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A School and Language Contoversy in 1858
A Documentary Study
Translated and Edited by Arthur C. Paulson and Kenneth Bjørk (Volume X: Page 76)

In his essay "Skandinaven, Professor Anderson, and the Yankee School," {1} the late Professor Laurence M. Larson has given a masterful description of the immigrant battle over the public school during the sixties and seventies. The purpose of this study is to present the chief documents of a school and language controversy in 1858, which, while considerably different from the later struggle, was nevertheless a forerunner of the battle that Larson described. The documents are also significant in depicting conditions among Norwegian Americans in the Wisconsin of 1858.

By the close of the year 1858 some fifty thousand Norwegians had migrated to the United States, the greater number settling in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois {2} Here in the New World natives of the same district or bygd in Norway had a tendency to settle together in compact groups and to perpetuate the customs and ideals of the homeland. These immigrants, overwhelmingly peasant in origin, in the main revealed the universal characteristics of their class: a certain clannishness, extreme conservatism, and a stubborn resistance to an indiscriminate amalgamation with the general mass of citizenry. Along with these traits, however, they brought a strong bygd consciousness which, when freed from the restraints of an ordered society, resulted in controversy and strife. The group solidarity, fostered by a common tradition and language, was threatened by division. What the Norwegian immigrants needed and at first lacked was an effective leadership and unity of organization.

It is not improbable that the strength and energy of these settlers would have been dissipated by petty controversy had they not at an early date obtained the leadership of a remarkable group of Lutheran ministers from Norway. These men in 1853 organized what is commonly known as the Norwegian Synod. The ministers were alike in that they sprang from an untitled aristocracy or official class in Norway, held degrees from the national university at Christiania, and were custodians of a deep-seated tradition of service and leadership in church and state. Furthermore they had come into contact with the life and culture of the capital at a time when Norway was experiencing a powerful stimulus from the forces of nationalism and a strong evangelical movement. They accordingly brought with them to the United States a deep love for the culture of the homeland as well as a strong devotion to their religious mission. The unflinching orthodoxy of the German Missouri Synod in America enhanced their Lutheran orthodoxy without affecting their sympathy for things Norwegian.

After they had effected a central organization, the Norwegian ministers ruled their congregations with a kind of benevolent despotism. They gave direction and system to the innate conservatism of their countrymen and worked unselfishly in their behalf. The churches and the homes of the clergy were, except for the public schools, the only centers of culture. The parsonage functioned as a community library. At times, too, it served as a schoolhouse, where the children of the parish received most of their formal religious training and much of their other schooling as well. It was the center to which parishioners brought problems of every conceivable nature, both cultural and practical. The clergy, therefore, were the intellectual leaders. In addition, with the greater number of the immigrants united or interested in one strongly organized church body --- the Synod --- there was created a feeling of unity or "nationalism" which bygd jealousies and class distinctions could not erase. The church, whatever its shortcomings, became the basis of Norwegian-American cultural life. The virulence of the later opposition to the clergy is a fair measure of the hold they had over the life and thought of the Norwegian-American group.

This intimate relationship between pastors and parishioners could not remain unaffected in the midst of change and growth. The American scene presented problems that were new to the Norwegians. First of all, the attractions of the numerous religious groups --- the Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Mormons, Universalists, and others --- proved strong enough to draw many away from the Lutheran fold. {3} The Synod leaders fought open proselytizing with vigor and tightened their hold over the congregations. They defined their rigid beliefs with precision and were ready to defend them in battle if necessary. Among other factors tending to undermine the solidarity of the Norwegian group and the unique position of the clergy were the public school and the English language. The first, the public school, was the natural outgrowth of manhood suffrage and the growing importance of the common man in American life. The great battle for free, tax-supported public education was fought out in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Wisconsin adopted the public school system in 1848. The gradual adoption of English by the immigrant and the obvious need of using that language in the public schools require no elaboration. But to the Norwegian-American clergy both factors were disturbing: the public school system, because it did not and could not indoctrinate students with positive Christian belief and also because it was hopelessly inefficient in comparison with the excellent school system of Norway; English, because if it were too hastily adopted it would divide the Norwegian element.

An important attack against the clergy for their rigid beliefs, their opposition to the public school, and their use of Norwegian came in 1858. It is worthy of note that this attack was made by an educated Dane. It was not until after the Civil War that Norwegians --- influenced by new trends of thought at home --- played a significant role in the battle against the clergy. The mildness of tone adopted by the president of the Synod in answering the attack may be explained by several factors. Chief of these is the fact that in 1858 the Synod had no schools of its own outside the purely religious schools conducted in the parsonages. Luther College was founded in 1861, and the first synodical meeting to pass in favor of parochial schools --- which would take the place of the public schools --- was held in 1866. The training given Norwegian youths at the Missouri Synod's Concordia Seminary in St. Louis after 1857 was in no sense a substitute for a common-school education. The only charge, therefore, that the ministers could make in public was that the schools provided inadequate training for the children. Their views did not fully crystallize until they had schools of their own to defend. A second explanation for the mildness of tone is to be found in the character of the Synod's president. The Reverend A. C. Preus was gentle and peaceful by nature, disliking controversy in any form.{4} In this respect he differed materially from several of his colleagues who were capable of a violence of language approaching that of their worst critics. A third explanation for the gentleness of Preus's answer is the fact that Sørensen, the critic, was Danish by birth and Episcopalian by conversion. This controversy-lacking the brutality of a fratricidal war-was definitely between the Synod and an outsider. Criticism from the non-Norwegian, non-Lutheran camp was a common feature of the early life of the Synod. Had Sørensen not used the Norwegian press through which to launch his attack, it is quite probable that it would have remained unanswered.

The documents selected, translated, {5} and printed below are three in number. All appeared as letters to Emigranten, a Norwegian-American newspaper, late in the year 1858. The attacking article, printed in the November 1 and November 8 issues, was written by Rasmus Sørensen, a schoolteacher at Scandinavia in Waupaca County, Wisconsin. Sørensen was a prominent leader in Danish migration to America. He combined genuine talents with certain restless, combative tendencies and a confidence that bordered on conceit. Born in Denmark in 1799, he was educated at Vesterborg Seminary on the island of Lolland. Thereafter he played a prominent role in the educational, religious, and political life of Denmark until his departure for America in 1852. He did not hesitate to attack two of Denmark's leading churchmen, the great rationalist Bastholm and the renowned Bishop Grundtvig. He fought for the separation of church and state, helped promote folk education, and fought in the political arena for the social amelioration of his own class, the peasantry. Sørensen's interest in America was a natural outgrowth of his central folk philosophy, and both before and after leaving for America, he was responsible for the migration of hundreds of Danish peasants to Waupaca County. {6} These facts should not be overlooked when one reads his confused sentences in Emigranten. The article has been translated with an eye to preserving the involved style and the spirit of the original --- perhaps at the expense of clarity of thought, which, however, is also totally absent from Sørensen's writing.

The second document, written by A. C. Preus, was an answer to Sørensen's attack. The Preus letter was published in the November 29 issue of Emigranten. The author was born at Trondhjem, Norway, in 1814. After graduating from the university at Christiania in 1841, he taught school at Kopervik from 1845 until his ordination in 1848. From 1848 to 1850, when he migrated to America, he served the parish at Gjerpen, Skien. In Wisconsin he replaced the Reverend J. W. C. Dietrichson as pastor of the Koshkonong parish in Dane County, where he served until 1860. {7} In addition to starting twenty congregations in Wisconsin, he was one of the seven pastors to organize the Norwegian Synod in 1853. He was president of the Synod during the years 1853-62 and associate editor of Maanedstidende, the clergy's official publication, from 1851 to 1853. After serving as pastor in Chicago and Coon Prairie, Wisconsin, he returned to Norway in 1872. {8} In his writings are found the same passion for pure doctrine that characterized the other Synod leaders, and a precision of thought and expression that leaves no doubt in the mind of the reader. His statements may be interpreted as the official Synod attitude toward the public schools and the use of English in 1858.

The third document, a letter written over a pseudonym and published in the December 27 issue of Emigranten, seized upon the language question - the lesser phase of the controversy. This letter in the original Dano-Norwegian, Norwegian dialect, and mutilated English is a delightful bit of horseplay. Much of the humor and subtlety of expression is lost in translation. The sections that pass as Norwegian have been translated fairly literally, but the "English" expressions have been left in their original form, in italics. This document, while it deliberately exaggerates, nevertheless reveals how Norwegian was corrupted in America and in time liberally mixed with English and American slang. {9} We therefore believe that it is a document of historical value.

A word should be added about Emigranten. {10} This weekly publication, printed in Madison, Wisconsin, was the most important of the secular Norwegian-American newspapers from 1852 until 1866 - the year Skandinaven was established. The first editor of Emigranten was the Reverend C. L. Clausen -the Danish member of the Synod group. Clausen, however, soon resigned and his place was taken by others, but the paper remained generally friendly to the Synod. In 1857 C. F. Solberg, an influential person, became its editor and in 1860 its owner. {11} Emigranten had but four pages, but these were crammed with vital material. It discussed the news of the day, explained the political and social problems of America, and served as a literary magazine by publishing some of the finest bits of prose and poetry from both Norway and America. Its department "Letters from Norway" kept its readers informed as to the progress of events in the mother country. In like manner its "Letters from the People" gave information concerning the affairs of their fellow countrymen in America. And, finally, its columns were open to almost any form of political or religious controversy. Emigranten played the same important role in the secular life of the Norwegian Americans that Kirkelig maanedstidende did in the religious. Its greatest contribution consisted in making the immigrants and their children feel that as a racial group with a distinct national and cultural background they were a part of American life - that they as Americans of Norwegian extraction had a particular role to play in the American scene. To those immigrants who came to this country before the Civil War, Emigranten opened the door to a peculiar Norwegian Americanism which persists with a strange vigor to this day.

The documents are printed in full in the order of their appearance in Emigranten. {12}


[Emigranten (Madison, Wisconsin), November 1 and 8, 1858.]

1. Concerning Our American District School System.

Our American legislators deserve the highest praise and honor for what they have done and are doing more and more for the advancement of education and enlightenment among the whole people by establishing district schools and by setting aside public lands as a constantly increasing endowment for these schools, and using this for teachers' salaries, instruction, and school equipment, and by founding higher schools or institutions of learning --- seminaries and universities --- for those who must acquire greater learning to become more competent as teachers and for other offices and businesses for which higher education and more knowledge is demanded. In a pioneer state like Wisconsin, the whole institution of public instruction is necessarily in its very beginning, in its first childhood as it were, and must therefore kindly and solicitously be watched and nurtured like a small child, if it is to amount to something, grow, and develop.

It is therefore necessary that all our young people be kept regularly and diligently in attendance at our American free schools, that they may get in the English tongue, which is the language of America, all their instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar (the rules of writing and speaking), {13} rhetoric (the turning of thoughts into words), geography, and history (the story of the whole world and its nations), etc.: for only in the knowledge and practice of the language of our present fatherland can our children and our young people be capable and able to advance in their life work and business in their real and true fatherland, America. On the other hand, if we, as their parents and as true American citizens, do not get them to learn the subjects taught in the American public schools in the language of our country, but think and let ourselves be influenced by the Norwegian preachers in this country into imagining that to learn by heart and to recite the Catechism {14} and the Norwegian "Explanation " {15} is enough schooling for our children and young people, and that the subjects taught in our American district schools are only, as some of these Norwegian preachers say, "naughty, foolish, and ungodly" for our young people to learn --- then, I say, we are doing all in our power to shape and mold them as Norwegian Indians in America; and the time will surely come when they and their children and descendants here in this country must needs be treated as American Indians --- as outcasts and trash --- by the other Americans who have taken advantage of the American district schools, and all of the other American educational and cultural facilities. But, on the other hand, if we, as we should, do our duty toward our children and our young people, and do our duty to our present fatherland, then we will give the Norwegian preachers in this country the answer they deserve for their hostile talk and work against our American district school system, and without paying any further attention to their Norwegian school ideas, we will keep our children --- those of tender age and those of more advanced years --- diligently attending and using our American district schools, whose founding, maintenance, and educational advancement it is our most serious duty to further with all the strength we have, and which will certainly bear the fruit that our children and descendants in this country will then become real true Americans, one nation, together with all other Americans, equally enlightened and capable in all things, perhaps even more capable, more efficient, better and more faithful citizens in all things, than those who now call themselves Americans.

But some say: "No religion or Christianity is taught in the American district schools, so why should our children and young people go there? " --- I answer: They, together with the other children of the community, should attend for the purpose of learning all the subjects and studies mentioned above, which are absolutely necessary in this country for advancement in their life work and for good citizenship, and without which they can scarcely accept religion or Christianity with any clear understanding or ability to apply it in their life work. "But," people ask further, "why is there no instruction in religion in our American district schools as there is in other subjects?" I answer: Only because the different Christian sects which live side by side in this country would then demand that their children be instructed in their own particular creeds, usages, and customs; and this, of course, would be impossible without storm and stress among the different sects, whose children have equal rights to enjoy instruction in the district schools, and it was for this reason that instruction in religion according to the special creeds and usages of each particular Christian church has been kept out of our district schools. But, nevertheless, it is not forbidden in our district schools to read and study the Word of God, or the fundamental Christianity of the Bible. Our American schoolbooks, which are excellently arranged to teach worldly wisdom to children, likewise contain many Bible stories, verses, and teachings, just as they are found word for word in the Bible; and it is not by law forbidden to read the Bible itself in our American district schools. In many of these schools each day the teachers read to the children from the Bible, teach them the meaning, admonish them, and pray with them; but the teachers do not teach the children anything about the creeds of the various sects in this land or elsewhere, or about their own particular beliefs; this is forbidden in the district schools and must of necessity be forbidden for the sake of religious peace.

2. Concerning the American Sunday Schools in the Various Christian Churches, Schoolhouses, and Meeting Houses on Sunday, either before or after Church Services.

These American private --- but in reality open to all --- religious Sunday schools consist in this, that the different church bodies here in this country, such as the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Methodists, Baptists, the American Lutherans, and others, either together or separately, have paid for the printing and publication of a great number of little books of Biblical, pious, and Christian content, in such kinds of stones, lessons, illustrations, instructions, and admonitions as are easy and pleasant for children to grasp; and in these little Sunday school books there has been no effort to include teachings except those of God's own Word as found in the Bible, which all of the various churches have in common. Furthermore, they also have purchased, in addition to these little children's books, a large number of complete Bibles and New Testaments from the Bible societies. These they distribute without cost together with the little children's books, to all the children and young people who attend the Sunday schools regularly, at which place not only the preacher, but many others, both men and women, read with the children from these little books and from the Bible itself, hear their lessons, teach them to grasp the content by asking them questions, telling them stories, and by explaining the meaning and admonishing them the best they can. As a rule, all the children of the American families living in the neighborhood attend the same Sunday school, even though it may not be of the same denomination to which the parents belong --- for the native Americans are for the most part so enlightened that they well know that in these Christian Sunday schools, Sunday school books, and Bibles there is only that which is true doctrine for all, no matter to what denomination they may have belonged formerly; yes, even if these Americans have no church affiliation whatsoever, and may be either more Christian-minded than the actual members of the church, or less Christian-minded; yes, even though they may be outright freethinkers and have not the slightest interest in God's Word or Christianity either for themselves or their children --- nevertheless they do not prohibit their children from going with other children and young people to these Sunday schools and services as much as they wish and wherever they wish.

3. Concerning the Religious Schools of the Norwegians Themselves Here in Wisconsin.

Concerning these Norwegian religious schools here in this country, I know nothing except what I have read about them recently in the publication of the Norwegian ministers, Kirkelig maanedstidende for den norsk-evangelisk-lutherske kirke i Amerika, volume 3, number 9, {16} in which there is an account of "a schoolteachers' meeting at Coon Prairie on the 28th of June, 1858," from which article it is evident that ten Norwegian ministers present agreed in conference concerning the Norwegian school affairs here in America, from which I shall here set forth a few remarks. {17} It states among other things of the same kind that: "Whereas ten years ago one detected in many places (namely, among the Norwegians in this country) a zeal for the English district schools as if these could replace the Norwegian religious schools, and many (of the Norwegians here) looked almost with aversion (at this time) upon the Norwegian schools as institutions impeding the progress of the Norwegians in an Americanization program idolized by most newcomers, who often, therefore, opposed the sober struggle of Christian parents for a Norwegian religious school --- now one sees that these very people (namely the same ones) are often zealous for Norwegian schools, preferring them to the English" (namely, to our American district school). --- "Provided the established English (American) district school had discipline enough so that the children were not entirely spoiled by naughtiness and foolishness of all kinds --- which unfortunately was a matter that the parents often had to look into, and, if it was true, withdraw their children from school entirely --- then naturally a knowledge of English (American) is so useful and desirable here that the children might well be sent to the district school a part of the year, without, however, giving up the Norwegian religious school." {18} --- "To send their children to the Sunday schools of strange sects (American church bodies) where the Bible is read in English (American) and is explained according to the creeds of these churches is often worse than nothing, because they then allow their children to learn downright erroneous doctrines." {19} --- "It is unnatural and awkward to teach children and grown people religion in a language which is not the daily language of the home." --- " When parents send their children to the Sunday schools of strange sects (American church bodies) just as though all ideas were equally good, this is proof of the most far-reaching indifference for pure doctrine as opposed to error; and when they teach their children pure doctrine in a foreign (in our American) tongue, they give evidence of the scorn they feel for books of family prayer and Christian devotion; for the mother tongue is the language of the heart, and, therefore, all foreign (all American) speech is superficial." {20} --- " Those who teach children religion in a foreign language (in the language of our present fatherland) make religion merely a matter of knowledge, often for the reason that it is to them nothing more." --- "It is impossible, therefore, that parents who use books of family devotion, use and love God's Word, and desire that their children do the same, will allow their children to learn religion in any language other than Norwegian, {21} in which language they admonish their children, pray for them and teach them to pray to God." --- " If the Norwegians in this country, however, wish to make use of the English (American) district schools, they must see to it that they secure a teacher, preferably a Norwegian, who can guard their children from learning pure naughtiness and ungodliness, by which, as many serious Norwegians have already experienced, the school may become a veritable cesspool for the

Have the Catholic priests here in America ever gone so far in hostile attacks upon our American district schools and Sunday schools as we see from the article quoted above that the Norwegian ministers have gone in their attacks against the same? I answer no! The Catholic priests in America have not gone so far that they publicly state in articles and speeches that the language of our common fatherland is a foreign language, in which parents who have come here from Europe should not allow their children to learn religion, should not allow their children to read the Bible in this language, should not allow them to go where God's own Word is heard, read, and taught in the language of this country, should not allow them to have the freedom to learn to know God and His Holy Word in the English or American language or teaching --- yes, that the parents should not do this and that it is unthinkable to allow their children to do so, without thereby exposing them to error, lies, and false teaching --- and that they likewise should not allow their children and young people to attend our American district schools and should not send them there to have them imbued with naughtiness, foolishness, and ungodliness, unless the parents themselves establish a guard against these evils in our American district schools --- no, to such lengths as the aforementioned Norwegian preachers have gone, who openly teach these things and implant them in the minds of the whole Norwegian populace in America, the Catholic priests have not yet gone It is true, however, that in private, in their Catholic teachings of superstition, by keeping the faith and conscience of their congregations in darkness, and by confession and absolution for their congregations, the priests have been active and are active in inculcating and confirming all the ignorant and unenlightened Catholic church members in the same ignorance, fear, hate, and aversion to the America knowledge and edification taught in the district and Sunday schools, as the Norwegian ministers are publicly implanting and confirming in the Norwegian Americans. In all the other Christian church bodies and denominations here in the 17 northern free states one could not find a preacher who before his congregation, either in public or in private, would make an attack on the American district school except to reform or modify it; for a preacher in any of these American churches who dared to denounce or attack our American district schools, as we have seen these Norwegian ministers doing, would thereby be making a hostile attack on the two educational institutions which are the wisest and best of all American institutions for the whole people both for time and for eternity, and he would be made to feel that he had touched all real and true Americans in the very apple of their eye, {24} and that thereby he would also be preaching his farewell sermon to his congregation.

The matter is serious and of great significance. Ten years ago, before these Norwegian preachers had a chance to Norwegianize their countrymen in America, there was a strong desire and zeal for the American district schools; but now that this pastoral Norwegianization has made its appearance in the Norwegian settlements, the preference is for Norwegian schools --- that is to say, for the rattling off by rote of the Norwegian Catechism and Explanation --- instead of the American district schools, which are neglected and found to be of little or no benefit. These Norwegian ministers pride themselves on winning a great victory among the Norwegian Americans by uprooting a desire and zeal among them to let their children be trained in Americanism. How dismal and discouraging for every right thinking Norwegian American the whole matter with reference to the education of the descendants of the thousands of Norwegian settlers and their children must seem --- their upbringing, their teaching, their ability to become in time as enlightened and efficient, as upright and Christian-minded a part of the American population as any other part of the same can be that has made use of the present American means of education. Can Americanism grow and thrive in the Norwegian settlements in America before it is planted in the children and in the young people --- before it is properly exercised and is loved instead of being hated and shunned by both young and old? No. Impossible! Why do not the Norwegian preachers have their confirmands and those who have been confirmed learn their religion or Christianity in the language of the country? Why do they not read God's own Word or the Bible with the children and young people in the American language? Why do they not impart the whole of their instruction for the young people in the American language, why do they not preach and conduct services in the language of this country, where the children and young people, as soon as they put their foot outside the Norwegian settlements, are forced to hear and to take part in church services in the American language --- if they wish to take part in anything? If these ministers Americanize the growing generation as they should and, in addition, conduct church services in the Norwegian language for the elderly, the aged, and the latest newcomers from Norway, who are not able to understand divine services in any other language than Norwegian --- then everything would be as it should be. But these Norwegian ministers will say that this is to "idolize Americanism;" but every other unbiased, veracious person will say that every Norwegian American who does not intend to go back to Norway with the Norwegian preachers, but plans to remain here in America with his children, ought to fulfill his Christian duty in his present fatherland, whose bread now nourishes him and his children, and this Christian duty is to learn and to have his children learn their religion and Christianity according to God's own Word in the Bible in this, the language of their native country, as well as all beneficial school subjects and instruction in the same language. Every preacher who teaches or uses his influence against these things is in truth no Christian-minded pastor, regardless of what he may call himself. Just imagine what would happen here in America if each of the



[Emigranten, November 29, 1858.]

Mr. Sørensen now makes his appearance in the role of a prolific author {26} and brightens us Norwegians with his illuminating erudition. So long as he adheres to the theme of the day --- the scarcity of money --- his remarks are of little concern; and even after he centers his attack upon us ministers and our pastoral activity, I should have regarded this as worthy of little attention. It seems to me quite certain that these confused thoughts, strewn here and there in mile-long, prosaic sentences, would have blown away like sand by themselves. But certain worthy persons, zealous about our countrymen's spiritual enlightenment, have expressly requested me to challenge Mr. Sørensen through Emigranten. Fearful that a refusal on my part would be interpreted as indicating indifference, laziness, or cowardice, I shall attempt to comply with the request.

Mr. Sørensen begins his article with a long eulogy of the American schools --- the elementary as well as the higher. Had he confined himself to the principle of the American school system --- that is, the free-school principle --- I should have nothing to say, for this principle is the necessary adjunct of a system in which there is no state church. But Mr. Sørensen goes much further: he sees no fault or blemish in the American schools but recommends them without discrimination. I am inclined to believe that Mr. Sørensen has never seen the inside of an American common school, that he in fact is writing about something of which he has no knowledge at all. If such is not the case, I am forced to have a very poor opinion of his character or judgment.

To secure good schools it is not enough to have good laws, good school buildings, and plenty of money, although these things are very important in their place. The most important thing is to have good teachers. One can remedy shortcomings in the laws and other weaknesses, but no external advantages can make a poor teacher into a good one and therefore a poor school into an efficient school. Now throughout the whole West where the Norwegians have settled I am acquainted with the condition of the American schools, both through my own observations and through those of others, and I maintain without reservation that in general they are as bad as it is possible for them to be and still deserve the name of schools. Why? Because nine out of ten teachers are totally incapable of conducting a decent school. For the most part the teachers are young people who themselves are just out of school - perhaps a few years too soon --- often lacking in knowledge, but more often lacking in those qualities which are necessary for guiding and teaching a group of children. Such a thing as discipline in the school, or respect for the teacher, is rarely seen in the West. Everyone does about what he pleases, comes when he wants to, and leaves when he wishes. I have tried several times to send both my own children and my foster children to these district schools, but the experiences I had each time were such that I doubt that I shall send them there any more. My daughter, then six years old, came home from school the first day last summer with this curious observation: "Just think, Papa, the schoolma'am calls us 'Ladies and gentlemen'!" What wild pedagogical ideas lie in this one remark!

It isn't only that the school suffers for a time or for a year from incompetent and inexperienced teachers. If the school were able to retain these young people who at first are incapable and inexperienced, they could perhaps through experience and diligence improve and become useful teachers. But such is not the case. Rarely does a teacher remain for more than one term --- that is, from three to six months. When this period is over, the next term brings a new teacher who understands no more about conducting a school than the first one did when he began. Thus the school continues to suffer from all the evils that result not only from the incompetence of the teacher, but also from the perpetual change of teachers. Mr. Sørensen, who is said to be an able old schoolman, will himself concede that under such circumstances there can be no hope for good schools. Let it be said that one occasionally finds really capable teachers, and sometimes we are fortunate enough to have Norwegians who are able to conduct an English school. Here in the settlements we have several of such, and there is no opposition whatever to the English school when we know that it is in the hands of a competent, zealous, and conscientious teacher. But as long as we see it in the hands of thoughtless timeservers, who work only for money or until they can earn more in another "business," we regard it with fear and suspicion and do not send our children there. For a bad school is worse than no school at all.

There is still another situation that I have experienced along with many other parents. In districts where the Norwegians are few and the "Americans numerous, the Norwegian children are often subjected to bad treatment at the hands of the "American" children. And that is an evil which it is truly difficult to prevent. One can complain to the teacher, even win his support, but to no avail. "Young America" will have its way by tormenting, bullying, and worrying the poor "furriners" until they must leave school or become completely cowed.

Quite often "Americans" have complained to me that we Norwegians are not eager to send our children to their schools. I have explained the reasons and they have been forced to remain silent and to acknowledge the truth of what I said.

Our opposition to the American district school is certainly not --- as Mr. Sørensen interprets it --- because we are opposed to having our children learn English and become enlightened American citizens, and certainly not because we wish them to become Norwegian Indians," a statement which Mr. Sørensen, as an old man, should be ashamed of making. Our opposition arises from the fact that in nine cases out of ten the schools are in the hands of poor teachers. When this important defect is remedied, our opposition will cease.

The mail arrived while I was writing the above, and I find, in the "American" newspapers and magazines that came, expressions that disagree somewhat with Mr. Sørensen's unconditional praise. In Arthur's Home Magazine for December, 1858, we read: "Many schools, instead of producing good results, teach the students to become frivolous with respect to ideals and indolent of mind and body." This Home Magazine is published in Philadelphia, and it therefore speaks of the schools in the eastern states, which are supposed to be much better than the schools in the western states. What the American institutions of higher learning are experiencing, the recent newspapers reveal in no less than four incidents: college students have set themselves up against instructors and defied their authority --- occurrences that happen every day in our district schools. The four colleges where these revolts took place are at Amherst, Massachusetts; Brown, Rhode Island; Antioch, Ohio; and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. With this I intend to be through with Mr. Sørensen's eulogy over the American schools.

The next object of Mr. Sørensen's praise is the American Sunday school. We stupid "Norwegian Indians" are asked to follow Mr. Sørensen's advice: abolish our religious schools, where our children study the Catechism and "Explanation " --- which Mr. Sørensen cannot tolerate --- and send them to the "American" Sunday schools, where the church groups are so happily united and where the doctrines of no particular party are taught. Now Mr. Sørensen in his own person has made a practical demonstration of his disregard for doctrinal matters. In Europe he was a Lutheran; in America he is an Episcopalian. That change comes as easily as his long and volatile sentences, where one clause seems to concern itself very little about the next but mercilessly forces it to answer for itself. But we Norwegians cling fast to the teachings of our childhood. Luther's Catechism and Pontoppidan's "Explanation" are books for the instruction of children the like of which are not found in the whole of English and American literature. If Mr. Sørensen, in his superior "American" wisdom, wishes to throw mud at this "children's Bible," as the Catechism is termed, he thereby only passes judgment on himself, as we see it, and he has, I hope, delivered "his farewell sermon" to our church body.

But let us test for a moment Mr. Sørensen's ideas. In these Sunday schools "religion" is taught but no definite confession! Religion with no definite confession! Has anyone ever heard of such a thing? Is this not sheer nonsense or the most consummate hypocrisy? Now I have been a teacher of religion --- part of the time as a schoolteacher and part of the time as a preacher --- for the past twenty-two years. I have explained the Scriptures and the Catechism to young and old alike; but to do this in a vital and truly worth-while manner without bringing in one's own convictions is impossible so long as one has convictions of his own --- so long as one has any faith. And if Mr. Sørensen or any other "enlightened" person comes and tells me that he can teach these children religion without following some pattern or creed, I reply that he must be of those who are neither hot nor cold, and that whatever tasteless stuff he teaches these little ones will remain dead and useless knowledge and will have absolutely no healthful or vigorous influence upon their hearts. Mr. Sørensen's opinion --- that it doesn't matter where or how the children learn the Christian religion --- necessarily leads to the widespread heresy that all will be saved, regardless of faith.

Mr. Sørensen has gone out of his way to distort the truth as far as possible about what has been reported of our teachers' meeting, and now he would have it appear that we are opposed to having our children learn English. This is not true. My own children learn to read English and Norwegian at the same time, and both my oldest children, seven and five years of age, read both languages almost equally well, and I do not find that on this account they include English words in the Norwegian or vice versa. To the contrary! They learn both languages better for this very reason and never confuse the two tongues. For my part I wish that all parents in America would adopt the same method. Mr. Sørensen chides us because we call the English language a "foreign language." But is it not that to us? It is not our mother tongue, that is certain --- as Mr. Sørensen himself must have discovered in spite of his "Americanism." And if it is not a mother tongue, it is a foreign language. There is no alternative. The most learned philologists maintain that a person can have but one mother tongue, and in this language he thinks and he prays; it is the language of his heart. If this is true for the learned philologist, how much more true it is for children. And what language is the "heart language" of children but the language that is used at home with the other members of his family? Would Mr. Sørensen have us teach our children religion in any other language but the language of the heart? I say no, because we desire to bring God and the Saviour as close to the child's heart as possible, and must consequently use the language which is the best medium for that purpose. For the same reason we do our preaching in Norwegian. My principle with respect to the whole situation is simply this: that the language which is the language of the home and of the family must be the language of the church and of the religious school. When the English language supplants the Norwegian in the home, our Norwegian speech will have lost its right to be used in the church and in the religious school --- but not before. To bring in religious instruction in English to those who daily hear and speak and think in Norwegian is "sheer humbug," not to give it a worse name.

The choicest bit of Mr. Sørensen's long article {27} is the part in which he insists "that these Norwegian ministers are worse than the Catholic priests. From this statement --- as from so many others --- it is quite clear that Mr. Sørensen wants to knife us ministers, and that we have in him a new persecutor and antagonist. Therefore I absolutely disdain the tiny corner of his cloak of charity, which at the end of his article he throws over the back that he first very feebly tried to flog. No, Mr. Sørensen, be what you are --- without any meaningless compliments --- then we can deal openly with one another.

Well, we are supposed to be so much worse than the Catholic priests. What is it we want; and what is it the Catholic priests want? The worst that can be said is that we will not send our children to the American district schools until they are under the direction of competent teachers, so that we know that the schools are thorough in discipline and instruction. Furthermore, we will do what we can --- each in his own community --- to bring about such improvement, for we want to elect a good school administration and encourage competent countrymen to become teachers so that we can have confidence in the school's condition. We wish the district school nothing but good, so that it also may be a good servant among our people in the education of their children. Now what do the Catholic priests want? They want the free school abolished; they want to bring it under the influence of Catholics and Jesuits in order to make it an institution for the spread of Catholicism. In short, they want nothing less than to kill the principle of the school and make the school a slave of their ideals. And still Mr. Sørensen insists that we are worse than the Catholics? The man has strange ideas --- but his ideas about good and evil are the queerest of all.

And now in closing, I wish to leave Mr. Sørensen a few words of advice. These are, that if he ever again wishes to throw down the gauntlet to us, he should write with more thought and more respect for truth, as befits an old man, especially one who has the reputation of being a capable person. I have answered his article as a "willing reader" would, that is, as one who has sought in his words the most reasonable and sensible meaning. Had I not done this, had I cared to attack him as his thoughtless and foolish scribbling about a serious matter deserved, he would have been punished in an entirely different manner.



[Emigranten December 29, 1858.]

Dir Sir! Never-to-be-forgotten-cousin!

I have read what you wrote in Emigranten and I decided to take advantage of this opportunity to write a few lines to you. For the most part I shall speak about the English language, that it is both necessary and beneficial, and something we cannot do without, as Mister Rasmus Sørensen has written in Emigranten, which is very good.

You are not so bad in English as I thought, but yet you have much to learn: nevertheless, I am at one with you in your conviction and I too holder {29} that there is no isiere {30} way to do it than to mixa {31} the language. Really, I think it a disgrace to speak Norwegian. You can't find a Jænki {32} - no, not so much as one of these worthless Eiris {33} --- who speaks Norwegian; so I don't see any reason why we should speak it either --- and I think that the time is coming when the whole world will stop talking Norwegian and the people will begin to mixe it little by little with English --- yes, even the Frenchmen. I suppose these Norwegian preachers will be the very last to do it, for actually I don't believe that they have learned enough to say hauje-du-ser {34} when they meet another Norwegian.

Concerning English, I shall tell you what I think. The best way, when we begin to mix the two languages, is that we first add a little English, then a little more inimixa in it, and so efter liddel {35} as much English as Norwegian, ænd saa vil det bli en heil Trubel for Os sjelve at sjønne det, ænd vi vil hæv to spik Inglis aal of aas. {36} Indeed, it is really a contradiction that a Nyspepper {37} like Emigranten, which should make people into good citizens, doesn't know more English, for when it uses Norwegian you can read long Pisane {38} without finding so much as 2 English words; and when it uses English, it isn't real English such as you use, for neither can I understand it; neither, I doubt, can Rasmus Sørensen; to say nothing of these dumb clodhoppers from the country. These Norwegian ministers preach the same way! I have been to their Midden {39} and I have paid close attention, and I'll be bound if they ever juser {40} as much as an Emen {41} in English. What is the use of such procedure? Is this to enlighten the people? No sir eksus me. {42} It would be much better to listen to Matodisten {43} and to some of the Frankeaner {44} --- at least there you can hear a little English.

That is why I have wanted to write to you, for I will have to admit that I felt veri muts obleisa{45} to Rasmus Sørensen when I had read the 2 Pisane which he wrote in the last numbers of Emigranten. That's the way to treat them, these worthless preachers, who stand opposed to enlightenment, just like the Roman pope.

This Rasmus Sørensen is from Denmark, they say, and really vi aat to be skæmd {46} that a Dane should have to teach Norvejens {47} such simple truths. Of what good is the Norvejen langes {48} to our young people? --- kudent helpem e bit enihow. {49} Can they, perhaps, dile {50} in Norwegian? Can they seine en Not {51} in Norwegian? Can they rekorde en Dyd {52} in Norwegian? Nosirrii {53} if they can. It is bad enough for them to speak Norwegian in Norway --- and that comes from the fact that the preachers keep them in ignorance and the magistrates keep them in slavery so that they can't learn to speak English --- but it is even worse that they speak Norwegian here, because here it is their own fault. I know onli e fju {54} families that have sense enough not to teach their children Norwegian, but teach them only English; and the youngsters do so well that grandfather doesn't understand a word of what they are saying, nor can the youngsters understand him. What help is it to them to know bot langes. {55} The smart preacher who lives here, he says that it is best for them to learn both English and Norwegian, and that they can do it easier when they are young, but ei dont beliv it, for dat is god for notting, enihow {56} And what I certainly can't understand is that parents can be so stupid as to teach their children the Catechism and the "Explanation." He writes very well about this, Rasmus Sørensen does, for he is aal reit; {57} soI hope that no one will ever teach this Norwegian Christianity any more.

What can they do with such Christianity here in this country, may I ask? In Norway they may be excused because they do not understand English, but here they must learn the religion of the country, or else they can ste et Hom, for vi dont vont demn over her eieltelje. {58}

Therefore I want to write to you about the English schools, and I must say that I agree absolutely with Rasmus Sørensen, and I think I can snap my fingers in the faces of these Norwegian preachers just as well as he can, because I have done it somteims befor enihow; ænd if di vont eniting, jist letem kom, Bei Jords, mei Næm is Jecob ænd no mistæk {59} --- furthermore I have naturleisen {60} and am a free citizen. Af kaas, {61} my children attend the English school, just as all the other Norwegian children that I know of do; and this I will have to admit, that I like the Norwegian preachers for wanting our children to learn to speak good English; but then, on the other hand, they want them to learn the Norwegian Christianity and that is merely preacher foolishness.

As I said, my children attend the English school, and it is lots of fun to hear them speller, {62} for they speller so fast that I can't see how they spelle so fast. Grandfather, like the Norwegian preachers, says that the youngsters learn bad habits and all kinds of foolishness in school from the big Yankee boys, who are downright rascals --- but that is because he doesn't understand freedom, for he is nothing but a poor old Norwegian; but Rasmus Sørensen, he is one who understands it and much more besides, for he knew what no one else knew: why it was that times were so hard last faal {63} and what became of all the money --- this he has himself written in Emigranten. And what is more he is just as good a Jenke as he is a Dane, for in the first place he was born in Denmark; and yet he says that America is his right and true fatherland; therefore I think he must he very much of a man, and I agree with him that in this country we must be free, and that our children must be brought up in freedom as are the Yankee children. This is very important, for the case is serious and of great significance, he says; what is more, if one does not attend an English school one cannot really accept religion, he says --- and I vodder {64} for that too, absolutely. Therefore our children must be free, and if they can't get along with others, let them fight until they become friends; if they stick out their tongues at Skulermammen, {65} she can scold them in English; and if they swear at their mother, she can thrash them in Norwegian; and if they will not do what I ask, I'll thrash them too if I can catch them. As for me, I have burned my Catechism and given away my Norwegian Bible --- we spell through the English one on Sunday now, for we are Juniversalister, {66} I believe as Rasmus Sørensen does that we must be just like the Americans in everything reit of {67} and therefore, I believe we should have the same faith as the Yankees where we live; if they can get along without any religious faith, so can we. Here where we live, people are Juniversalister and I can't see anything about them but what is square and right as long as they have their own way.

These Norwegian preachers want the Catechism and the Explanation translated into English so that the young people of the future can learn true Christianity in English, but this is pure nonsense. In the first place, they will spend their time to no benefit, and in the second place, what they find in these books is not the correct American Christianity --- it might be good enough in Norway, but here in this country we have the pretty little books that Rasmus Sørensen juser for his children. It seems downright stupid to me, all this prattle of the preachers about the pure doctrine and about Luther's teachings, for it certainly is not the religion that is current in this country. In this respect the ministers who are edikæta {68} here in this country are better --- they pritja {69} a little English once in a while the best they can, and they are not so particular about doctrine either, or whether they call themselves Lutheran or something else. And they [the Lutheran preachers] say that one cannot learn Christianity in the English school, but pardon me, exjuse mi Sir {70} --- Rasmus Sørensen can klire {71} this for them. They do not learn what they should believe, it is true, and they do not learn Luther's dogma and, so far as that goes, any other dogma, nor even Christian faith, but the fundamental Christianity of the Bible. This, as Rasmus Sørensen says, is what Skulemammen teaches them, and what business is it of ours whether she is Mormon or Catholic --- true enough --- for certainly she can teach the fundamental Christianity as found word for word in the Bible anyway. He must be right, for he says they do it in the Sunday schools also. And there they teach them not what they should believe, nor do they teach them to become Methodists and say that they are better than everybody else, nor to become Lutherans and ask God for help. It is all one, he says, because it doesn't make any difference what one believes so long as one has the fundamental Christianity of the Bible. That is the same for all, says Rasmus Sørensen, and they will all become true Amerikens ænd no mistæk --- dats it. {72}

Therefore it is most comforting, as Rasmus Sørensen says, that the ungodly parents who believe neither in God nor the devil still send their children to the Sunday schools; and that the nicest parents who are so spiritual that they neither need to juse God's Word and the sacraments, nor belong to any congregation, they likewise send their children to the same Sunday school that Rasmus Sørensen's children go to. For there they have the pretty little books, says Rasmus Sørensen, which contain only that which is good for all, and where they learn only that which they like --- both those who belong to no congregation and also those who are unbelievers. Therefore, I must say that I believe that the Sunday schools must be først ræt {73} and excellent for bringing unity of faith and the fundamental Christianity. But in spite of this I can't send my children there, kaas vi dont kiip no Søndagskul in dis Plæs for ve er Juniversalister ænd vi dont kiip no Søndag ider. {74} Otherwise I think Rasmus Sørensen has klira it so well ænd it should be æxakili {75} as he has said --- in the first place the old preachers should preach the old faith for the old people and the newcomers, and it would be best if they did this in the morning before breakfast, so that the disgrace of preaching in Norwegian could be hidden from the Yankees --- and in the second place he can pritje {76} the American religion for the young people. This must be according to the religion of the Yankees in the community, and if the old people don't understand, it is never mein, {77} for it doesn't concern the old people what the preachers teach their children.

But if the preachers don't wish to do it this way, they are un-Christian ænd kan gaa hom ægæn {78} says Rasmus Sørensen, and this is correct, ænd sorv dom reit. {79} To this I say Emen and he who doesn't agree is a fool.

Yes, truly I am very much satisfied with everything, for it seems to me that all this is so very clear. Der is onli one Ting {80} which I am not really sjur of {81} and that is that I wonder whether Rasmus Sørensen couldn't get all Jenkerne {82} to become one in faith if he wrote in the American Nyspeperen {83} --- and I wonder too if the old Jenkiner are indifferent to the way their preachers teach their children, or whether they would like to have them teach those things which they know are the way of salvation. Rasmus Sørensen and I don't care about it --- and I ask this question now merely as a matter of interest. Perhaps you know the answer, you Terje, who have traveled so far.

Daddel du for dis Teim. {84}

In haste --- most respectfully,
Jekob Endrusen Upsters

P.S. I must be so kind as to ask Emigranten to please put in the correct periods and capital letters. Also may I ask you whether it is consistent with truth that the Norwegian preachers stand up and prick both eyeballs of the real Americans --- and that right in the midst of their farewell sermon? --- for I must say that I could never have believed it if Rasmus Sørensen had not said it --- but perhaps it was a misprint in Emigranien.

Excuse the rush,


<1> Laurence M. Larson, The Changing West and Other Essays, 116-146 (Northfield, Minnesota, 1937).

<2> Carleton C. Qualey, Norwegian Settlement in the United States, 217-252 (Northfield, Minnesota, 1938).

<3> See, for example, O. M. Norlie, History of the Norwegian People in America, 190 (Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1925).

<4> Karen Larsen, Laur. Larsen: Pioneer College President, 128 (Northfield, Minnesota, 1936).

<5> We wish to acknowledge with thank, the assistance given by two members of the St. Olaf College faculty: Miss Karen Larsen, who compared the original Sørensen and Preus articles with the translations and offered numerous suggestions for improvement; and Mr. Erik Hetle, whose recommendations with respect to the third document have been followed.

<6> P.S. Vig, Danske i Amerika, 24-31 (Blair, Nebraska, 1899). Sørensen died in Denmark in 1865 while on his third visit to the homeland in search of prospective Danish settlers.

<7> For a description of the Koshkonong settlement see George T. Flom, History of Norwegian Immigration to the United States, 164-189, 255-264 (Iowa City, Iowa, 1909).

<8> O. M. Norlie and others, Who's Who among Pastors in All the Norwegian Lutheran Synods of America, 1843-1927, 463 (Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1928).

<9> See H. L. Mencken, American Language, 627-631 (New York, 1936).

<10> Emigranten and Fædrelandet (published at La Crosse, Wisconsin) were consolidated in 1868. Thereafter the combined newspapers appeared as Fædrelandet og emigranten.

<11> For a discussion of Emigranten and C. F. Solberg see Carl Hansen, Pressen til borgerkrigens slutning," in Norsk-amerikanernes festskrift 1914, 9-40 (Decorah, Iowa, 1914).

<12> A great number of letters and editorials took up the cudgels for or against the clergy. An editorial in the November 13, 1858 issue of Emigranten defended the religious schools and the use of Norwegian. A letter by a person using the name Aslak Halvorsen Houchum, which was printed in the December 13, 1858 issue, was very much in favor of Norwegian religious schools as opposed to the American district schools. An article of February 1, 1859, appearing over the name Peter Paars, attempted with elephantine humor to bring out the shortcomings of Norway under the guise of praise. For his efforts, Paars was reprimanded by an editorial in the same issue, which thought it vicious to praise America by vituperating Norway. Finally on March 14, 1859, Emigranten published a statement indicating that the editors had been flooded by letters after the appearance of Sørensen's attack. This same statement gave an analysis of some of the unpublished letters, which came from places as far distant as Boston. In the April 4, 1859 issue an article appeared over the name Joseph Larson of Goodyears Bar, California. This article defended Sørensen and attacked Preus rather severely. Sørensen himself contributed a second article in the April 18, 1859 issue.

<13> The parenthetical remarks throughout are Sørensen's.

<14> Luther's Catechism.

<15> Pontoppidan's "Explanation" of Luther's Catechism.

<16> Pages 134-140.

<17> Sørensen is guilty of making numerous mistakes in quoting from this report. He garbles the original by omitting significant qualifying words and phrases. The most important errors or omissions will be noted.

<18. The original adds: "which is in session at a different time. The English school may thus be said to supplement the Norwegian."

<19> The original adds, "or at least imbibe an unhealthy spiritual tendency."

<20> This passage is badly garbled.

<21> The original has," any other language than the one in which."

<22> This passage is garbled

<23> The original states that in case they cannot improve the district schools they should do this.

<24> berørt alle sande og rette Amerikanere paa begge deres Øiestene. Literally: touched all real and true Americans on both their eyeballs.

<25> Church hierarchy.

<26> Sørensen was a regular contributor to the Norwegian press.

<27> Rosinen i Hr. Sørensens lange Pølse. Literally: The raisin in Mr. Sørensen's long sausage.

<28> This refers to a letter appearing in the October 4, 1858, issue of Emigranten. Terje wrote a hodgepodge of English and Norwegian.






<34>how do you do, sir?

<35>after a little.

<36>and so it will be difficult even for us to understand it, and we will have to speak English all of us.

<37> newspaper.

<38> pieces (articles in a newspaper).

<39> meetings (religious services).

<40> use.

<41> Amen.

<42> No sir, excuse me.

<43> Methodists.

<44> members of the Franckean Synod.

<45> very much obliged.

<46> we ought to be ashamed.

<47> Norwegians.

<48> Norwegian language.

<49> couldn't help them a bit anyhow.

<50> deal (make a deal).

<51> sign a note.

<52> record a deed.

<53> No sir-ee.

<54> only a few.

<55> both languages.

<56> but I don't believe it, for that is good for nothing, anyhow.

<57> all right.

<58> stay at home, for we don't want them over here, I'll tell you.

<59> sometimes before anyhow; and if they want anything, just let them come, by George, my name is Jacob and no mistake.

<60> naturalization (he has received his naturalization papers).

<61> of course.

<62> spell.

<63> last fall.

<64> vote.

<65> the schoolma'am.

<66> Universalists.

<67> right off (at once).

<68> educated.

<69> preach.

<70> excuse me, sir.

<71> clear (make clear).

<72> Americans and no mistake --- that's it.

<73> first rate.

<74> cause we don't keep no Sunday school in this place, for we are Universalists and we don't keep no Sunday either.

<75> exactly.

<76> preach.

<77> never mind.

<78.> and can go home again.

<79> and serve them right.

<80> There is only one thing.

<81> sure of.

<82> Yankees.

<83> newspapers.

<84> That will do for this time.

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