Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Lieber, Francis

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LIEBER, Francis (1800-1872), a distinguished publicist and writer on political science, was by birth a German, by adoption a citizen of the United States. He was the son of Frederick William Lieber, and was born at Berlin, March 18, 1800. Upon the return of Napoleon Bonaparte from Elba, young Lieber, then only fifteen years of age, volunteered as a soldier, and served with his two brothers under Marshal Blücher in the campaign of 1815. He fought at Ligny, Waterloo, and Namur. In the last-named battle he was twice severely and dangerously wounded. At the close of the war he returned to his studies, and joined the Berlin gymnasium under Dr Jahn. Shortly afterwards he was arrested and thrown into prison for his political sentiments, the chief evidence against him being several songs of liberty which he had written. After several months confinement he was discharged without a trial, but informed that he would not be permitted to pursue his studies at the Prussian universities. He accordingly went to Jena, where he took his degrees in 1820, subsequently continuing his studies at Halle and Dresden. When the Greek revolution broke out, young Lieber instantly resolved to take part in the struggle for Grecian independence. He made his way with great difficulty to Marseilles, travelling much of the way on foot, and thence embarked for Greece. His experiences there are recorded in his Journal in Greece, published at Leipsic in 1823, and at Amsterdam in the same year under the title of The German Anacharsis. Returning from Greece after the failure of the struggle, he landed at Ancona, and proceeded to Rome. There he made the acquaintance of Niebuhr, then Prussian ambassador to Rome, who took great interest in him and employed him as tutor to his son. He lived a year in the family of the historian, a period of his history which he afterwards embalmed in his Reminiscences of Niebuhr, first published in America, and afterwards in England. Returning from Rome to Berlin in 1823, he was soon again arrested by the Prussian authorities on the old charges of enmity to the Government and advocating republican opinions, and was imprisoned in the bastile of Koepnik, but was released after some months' confinement through the influence of Niebuhr. In 1825 he abandoned his country, and after spending a year in London went to the United States (1827), and as soon as possible was naturalized as a citizen of that country. Lieber took up his residence at Boston, and was occupied for five years in his laborious work The Encyclopædia Americana (13 vols.). In 1832 he removed to New York, where he published a translation of De Beaumont and De Tocqueville's work on the penitentiary system, with many notes. In 1833 he went to Philadelphia to prepare a plan of education for Girard College, then newly founded. While there he published Letters to a Gentleman in Germany and a supplement to his Encyclopædia. In 1835 he was appointed professor of history and political economy in South Carolina College at Columbia, S.C., where he remained more than twenty years, and during this period wrote and published the three great works upon which his fame as a writer chiefly rests — the Manual of Political Ethics (1838), Legal and Political Hermeneutics (1839), and Civil Liberty and Self Government (1853).[1]

In 1856 Lieber resigned the professorship in South Carolina College, and was immediately elected to a similar professorship in Columbia College, New York, and to the chair of political science in the law school of the same institution. He continued in the discharge of the duties of these positions until his death, which occurred October 2, 1872. During the great war for the preservation of the Union from 1861 to 1865, Lieber rendered services of great value to the Government of his adopted country, and was frequently consulted by the secretary of war. He was one of the first to point out by his pen the madness of secession, and was ever active in supporting the Government and upholding the Union. He prepared, upon the requisition of the president, the Code of War for the Government of the Armies of the United States in the Field, which was adopted and promulgated by the Government in General Orders No. 100 of the war department. This code has been characterized by many European publicists as a masterpiece, and it suggested to Bluntschli his codification of the law of nations, as may be seen in the preface to his Droit International Codifié. During this period also Lieber wrote his Guerilla Parties with Reference to the Laws and Usages of War, a valuable contribution to the law of war. At the time of his death he was by appointment of the Government of the United States the umpire of the commission for the adjudication of Mexican claims. The political writings of Francis Lieber are held in great estimation by all publicists. Sir Edward S. Creasy, in his First Platform of International Law, alluding to his death, has justly said of him, “America and the civilized vorld in general have lately had to deplore in his death the loss of one whom the French jurist M. Laboulaye has truly styled ‘une des figures les plus originales parmi les jurisconsultes de notre temps.’ ”

Besides the works already mentioned, Lieber published at various times many smaller works and pamphlets on different subjects, all of which attracted public attention, such as The Origin and Development of the First Constituents of Civilization, Great Events Described by Great Historians, Essays on Property and Labour, The Laws of Property, Penal Laws and the Penitentiary System, Prison Discipline, The Relation between Education and Crime, The Pardoning Power, The Character of the Gentleman, International Copyright, Laura Bridgman's Vocal Sounds, On Anglican and Gallican Liberty, The Post Office and Postal Reforms, Independence of the Judiciary, Nationalism, Rise of the Constitution (an unfinished work), and many minor tracts and publications. These works are all written with much ease and purity of idiom as if English had been his native tongue, a fact not more remarkable than that he, a German, should have become the great American teacher of the philosophy of Anglican political science. (M. R. T.)


  1. New editions of these works and of his miscellaneous writings have been published recently at Philadelphia.