Free Speech, Free Press A Byth Free Men: The Welsh Language and Politics in Wisconsin

Robert Humphries


In the second half of the nineteenth century, Welsh immigrants comprised a small but significant ethnic minority in the Midwestern state of Wisconsin. Economically successful, the Wisconsin Welsh were active participants in the political life of their adopted country, and like their counterparts elsewhere in the United States, overwhelmingly supported the Republican Party. Their identification of the Republicans with the abolition of slavery and victory in the Civil War made the Welsh a loyal constituency, but also one with particular concerns that reflected Calvinistic conceptions of morality. Furthermore, having internalized the view that their native language was unsuitable for public life, the Welsh cultivated a public image of themselves as exceptionally patriotic and eager to assimilate, defining themselves negatively against other immigrant groups. Drawing from correspondence, public records and the local English-language press, as well as reports in Welsh-language publications such as Y Drych and Y Cenhadwr Americanaidd, this paper traces the development of political identity among Welsh immigrants in Wisconsin. It concludes that, as much as economic and demographic changes, Welsh-American political attitudes diminished the status and already-limited role of their native language in the ethnic community.


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