JEREMIAH J. GERMAN (1920-2011)

George Anastaplo


            This is the first opportunity I have had here at the University of Chicago to speak publicly about Jeremiah J. German who died (in his sleep) in Baltimore last November. He was a student of economics trained in this University, where he came under the powerful influence of Milton Friedman. He finished his academic career on the economics faculty of Towson University in Maryland.

He was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in June 1920. One of his parents had come to the United States from the Ukraine, the other from Byelorussia.

I came to know him because his wife, like mine, had been trained as a social worker in this University. Pearl German went on to a distinguished career as a member of the faculty of the School of Public Health of the Johns Hopkins University.

I am particularly indebted to Jerry German for his help in securing for me my first employment, in the 1950s, by this University. That was at the Industrial Relations Center, where he induced Nicholas J. Melas to take me on as a Research Associate in a Management Training Program. (Nick Melas himself went on to a distinguished career with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Chicago, where he was very much involved in the development of the Deep Tunnel.)

Among our clients at the Industrial Relations Center was the New York Central Railroad, working primarily with that part of the company’s management which operated out of Toledo. Particularly memorable was the ride arranged for me one day alongside the engineer in the cab of a freight train that ran from Toledo to Elkhart. I could be reminded on that occasion of what it means to wield power, recalling the days (a decade earlier) when I served as an aerial navigator in the United States Army Air Corps across the Pacific and in the Middle East.

Still more memorable, and particularly relevant for this occasion, is how I recall Jerry German marveling (indeed, waxing poetic) that all in this Country, no matter when their families came here or where they had come from, take sides in the Civil War that had taken place long before their forebears ever thought of emigrating to the United States. This testifies to the continuing relevance of that great struggle, with the souls of Americans (of whatever heritage) challenged first to determine and then to defend their allegiances in that monumental contest, a contest that somehow seems to challenge as well one’s general understanding both of human things and of how they should be ordered in a variety of circumstances.

This was something that Jeremiah German was always interested in. Perhaps this helps account for the efforts he made, in his very old age (while continuing to work on Libertarian economics issues)—the efforts he made to write character sketches and short stories, some of which are quite charming. All this testifies to his delighted, and delightful, lifelong interest in human things, for which all who were privileged to know him can truly be grateful.

[There followed this January 15, 2012 tribute to Jeremiah German a talk, “Slavery, the Civil War, and the Development, Spiritual as well as Material, of the United States of America,” which is the 2012 version of George Anastaplo’s annual contribution to the University of Chicago Works of the Mind Lecture Series. That talk may be found elsewhere in the Anastaplo.wordpress site.]


            I return, after this discussion of the Civil War and its effects on the American soul, to my public recognition of Jeremiah J. German. And here I venture to look even deeper into the foundations of the American regime.

I now draw, that is, upon what I noticed in my first book, The Constitutionalist:   Notes on the First Amendment (published in 1971 by the Southern Methodist University Press and reprinted in 2005 by Lexington Books). Thus it is recorded, at pages 721-22 of that book (Chapter 8, note 98),

“I have argued in this book and elsewhere that freedom of speech is the everyday equivalent for Americans of that right and duty of revolution insisted upon by the Declaration of Independence. The tentative interpretation which follows of the votes in the House of Representatives of the Fifth Congress [on what became] the Sedition Act of 1798 may reinforce this suggestion.

“Of the 44 [Representatives] who voted for that act, we know the ages of 43; of the 41 who voted against it, we know the ages of 38. The known ages range from 23 through 68. I arrange them, for my purpose, in [three] age groups, 23-37, 38-54, 55-68 (which are of approximately equal spread in years: the “young,” the “middle-aged,” and the “old” members of the House of Representatives). Of the 43 known yeas, approximately 37% (16) were young, 47% (20) were middle-aged, and 16% (7) were old. Of the 38 known nays, 21% (8) were young, 71% (27) were middle-aged, and 8% (3) were old. It can be said of this difference in age distribution among the yeas and the nays that, statistically, one would expect, in only one of five chances, to find a random distribution of yeas and nays to show such a deviation or greater between the observed voting behavior and the voter’s year of birth.”

At this point, in my 1971 text, I observed,

(I am indebted for this formulation of the preceding sentence to Jeremiah J. German, my former colleague in the Industrial Relation Center of the University of Chicago. Adjustments can be made in the age groupings, which would affect somewhat the proportions, but would still leave significant disparities between yeas and nays.)

I then continued that 1971 note with these suggestions:

“The difference in distribution, which shows the middle-aged, and only the middle-aged, significantly more disposed to vote nay than yea [with respect to the Sedition Act of 1798], may be explained in these terms:   the middle-aged of 1798 were, at the beginning of the Revolution (twenty-two years before), between the ages of 16 and 32; the old of 1798 were already formed politically by the time of the Revolution; the young of 1798 were formed politically by events subsequent to the Revolution. My conclusion independent of these statistics has been that men shaped by the Declaration of Independence are more likely than others to be opposed to the Sedition Act of 1798 and to be sympathetic to freedom of speech as defined in this book. Are not the middle-aged among the age groups in the House of 1798 the very ones most likely to have been formed by the Revolution and its Declaration?”

Further on in that 1971 note I observe, “I set forth these speculations here in order to invite suggestions and interpretations from others.” The same can be said, of course, about the speculations I have ventured to develop here today about the effects of the Civil War of 1861-1865 upon the American Soul.

One recognizes that one’s speculations about such matters should be repeatedly examined and, if need be, challenged. At the same time, one recognizes that there should be appropriate acknowledgments of the contributions made by others (such as Jeremiah J. German) to one’s efforts to understand what may truly be worth investigating—again and again.

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One Response to JEREMIAH J. GERMAN (1920-2011)

  1. Bob Dubman says:

    Jerry German was my professor and advisor at Towson State College in 1970. I remember him fondly. The guy played handball in the hallways and always had time for students. He gave me wise advice when I went on for my doctorate.

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