The Political Climate of Saxony during the Conversion of Karl G. Maeser: With Special Reference to the Franklin D. Richards Letter to Brigham Young, November 1855

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The Political Climate of Saxony during the Conversion of Karl G. Maeser: With Special Reference to the Franklin D. Richards Letter to Brigham Young, November 1855

Author A. LeGrand Richards

Questions have been raised about Karl G. Maeser's departure from Saxony and whether he was indeed forced to leave his homeland because of his newly adopted Mormon religion. This article explores the circumstances surrounding Maeser's conversion to Mormonism and his sudden departure from Saxony. Evidence from Maeser's own statements as well as accounts written by others involved in his conversion indicate that the Dresden police and Saxon laws were oppressive regarding religious affiliation. A lengthy letter from Franklin D. Richards, who baptized Maeser, to Brigham Young, offers the strongest evidence that Maeser was indeed forced to leave his homeland because of his new religion. The letter, transcribed and published for the first time in this article, has not been cited by those who question the "cloak and dagger" accounts of Maeser's conversion and departure from Saxony.


In September 1855, Franklin D. Richards, who was serving as “President of the Church in Europe,” toured the Church membership on the Continent. In three weeks, he visited the members in France, Switzerland, and Italy, bearing testimony, strengthening the members, and hearing the stories of their struggles.1

President Richards did not plan to visit Germany during this trip because no inroads had been developed into any of the German provinces except a few members in Hamburg. Germany had been rigidly unwelcoming to previous attempts by missionaries. In 1852, Daniel Carn had attempted to organize a small branch in Hamburg but was banished to Denmark. In 1853, Orson Spencer had traveled from Salt Lake City to Berlin because the king of Prussia had expressed interest through a representative in Washington, D.C., in learning more about the Mormons. Church materials in German were immediately sent, and it was decided to call Orson Spencer and Jacob Houtz to follow up with the king personally. The syndic of Hamburg had debated a long time whether to allow Mormons in Hamburg before they rejected Carn. When Spencer and Houtz explained their hopes to open Prussia to their preaching, the American consul predicted that Prussia would not be as lenient with these elders as Hamburg had been with Elder Carn. Mr. Bromberg of the consul predicted that in Prussia “their course will be prompt and energetic, probably setting you out of their kingdom immediately.2

Feeling called to proceed anyway and hopeful that the king’s request for Church materials gave them the “right to anticipate at least a respectable reception,” Spencer and Houtz persevered and were met at the railway station by “soldiers armed with guns and bayonets.” Spencer decided to make an open appeal to the king because proceeding covertly would not be practical given “the system of secret espionage” that dominated the culture of Prussia at the time. Spencer was never allowed time with the king; the “State’s Minister of Public Worship,” Karl von Raumer, denied his request and dictated an order expressly forbidding the elders from staying. “You, Orson Spencer and Jacob Houtz, are hereby commanded to depart out of this kingdom to-morrow morning, under the penalty of transportation; and you are also forbidden ever to return to this kingdom hereafter, under the penalty of being transported.” Spencer was shocked that because of his religion he was “subjected to such abrupt and rigid banishment.”3

Other attempts to introduce the restored gospel to the provinces of Germany met similar resistance in 1853. George Riser was officially expelled from his own birth town, Kornwestheim, in Württemberg, because he wanted to open it to missionary work.4 Jacob Secrist nearly reached the border of Saxony when he was arrested and sent back to Hamburg.5

In July 1855, Daniel Tyler, president of the German, French, and Italian mission in Switzerland, received a suspicious letter from a Mister Karl Mäser in Saxony. Karl Gottfried Mäser (hereafter written as Maeser) was a teacher at the Budich Institut, a private school in Dresden that was also the first Saxon teacher training college for women. Maeser had been teaching there as early as 1852 after teaching at least a year at the 1st District School, where he met Edward Schönfeld6 (hereafter written as Schoenfeld) and his future father-in-law, the director, Benjamin Immanuel Mieth (see figs. 1, 2, and 3).7 Maeser was preparing a presentation for the Dresden branch of the Saxon Teachers Association regarding the teaching of history when he read an anti-Mormon documentary book by Moritz Busch.8 This book awakened an unquenchable thirst to learn more about this religion. He could not believe a “people could develop and thrive as the facts showed the Latter-day Saints to have done, and at the same time be of degraded nature and base ideals.”9 He eventually was directed to the address of Daniel Tyler in Switzerland for more information. Knowing that the inquiry itself could bring severe consequences, Maeser ventured forward by writing a letter to Tyler.

Maeser’s letter was so positive about the Church that Tyler couldn’t believe it was genuine. After all, Switzerland claimed to have religious freedom, and yet his missionaries had been persecuted, arrested, and driven from nearly every Swiss community. The provinces of Germany, however, made no such claims to religious freedom. He, therefore, concluded the letter was probably a ploy by the Saxon government to discover the Church’s efforts in Germany, so he returned the letter without any comment.10 Maeser persisted, and eventually President Tyler decided to contact Franklin D. Richards to ask William Budge if he would be willing to travel from England to Saxony to find out if the inquiry was really sincere.

Budge had spent seven months in Switzerland as one of Daniel Tyler’s missionaries. He was arrested thirteen times, was banished from several cantons, and was beaten, so it was decided to reassign him to England.11 Before Richards left Liverpool for the continent, he visited with Budge to invite him to travel to Saxony to determine if the inquiry from this teacher in Dresden was authentic. Budge accepted, so while Richards visited with Tyler and the Saints in Switzerland and Italy, Budge ventured into Saxony, traveling as an English gentleman desirous of studying German with Maeser. Maeser’s reception of Budge was so warm that Budge wrote to Tyler that Maeser and others wanted to be baptized. This letter was forwarded to Richards, and when he returned to Liverpool from the continent and found it, he immediately dropped everything else and set out again, this time for Dresden, writing to Brigham Young, “I leave in ten minutes for Dresden, the capital of Saxony, where I hope to organize a Branch of the Church before I return.”12

A recent article has claimed that the “almost cloak-and-dagger” descriptions of Maeser’s conversion are exaggerations if not outright false. The authors contend that the Maesers were not forced to leave Germany, that the Church members meeting in the Maeser home would not have raised concerns with the Dresden police, and that the laws of Saxony were not as oppressive as previous authors had claimed.13 Based on an 1835 law that was reaffirmed in 1850, the authors claimed “there was no law in 1855 requiring the Dresden Mormons to register their meetings and no penalty for not doing so,” concluding “there is little probability that the police ever monitored the religious activities of Maeser and his friends.”14 This claim did not attempt to explain why nearly every account of those involved with the Dresden branch indicates that they felt the need to be as secretive as possible; why the baptisms were held at midnight, in small numbers, at a secluded place outside of the city; or why it became an important news item all over Germany and beyond when the congregation of Mormons in Dresden was discovered. It also overlooked the extension of Saxon law on January 30, 1855, requiring all new and existing organizations (Vereine) to register with the police (see fig. 4). This law was adopted in all the German Bundesstaaten (states). “Only those associations are to be tolerated that can provide sufficient proof that their purposes are in accordance with the federal and state law and will not endanger the public order and security.”15 Punishments for violating this 1855 law ranged from one to one hundred Thaler or three days’ to six months’ imprisonment.

Numerous international historians have documented that the provinces of Germany following the failed revolutions of 1848–49 engaged in severe reactionary policies to squelch democracy, becoming police states, in Martin Kitchen’s terms, “an army of snoopers and informers.”16 Foreigners were viewed with particular suspicion, and teachers were subjected to regular “inspections” of their schools and homes for forbidden materials. Every major account of Maeser’s conversion affirms that the political climate of Dresden at the time was extremely oppressive.17

Maeser’s Account

The “Report of the Organization of a Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of L.D. Saints at Dresden, Kingdom of Saxony, 1855,” attributed to and signed by Karl Maeser after he arrived in Salt Lake supports this description:18

Being obliged to maintain the utmost secrecy on account of the police, Elder Budge’s stay was represented as being for the purpose of learning the german language, which he really did and with astonishing rapidity. . . . Being forced to be very cautious the brethren did not see one another as they desired, but the work was carried on the following days, so that the following Wednesday, the other five members of the family were baptized by Elders Richards, Kimball and Budge, to wit: Henrietta Mieth, Emil Mieth, Anna Maeser, Otillie Schoenfeld, and Camilla Mieth.19

Richards and Kimball then acted as tourists the following day, visiting the grave of Martin Luther, “by which movement the aroused suspicion of the police was again evaded.”20

Maeser spoke at a conference in Philadelphia in August of 1857 about which the New York Times reported: “He heard of Mormonism and scoffed at it at first, but when he examined it and came to know more of it he could not express in the English language what he felt then. His happiness, and strength, and life had increased since he had joined the Saints. For this he had left his fatherland, where he was not permitted to hold this belief—for this he had left his parents,—for this he had left his friends.”21

Another special conference was held in August 1858 in Philadelphia, and Maeser spoke again. This time the New York Herald reported the story (calling him Elder Mainer) who “gave a pithy exposition of his views of Mormonism in a rather striking German accent. He had embraced the new faith in a despotic country, where the few Saints had been watched closely, and prevented from assembling for worship even in private houses. So guarded were they in their proceedings, that when brother met brother they passed each other as strangers, and had to counsel and consult each other by correspondence. He thanked God that he lived now in America, and understood the great principles of exaltation.”22

Edward Schoenfeld

Edward Schoenfeld was also baptized in the night of October 14, 1855. He did not go into great detail about the political climate in Dresden, but his account affirms that Saxony was not welcoming to the Church. In his autobiography, he wrote that William Budge, the first missionary, was sent to Dresden “under the guise of a traveling Englishman to learn the German language.” A guise would not have been needed if the police had no interest in the organization of a new religious branch, nor would President Richards and William Kimball had been required to leave Dresden immediately after forming the branch “to avoid the suspicion of the police.”23 In a letter to Andrew Jenson, Church historian, on January 11, 1914, Schoenfeld described how after Christmas 1855 “the knowledge of our doings leaked out and Bro. Maeser and I were counseled to go to England, because as Protestant school teachers we would have been prosecuted, according to the then very stringent laws of Saxony.”24

William Budge

William Budge was the missionary originally sent to Dresden in September 1855 to determine whether investigators there were serious. Budge’s biography written by his son describes the political climate of Saxony. He reported a number of experiences he was told by his father that illustrated the risk he took: “Father then went to police headquarters to obtain a permit to remain for a time in the city, and to deposit his passport. He explained to the officials that as he could speak the German language but imperfectly, he desired to take further instruction in it, and that if there was no objection he would very much like to occupy a room at the home of Professor Maeser who had offered to assist him.”25 He continued by describing the policies of the police:

In view of the fact that the movements of strangers were very carefully noted by the government officials, it was necessary that father exercise great care in the performance of his mission. . . . To avert any suspicion on the part of the political authorities by keeping himself within the view of the police, father, during the day time, was in the habit of showing himself on the streets, attending musical entertainments and frequenting refreshment establishments, where policemen were commonly found . . .—the police regulations forbidding more than a very limited number of persons from congregating in any private house.26

Budge then described some of the stories his father told the family: “The police were very vigilant in looking after those whom they supposed to be political agents, and any man was subject to arrest on suspicion and imprisoned until the authorities were satisfied that he was not an undesirable resident; and it might be added that a trial upon any charge was at such time as might suit the convenience or whim of the authorities.” He then reported that his father was followed and suggested that the authorities were suspicious. His father stated, “I considered it was about time for me to look to my health by taking a change of air.”27

Daniel Tyler

Daniel Tyler was president of the Swiss, Italian, French, and German Mission. He did not travel to Dresden but received Maeser’s inquiry letter. The actual letter has not been found, but it was said to be so positive that Tyler could not believe it was sincere.

In his autobiography, Tyler wrote, “In consideration of the excitement and desire on the part of many police authorities to trap the Elders; Elder Chislett and myself looked upon it [Maeser’s first inquiry letter] as a snare to entrap us. I returned the letter without answer.” After it was decided that Maeser was sincere, a proposal was made to send an elder “under the guise of a teacher of the English language,” but Tyler believed that “such a policy might draw a class around him who would be liable to betray him to prison and banishment,” so he proposed that an elder be sent as a student of German, “if there was free toleration of religion perhaps I might send an Elder to preach the gospel to others as well as to instruct him further in its principles. He wrote, in answer, that no religion, except the Lutheran, was allowed to be taught, and that was the national religion.” So William Budge was sent “as a gentleman from England, having come to complete his education in the German language.”28

John Van Cott, president of the Scandinavian Mission, received Maeser’s first letter and had directed him to Tyler for German materials. When Maeser received his letter back from Tyler unanswered, he forwarded it to Van Cott with another letter asking for an explanation. Van Cott wrote in his journal on July 29, 1855, “Received 2 letters from Dresden makeing enquiries concerning the way and manner by which they could be adopted into the kingdom of God.”29 Considering the political climate in Saxony at the time, it is no wonder Tyler had a hard time believing Maeser’s original letter was sincere!

Of course, these accounts could have been affected by time and retelling, but the general points of the experience are confirmed in all the accounts. The government of Saxony did care a great deal if a group of Mormons were secretly meeting.

William Kimball

“Having had some anxiety for our personal safety,”30 Franklin D. Richards recorded, he requested William Kimball to accompany him to Dresden for protection. Kimball, who had served in the Nauvoo militia, kept a daily diary during 1855, but his entries during October read as if he were only a tourist (as though he wanted to conceal his real purpose should his things be searched). He made no reference to the baptisms performed or Church meetings or the names of people he met. On October 13, they met Maeser, and he wrote, “Left Berlin at 7 A.M. by train for Dresden. Arrived at Dresden at one PM. Put up at Stadt Wien Hotel. Took a walk threw [sic] the City in the even William Budge and another man came in and spent the evening with us.”31 He recorded the historical sites they visited and the Catholic mass they attended but revealed nothing about the baptisms held in the nights of October 14 and 18 or the formation of a branch of the Church on October 21, 1855.

Franklin D. Richards to Brigham Young—November 3, 1855

The most detailed and credible account of Maeser’s conversion is found in a letter of Franklin D. Richards to Brigham Young on November 3, 1855,32 immediately following his return to Liverpool from his trip to Dresden where the baptism took place on October 14, 1855. This letter, received May 10, 1856, is completely illegible from the microfilm copy and very difficult to read from the online version, because the original was badly smeared (see fig. 5) in the copy process.33 With special permission, I was allowed access to the original and, with a magnifying glass and several hours of careful examination, I was able to transcribe nearly all of the letter. Because it is not generally available to a larger audience, I have included the following rendition of the relevant portions of the letter. It confirms the political climate of Dresden at the time:

Nov. 3rd 1855—[received May 10, 1856?]
President Brigham Young
Dear Brother,

I have the pleasure to acknowledge receipt of your general letter and list of property for sale. and P. E. Fund Communication for publication in the Star, all bearing date Aug 31st for which please accept my grateful thanks. . . .

My letters still unacknowledged by you are of the dates of July & Aug. 4.th. Sep 6 and Oct 6. I am at a loss to express in becoming terms the gratitude I feel in my immortal soul for the choice letter you have recently favoured me with. which shown forth the dealings of the Lord with his people in Zion. . . . [end of p. 1] . . .

As intimated to you in my last I left on its date [October 6, 1855] for Germany, being joined at Hull on my way by Bro. William H. Kimball. At Hamburgh during the night of the 10th the Lord Comforted us with a dream in which it was shown to me that we should pass through the scrutiny of the police without harm, and in[?] the dream I saw them just after we had got out, hunting for us. Spending one day in Hamburgh another in Berlin, during which time we visited the most interesting and important places admissible to strangers. We arrived in Dresden the capital of Saxony at noon of the 11th of October. The accompanying view is precisely the same [end of p. 2] as that from the room which we occupied in the “Staat Wein [sic]” (Vienna State Hotel). This place is about 400[?] English miles a little South of East from Liverpool. Contains about 100.000 inhabitants. 5000 of whom with the King are Roman Catholics. The remaining nineteen twentieths are Lutheran protestants. After our interview with Elder Wm. Budge, who had been there some three or four Weeks, we found we could do nothing toward establishing the Gospel in that place except in[?] the teeth of all Saxon law and in elusion of the most rigid police surveillance. In Switzerland, the law nominally allows the promulgation of all doctrines which are in accordance with the Old and New Testaments. The Elders were not banished from the Cantons for teaching such doctrines, but for proselyting to a new political government now being set up in America. Not so in Saxony, there no religious liberty exists except for Catholics and Lutherans. But I would not return and give it up. So, everything that was in [illegible]. We had come by the counsel of the Holy Spirit, and we immediately determined to do whatsoever the Spirit would help us in doing. Accordingly next day Sunday we privately [end of p. 3] met a few friends and taught them the Gospel. Bro. Budge interpreting and the same Assisting[?] I administered baptism to Karl G. Mäser, a professor or principal of an institute and Frederick E. Schönfeld, and Edward G. Martin, teachers. On Tuesday evening the 16th we ventured[?] another setting[?] down together and the next day received word that five others were ready for baptism. On Friday evening the 18th I baptized Christianne H. Mieth age 45 years. Anna H. Mäser age 25 yrs, Caroline C A Schönfeld age 24 yrs. Emile O. E. C. Mieth, age 16 yrs and Clara C. Mieth, age 12 yrs. Being Bro. Mäser’s entire household, except an infant whom we blessed on the Sunday following, when we Confirmed the members and organized a Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, calling it the Dresden Branch. At this meeting held at Bro. Mäser’s, where each of the other meetings were held, we administered the Sacrament and gave such leading instructions as the spirit directed and the time allowed. As we considered ourselves momentarily in jeopardy and knew not the hour when Bro. Budge might be thrust into prison [end of p. 4] or be banished from the country. I felt constrained to ordain Bro. Mäser to the office of an Elder that the right to administer spiritual blessings might be left among them. I also ordained Elder Budge a Seventy, blessing him with a portion of the apostleship that he might be an apostle to the German Saints. He is one of those choice spirits of whom there seem to be but few in the Earth. He was imprisoned in and banished from Switzerland, which experience is precious to him and profitable to the Dresden Saints. He is in Saxony as an English gentleman from Cambridge, being a foreign[?] scholar of Professor Mäsers, to complete his education in the German Language. Having instructed him in such items as the circumstances of the Branch seemed to require we felt that we had then accomplished the Work we were sent to do and accordingly called for our passports and came[?] off as soon as we could with propriety, but [illegible]ed we had discovered we were watched.

By a disguised letter which I presume is from Elder Budge, just received, I am informed that the Saints had scarcely got their baptism[?] papers and everything that could fix suspicions[?] [end of p. 5] hidden when he and his effects were seized by the police on the suspicion that he was engaged in something contrary to the law. (Saxon I presume) but on examination doubtless to their satisfaction he was enabled to resume his studies. He also informed me that the papers immediately after our departure, announced the visit of Governor Young’s Son to Copenhagen, which doubtless very much strengthened their apprehensions.

Saxon law requires that every child shall be christened at about the age of one month and in default of which its parents are fined eine Thaler (equal to 46 Cents U.S. for each day they are delinquent. Communicants are required to partake of their Sacrament once or twice a year, in default of either of these our brethren must betray their faith. Again the teachers in the Government Schools are Sworn by an Oath to maintain and teach the Lutheran faith, text books being furnished them from which they must teach their Scholars. Thus presenting the anomalous fact of a Roman Catholic King requiring his Subjects to become protestants by law. These facts present the greatest difficulties to our Young brethren there, that they have found in their investigations of Mormonism. How can they [end of p. 6] reconcile their consciences to pursue the course which seems indispensable to their existence and the maintenance of the Trust in that land till the Work is established so that the honest may be gathered out? This they desire most fervently to do, being warm[?] and full of love to their Countrymen. Upon the two first points baptism and communion circumstances help them as they continue[?] to overcome or elude the difficulty.

On the two last points they and I desire your suggestions. At best their Case demands our sympathy, for when their faith is known imprisonment or banishment probably both, are the mildest forms in which their case will be treated, unless as in a case lately tried in Switzerland they might be sentenced to a term of imprisonment, another term of hard labour. Their Ca[illegible] themselves prohibited from ever leaving their native Country and from getting married.

In helping to commence the Work in Dresden the Lord has granted me one great desire of my life for ever since you counselled me to learn that language while we were together on the Counsel Boat in Ohio in 1844 my feelings have been particularly led towards [end of page 7] the German people, and I have made three[?] several efforts to learn the language. The little which I have acquired I found an essential aid to me as I was enabled to administer baptism in the tongue of the candidates and am now more than ever resolved to acquire the language. Please let nothing concerning the Work in Saxony go into print or be made public in any way outside the Territory until the mustard seed as sprouted and got strength to live. Our most fanciful apprehensions are from what would result from such a circumstance as this. . . .

With everlasting love, I remain your fellow labourer,

F. D. Richards.34

After organizing the Dresden Branch on Sunday, October 21, Richards and Kimball attended the Saxon state fair and left on Tuesday morning at 4:00 a.m. to return to England,35 leaving Budge with the new members for several more weeks. The little branch struggled on in secret until the next spring when the authorities became aware of its existence. In March 1856, Franklin D. Richards reported to Brigham Young that Maeser had visited England for about two weeks and that the Dresden Branch was growing “cheeringly,” adding, “The police had not then discovered their movements although they were nearly ready to organize two other branches.” Maeser had reported to him “that the Church increases by the grace of God every day.”36

Were the Police Involved in Maeser Leaving Saxony?

Maeser’s history of the Dresden Branch describes some of the events that followed after the branch was formed in October 1855:

About the beginning of December the church in Saxony had increased to 32 members, when a letter arrived from President Richards from Liverpool, summoning Elder Maeser to England during the holidays. The latter started off at once and visited with Elder Budge, the saints in Liverpool, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, attending their meetings, speaking several times in German and returned highly benefited after a four weeks’ absence to Dresden. During his absence things had become clouded, the saints not observing the strict discretion perhaps enjoined upon them, had given cause to the police to inspect, and they were watched in all their movements, and Brother Maeser saw that the net was drawn tighter around them every day. To save from the coming catastrophe as many as he could, he sent his brother-in-law, with his wife and sister, Auguste Bartholomeus, who also had been baptized, to England, being himself determined to stay at his post and risk the consequences. But upon the representation of Brother Schoenfeld to Pres. Richards, a note arrived releasing Elder Maeser of his appointment and ordering him to come to England forthwith.

No official German records have yet been found that verify Maeser was arrested or questioned by the police, but no surviving record of police action does not mean that none occurred. No records have been found that Franklin D. Richards, William Kimball, or William Budge ever visited Dresden in 1855 either, but the lack of extant police documentation among the records that survived the bombing of Dresden in 1945 does not prove that there was no involvement.

On March 28, 1856, John L. Smith, president of the Swiss and Italian Mission, wrote in his journal, “Received a Letter from Karl Mäser Dresden 24th written in English; that they called the branch Bethesda, now number 30 members. The police are very attentive and he is obliged to move with great caution.”37 On May 14, 1856, Smith recorded, “Received a letter from Elder Mäser Dresden 14th inst. that the police knew he was a Mormon & were watching him very closely. They had had him before them & in prison, but he did not know what they would do yet.”38

In October 1856, Orson Pratt, who replaced Richards over the European missions, wrote to Brigham Young, “The Brethren Meäser and Schonfield who were banished from Dresden Saxony are in London and doing a good work among the Germans and Danes there, baptized quite a number and organized a branch. The work is progressing also in Dresden in spite of the opposition of the Priests and police, under the direction of Elder Meäser President of that Mission.”39

The biography given at Maeser’s fiftieth jubilee and published in School and Fireside reported, “For no sooner was it known to the authorities that he had ‘turned Mormon’ than he was compelled not only to give up his position, but to flee from his native land.”40 Daniel Tyler’s account continued, “When the authorities learned to their satisfaction that he had joined the Church of the Saints they not only dropped him from his position, but banished him from the kingdom.”41

The Saxon minister of education Von Beust had placed very stringent requirements on the teachers in May 1851 and expanded the reasons for dismissing them, including: “If the teacher in a flagrant manner neglects the religious practice of the confession to which he by virtue of his office is obliged,” or “If the teacher is guilty of making invective statements about the constitution and ordinances, or likewise about the officials of the state or church.”42 School inspectors were given strict instructions to make regular visits, “especially to monitor the behavior of the teacher within and without his office and to annotate precisely and impartially not only his perceptions regarding the school protocol, but also to notify the district school inspector without delay regarding social mischief that they cannot remedy.”43 School inspectors who knowingly gave a good reference “against the truth” or who knowingly failed to disclose unacceptable qualities were forced to pay the salary increase given the teacher out of their own salary.

To suppose that the police had nothing to do with Maeser and Schoenfeld leaving Saxony is to overlook too much evidence. After Maeser and Schoenfeld left for England, a flurry of newspaper articles appeared in Dresden, Cologne, Augsburg, Munich, and Berlin, suggesting that uncovering a secret congregation of Mormons was indeed a shocking news item. Maeser, then in England, responded to one report in the Sächsische Dorfzeitung that intimated he had joined the Mormons out of ambition to become an “Apostle” in his new home in Salt Lake or at least to overcome his “failed financial circumstances.” The article continued by recommending that anyone who would like to know more about the Mormons should consult the new book by Moritz Busch.44 Maeser reminded the readers that the other side should also be heard.

While not every newspaper report confirmed the oppressive nature of the Saxon government at the time, they all recognized that the existence of a Mormon congregation in Dresden was alarming. It was even considered surprising news in the United States. On September 17, 1856, the German Reformed Messenger (published in Pennsylvania) reported the story, concluding, “In Saxony they [the Mormons] have succeeded in forming a society of adherents in the city of Dresden, carefully avoiding any collision with the police, who are ever on the alert for new religious sects, suspecting every new doctrine to be a mere cloak for some political plot.”45

The Kölnische Zeitung also provided evidence that the police would have been very concerned about a secret congregation of Mormons in Dresden: “While individuals cannot be forbidden from joining a faith according to their whims or to discuss religious systems, naturally these people must be very cunning to build a congregation without facing further police actions. Our ‘saints of the last days’ are clever enough to stay out of sight.”46

In an 1856 article in the Historisch-politische Blätter für das katholische Deutschland, Josef Edmund Jörg wrote a lengthy treatise on Mormonism47 and its political ambitions to create a heaven on earth. After describing its basic beliefs, he turned to its missionary success in various countries. While it had found much success in parts of Europe, it met stiff resistance in Germany. He described how seven missionaries had been sent to Germany to establish the work, but all had been expelled (“ausgewiesen”) or thrust out (“fortgeschubt”) by the police, when suddenly a month previously the news came that a secret congregation had been formed in Dresden, apparently without the police being aware of it. It included two of the city’s teachers (Mäser and Schönfeld), supposing that there were undoubtedly more congregations in Germany secretly gathering without the knowledge of the police. He concluded, “At any rate, only the police will carry the guilt if the German protestant nation is not highly represented in the new age in the valleys of Utah.”48 Apparently, this author was convinced that police toleration of Mormonism in Germany would constitute negligence of their duty.

Karl Maeser’s story remains one of a remarkable seeker of truth, who embraced the restored gospel knowing that it would require a great personal sacrifice. Saxony was not welcoming to the new faith. He stayed at his post in Dresden attempting to share the gospel until it was no longer tenable. He left his beloved fatherland with a heavy heart, but one also filled with hope for the future. On his way to America in 1857, he wrote to his German compatriots:

My entrance into the Church was difficult and turbulent. It wasn’t enough that I had to sacrifice my fatherland, my professional position, my possessions, the love of my parents and friends and my good name before the world, but before I stood ready to fully enjoy the marvelous blessings of Jesus’ Kingdom, I was also required to renounce many of my fondest preferences and prejudices. . . . I am moved to pain and my eyes are filled with tears as I look back at Europe and my dear German fatherland, for I have left much there that I can never forget. I also see, however, with firm view, a hard and stormy time facing me across the great waters! . . . I pray that they may be blessed as I am now, that the God of Joseph and Brigham, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be with you and all the Saints, that the honest in heart in this region will continue to gather to his house until the day comes that everything will be confirmed that the prophets of old have said and that the current generation rejects. Amen.49


A. LeGrand (Buddy) Richards is Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Foundations at Brigham Young University. He served as department chair from 2005 to 2009. He served as president of the Far Western Philosophy of Education Society from 1995 to 1996. He has also been a visiting professor at the University of Würzburg, Germany. Specializing in educational philosophy, he published an educational biography of Karl G. Maeser, founder of Brigham Young University, Called to Teach: The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2014). He is the founding president of the LDS Education Association. Richards served as president of the Provo Utah South Stake for ten years and is the father of five daughters and the grandfather of fifteen.


1. Daniel Tyler kept a detailed account of Richards’s visit in this journal. Daniel Tyler, Journal, 1854 November–1855 November, MS 4846, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, especially September 12–October 2, 1855; see also “Departures,” Millennial Star 17 (September 22, 1855): 605; (September 29, 1855): 620; “President F. D. Richards,” Millennial Star 17 (October 20, 1855): 665; (November 10, 1855): 723; compare also A. LeGrand Richards, Called to Teach: The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2014), 100–103.

2. Orson Spencer, The Prussian Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1853), 3. For an analysis of this experience in the context of the politics in continental Europe, see Jacob G. Bury, “The Politics of Proselytizing: Europe after 1848 and the Development of Mormon Pre-Millennialism” (2016), All Graduate Plan B and Other Reports, Utah State University, available on DigitalCommons@USU, http://docplayer.net/48493609-The-politics-of-proselytizing-europe-after-1848-and-the-development-of-mormon-pre-millenialism.html.

3. Spencer, Prussian Mission, 6, 4, 10–11.

4. George C. Riser to S. W. Richards, “The German Mission,” Millennial Star 15 (June 4, 1853): 365–67.

5. J. F. Secrist to S. W. Richards, “The German Mission,” Millennial Star 15 (June 4, 1853): 362–65.

6. Roger P. Minert and M. Ralf Bartsch, “Why and How Did Karl G. Maeser Leave Saxony? New Documents Offer New Insights,” BYU Studies Quarterly 55, no. 2 (2016): 74–98, supposed that Maeser and Schoenfeld met each other at the Budich Institut but thought many of Schoenfeld’s later reports appeared with inaccurate dates; in all of them, however, he confirmed that he met Maeser while teaching at the same school. In his autobiography, he recorded that after graduating from his teacher college in Freiberg, “In May 1852 I went through an examination for a position as Teacher in the Capital City of Dresden and received a position on the 1st Bezirkschule (District School) under Director Mieth, whose daughter Ottilie I later have married. . . . In Dresden became acquainted with a Teacher Karl G. Maeser; both of us married daughters of school director Mieth.” Edward Schoenfeld, Autobiography, MS 18126, Church History Library. From 1853 to 1856, Schoenfeld is listed exclusively as a teacher in District schools. Schoenfeld is not listed in the 1852 Adressbuch, but is listed in the 1853 Adressbuch as a Hulfslehrer (assistant teacher) with Maeser (Maeser was listed as Lehrer [teacher]) at the 1st District School. In 1854–56, he is listed in the Adressbuch as Hulfslehrer (assistant teacher) in the IV Bezirkschule (Fourth District School), verifying that he remained in the district schools and did not join the Budich Institut.

7. Minert and Bartsch found a document listing Maeser’s salary in 1852 and concluded that Maeser’s only employment in Dresden was at the Budich Institut, starting as early as 1851. This would deny that he taught at the 1st District School, where he worked under Mieth. At the jubilee held for Maeser for his fifty years as a teacher, a recitation was given about each of his five decades of teaching; these were then published in the 1898 edition of Maeser’s book School and Fireside. It records: “The magistrate of Dresden invited him to teach in the first district school of that city. Promotion soon followed, and his next post of responsibility was that of Oberlehrer or head teacher of the Budig Academy. . . . He had met and fallen in love with a daughter of the principal of the former school—a woman who, for nearly half a century afterwards, worked faithfully by his side through trials such as only a pioneer life can bring.” Karl G. Maeser, School and Fireside (Provo, Utah: Skelton, 1898), 352–53. If the Budich Institut was Maeser’s first place of employment, Maeser himself could have clarified this in his 1898 book. In the Dresden Adressbuch of 1853, Maeser is listed at both the district school and the Budich Institut, though it is not likely that he had both positions. Mieth is also listed as the director in 1853, though he passed away in December of 1852. See the obituary in the Sächsische Schulzeitung, January 9, 1853, 26–27. So, I conclude that the Adressbuch was not accurately updated, and that most likely Maeser taught at the district school during the 1851–52 school year, after which he transferred to the Budich Institut. See Adressbuch der Haupt- und Residenzstadt Dresden (Dresden: Verlag des Königlichen Sächsischen Adreß-Comptoirs, 1852), 361. These references are available online at http://digital.slub-dresden.de/werkansicht/dlf/393/1/.

8. Richards, Called to Teach, 82–95. See also A. LeGrand Richards, “Moritz Busch’s Die Mormonen and the Conversion of Karl G. Maeser,” BYU Studies 45, no. 4 (2006): 46–67.

9. As quoted in James E. Talmage, “In Worthy Remembrance,” Millennial Star 88 (December 9, 1926): 772.

10. Tyler, Journal, July 11, 1855. See also Daniel Tyler, “Incidents of Experience,” Faith-Promoting Series, vol. 10 (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor, 1882), 43.

11. Jesse R. S. Budge, The Life of William Budge (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1915), 47–62.

12. Franklin D. Richards to Brigham Young, October 6, 1855, CR 1234, Brigham Young Office Files, 1832–1878, Church History Library.

13. Minert and Bartsch, “Why and How Did Karl G. Maeser Leave Saxony?” 74–98.

14. Minert and Bartsch, “Why and How Did Karl G. Maeser Leave Saxony?” 86.

15. Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt für das Königreich Sachsen vom Jahre 1855 (Dresden: CC Meinhold, 1855), 30–31; all translations by the author. Hans Martin Moderow also contends that associations were required to register based on an earlier law: “Eine Verordnung, die zu den gemeinsam mit der Wiederberufung der alten Stände ergriffenen Maßnahmen gehörte, beschränkte die Rechte derjenigen Vereine, die ‘öffentliche Angelegenheiten’ behandelten. Ihnen wurde auferlegt, ihre Statuten bei den Behörden einzureichen. Dies galt für Neugründungen, aber auch für die schon bestehenden Vereine. Außerdem wurde für alle Versammlungen eine Meldepflicht eingeführt. Zugleich wurde (§ 24) bestimmt, daß Vereine mit Bezug zu öffentlichen Angelegenheiten nicht als Körperschaft auftreten, keine Zweigvereine bilden und sich nicht mit anderen Vereinen verbinden durften. Allerdings wurde nicht definiert, was unter öffentlichen Angelegenheiten zu verstehen war.” Hans Martin Moderow, Volksschule zwischen Staat und Kirche: das Beispiel Sachsen im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert (Köln: Böhlau, 2007), 255, citing June 3, 1850, Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt (GVBl), 137–40; 149–50; June 7, 1850, GVBl, 149–50.

16. See, for example, Martin Kitchen, A History of Modern Germany, 1800–2000 (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2006), 91–92; Christian Jansen, “Saxon Forty-Eighters in Postrevolutionary Epoch, 1849–1867,” in Saxony in German History, ed. James Retallack (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000), 149; and Moderow, Volksschule zwischen Staat und Kirche, 250–80.

17. Minert and Bartsch dismiss these entries as unverified and probably exaggerated by Maeser; however, they do not offer any evidence that Maeser was prone to such exaggeration. They do admit that it would have been intolerable (“untragbar”) for Maeser and Schoenfeld to keep their school posts if it had been known they were Mormons.

18. Minert and Bartsch claim that in spite of Maeser’s signature at the end of the document, “the title makes it clear that it was written by Franklin D. Richards.” Minert and Bartsch, “Why and How Did Karl G. Maeser Leave Saxony?” 84. The full title of the document is “Report of the Organization of a Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of L.D. Saints at Dresden, Kingdom of Saxony. Oct. 21, 1855. by Franklin D. Richards, one of the twelve Apostles.” MS 391, Church History Library. There are inaccuracies in this record, especially regarding specific dates, but there is little reason to believe that the description of the social climate at the time was fabricated. Analysis of the handwriting clearly shows that Maeser was the writer, and the title makes it clear that Franklin D. Richards was the one who organized the branch—not the one who wrote the history. Maeser signed the report as: “Reporter.” This report is now available online at https://dcms.lds.org/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE10058319. Minert and Bartsch suppose, “Neither Maeser nor Schoenfeld made any such claim” that the branch drew the attention of the police. They overlooked accounts by both authors to the contrary. Karl G. Maeser, “Dresden Branch 1855,” LR 3168 v. 1—CRMH microfilm, German Mission History, Church History Library.

19. Maeser, “Dresden Branch 1855.”

20. Maeser, “Dresden Branch 1855,” 3.

21. “A Mormon Woods Meeting!: Three Days in a Jersey Wilderness,” New York Times, August 31, 1857, 5.

22. “The Mormons,” New York Herald, August 29, 1858, 3.

23. Edward Schoenfeld, Autobiography, MSS SC 1076, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

24. Edward Schoenfeld to Andrew Jenson, January 11, 1914, transcription available on FamilySearch.org, https://www.familysearch.org/photos/artifacts/19547619?pid=KWNX-DKZ.

25. Budge, Life of William Budge, 65.

26. Budge, Life of William Budge, 66.

27. Budge, Life of William Budge, 69.

28. Tyler, “Incidents of Experience,” 44. In August 1882, Maeser agreed for Tyler to publish this story, “if you think thereby any good can be done to the youth of our people you may refer to me in the manner indicated by you.” He did not insist on corrections. Tyler Papers, August 1882, MS 4846 3, Church History Library.

29. John Van Cott, Journal, July 29, 1855, MSS 1035, 1:223, Perry Special Collections.

30. Franklin D. Richards, Journal, October 11, 1855, MS 1215 6, Church History Library.

31. William H. Kimball, Journal, October 13, 1855, MS 8795, Church History Library.

32. Minert and Bartsch, “Why and How Did Karl G. Maeser Leave Saxony?” 90–91, overlooked the discussion of this letter in Called to Teach and claimed that I believed the 1892 account of Franklin D. Richards was the most credible.

33. Franklin D. Richards to Brigham Young, November 3, 1855, CR 1234 1, Brigham Young Office Files. In Young’s reply, he wrote, “While I think of it, I wish to suggest to you that in copying with the press for duplicates, the manuscript in some of your letters is nearly defaced by wetting the impression, while the paper is too wet, if your clerks would use the blotting paper a little more freely before they put in the manuscript, this might be avoided.” Brigham Young to Franklin D. Richards, May 29, 1856, CR 1234 1 2 827, Brigham Young Office Files.

34. Richards to Young, November 3, 1855. To view the entire transcript of the letter, see https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/political-climate-saxony-during-conversion-karl-g-maeser-supplementary-material.

35. Kimball, Journal, October 22, 1855.

36. Franklin D. Richards to Brigham Young, March 28, 1856, CR 1234 1, Brigham Young Office Files, 1832–78, Church History Library.

37. John L. Smith, Missionary journal, March 28, 1856, MSS 680, Perry Special Collections. I am left to suppose that they called the branch “Bethesda” to help keep it undiscovered.

38. John L. Smith, Journal, May 4, 1856, Church History Library.

39. Orson Pratt to Brigham Young, October 31, 1856, CR 1234 1, Church History Library.

40 Maeser, School and Fireside, 353–54. Before its publication, Maeser did not attempt to correct this rendition.

41. Daniel Tyler, “Incidents of Experience,” Classic Experiences and Adventures (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969), chapter 5, 45.

42. Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt für das Königreich Sachsen vom Jahre 1851, May 3, 1851, no. 33, §4 109.

43. Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt für das Königreich Sachsen vom Jahre 1851, May 5, 1851, no. 34, §4–7, 111.

44. Sächsische Dorfzeitung, August 22, 1856, 271. The Moritz Busch book, ironically, was the book that introduced Maeser to the Church, in spite of the author’s intent to criticize the Church’s followers. See Richards, “Moritz Busch’s Die Mormonen.”

45. German Reformed Messenger, September 17, 1856. This article was also reprinted in the New York Independent, “Spread of Mormonism,” October 2, 1856, 320.

46. Kölnische Zeitung, August 25, 1856. “Natürlich hüten diese Leute sich wohl, eine Gemeinde zu bilden, weil sie dann ohne Weiteres mit der Polizei in Händel geraten würden, während es den Individuen nicht verwehrt werden kann, sich einem Glauben nach Belieben anzuschließen und über religiöse Systeme sich zu unterhalten. Unsere ‘Heiligen vom jüngsten Tage’ sind klug genug, jedes Aussehen zu vermeiden.”

47. Josef Edmund Jörg, “Der Mormonismus,” in “Streiflichter auf die neueste Geschichte des Protestantismus,” Historisch-politische Blätter für das katholische Deutschland 38 (1856): 1068–110.

48. Jörg, “Der Mormonismus,” 1107.

49. Karl G. Maeser to John L. Smith, published in Darsteller, June 1857, 11–13, trans. A. LeGrand Richards and cited in Called to Teach, 146–48.