Carl Nikolaus Riotte -> Carl Nikolaus Riotte -> Charles N. Riotte (FL Olmstedt Slavery and the South)

CHARLES N. RIOTTE was born in St. Wendel, Prussia, in 1814. He was trained in the law and served for some time as a judge in a superior court in Prussia. He also became director of a railroad, anticipating the consistent interest he would show in railroad promotion during his twenty-five years in the New World. He emigrated to the United States in 1849 and settled in San Antonio. While there he gave Adolf Douai both moral and financial support and at times helped edit the San Antonio Zeitung. In 1854 he became an American citizen.

    Olmsted met Riotte during his journey through Texas in 1854, and tried to convince him to move to New York and practice law. Instead, Riotte remained in the Southwest until he was expelled from Texas by Confederate authorities in the spring of 1861. Olmsted’s first discussions with Riotte about the possible future of a free-soil West Texas aroused his enthusiasm, and even before he left the South he wrote his new friend offering his services to the cause. During the fall of 1854, Riotte corresponded with Olmsted concerning the prospects of attracting free-soil settlers to Texas. As part of such a program he urged construction of a railroad from San Antonio to the Gulf Coast along a route similar to the one he had proposed while a director of the San Antonio and Mexican Gulf Railroad.

    Increasing difficulties with proslavery nativists and the absence of any prospect of a strong flow of antislavery settlers to West Texas soon led Riotte to resolve to leave the United States. Accordingly, in December 1855 he negotiated an agreement with General Vidaurri, governor of Nuevo Leon and Coahuila in Mexico, for a land grant of two million acres on which he proposed to create a colony of German and Mexican settlers.

    In January 1856 he announced to Olmsted that he intended to move to Monterrey, Mexico, with his wife, seven children and two servants. Olmsted objected to his plans, but Riotte replied that the difference in attitude between Americans and Germans, aggravated by the nativist movement in Texas, had convinced him that Germans could not become a part of American society:

    „We are judged from the standpoint of an American—indeed a very strange people! We look upon a political society or state as a congregation of men; whose aim it is to deute the wellbeing of the aggregate by the combined exertion, and if required, sacrifice of the individuals, and thus to benefit all. Americans look first upon themselves as private individuals, entitled to ask for all rights and benefits of an organized comrnunity even to the detriment of the whole and think to secure the wellbeing of the comrnunity by the wellbeing of the single individual, even if mostly acquired to the prejudice of the comrnunity. To us, the State is a ideal being, whose welfare raust be our pride, must be secured by the exertions of our head and the work of our hand and will then redound to the benefit of all—to the Americans it is the formal guarantee of certain (inalienable) rights in a loose conglomeration of human beings to secure an internal „bellum intra omnes et contra omnes“;—to us honor of the state is that of each citizen,—to you (dont take that personally) the honor of the state has its foundation in the greatness of some men,—we idealize the community--you the individual! How is it possible, that we ever should amalgamate? If you follow the difference of our starting points up through all phases of political and social life you will, I believe, arrive to the same conclusion I came to, that is, a decided: Never!“

    Riotte apparently did not attract a very large group of settlers or stay for long in Mexico himself: he served on the San Antonio Library Committee in 1857, ran a German-American school there in 1859, and in 1860 requested Olmsted’s assistance in seeking the position of assistant collector of customs in that City. With the election of Lincoln he applied for the post of U.S. minister in Costa Rica. Olmsted supported his appointment, and in so doing offered Charles Sumner his estimation of Riotte’s character and the extent of bis contribution to the antislavery cause:

    „If he fails to produce upon you the impression of a man of the eight stamp for such an office as that to which he aspires, have the goodness to consider that at present he carries wilh him the effect of ten years of hard fighting with continual defeat, dissapointment and increasing poverty--and that he has too good a tempfer to have been made sour or savage by it. No man comes out of such a battle without some evidence of it in his face or manner. I believe him to be a man of good parts, education, & breeding and in the vain, hopeless and inglorious struggle in which he has been engaged with slavery on the South-Western frontier, he has acted with great discretion, bravely and nobly.“

    Riotte secured the Costa Rican post and served there from 1861 until January 1867. During that time he carricd on his correspondence with Olmsted, discussing at length the possibility of constructing a railroad across the isthmus in that country. He argued that such a railroad would make Costa Rica a commercial tributary to the United States and would pave the way for annexation. In December 1865, after receiving a letter from Olmsted on the subject, he wrote that he had convinced the president and minister of foreign affairs of Costa Rica to arrange for construction of the railroad. Moreover, he reported, die minister had agreed to Riotte’s proposal that Olmsted be one of the two representatives of Costa Rica who would negotiate terms with capitalists in New York. Nothing seems to have come of the plan, however.

    After his removal from office by Andrew Johnson in 1867, Riotte spent two years in Hoboken, New Jersey, where Adolph Douai also was living. He then served from April 1869 to January 1873 as U.S. minister to Nicaragua. Failing to secure another diplomatic appointment, he left the United States in mid-1874. He presumably returned to Prussia, a course of action that a decree of amnesty in 1861 had made possible, and that his friend Friedrich Kapp had already followed.

    While Olmsted’s long correspondence with Riotte did not convince his friend to remain in the United States, it may at least have given him a greater appreciation of Americans and their political institutions. „You have reconciled me with America and the Americans,“ Riotte wrote Olmsted in early 1857, „at a time when my experience in Texas had led me to believe, I, a republican by principle, had started in the wrong direction when going to the U.S.


p. 18

    In San Antonio, Olmsted also formed a friendship with one of Douai's closest allies, Charles Riotte, the scion of a prosperous Prussian family and supporter of republicanism in Germany, with whom he carried an a long correspondence about American institutions.


p. 19

    Olmsted was probably unaware of the results of the San Antonio meeting as he rode alone through the back country an his way Korne, but in late June he did write Charles Riotte from Chattanooga, expressing his desire to provide what assistance he could for the antislavery forces in West Texas. Soon after, Adolf Douai informed him more fully of his own problems. In response, Olmsted undertook to raise funds and guarantee the notes of bis friend in order to ensure the survival of the Zeitung. During the fall he and his brother collected $200, which they forwarded to Texas as a gift. They also supplied Douai with correspondence for his paper and discussed with him the way to encourage free-soil colonization of West Texas. In return, Douai sent not only his thanks but also a flow of vivid descriptions of the menace to his newspaper, and even to his life, of violent proslavery and nativist elements in the San Antonio region. In late October he reported that he had been "threatened for weeks with lynching, and as I did not Gare for it, they seem to have organized for lynching the press.“


p. 25

    In Texas, the spring of 1856 saw die collapse of the free-soil movement that Olmsted had worked to sustain. The success of the nativist movement in suppressing antislavery agitation had so alienated Olmsted's friend Charles Riotte that in December 1855 he secured a grant of two million acres of Tand near Monterrey, in the state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico, whicb he planned to colonize with Germans from their homeland and from the United States. In January he informed Olmsted of his intention to move to Monterrey, and hold to that purpose despite Olmsted's objections to his project. At the same time, Adolf Douai was reaching the end of his endurance. In late January he wrote Olmsted that he had lost his influence in the German cornmunity because so many blamed him for bringing down on them the fury of the Know-Nothings. At the same time, he refused the Olmsted brothers' offer to raise more money to keep the Zeitung alive. In March Douai sold his press to a group of antagonists that he said were about to ruin him. He published the last issue of the Zeitung on March 29, 1856, and in early May left Texas for Boston.


p. 58

    Douai emigrated to Texas with his wife, children and father in 1852. He settled first in Neu Braunfels and attempted unsuccessfully to establish a school there. Then, with the encouragement of Charles Riotte and Gustav Theissen, he agreed to edit the San Antonio Zeitung. In July 1853 he published the first issue of that weekly newspaper.


p. 170

    Further evidence of the friendship between Olmsted and Browne is the fixt that Olmsted offered Browne a position an the staff of Central Park during its early years. Browne chose instead to remain a journalist. In the spring of 1859, in reward for his strong summt at James Buchanan, he was made editor of the Washington Constitution, the recognized organ ui the Buchanan administration. Browne's activities as a doughface Democrat did not drill him friendship with Olmsted immediately, however. In June he agreed, at Olmsted's request, to recommend that August Nette, a friend of Charles Riotte, be made collector of customs at San Antonio. (Riotte had arranged that if this were done, he would become assistant collector and receive part of the collector's salary.)


John Hopkins, „The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, II. Slavery and the South 1852-1857“, Maryland, 1981

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