The Business of Emancipation

The German-Jewish struggle for legal equality and economic prosperity

Late 18th- first half of 19th Century: Changes are coming

In the late 18th century, the legal status of Jews in German lands began to improve. Emperor Joseph II issued the Edict of Toleration in 1782, inviting Jews to become members of the Holy Roman Empire and serve in the army, and thus abolishing occupational and residency restrictions and eliminating special taxes levied on Jews. Similarly, Napoleon emancipated the Jews living in the lands he conquered, granting them equal rights and the right to worship as they saw fit.

 

Under the influence of Napoleon, some German rulers introduced reforms that fell short of full emancipation and were often abrogated in their implementation. In 1812, for example, Prussia passed an edict granting Jews citizenship but refusing them the right to serve in any official capacity, whether as officers in the army, civil servants, postal clerks, or university professors. Still, some Prussian regions revoked these economic and social freedoms for Jews. In other German states, emancipation suffered grave setbacks. The Free City of Frankfurt stripped Jews of their citizenship, and, in Austria, formal civil rights were often undercut locally through legal chicanery.

 

Despite some opposition, economic reforms nevertheless proceeded, with states lowering taxation rates on Jews and opening some professions to them. In 1842, Prussia lifted residency restrictions for all its subjects, which significantly lowered obstacles to Jewish migration to larger towns and cities. Although greater economic freedom did not automatically translate into higher living standards, it permitted Jews to participate in the larger German trend towards urbanization.

Family Stories

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

Morgenthau

Lazarus Morgenthau (1815-1897) came from Hürben, a small village in Bavaria. When he was young, he sold ties he made at various fairs. Eventually, he moved his family to Mannheim, where he had better access to markets and money. Mengo, his younger brother who had emigrated to San Francisco in 1850, sent Morgenthau some money, which he used to found a successful cigar manufacturing business. When his business failed in 1866, Morgenthau moved his family to New York where his family became successful and influential. After studying law, his son Henry became an important American diplomat, serving as US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Morgenthau’s grandson, Henry Morgenthau Jr., was a close friend of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and served as his Secretary of Finance. His great-grandson, Robert Morgenthau, was an influential jurist and the long-time District Attorney in Manhattan.

To learn more about Lazarus Morgenthau, see the Shared History Project here.

Early modern era

Second half of the 19th century

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

Edict of Toleration by Joseph II, 1781. Public domain. 

An 1806 French print depicts Napoleon Bonaparte emancipating the Jews. Public domain.

Napoleon grants the Jews freedom to worship, represented by the hand extended extended to the Jewish woman.

The Revolution of 1848-49 brought calls for emancipating Jews, as well as opposition to them. Although many German states initially signed onto the idea that all people were equal no matter their religion, many rulers backpedaled after the Revolution failed. Wurttemberg, for example, revoked the emancipatory statutes it passed in 1848, but eventually granted its Jews full civil rights in 1864. Sporadic violence against people and property remained a serious threat to safety. Many German Jews responded to this violence and to the continued restrictions on their economic freedoms by moving from rural areas and smaller towns. Some left for big cities, where they found more protection from violence and more economic opportunities. Others left Germany entirely and emigrated to North America, attracted by the promise of legal equality as well as economic freedom.

The Revolution of 1848-49 brought calls for emancipating Jews, as well as opposition to them. Although many German states initially signed onto the idea that all people were equal no matter their religion, many rulers backpedaled after the Revolution failed. Wurttemberg, for example, revoked the emancipatory statutes it passed in 1848, but eventually granted its Jews full civil rights in 1864. Sporadic violence against people and property remained a serious threat to safety. Many German Jews responded to this violence and to the continued restrictions on their economic freedoms by moving from rural areas and smaller towns. Some left for big cities, where they found more protection from violence and more economic opportunities. Others left Germany entirely and emigrated to North America, attracted by the promise of legal equality as well as economic freedom.

Horace Vernet, Painting of Battle at Soufflot barricades at Rue Soufflot on 24 June 1848. Public domain.

Caricature and anti-Semitic depiction of the role of Jews in the revolution of 1848, 1848. Leo Baeck Institute, F 897.

 

The description below the drawing reads, “Jews highly active in a town, destroying monuments, etc.” Underneath the picture is a citation from the 4th book of Moses; chapter 33, verses 51-52 in Hebrew and in German: Upon entering the land of Canaan, the children of Israel ought to dispossess all the inhabitants of the land; … and demolish all their cult places.

Josef Kriehuber, Portrait of Salomon Mayer Rothschild (1774-1855), 1839. Leo Baeck Institute, 81.13.

 

Salomon Mayer Rothschild was born on September 9, 1774, into a wealthy Jewish banking family in Frankfurt. He left for Vienna to found a branch of his family's bank, thus expanding the influence of the Rothschilds. In Vienna, Salomon Mayer Rothschild was able to leverage the tremendous financial power of his family to finance large projects such as the first railroad in Austria. In 1822, Emperor Francis I made Salomon Mayer Rothschild a noble, and he became the first Jew to receive honorary Austrian Citizenship. As a result of the revolutions of 1848 and the subsequent dismissal of his trusted friend, Prince Klemens von Metternich, from his position as a diplomat and government insider, Salomon Mayer Rothschild left Vienna for Paris. His son, Anselm, took control of the bank, and shortly after his arrival in Paris, Salomon Mayer Rothschild died on July 28, 1855.