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Freiherr Max Von Gagern

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Born at Weilburg (in Nassau), Germany, 25 March, 1810; died at Vienna, 17 October, 1889. He was the son of Hans Christoph von Gagern, minister of state in Nassau; he attended the gymnasiums at Kreuznach, Mannheim, and Weilburg, and studied law from 1826 at Heidelberg, Utrecht, and Göttingen. After a stay at Paris he received in 1829 a position in the cabinet of William I, King of the Netherlands. At the outbreak of the Belgian revolution (1830) he joined the Dutch army as a volunteer and took part in the war against Belgium. In 1833 he retired from the service of Holland, married Franzina Lambert, of The Hague, and took up historical studies in order to fit himself for the position of Privatdozent at Bonn University. He was at Bonn during the years 1837-40. In 1837, although still a Protestant, he sided with the imprisoned Archbishop of Cologne (see DROSTE-VISCHERING), and thus lost the favour of the Prussian Government. In 1840 he was appointed ministerial successor with the title of Legationsrat by the Duke of Nassau. On 28 August, 1843, he joined the Catholic Church. Although naturally very religious he had grown indifferent to religion during his student life and his residence in Holland. The more he realized the seriousness of life the stronger grew his religious needs. Acquaintance with Catholics and with the historian George Frederick Böhmer, who was friendly to Catholicism, awakened in him respect and veneration for the Church. The chief sources of his Catholic knowledge were, as he himself says, the "Imitation of Christ" by Thomas à Kempis, the study of Möhler's "Symbolik", and the New Testament. His conversion did not affect the favour of the Duke of Nassau who appointed him in 1844 extraordinary envoy to the Courts of the Netherlands and Belgium.

Von Gagern's labours during the revolutionary year of 1848 extended far beyond his native state. He was the centre of the efforts that aimed to mediate between the Government and the people and to reorganize the German Confederation as a nation. According to the schemes Prussia was to have the supreme direction of German affairs. With this end in view Von Gagern negotiated with the Governments of Southern Germany and with Prussia. he then took part in the debates of the preliminary parliament at Frankfort, and at the same time was one of the seventeen confidential agents of the Governments who were to aid the parliament of the Confederation in revising the constitution. He was chosen president of this committee of seventeen, but was not as prominent at the Parliament of Frankfort as his brother Heinrich whom he supported. He joined the Catholic Club. On 5 August, 1848, he was made under-secretary for foreign affairs in the imperial ministry which Archduke John, as administrator of the empire, had temporarily formed. In the question as to the constitution of Germany he worked with his brother for "little Germany" (exclusion of Austria from Germany, union of Germany under a Prussian empire). When the King of Prussia declined the imperial crown offered to him and the Parliament of Frankfort approached dissolution, Von Gagern and his party withdrew from the assembly.

In 1850 Von Gagern was again in the service of the State of Nassau, being employed as an upper ministerial clerk. He had, however, lost the confidence of the duke by his "Little Germany" policy, and influential circles looked upon the Catholic Church unfavourably. In 1854, after having been conspicuously slighted, he retired from the state service. His efforts to obtain a historical professorship at Bonn failed owing to the dislike of Protestants for converts to Catholicism. During the years 1855-73 he was in the service of Austria, first as head clerk in a ministerial department, then as departmental head in the mercantile political division of the ministry of foreign affairs. From 1860 he had also charge of the department of the press for foreign affairs, a position which gave him a deep insight into Austrian policy without, however, leading to an independent position. In 1881, eight years after his retirement on a pension, Emperor Francis Joseph made him a life member of the upper house of the imperial Austrian Parliament. His rich intellectual gifts, his honourable character, unselfish nature, and kindliness were recognized even by his political opponents. He was in addition genuinely religious, and loyally supported Catholic interests whenever possible.


VON PASTOR, Leben des Freiherrn Max von Gagern (Kempten and Munich, 1912). This work is drawn mainly from unprinted materials, placed at the biographer's disposal by the family, and oral communications, and is a valuable contribution to the political and religious history of the nineteenth century.

About this page

APA citation. Löffler, K. (1912). Freiherr Max Von Gagern. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Löffler, Klemens. "Freiherr Max Von Gagern." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael T. Barrett. Dedicated to all who serve the Church in public office.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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