Theodor van Dreveldt (1811-1880)

Theodor Begs for the King's Mercy

Theodor became involved in a Burschenschaft in Bonn in 1832, for which he paid dearly. The Burschenschafts were political student fraternities with a wide variety of leanings. During the period before the Revolution of 1848, many members were democratic and liberal, which got them in trouble with the Monarchy. As a result of their activities, one of the members of the Bonn Burschenschaft was sentenced to "aggravated death penalty by means of the wheel from above"; several others to the normal death penalty "by means of the axe." None of the death sentences was carried out. The following is Theodor's letter to Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III, which his attorney insisted he write. It must have cost him quite some effort to force his fingers to form these words.

Emmerich, August 9, 1837

The law candidate Theodor van Dreveldt of Emmerich most humbly requests merciful release from the punishment that has been pronounced.

Most serene King, most gracious King and Master. Your Royal Majesty, in Your infinite mercy and gentleness You have already graciously bestowed Your mercy and pardon upon many young people who recently belonged to a banned association, thereby arousing Your justifiable displeasure.

The humble undersigned has also been sentenced to three years imprisonment and costs by the Royal Court for participation in banned associations which were active at the University of Bonn in 1831-32.

Trusting in Your Royal Majesty's infinite mercy, he ventures to approach Your Royal Majesty out of deepest reverence with a request:
Might Your Majesty be moved to extend to the undersigned the supreme mercy and forbearance which many others who were punished for the same crime have enjoyed.

When I was 21, I entered the University of Bonn in 1831. Only youthful folly and recklessness allowed me to fall into the company of the youths who have now also been punished for their illegal associations. Only later did I recognize my error which my youthful recklessness did not allow me to see and which I now deeply regret.

I lost my parents during my early childhood; at a most tender age I was forced to attend school far from home and without parental supervision. Under such circumstances youthful folly caused me to make a few false steps without considering the consequences. They may be ascribed to youthful thoughtlessness. I now deeply regret this thoughtlessness, which has had unbelievable consequences for me. Nevertheless, I trust in Your Royal Majesty's infinite mercy and most humbly request that You might extend Your mercy and strike down the punishment pronounced against me so that the terrible consequences of my youthful folly thereby not endanger my existence.

I solemnly swear that I will always endeavor to prove myself Your Royal Majesty's most humble servant.

Theodor van Dreveldt

1997 by Kenneth Kronenberg and C.H. von Gimborn

Lives and Letters of an Immigrant Family: The van Dreveldts' Experiences along the Missouri, 1844-1866 was published November 1998 by University of Nebraska Press.

Click below to go on to:

Anton "Makes Friends" in America

Paper presented at a conference at Harvard University, "The German-American Tradition: German-American History and Literature in the context of American multilingualism," Sept. 17-19, 1998. I recommend that the reader make a printout. However, be aware that this is copyrighted material.

Personal Traits, Success, and Failure in Immigration: The Letters of the van Dreveldts

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This page was added on February 21, 1997