1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Simson, Martin Eduard von
SIMSON, MARTIN EDUARD VON (1810-1899), German jurist and politician, was born at Königsberg, in Prussia, on the 10th of November 1810, of Jewish parentage. After the usual course at the gymnasium of his native town, he entered its university in 1826 as a student of jurisprudence, and specially of Roman law. He continued his studies at Berlin and Bonn, and, having graduated doctor juris, attended lectures at the École de Droit in Paris. Returning to Königsberg in 1831 he established himself as a Privatdozent in Roman law, becoming two years later extraordinary, and in 1836 ordinary, professor in that faculty at the university. Like many other distinguished German jurists, pari passu with his professorial activity, Simson followed the judicial branch of the legal profession, and, passing rapidly through the subordinate stages of auscultator and assessor, became adviser (Rath) to the Landgericht in 1846. In this year he stood for the representation of Königsberg in the National Assembly at Frankfort-on-Main, and on his election was immediately appointed secretary, and in the course of the same year became successively its vice-president and president. In his capacity of president he appeared, on 3rd April 1849, in Berlin at the head of a deputation of the Frankfort parliament to announce to King Frederick William IV. his election as German Emperor by the representatives of the people. The king, either apprehensive of a rupture with Austria, or fearing detriment to the prerogatives of the Prussian crown should he accept this dignity at the hands of a democracy, refused the offer. Simson, bitterly disappointed at the outcome of his mission, resigned his seat in the Frankfort parliament, but in the summer of the same year was elected deputy for Königsberg in the popular chamber of the Prussian Landtag. Here he soon made his mark as one of the best orators in that assembly. A member of the short-lived Erfurt parliament of 1850, he was again summoned to the presidential chair.
On the dissolution of the Erfurt assembly, Simson retired from politics, and for the next few years devoted himself exclusively to his academical and judicial duties. It was not until 1859 that he re-entered public life, when he was elected deputy for Königsberg in the lower chamber of the Prussian Landtag, of which he was president in 1860 and 1861. In the first of these years he attained high judicial office as president of the court of appeal at Frankfort on the Oder. In 1867, having been elected a member of the constituent assembly of the North German Federation, he again occupied the presidential chair, as he did also in the first regular Diet and the Zoll-parliament which succeeded it. On 18th December 1870 Simson arrived at the head of a deputation in the German headquarters at Versailles to offer the imperial crown to the king of Prussia in the name of the newly-elected Reichstag. The conditions under which Prussia might justly aspire to the hegemony in Germany at last appeared to have been accomplished, no obstacles, as in 1849, were in the way of the acceptance of the crown by the leading sovereign of the confederation, and on 18th January 1871 King William of Prussia was proclaimed with all pomp German Emperor in the Salle des Glaces at Versailles. Simson continued as president of the Reichstag until 1874, when he retired from the chair, and in 1877 resigned his seat in the Diet, but at Bismarck's urging, accepted the presidency of the supreme court of justice (Reichsgericht), and this high office he filled with great distinction until his final retirement from public life in 1891. In 1888 the emperor Frederick bestowed upon Simson the order of the Black Eagle.
His political career coincides with the era of German struggles towards unity. As a politician he was one of the leaders of modern Liberalism, and though always loyal when appeals were made to patriotism, such as government demands for the army, he remained obdurate on constitutional questions; and he resolutely opposed the reactionary policy of the Prussian Conservatives. On his retirement from the presidency of the Reichsgericht, he left Leipzig and made his home in Berlin, where he died on the 2nd of May 1899.
His Life was written by his son, Bernard von Simson, under the title Eduard von Simson, Erinnerungen aus seinem Leben (1900).
(P. A. A.)