Popular Science Monthly/Volume 52/January 1898/Sketch of Francis Lieber

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FRANCIS LIEBER fled to our shores a political exile, but he afterward became one of the greatest publicists of the world, and shed glory on American scholarship by expounding the principles of liberty. He accomplished in two of our colleges the work on which his fame will rest. Although he attained his scientific maturity in America, he was born in Berlin, and received his scientific training in the schools of his native land and in his intercourse with some of her most noted scholars. Lieber was born March 10, 1800, and his youth was passed during a time of intense political strife. He was the tenth child of Frederick William Lieber, an ironmonger, whose family consisted of nine sons and three daughters. From his earliest years his mind was impressed with the memories of warfare, and his father delighted to explain to him the engravings on the walls of the sitting room representing some honorable actions of his great king. His mother was one of those noble, patriotic German women who threw their gold wedding rings into the public treasury, and received rings of iron in their places, bearing the imperial signet and the words "We gave gold for iron." Lieber was but six years of age when the Prussian army was annihilated at Jena, and the country lay prostrate at the feet of Napoleon.

Lieber's first desire was to become a botanist. To this end he entered the Botanic Garden near Berlin, but he remained there only a short time on account of the ill treatment that he received from the director of the garden. The guiding principle of his school life came from Dr. Jahn, who settled in Berlin in 1809 to establish a place for physical exercise. Lieber became one of his pupils as early as 1811. Dr. Jahn realized the fact that Germany needed to be brought into a proper state of enthusiasm before it would be able to resist the French, and while he trained the young men for the battlefield he took every opportunity to appeal to their national spirit. He urged the necessity of German unity, and his hatred of France was so intense that he expurgated from the language of his school all words of French origin. Hence, he chose the word "turnen" as the German name for his gymnastic exercises. This system of education was the flowering of the seed that had been dropped by the French philosopher in "Émile," a book which brought forward a new problem in the education of the young in the eighteenth century. "Émile," was everywhere read, and aroused the greatest enthusiasm. The teachers sought to aid the movement in various ways, but Dr. Jahn made the best statement of the advantages of physical training, and he gave this training a permanent place in the German system of education. His personal influence was great, and the desire of his life seemed to be to establish German unity.

Lieber remained under the instruction of Dr. Jahn until the age of fifteen years, when his school career was interrupted by the trumpet tones of war, calling the youth to the defense of their country. When Napoleon escaped fron Elba schoolboys were welcomed in the Prussian army, and Lieber served as a volunteer in the Waterloo campaign. He received two wounds at Waterloo, and after recovering in the hospital at Aix-la-Chapelle he returned to his home in Berlin. He at once resumed his studies under the guidance of Dr. Jahn. In 1819 the schools for physical exercise in Prussia were closed. The same year Dr. Jahn and Lieber were arrested as enemies of the state. Upon his discharge without a trial, Lieber was refused permission to study in the Prussian universities, but was finally admitted to Jena, where in 1820 he took his degree. Being under the constant guard of the police, he decided to leave his native country, and, as the Greek Revolution had just broken out, he made his way to Greece and took part in the struggle. He became disgusted at the miserable condition of things there, and, returning from Greece, he spent some time in Rome with Niebuhr, the Prussian minister. He then proceeded to his native land, but was again placed under arrest for entertaining liberal sentiments. On his release he decided to make his home in America, and in 1827 he arrived in this country.

Lieber was recommended by Dr. Jahn as a suitable person to introduce the Prussian system of physical culture into the Tremont Gymnasium in Boston. Here he taught scientifically Prussian gymnastics; and he was one of the first exponents in America of the physical basis of education. The liberality of his views on education is well illustrated in his plan for the organization of Girard College, which attracted widespread attention. It reveals the fact that he had a wonderful grasp of pedagogic questions, and but few recent writers have made any advance beyond his liberal ideas. At that time there were no polytechnic schools in America, and Lieber's plan included the various branches of polytechnic instruction, as well as provision for the education of teachers. In commenting on the plan, Edward Livingston wrote from Paris in 1834: "You have written three lines which ought forever to be impressed on the minds of all teachers, whether of science, politics, or religion. I know of no truth more happily expressed than that 'there is a religion under all the variety of sects; there is a patriotism under all the variety of parties; there is a love of knowledge and a true science under all the variety of theories.' " As early as 1858 Lieber strongly urged the establishment of a real university in this country, as a cultural means of promoting a more generous nationality. This was twenty-five years before the university ideal was reached in America. His conception of a university included all that our most venerable institutions have yet realized.

Lieber struggled for eight years before he found any permanent employment. In 1828 he began the work of editing the Encyclopædia Americana, and in his project he was warmly supported by Edward Everett, George Bancroft, and Judge Story. He yearned for the time when he might be able to write upon subjects that had long occupied his mind. In 1835 his hopes were realized by his appointment to the professorship of history and political economy in South Carolina College. In his contact with Niebuhr at Home he had acquired a taste for historical studies, and he became the first great teacher in this country of history and politics as co-ordinated subjects.

It was Lieber's lot to encounter many obstacles in his career. Although as a boy his soul longed for liberty, he found even in America a part of the human race in bondage, and this earnest advocate of freedom was compelled to make his home in the very midst of the slave power. Lieber did not desire to go to the South, but after a struggle of eight years in the North he felt compelled to accept the position in order to provide for his family. It also afforded him leisure time to write his Political Ethics, Legal and Political Hermeneutics, and Civil Liberty and Self-Government, the three great works upon which his fame will chiefly rest. In 1856 he was a candidate for the presidency of the college, and, failing to secure this position, he resigned his professorship. The next year, he was called to Columbia College, New York city. Dr. Herbert B. Adams states that the call of Lieber to Columbia College marks the first recognition by a Northern college of history and politics as properly co-ordinated subjects. Lieber spent nearly forty years as a teacher of this most vital branch to the youth of the republic.

Before tracing out the leading theories of Lieber's works, it may be well to refer to the political thought of his day. His youth was spent in a period when in his own country two opposing schools of law and political science existed. The historical school based its method upon the course of outward events and their evolution, while the philosophical school began with the knowledge of the human mind, and from this starting point considered the revelation of the spirit of man in history. Dr. Bluntschli says that only a few philosophers have had the genius to unite the two methods. Lieber rose above the conflict of the two schools and became one of the first representatives of their alliance. In writing his great works he had to venture upon an untrodden path, and, in his Political Ethics, also a dangerous one, because in exploring a new field he had to touch some of the most vital and delicate points. His life in the South, although uncongenial to him, was a period of rich production, and he became the author of the first great original treatise on political science in America. He had long occupied himself with the thought of writing on political ethics. He felt that the many subjects which have a strong influence on politics, and yet do not belong to political or legal science, should be treated soundly and truthfully. These subjects included the ethical nature of man, public opinion, parties, factions, opposition, love of truth, perseverance, the duty of representatives, judges, advocates, officeholders, and the pardoning power. The keynote of the Political Ethics is, "No right without its duties, no duty without its rights." The work called forth the warmest admiration of jurists, statesmen, and historians.

Lieber made another valuable contribution to political science in The Legal and Political Hermeneutics, published in 1839. One of the first articles which he read after landing in New York was in a paper opposed to the administration of President Adams. The writer founded his objections on the construction of the Constitution. The subject was new to Lieber, as political construction of this kind is peculiar to America, where the idea of a written constitution was first realized on a large scale. His attention was attracted by the novelty, and when he began his work on Political Ethics he was led to reflect more deeply on constitutional construction. The value of the work is stated in The Nation as follows: "Many of the topics discussed were at this time new, doubtful, and difficult, and Lieber lived to find conclusions which he had arrived at and was the first to express thirty years ago, referred to by writers of the present day as familiar political truths, without, perhaps, any conception on the part of the writers of the source whence they were derived." Lieber's best known work and greatest contribution to political science is his Civil Liberty and Self-Government, published in 1853. It was written during the vicissitudes of the French Government, and can not be read with profit without taking into view the events of 1848 and the empire of Napoleon III, for through the book there are drawn frequent contrasts between Anglican and Gallican liberty. The Civil Liberty and Self-Government at once attracted the attention of scholars. In 1854 Woolsey put the book into the hands of his pupils in Yale College. Professor Creasy, of England, author of the Rise and Progress of the British Constitution, said: "Dr. Lieber is the first who has pointed out the all-important principle of English and American liberty, that every officer remains individually responsible for what he does, no matter whether he acts under the order of his superiors or not—a principle wholly unknown in other countries." The work was translated into German by Mittermaier, and found a warm welcome in Europe. Lieber was interested all through his life in the subject of penal law. When De Beaumont and De Tocqueville published their report on American prisons, they requested him to translate it into English, and he did so in 1833, adding copious notes, for which he received the thanks of some of our leading jurists. The King of Prussia desired to appoint him inspector general of prisons, with the permission to lecture on penology in the university.

In his later years Lieber's attention was especially directed to the subject of international law. The following words of the late Dr. Bluntschli tell of his great activity in this direction: "Lieber had great influence, I may add, in founding the Institut de Droit International, which was started in Ghent in 1873, and forms a permanent alliance of leading international jurists from all civilized nations, for the purpose of working harmoniously together, and thus serving as an organ for the legal consciousness of the civilized world. Lieber was the first to propose and to encourage the idea of professional jurists of all nations thus coming together for consultation, and seeking to establish a common understanding. From this impulse proceeded Rolin-Jacquemyn's circular letter, drawn up in Ghent, calling together a number of men, eminent for their learning. This latter proposal to found a permanent academy of international law met with general acceptance, but this was merely a further development of the original idea of Lieber, which was at the bottom of the whole scheme. His notion was now approved and the efficiency of the association was thus assured for the future."

Lieber's contributions to military law form the greatest work of his later years. At the instance of President Lincoln he prepared Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, which being approved by a board of officers and by the President, were published in 1863, as General Orders, No. 100. This work, the first codification of International Articles of War, forms a permanent addition to military law. The adoption of the code brought Lieber into close relations with the War Department at Washington, and he became its adviser in all matters relating to it. The codification was received with great favor abroad. It suggested to Dr. Bluntschli the idea of codifying the laws of war and the law of nations. His letter to Lieber is printed as a preface to the International Code; and he valued the instructions for the armies so highly that he had them published in full as an appendix to it. In 1863, at the request of General Halleck, Lieber prepared an essay on Guerrilla Parties which was received so favorably by the Government that an attempt was made to have a chair on the law and usages of war established at West Point, and to secure the appointment for Lieber. This was never accomplished, but at the close of the war he was appointed to classify the Confederate archives in the office of the War Department.

Although Lieber was so firm a Union man, we may behold in him the symbol of civil war. His eldest son, Oscar, laid down his life for the cause of secession. His other two sons held commissions in the Union army: Norman, who became a lieutenant, and is now Judge Advocate General, and Hamilton, who lost an arm at Fort Donelson. Although Lieber took a deep interest in all public measures and followed closely the current of political thought, his mind was not adapted to take a practical, everyday part in current politics. His heart was bound up in the welfare of his country, and he could not descend to the level of the partisan. In a letter to me, Hon. A. D. White thus speaks of Lieber: "As regards taking a practical, everyday part in politics, I never thought him of the build for that. In fact, I once saw a curious exhibition of his inability to take such part. He had been elected a delegate to a State Republican Convention, and came up to Syracuse, where I then was, to attend it. As he was my guest, I suggested to him, when the time arrived for calling the convention to order, that we should go to the hall where it was held, but he was engaged in very earnest political talk with me, and put off going, probably with the idea that not much would be done until his arrival. We reached the hall about an hour late, found it in all the noise and uproar which generally attends the sessions of such bodies, and, as we listened to a roll call, found that another delegate had claimed his seat and had been admitted. He heard the name of his opponent called and responded to, said not a word, listened a little longer, then proposed that we should take a walk, and he never went near the convention again."

Lieber died October 2, 1872. One who best knew him declared that by his death the whole world sustained an irreparable loss. The influence of his profound works upon the public mind has been great. It has been charged against him that he was a doctrinaire, but even if this were so, it would be no reproach. While strongly grounded in the best thoughts of the best thinkers on political subjects, he was as independent in his thinking as any wise man is likely to be. However restricted may have been his popular influence as an author, his opinions and writings have been valued by the foremost thinkers of the age in every land of well-ordered liberty, and his works have been a mine of wealth to thousands who never acknowledged it. "No right without its duties, no duty without its rights," was Lieber's favorite motto, and his life and writings were molded by this principle.