Pass along a news tip by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Ohio's Kucinich Wrongly Tells Iowa Debate: My State's Founding Documents Were In German

COLUMBUS (TDB) -- During the NPR-sponsored Democratic presidential debate in Iowa today, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich claimed Ohio's original "founding documents" were written in German. But that is not true. The 26-page Ohio Constitution adopted in 1802 as the state entered the Union is handwritten in English. A copy is preserved at the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus, and you can actually see it online by clicking the link above.

The other founding document is Thomas Worthington's draft of the Enabling Act, which was submitted to Congress, adopted, and signed by President Thomas Jefferson on April 30, 1802. It set the boundaries of the new state named Ohio and said it would be considered an equal of all others upon admission to the Union. Again, the handwritten document has been preserved. You can see it for yourself at at the link -- along with some background information from the Ohio Historical Society about the politics behind the statehood movement. Jeffersonians wanted Ohio for its presidential electoral votes; the competing Federalist Party wanted it carved into two separate states, figuring that some of the frontier territory contained supporters. The Jeffersonians prevailed.

Kucinich, D-10, was answering a question about immigration and the use of English at the Des Moines debate when he said Ohio's original statehood materials were written in the German language. He said that while serving as a state legislator he had fought and defeated efforts to make English the official language in Ohio. He said the bill was rejected "when I pointed out our state's founding documents were in German."

While that is not precisely correct, there is no doubt that German was widely spoken and used in Ohio during the 19th Century and up until the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917. After war was declared on Germany, street names were anglicized, schools were prohibited from teaching German, and meetings where German was spoken were broken up by the police.

The NPR Web site has the debate and a photo of the debaters (the photo accompanies this blog post, thanks NPR). You can hear streaming audio, and if my watch was correct Kucinich made his German comment around an hour and 51 minutes into the debate.


  1. What Kucinich fails to understand is that legislation making English the primary language was not necessary a hundreds years ago for a good reason. Sure my grand-parents probably spoke German and Irish in their home, but in order to succeed in this country they needed to master the language used here. In recent decades both judicial "legislating" and the real legislatures have enacted requirements for forms and other crap to be available in many languages. While the intent may have been to make things easier for immigrants the result is the exact opposite. Removing the imperative to assimilate also lowers the possibility of success.

  2. Hi Anon --

    English is actually pretty much our official language in Ohio. If you are not fluent, you cannot serve on a jury. Ballots have to be in English, and poll judges have to speak English. All legal documents have to be in English. The list of delinquent taxes must be published in an English language newspaper. Exams for professional licenses -- English. And license holders must be proficient in English to get a state license. Ohio law specifically states that high school grads must be profienct in English. The list goes on . . .

    An aside: Ohio once had a state motto that was in Latin. The public would not accept it and forced a repeal.

  3. Dennis got the facts wrong, but he makes an important point about our history. German immigrants were part of Ohio from the early days. The real boom of German immigrants came in the 1800’s. For example, in 1811 there were 2,500 people living in Cincinnati. In 1814 there were 6,000 people. By 1840 there were 40,000 residents. By 1850, in just 39 years, the city had grown to 115,000, an almost fifty-fold increase. This explosion in population came from German speaking and Irish Catholic immigrants, leaving starvation and bare subsistence living behind in Europe.

    In 1835 Lyman Beecher, the Bill O’Reilly/Glen Beck/Lou Dobbs of his day, wrote "the world has never witnessed such a rush of dark-minded population from one country to another". Similar to the nativist of today, in the 1800’s people who were opposed to the immigration of Irish and German Catholics in the United States formed a secret society officially known as the Order of United Americans. Whenever a member was asked about the group, he would say, "I know nothing." Thus they became known as the "Know-Nothings." In 1856 Abraham Lincoln wrote, "If the Know-Nothings get control, the Declaration of Independence will read: All men are created equal except for Negroes, foreigners and Catholics."

    “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” - George Santayana

  4. Bill, when I heard that clip on radio, I immediately suspected it was dead wrong. That seems like the kind of fact that, if true, I would have come across long ago. And thanks for saving me the reporting time to prove it's bogus. I'll simply link to you.

  5. Hi John --

    So your ears perked up, too? I'm kind of surprised that more people haven't noticed. You know the history of the word Ohio -- which is a French corruption of the Indian word. Oddly, French was probably more common in early Ohio than German. Marietta, the oldest city in the state, is name for Marie Antonette. Thanks for the link, John.

  6. Actually, Kucinich wasn't completely wrong, depending on your definition of "founding documents". The 1851 Ohio Constitution, which functioned as Ohio's constitution until 1912, was written in both English and German. The Ohio Historical Society has both copies. Still, he wasn't correct in making the assumption that a number of Ohio's founding documents were in German.