100 years ago the State of Thuringia was founded. Its constitution was drawn up by Eduard Rosenthal, a jurist and professor at the University of Jena. We take a look back at the »Father of the Thuringian Constitution« and his work in Jena.
The start of the »Golden Twenties« wasn’t too golden at all. In November 1918, a state was proclaimed that would later become known as the Weimar Republic. The emperor had abdicated the throne and gone into exile in Holland. Germany suffered the consequences of the reparations, and politicians struggled to reorganize the empire. The states were also affected when the sovereigns were stripped of their power. The State of Thuringia was founded on 1 May 1920, consisting of seven minor states. The eighth, the Free State of Coburg, became part of Bavaria in July 1920. The newly formed State of Thuringia needed a constitution.
Eduard Rosenthal was the jurist commissioned to draft the constitution. He taught at the University of Jena. Born in Würzburg on 6 September 1853, Rosenthal studied jurisprudence – first in his hometown and later in Heidelberg and Berlin. He completed his doctorate in Würzburg with a thesis entitled »On the History of Property in the City of Würzburg, 1878«. After moving to Jena, Eduard Rosenthal completed his post-doctoral lecturing qualification in April 1880 with a thesis entitled »The Legal Consequences of Adultery According to Canonical and German Law«; he became a temporary associate professor. Eduard Rosenthal became an unpaid professor in 1885; he wasn’t granted a full professorship until the summer semester of 1896. The official title of his professorship was »Jurisprudence; State, Administrative and International Law; and Legal History«. Rosenthal was probably appointed as a full professor so late in his career because he was a Jew – his professional qualities were beyond doubt.
Eduard Rosenthal left his mark in Jena. His most important service to Thuringia was the constitution he drafted: »I was instructed by the State Council to draw up a constitution for the new State of Thuringia. These instructions were unanimously approved by the People’s Council on 23 January 1920«. This is what Eduard Rosenthal said himself, as quoted in »Self-Portrayals of Contemporary Law«, Volume III, edited by Hans Planitz, Leipzig 1929. He continues: »It was a pleasure to see the bureaucrats of the old state work in harmony with the social democratic and independent members of the State Council, all inspired by the idea of promoting a great work for the foundation of a Thuringian State«.
The draft constitution received well-deserved applause; Rosenthal was only met with fierce opposition on one point: He wanted to grant the state government the right to dissolve parliament, but his efforts were unsuccessful. A provisional constitution was proclaimed on 12 May 1920, and the definitive version was finally adopted by the Thuringian State Parliament in March 1921.
Eduard Rosenthal, the »Father of the Thuringian Constitution of 1920/21«, was awarded honorary citizenship of the city of Jena in 1920. When he died on 25 June 1926, his funeral procession to the northern cemetery was attended by hundreds of mourners. Rosenthal’s widow, Clara, was also Jewish and took her own life on 11 November 1941. By that time, Rosenthal’s constitution had long been annulled by the Nazis.
Text: Stephan Laudien