miserable calling in their communities, if they can help it.” {32}

Not all Scandinavians in the United States, of course, spoke with one voice on the liquor question. Hansen related the story of how J.W.C. Dietrichson excommunicated a member from one of his Dane County congregations, an episode too familiar to students of Norwegian immigration history to bear repetition here. But by focusing on Dietrichson, Hansen made an invalid inductive inference and gave his readers the impression that abstinence, born of the desire to be accepted in the new land, was their typical position. Whatever Dietrichson’s personal drinking habits may have been, there is ample evidence that the Norwegian clergy in Wisconsin did not shun the bottle. Olaus Fredrik Duus, one of Dietrichson’s colleagues, complained not only about drunken lumberjacks near Stevens Point, but also about the low quality of American wine. {33}

But not even avowed Scandinavian advocates of temperance could harmonize their arguments. Max Henius took a position far removed from the stance of those who were derisively labeled “temperance cranks.” Born in Denmark in 1859, this son of a Jewish distiller earned a doctorate in chemistry at a German university before emigrating to Chicago, where he served several breweries as a consultant. During the protracted debate that preceded the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment, Henius traveled about the country lecturing on the benefits of malted beverages. His most famous address, given at a convention of the United States Brewers’ Association, which later circulated it as a pamphlet, bore the title “Danish Beer and Continental Beer Gardens.” This self-styled temperance worker argued that the cause would be furthered if hard liquor - with which his brewery magnate employers competed - were heavily taxed. Naturally, Henius also contended that taxes on beer should be lowered in order to give man’s thirst for alcohol safe and inexpensive satisfaction. {34}

John Koren, son of the pioneering Norwegian pastor and educator Ulrik V. Koren, represented what might be best described as a moderate posture on the liquor question. For many years he worked as a researcher and statistician for the Committee of Fifty, a scientifically oriented organization which tried to rationalize temperance arguments. In this capacity, Koren conducted studies of Scandinavian liquor control. He praised the formulators of the Gothenburg system who, he believed, had found a via media between the Scylla of licentiousness and the Charybdis of prohibition. Even some Scandinavian abstainers, according to Koren, preferred municipal liquor corporations to an absolute legal ban, because the frequency of indictments for clandestine distilling had risen where local option laws had theoretically ended this old practice. {35}

Perhaps owing partly to his untimely death, Marcus Hansen never grasped the complexity of the Scandinavian-American temperance movements. He began in the right direction by suggesting that northern European immigrant pastors had “a strong bent toward Puritanism” before they left for America. His only example of this type of clergyman, however, was Tuve Hasselquist, the eminent Swedish-American pastor who helped found the Augustana Synod. Otherwise, Hansen limited his argument to the immigrant pastors’ belief that they had to elevate the morality of their parishioners in order to overcome native American hostility to newcomers. “Accordingly, in self-defense, the immigrant church was forced to adopt standards that conformed to the ideals of the prevailing denominationalism.”

Curiously, Hansen contended in the same article that “out on the prairie or deep in the forest American institutions were. . . too weak to be effective in enforcing any local standards.” As an example of this conformity, he cited the above-mentioned Dietrichson episode. Yet it seems odd to argue that Dietrichson’s motive was primarily one of projecting an assimilationist image. This Norwegian pastor was better known as a kulturbærer than as an assimilator. He brought from his native land the liturgy of the Norwegian state church, a strict ecclesiastical discipline, and the Scandinavian pastor’s fluted ruff. He also insisted that his parishioners in Koshkonong and neighboring settlements declare their loyalty to the Church of Norway, and even sought to impose ecclesiastical taxes to support his congregations in Wisconsin.

Hansen also presented contradictory thoughts about Yankee moral influences on Scandinavian immigrants. He realized that the American Home Missionary Society - by mid-century a predominantly Congregationalist organization - supported several of the earliest Nordic immigrant pastors. He was also aware that some Scandinavian-American theologues studied at Ivy League institutions. The more perceptive listeners in his London audience may have been puzzled, therefore, when Hansen also asserted that “the immigrant church . . . started out upon a career of Puritanism which, at first, had absolutely no connection with the saints at Boston.” They may have been even more surprised when he succinctly concluded that the exigencies of frontier life spawned a “spontaneous immigrant Puritanism.”

The structure of Hansen’s argument, frail from its inception, has been so thoroughly undermined by later historiography that one is tempted simply to ignore it and hope that his effort to link immigrant temperance movements to the Puritan heritage by way of the frontier will collapse of its own weight. But there are no indications that it is about to do so. Even specialists in Scandinavian immigrant history - which Hansen was not - have at least partially supported the main thrust of his argument. In 1940, Blegen tried to correct him by claiming that the roots of “Norwegian-American Puritanism” lay in Norway. But Blegen employed the same definition of Puritanism, years after Perry Miller and Samuel E. Morison’s pioneering studies of early New England had rendered it untenable. {36} More recently, Eugene Fevold has described as “undoubtedly sound” Hansen’s linking of Puritanism with the Scandinavian immigrants’ American transition, although he affirmed that the Haugean and Johnsonian revivals in nineteenth-century Norway had instilled Puritanism in the minds of prospective Norwegian emigrants. {37}

How can one account for the longevity of such an obviously confused article? This question is perhaps answered by the continuing influence of progressivism in American historiography. “Immigration and Puritanism,” like many other works which progressive historians wrote during Hansen’s lifetime, draws heavily upon the related conceptions of the frontier thesis and socioeconomic determinism. Hansen’s unswerving loyalty to these tenets is readily understood in the context of his boyhood and university education. He was born the son of a Danish immigrant father and a Norwegian immigrant mother in Neenah, Wisconsin, in 1892. His father, an itinerant Baptist pastor, led the family from town to town through Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, and Illinois. After a brief stint at Central College, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Iowa in 1916 and 1917. But Harvard University, where he studied under Frederick Jackson Turner and received his Ph.D. in 1924, made the most enduring impact on his efforts to analyze immigrant history.

Hansen’s studies cannot be understood apart from Turner’s influence. A fellow Wisconsinite, the latter in 1893 had announced a new synthesis for explaining the origins of historical phenomena in the United States. Herbert Baxter Adams, under whom he had studied at the Johns Hopkins University, had sought to trace American institutions, such as meeting-house democracy, back to the Teutonic forests of ancient Germany. To Turner this was patently absurd. He argued that the character and institutions of the American people must be attributed to the frontier environment in which most Americans had supposedly lived. The frontier, according to Turner, bred such virtues as self-reliance in those who inhabited it.

As his biographer has pointed out, Turner made his work vulnerable by failing to adhere to a consistent definition of “frontier.” {38} Comparative studies of American and European history have further weakened the Turner thesis by disproving the presumed uniqueness of American institutions. Such research has also revealed the considerable contribution that urban immigrants, who knew little of the frontier in either the Old World or the New, have made to the shaping of American culture. Today his books and articles can be more profitably read as historical documents than as tools for interpreting the past.

But to Hansen a half-century ago the Turner theory was Truth. Under Turner’s tutelage, he wrote a doctoral dissertation titled “Emigration from Continental Europe, 1815-1860, with Special Reference to the United States.” In this thesis and in his subsequent writings on immigration, Hansen made America the frontier of Europe, thereby extending the Turner thesis to its logical extreme. Hansen argued that the migrations within the United States were merely one part of a long series of Völkerwanderungen which brought Europeans to North America over a period of more than three centuries. But by focusing his attention on the immediate causes of emigration, Hansen neglected many old-world institutions, particularly the religious and temperance movements.

Hansen’s works also display his belief in the primary influence of social and economic forces on cultural development - a belief he shared with most progressive historians, including Turner. The environment, they felt, shaped culture and personality, not vice versa. He did not hesitate to apply this dogma to the history of immigration. Impersonal factors - such as sharp population increases in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, land reforms, and famines - he suggested, had forced millions of European peasants to leave their homes. Conversely, the search for religious and political liberty motivated only a few to emigrate. Migration, in the main, “arose apart from the volition of men; its course was directed by circumstances other than their will.” {39}

If the emigrant had little control over his destination and destiny, could he prevent the social environment of the new land from completely eroding his cultural heritage? Hansen never completed his answer to this question. If C. F. Hansen, his brother, is correct, the second volume of his magnum opus would have dealt with the Americanization of northern European immigrants during the Gilded Age, but his early death prevented him from untangling his contradictory statements regarding cultural transmission and retention. {40} He generally argued, however, that, despite the immigrant’s effort to cling to old-world culture, the American environment rapidly stripped away this heritage and replaced it with the ways of the new society. For example, Hansen told his London audience that “the use of Continental tongues steadily gave way to English and with great rapidity in the ordinary associations of daily life.” {41} But he also claimed in the same lecture series that second and third-generation Norwegian Americans still used antiquated Norwegian dialects, and that they continued to revere hymnals which had fallen into oblivion in Norway. {42}

As already noted, many other progressive historians shared Hansen’s shortcomings. Consequently, these specialists in the history of reform movements - and some of their post-progressive colleagues - have also generally failed to appreciate the various threads which constituted the warp and woof of Scandinavian-American temperance movements. Indeed, some have explicitly denied the significance of the immigrants’ efforts to improve themselves and their new-world environment. In his influential interpretive study, The Age of Reform, Richard Hofstadter echoed Hansen’s contention that the first generation in America was not interested in reform. He asserted that “the immigrant was usually at odds with the reform aspirations of the American Progressive.” {43} The impact of Hofstadter’s book, or at least of the mind-set it represents, has apparently prevented many historians of the liquor question from even considering the positive immigrant factor. James Timberlake suggests that the prohibition movement was carried on by the Yankee bourgeoisie during the progressive era. In his study of the movement, the immigrant is presented as little more than the negative referent against whom Yankee reformers reacted. {44} Joseph Gus-field’s sociological study likewise attributed the temperance campaign to the native-born middle classes. {45}

An investigation of temperance movements among Scandinavians in Europe and in the United States reveals that they cannot be attributed to the frontier environment. The encounter of Nordic immigrants with liquor and the problem of drunkenness in their native lands shaped their customs and opinions in such a manner as to make it quite natural for them to continue their fight against insobriety in the New World. In both urban and rural settings in America, Scandinavians sought abstinence and moderation through legislative channels as well as by voluntary renunciation of intoxicants.

The lessons learned from a critical analysis of Hansen’s “Immigration and Puritanism” and related interpretations since the 1930s can be applied, mutatis mutandis, to the study of Norwegian immigrant history in general. Despite obvious advances since the Norwegian-American Historical Association was founded in 1925, the field lags behind the frontiers of historical scholarship. Historians of immigration, of course, have never fallen completely into the trap of neglecting foreign influences on American culture, hut too frequently the transatlantic exchange of ideas and institutions which continued after the immigrants landed in the New World has been ignored.

We must continue to learn from recent ventures in comparative historiography. It appears that Scandinavian historians of emigration are more conscious of the ongoing international influences than are their American colleagues. Similarly, post-progressive historians of immigration must investigate more carefully the genealogy of ideas. There is still a wealth of pay dirt in that lode. Furthermore, it is high time to leave behind the last remnants of the worn-out frontier thesis. Nobody will question the importance of rural settlements in Norwegian-American history, but our preoccupation with such places as Muskego and Decorah can only invite charges of parochialism. Much more research must be conducted on the Scandinavians who found homes in cities and in the Eastern states.

Last but not least, we must take more seriously Hansen’s admonition to consider the Nordic immigrant as part of the interethnic culture in which he lived. In the context of J. H. Hexter’s “tunnel history” metaphor, historians of Scandinavian immigration too often have limited their vision to the nationality in question, while casting only rare glances at the other groups with whom their forefathers interacted. Exceptions there are, particularly studies of assimilation. Nevertheless, despite certain achievements which have broadened the field, filiopietism remains a hallmark of the study of Norwegian immigration.


<1> Marcus Lee Hansen, The Atlantic Migration, 1607- 1860 (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1940).

<2> M. L. Hansen, “The Problem of the Third Generation Immigrant,” 9 (Rock Island, Illinois, 1938).

<3> Marcus L. Hansen, “Immigration and Puritanism,” in Norwegian-American Studies and Records, 9:1-28 (Northfield, Minnesota, 1936). Quotations from “Immigration and Puritanism” in the present essay are taken from this version.

<4> Marcus Lee Hansen, The Immigrant in American History, Arthur M. Schlesinger, ed., 97-128 (Cambridge, 1940).

<5> Quoted in William E. Leuchtenburg, The Perils of Prosperity, 1914-1 932, 144 (Chicago, 1958).

<6> Edmund S. Morgan, Visible Saints, 8-9 (New York, 1963).

<7> Quoted in William Goodman, The Social History of Great Britain, 12 (New York, 1847).

<8> Increase Mather, Wo to Drunkards, 4 (Cambridge, 1673).

<9> Robert Baird, Visit to Northern Europe, 2:68, 196 (New York, 1841).

<10> Baird, Visit to Northern Europe, 1:308-309.

<11> Bayard Taylor, Northern Travel: Summer and Winter Pictures of Sweden, Denmark and Lapland, 338 (New York, 1858).

<12> Theodore C. Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America, 1825-1860, 172- 173 (Northfield, 1931).

<13> The Norwegian temperance movement has recently been comprehensively covered by Per Fuglum, Kampen om alkoholen i Norge 1816-1904 (Oslo, 1972).

<14> Carl F. Eltzholtz, “Norway Total Abstinence Society,” in J. N. Stearns, ed., Temperance in All Nations, 2:418-419 (New York, 1893).

<15> Eltzholtz, “The Temperance Movement in Denmark,” in Stearns, ed., Temperance in All Nations, 2:417.

<16> Ernest Gordon, The Dry Fight in Europe and Its Relation to America, 9-11, (Washington, D. C., 1933).

<17> Theodore C. Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America: The American Transition, 204-205 (Northfield, 1940).

<18> Josiah Strong, Our Country, 42 (New York, 1885). Strong pursued this theme in a subsequent book, The Challenge of the City, 63-67 (New York, 1907).

<19> Hansen, The Atlantic Migration, 15.

<20> See, for example, Ulf Beijbom, Swedes in Chicago (Uppsala, 1971).

<21> Oscar Fritiof Ander, T. N. Hasselqnist: The Career and Influence of a Swedish-American Clergyman and Educator, 195 (Rock Island, 1931).

<22> The genesis of local temperance movements in North Dakota is traced in H. A. Foss, et al., Trediceaarskrigen mot drikkeondet, (n. p., 1922).

<23> Beijbom, Swedes in Chicago, 279.

<24> Kenneth O. Bjork, West of the Great Divide, 603, 618 (Northfield, 1958).

<25> Arlow W. Andersen, The Immigrant Takes His Stand, 119 (Northfield, 1953).

<26> Andersen, The Immigrant Takes His Stand, 121-122.

<27> Fuglum, Kampen om alkoholen i Norge 1816- 1904, 544.

<28> Quoted in Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America: The American Transition, 206.

<29> Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America: The American Transition, 590.

<30> The Home Missionary, 23:120 (September, 1850).

<31> W. M. Reynolds, “The Scandinavians in the Northwest,” in the Evangelical Review, 3:399-418 (January, 1852); in the Missionary, August 5, 1858.

<32> The Workman, July 6, 1882.

<33> Theodore C. Blegen, ed., Frontier Parsonage: The Letters of Olaus Fredrik Duos, Norwegian Pastor in Wisconsin, 1855-1858, 26, 55-56 (Northfield, 1947).

<34> Max Henius, Danish Beer and Continental Beer Gardens (New York, 1914).

<35> John Koren, Alcohol and Society, 187-195 (New York, 1916). For a less enthusiastic analysis of the Gothenburg system, see Ernest Gordon, The Breakdown of the Gothenburg System (New York, 1911).

<36> Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America: The American Transition, 221-224.

<37> Eugene L. Fevold, “The Norwegian Immigrant and His Church,” in Norwegian-American Studies, 23: 10 (1967).

<38> Ray Allen Billington, Frederick Jackson Turner, 10 (New York, 1973).

<39> Marcus L. Hansen, German Colonization Schemes before 1860, 65 (Northampton, 1924).

<40> C. Frederick Hansen, “Marcus Lee Hansen - Historian of Immigration,” in Common Ground, 2:94 (Summer, 1942).

<41> Hansen, The Immigrant in American History, 145.

<42> Hansen, The Immigrant in American History, 82-83.

<43> Hansen, The Immigrant in American History, 90-92; Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R., 180-181 (New York, 1955). Jon Wefald has presented an opposing view of the Norwegian immigrants’ policies; see his A Voice of Protest (Northfield, 1971).

<44> James H. Timberlake, Prohibition and the Progressive Movement, 1900- 1920 (Cambridge, 1963).

<45> Joseph R. Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the American Temperance Movement (Urbana, 1963).

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