Chapter 1 George Bancroft in Göttingen: an American Reception of German Legal Thought

In: Comparative Constitutional History
Mark Somos
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George Bancroft (1800–1891) was an influential statesman, historian and educator. He was one of the first Americans to attend the University of Göttingen as a young man in order to master multiple academic disciplines and educational techniques that the young United States needed. At Göttingen, Bancroft became fascinated by German constitutional theory and history, their connection to politics and human geography, and the forerunners of German legal science. After his return to the United States, Bancroft translated into English books by Arnold Heeren, his former professor. Bancroft also set up a school and adopted German teaching methods at Round Hill in Northampton, Massachusetts, employed German scholars, and intensely engaged Göttingen academics and other Americans who looked to Germany for pedagogic and constitutional inspiration. A close reading of Bancroft’s translations and correspondence suggests that this was not a one-way exchange. Bancroft was instrumental not only in importing German texts and practices into the United States, but also formulated American notions of progress, abolitionism and state-systems that in turn shaped the so-called Göttingen School.

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