1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lasker, Eduard

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LASKER, EDUARD (1820-1884), German publicist, was born on the 14th of October 1829, at Jarotschin, a village in Posen, being 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 students' 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. 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 for one of the divisions of Berlin in the Prussian parliament. He joined the radical or Fortschritts 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 Frankfort-on-Main 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 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 1867-1877. To him more than to any other single individual is due the great codification of the law. While he again and again was able to compel the government to withdraw or amend proposals which seemed dangerous to liberty, he opposed those liberals who, unable to obtain all the concessions which they called for, refused to vote for the new laws as a whole. A speech made by Lasker on the 7th of 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 Sezession, but was ill at ease in his new position. Broken in health and spirits by the incessant labours 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 on the 5th of January 1884.

Lasker's death was the occasion of a curious episode, which caused much discussion at the time. The American 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.

Among Lasker's writings may be mentioned: Zur Geschichte der parlamentarischen Entwickelung Preussens (Leipzig, 1873), Die Zukunft des Deutschen Reichs (Leipzig, 1877) and Wege und Ziele der Kulturentwickelung (Leipzig, 1881). After his death his Fünfzehn Jahre parlamentarischer Geschichte 1866-1880 appeared edited by W. Cahn (Berlin, 1902). See also L. Bamberger, Eduard Lasker, Gedenkrede (Leipzig, 1884); A. Wolff, Zur Erinnerung an Eduard Lasker (Berlin, 1884); Freund, Einiges über Eduard Lasker (Leipzig, 1885); and Eduard Lasker, seine Biographie und letzte öffentliche Rede, by various writers (Stuttgart, 1884). (J. W. He.)