Date of this Version
Published in Ethnic Leadership in America, edited by John Higham. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978. Pages 64-90.
IN 1928, MIDWAY BETWEEN the two world wars, H. L. Mencken observed that with few exceptions the leaders of the Germans in America were an undistinguished and unintelligent lot, a collection of mediocrities, most of whom had something to sell. The few national German ethnic organizations still in existence, he noted, were led by entirely unimportant men. Moreover, the leaders of German immigrant churches were nonentities, unknown to the general public. The blame for this lamentable dearth of leadership, in Mencken's view, rested upon the German Americans themselves, who displayed an unfortunate tendency to follow inferior men. As Catholics they are slaves of their priests, he said; as Protestants they are slaves of their pastors; and when they leave the church they become slaves of the first political buffoon they encounter. During World War I, in Mencken's judgment, they had turned almost instinctively to fools for leadership.1