America has a government of laws and not of men, and they will ensure him life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“As [Americans’] highest executive officer, I take delight in assuring that the benign and equal spirit of their laws will not only protect your person and property but I trust will promise to you the enjoyment of as much prosperity and happiness as can be promoted by the influence of government in...
“As [Americans’] highest executive officer, I take delight in assuring that the benign and equal spirit of their laws will not only protect your person and property but I trust will promise to you the enjoyment of as much prosperity and happiness as can be promoted by the influence of government in any country elsewhere.” The idea of America, a vast land of opportunity, welcoming immigrants is not new. Nor is the concept of it as a sight for a Utopian society.
The Harmony Society was a Christian society founded in Germany in 1785. Due to religious persecution by the established church and the government in Württemberg, the group moved to the United States, where representatives initially purchased land in Butler County, Pennsylvania. On February 15, 1805, the group of approximately 400 followers formally organized the Harmony Society, placing all their goods in common.
Bernhard Müller, known as Count de Leon, was a German Christian mystic. Müller wrote to the Harmony Society (and other communes in the United States as well as numerous leaders in Europe) in 1829 proclaiming himself to be the “Lion of Judah” and a prophet in possession of the Philosopher’s Stone (which would give him the powers of an alchemist, and impliedly, the key to immortality). As well as giving himself numerous fictitious names and titles, like Count de Leon, Archduke Maximilian von Este, and Proli, he claimed that he and his followers were the true Philadelphians (a society not unlike the Quakers that believed in the presence of God in all things), and were ready to make a home for themselves with the Harmonites in Old Economy, Pennsylvania. The Harmonites, being religious searchers looking for a hopeful sign, and eager to justify their own religious prophesies, agreed to the visit. So in 1831, Müller and his entourage of forty people left Europe, and in September of that year arrived in America.
But Müller wanted to be sure he would be welcomed by the U.S. government. So just four days after his disembarking in New York, Muller wrote a letter to President Andrew Jackson, praising him, informing Jackson of his arrival, and saying he was a descendant of a reigning noble house of Europe. He stated that he had come with some German families to take refuge in America, and asked for the President’s protection. Asking for protection made good sense to a European mind, as in a royalty-dominated world, without that a person was vulnerable. Müller also approached Frederick Kahl, newly appointed U.S. Consul to Württemberg and Hesse, and Kahl agreed to act as his representative in the U.S. Müller entrusted that letter to Kahl.
Soon after Kahl met with President Jackson, he spoke to him about Müller (aka Count de Leon, and L.B. Maximilian) and gave him the Müller’s letter. We know this because of published accounts of the exchange of this letter.
President Jackson rose to power on a populist wave, in large part his creation, which featured him as a man of the people. He believed that the abuses of the few lead to the subjugation of the many, something he saw as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. In his famous veto of the Banking Act in 1832, he wrote, “There are no necessary evils of government. Its evils only exist in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favor alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing.” Jackson founded the Democratic Party, what quickly became the champion of new immigrants.
Jackson was a deeply religious man. Despite his religiosity, Jackson was a staunch defender of the separation of church and state and had no problems lambasting his fellow politicians whose religion dictated their political actions. Jackson said: “Our excellent constitution guarantees to every one freedom of religion…”
Here, in this remarkable letter, Jackson offers a powerful message of welcome and equal treatment, in which he hopes that an influx of immigrants will prosper under the “benign and equal spirit” of American law. The language he uses is clear a paraphrase of the Declaration of Independence’s promise of “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” He also makes clear that in the United States, you do not need the protection of the powerful; rather the laws apply equally to every person, and they protect all. This was Müller’s first lesson in American civics.
Autograph letter signed, as President, Washington, September 14, 1831, to Müller in his guise as LB Maximilian, Count of Leon. “It gives me pleasure to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 7th instant and thank you for the polite and favorable terms in which you are pleased to speak of me.
“On the subject of your letter I have conversed with Mr. Kahl who will be able to confirm to you the satisfaction with which I heard of your determination to take up your abode in the United States and identify with this soil and climate your resources. Such acquisitions it is the interest and pride of the United States to cherish; and as their highest executive officer I take delight in assuring that the benign and equal spirit of their laws will not only protect your person and property but I trust will promise to you the enjoyment of as much prosperity and happiness as can be promoted by the influence of government in any country elsewhere.”
This is as important a statement about the protective power of American law as we have seen made by any early American president, and epitomizes the attitude of welcome and equal treatment that opened the doors wide for untold millions to immigrate to the United States.
We acquired this letter from a direct descendant of Müller – the Count de Leon – and it has never before been offered for sale.
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