Friedrich Heinrich Geffcken - Encyclopedia




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FRIEDRICH HEINRICH GEFFCKEN (1830-1896), German diplomatist and jurist, was born on the 9th of December 1830 at Hamburg, of which city his father was senator. After studying law at Bonn, Göttingen and Berlin, he was attached in 1854 to the Prussian legation at Paris. For ten years (1856-1866) he was the diplomatic representative of Hamburg in Berlin, first as chargé d'affaires, and afterwards as minister-resident, being afterwards transferred in a like capacity to London. Appointed in 1872 professor of constitutional history and public law in the reorganized university of Strassburg, Geffcken became in 1880 a member of the council of state of Alsace-Lorraine. Of too nervous a temperament to withstand the strain of the responsibilities of his position, he retired from public service in 1882, and lived henceforth mostly at Munich, where he died, suffocated by an accidental escape of gas into his bedchamber, on the 1st of May 1896. Geffcken was a man of great erudition and wide knowledge and of remarkable legal acumen, and from these qualities proceeded the personal influence he possessed. He was moreover a clear writer and made his mark as an essayist. He was one of the most trusted advisers of the Prussian crown prince, Frederick William (afterwards the emperor Frederick), and it was he (it is said, at Bismarck's suggestion) who drew up the draft of the New German federal constitution, which was submitted to the crown prince's headquarters at Versailles during the war of 1870-71. It was also Geffcken who assisted in framing the famous document which the emperor Frederick, on his accession to the throne in 1888, addressed to the chancellor. This memorandum gave umbrage, and on the publication by Geffcken in the Deutsche Rundschau (Oct. 1888) of extracts from the emperor Frederick's private diary during the war of 1870-71, he was, at Bismarck's instance, prosecuted for high treason. The Reichsgericht (supreme court), however, quashed the indictment, and Geffcken was liberated after being under arrest for three months. Publications of various kinds proceeded from his pen. Among these are Zur Geschichte des orientalischen Krieges 1853-1856 (Berlin, 1881); Frankreich, Russland and der Dreibund (Berlin, 1894); and Staat and Kirche (1875), English translation by E. F. Fairfax (1877). His writings on English history have been translated by S. J. Macmullan and published as The British Empire, with ' essays on Prince Albert, Palmerston, Beaconsfield, Gladstone, and reform of the House of Lords (1889).

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