German Official Language Vote

Kathleen Miller millerk at NYTIMES.COM
Fri Jun 11 12:52:30 UTC 1999

>This comes from the Director of Research at US English, a company that is
>attempting to have English passed into law as the Official Language of the
>country. The opinions of the author are a little skewed but the
>article gleaned from their website and reproduced here may give more of an
>idea where to look to verify.
>"MYTH: German missed becoming the official language of the United States by
>a margin of one vote.
>There was no vote on German as the official language of the United States.
>The Library of Congress has investigated and dismissed this patently absurd
>story as has Prof. Henry A. Pochmann in German Culture in America, 1600-1900
>(Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1957).
>Furthermore, even in Pennsylvania (where Germans made up 33.3 percent of the
>population in 1790), no such or similar vote occurred, despite persistent
>rumors otherwise. (See Albert Bernhardt Faust, The German Element in the
>United States, New York, Steuben Society of America, 1927, vol. 2, pp.
>The Pennsylvania rumor dates from 1847, when historian Franz Loher alleged:
>"In the State Assembly, not long after the conclusion of peace, a motion was
>made to establish the German language as the official and legal language of
>Pennsylvania... When the vote was taken on this question -- whether the
>prevailing language in the Assembly, in the courts and in the official
>records of Pennsylvania should be German -- there was a tie. Half voted for
>the introduction of the German language... Thereupon the Speaker of the
>Assembly, a certain Muhlenberg, cast the deciding vote in favor of the
>English language."
>In 1931, the scholar Otto Lohr revealed the truth. On January 9, 1794, a
>petition from the Germans in Virginia (not Pennsylvania) requested that
>Congress provide for the publication of German translations of some of its
>laws. It was reported favorably out of committee on December 23. It was
>rejected by the House committee of the whole on January 13, 1795, by a vote
>of 42 to 41 (no roll-call was taken). Frederick Muhlenberg was the Speaker
>of the House at the time (1789-91 and 1793-95); his brother John was on the
>committee that had reported out the petition. Frederick has previously been
>Speaker of the Pennsylvania House twice, which may explain the transference
>of the rumor to Pennsylvania.
>It is the theory of the Historical Materials Division of the Library of
>Congress that the German-American Bund of the '30s created the national myth
>out of Loher's fiction and Lohr's fact, and circulated it as Nazi
>propaganda. This theory is bolstered by the fact that the rumor (in its
>national form) does not appear before that time."

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