Portrait of Eduard Lasker
14 October 1829
Jarotschin, Province of Posen, Prussia
|Died||5 January 1884
New York, New York, United States
Eduard Lasker (14 October 1829 – 5 January 1884) was a German politician and jurist. Inspired by the French Revolution, he became a spokesman for liberalism and the leader of the left wing of the National Liberal party, which represented middle-class professionals and intellectuals. He promoted the unification of Germany during the 1860s and played a major role in codification of the German legal code. Lasker at first compromised with Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who later strenuously opposed Lasker regarding freedom of the press. In 1881, Lasker left the National Liberal party and helped form the new German Free Thought Party.
He was born at Jarotschin, a village in Posen, the son of a Jewish tradesman. He attended the gymnasium, and afterwards the University of Breslau. In 1848, after the outbreak of the revolution, he went to Vienna and entered the student's legion which took so prominent a part in the disturbances; he fought against the imperial troops during the siege of the city in October. He then continued his legal studies at Breslau and Berlin, and after a visit of three years to England, then the model state for German liberals, entered the Prussian judicial service.
National Liberal Party
In 1870 he left the government service, and in 1873 was appointed to an administrative post in the service of the city of Berlin. He had been brought to the notice of the political world by some articles he wrote from 1861 to 1864, which were afterwards published under the title Zur Verfassungsgeschichte Preussens (Leipzig, 1874), and in 1865 he was elected member to the Prussian House of Representatives. He joined the radical German Progress Party, and in 1867 was also elected to the German parliament, but he helped to form the National Liberal Party, and in consequence lost his seat in Berlin, which remained faithful to the radicals; after this he represented Magdeburg and Frankfurt in the Prussian, and Meiningen in the German parliament. He threw himself with great energy into his parliamentary duties, and quickly became one of its most popular and most influential members. An optimist and idealist, he joined to a fervent belief in liberty an equal enthusiasm for German unity and the idea of the German state. His motion that Baden should be included in the North German Confederation in January 1870 caused much embarrassment to Otto von Bismarck, but was not without effect in hastening the crisis of 1870.
His great work, however, was the share he took in the judicial reform during the ten years 1867 to 1877. The codification of the law during this period is attributable more to him than to any other single individual. While he again and again was able to compel the government to withdraw or amend proposals that seemed dangerous to liberty, he opposed those liberals who, unable to obtain all the concessions they called for, refused to vote for the new laws as a whole.
Breaking with his party
A speech made by Lasker on 7 February 1873, in which he attacked the management of the Pomeranian railway, caused a great sensation, and his exposure of the financial mismanagement brought about the fall of Hermann Wagener, one of Bismarck's most trusted assistants. By this action he caused, however, some embarrassment to his party. This is generally regarded as the beginning of the reaction against economic liberalism by which he and his party were to be deprived of their influence. He refused to follow Bismarck in his financial and economic policy after 1878; always unsympathetic to the chancellor, he was now selected for his most bitter attacks.
Between the radicals and socialists on the one side and the government on the other, like many of his friends, he was unable to maintain himself. In 1879 he lost his seat in the Prussian parliament; he joined the Secession, but was ill at ease in his new position. Broken in health and spirits by the incessant labors of the time when he did half the work of the Reichstag, he went in 1883 for a tour in America, and died suddenly in New York City in January 1884. Carl Schurz spoke at his New York funeral.
Lasker's death was the occasion of a curious episode, which caused much discussion at the time. The United States House of Representatives adopted a motion of regret, and added to it these words:
That his loss is not alone to be mourned by the people of his native land, where his firm and constant exposition of, and devotion to, free and liberal ideas have materially advanced the social, political and economic conditions of these people, but by the lovers of liberty throughout the world.
This motion was sent through the American minister at Berlin to the German foreign office, with a request that it might be communicated to the president of the Reichstag. It was to ask Bismarck officially to communicate a resolution in which a foreign parliament expressed an opinion in German affairs exactly opposed to that which the emperor at his advice had always followed. Bismarck therefore refused to communicate the resolution, and returned it through the German minister at Washington.
- Zur Geschichte der parlamentarischen Entwickelung Preussens (Leipzig, 1873)
- Die Zukunft des Deutschen Reichs (Leipzig, 1877)
- Wege und Ziele der Kulturentwicklung (Leipzig, 1881)
- Fünfzehn Jahre parlamentarischer Geschichte 1866-1880 appeared edited by W. Cahn (Berlin, 1902). See also
- Harris, James F. (1984). A Study in the Theory and Practice of German Liberalism: Eduard Lasker, 1829–1884. University Press of America. p. 17. ISBN 0819141747.
- Chisholm 1911.
- "Correspondence: New York Letter". The Week : a Canadian journal of politics, literature, science and arts. 1 (7): 102. 17 Jan 1884. Retrieved 24 April 2013.
- Harris, James F. "Eduard Lasker and Compromise Liberalism." Journal of Modern History (1970): 342-360. in JSTOR
- Harris, James F. A study in the theory and practice of German liberalism: Eduard Lasker, 1829-1884 (University Press of America, 1984)
- Krieger, Leonard. 'The German idea of freedom: History of a political tradition from the Reformation to 1871 (1957). pp 438-63
- Mork, Gordon R. "Bismarck and the" Capitulation" of German Liberalism." Journal of Modern History (1971): 59-75. in JSTOR
- Sheehan, James J.: German Liberalism in the Nineteenth Century. (1978)
- Rosemarie Schuder: Der "Fremdling aus dem Osten". Eduard Lasker - Jude, Liberaler, Gegenspieler Bismarcks. Berlin: Verlag für Berlin-Brandenburg 2008, 269 S., ISBN 978-3-86650-780-7
- Dieter Langewiesche: Liberalismus in Deutschland. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 1988, ISBN 3-518-11286-4
- Heinrich August Winkler: Preussischer Liberalismus und deutscher Nationalstaat. Studien zur Geschichte der Deutschen Fortschrittspartei 1861-1866. Mohr (Siebeck), Tübingen 1964
- Media related to Eduard Lasker at Wikimedia Commons
- Eduard Lasker in the German National Library catalogue
- Klaus Wippermann (1884), "Lasker, Eduard", Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB) (in German), 19, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 746–753
- Klaus Erich Pollmann (1982), "Lasker, Eduard", Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB) (in German), 13, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 656–657; (full text online)
- Kurzbiografie auf der Website der RBB-Produktion Preussen - Chronik eines deutschen Staates
- Eduard Lasker Collection at Brandeis University
- Guide to the Papers of Eduard Lasker at the Leo Baeck Institute, New York.