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Gagern, Hans Christoph Ernst

GAGERN, HANS CHRISTOPH ERNST, Baron von (1766-1852), German statesman and political writer, was born at Kleinniedesheim, near Worms, on the 25th of January 1766. After studying law at the universities of Leipzig and Göttingen, he entered the service of the prince of Nassau-Weilburg, whom in 1791 he represented at the imperial diet. He was afterwards appointed the prince's envoy at Paris, where he remained till the decree of Napoleon, forbidding all persons born on the left side of the Rhine to serve any other state than France, compelled him to resign his office (1811). He then retired to Vienna, and in 1812 he took part in the attempt to excite a second insurrection against Napoleon in Tirol. On the failure of this attempt he left Austria and joined the headquarters of the Prussian army (1813), and became a member of the board of administration for north Germany. In 1814 he was appointed administrator of the Orange principalities; and, when the prince of Orange became king of the Netherlands, Baron Gagern became his prime minister. In 1815 he represented him at the congress of Vienna, and succeeded in obtaining for the Netherlands a considerable augmentation of territory. From 1816 to 1818 he was Luxemburg envoy at the German diet, but was recalled, at the instance of Metternich, owing to his too independent advocacy of state constitutions. In 1820 he retired with a pension to his estate at Hornau, near Höchst, in Hesse-Darmstadt; but as a member of the first chamber of the states of the grand-duchy he continued to take an active share in the promotion of measures for the welfare of his country. He retired from public life in 1848, and died at Hornau on the 22nd of October 1852. Baron von Gagern wrote a history of the German nation (Vienna, 1813; 2nd ed., 2 vols., Frankfort, 1825-1826), and several other books on subjects connected with history and social and political science. Of most permanent value, however, is his autobiography, Mein Anteil an der Politik, 5 vols. (Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1823-1845).

Of Hans Christoph von Gagern's sons three attained considerable eminence: -

Friedrich Balduin, Freiherr von Gagern (1794-1848), the eldest, was born at Weilburg on the 24th of October 1794. He entered the university of Göttingen, but soon left, and, taking service in the Austrian army, took part in the Russian campaign of 1812, and fought in the following year at Dresden, Kulm and Leipzig. He then entered the Dutch service, took part in the campaigns of 1815, and, after studying another year at Heidelberg, was member for Luxemburg of the military commission of the German federal diet (1824, 1825). In 1830 and 1831 he took part in the Dutch campaign in Belgium, and in 1844, after being promoted to the rank of general, was sent on an important mission to the Dutch East Indies to inquire into the state of their military defences. In 1847 he was appointed governor at the Hague, and commandant in South Holland. In the spring of 1848 he was in Germany, and on the outbreak of the revolutionary troubles he accepted the invitation of the government of Baden to take the command against the insurgent "free companies" (Freischaaren). At Kandern, on the 20th of April, he made a vain effort to persuade the leaders to submit, and was about to order his troops to attack when he was mortally wounded by the bullets of the insurgents. His Life, in 3 vols. (Heidelberg and Leipzig, 1856-1857), was written by his brother Heinrich von Gagern.

Heinrich Wilhelm August, Freiherr von Gagern (1799-1880), the third son, was born at Bayreuth on the 20th of August 1799, educated at the military academy at Munich, and, as an officer in the service of the duke of Nassau, fought at Waterloo. Leaving the service after the war, he studied jurisprudence at Heidelberg, Göttingen and Jena, and in 1819 went for a while to Geneva to complete his studies. In 1821 he began his official career as a lawyer in the grand-duchy of Hesse, and in 1832 was elected to the second chamber. Already at the universities he had proclaimed his Liberal sympathies as a member of the Burschenschaft, and he now threw himself into open opposition to the unconstitutional spirit of the Hessian government, an attitude which led to his dismissal from the state service in 1833. Henceforth he lived in comparative retirement, cultivating a farm rented by his father at Monsheim, and occasionally publishing criticisms of public affairs, until the February revolution of 1848 and its echoes in Germany recalled him to active political life. For a short while he was at the head of the new Hessian administration; but his ambition was to share in the creation of a united Germany. At the Heidelberg meeting and the preliminary convention (Vorparlament) of Frankfort he deeply impressed the assemblies with the breadth and moderation of his views; with the result that when the German national parliament met (May 18), he was elected its first president. His influence was at first paramount, both with the Unionist party and with the more moderate elements of the Left, and it was he who was mainly instrumental in imposing the principle of a united empire with a common parliament, and in carrying the election of the Archduke John as regent. With the growing split between the Great Germans (Grossdeutschen), who wished the new empire to include the Austrian provinces, and the Little Germans (Kleindeutschen), who realized that German unity could only be attained by excluding them, his position was shaken. On the 15th of December, when Schmerling and the Austrian members had left the cabinet, Gagern became head of the imperial ministry, and on the 18th he introduced a programme (known as the Gagernsche Programm) according to which Austria was to be excluded from the new federal state, but bound to it by a treaty of union. After a severe struggle this proposal was accepted; but the academic discussion on the constitution continued for weary months, and on the 20th of May, realizing the hopelessness of coming to terms with the ultra-democrats, Gagern and his friends resigned. Later on he attempted to influence the Prussian Northern Union in the direction of the national policy, and he took part in the sessions of the Erfurt parliament; but, soon realizing the hopelessness of any good results from the vacillating policy of Prussia, he retired from the contest, and, as a major in the service of the Schleswig-Holstein government, took part in the Danish War of 1850. After the war he retired into private life at Heidelberg. In 1862, misled by the constitutional tendency of Austrian politics, he publicly declared in favour of the Great German party. In 1864 he went as Hessian envoy to Vienna, retiring in 1872 when the post was abolished. He died at Darmstadt on the 22nd of May 1880.

Maximilian, Freiherr von Gagern (1810-1889), the youngest son, was born at Weilburg on the 26th of March 1810. Up to 1848 he was a government official in Nassau; in that year he became a member of the German national parliament and under-secretary of state for foreign affairs. Throughout the revolutionary years he supported his brother's policy, became a member of the Erfurt parliament, and, after the collapse of the national movement, returned to the service of the duchy of Nassau. In 1855 he turned Roman Catholic and entered the Austrian service as court and ministerial councillor in the department of foreign affairs. In 1871 he retired, and in 1881 was nominated a life member of the Upper Chamber (Herrenhaus). He died at Vienna on the 17th of October 1889.

See Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, Band viii. p. 301, etc. (1878) and Band xlix. p. 654 (1904).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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