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Emancipation, a legal term denoting the release of a child of the family from the father’s control. Whereas the word kept its legal meaning until very recent times, it had already by 1700 become a political catchword and remained thus in many kinds of connections. At times it means release from oppressing injustices or prejudices that hinder progress. After religion, especially the Christian religion, had in the course of history become closely connected with temporal government, it is proper to regard the Anabaptism of Central Europe as the first great attempt to emancipate religious life from the guardianship of the state. In England it was primarily the Anabaptist spirit in the Independent movement that carried on this emancipation struggle with great political consequences (see England). In that country there was also the further phenomenon that later furnished the typical case for a narrowed concept of “emancipation.” The adherents of the Catholic faith were subject to oppression that the nation sought to justify. The Catholics had actually been disfranchised. Emancipation proceeded very slowly for them. The struggle for the emancipation of the Catholics in England is one of the most disturbed epochs of Parliament. The “Emancipation Acts” (Peel) of 1829 became the foundation of the legal recognition of the Catholics, though even today they do not enjoy complete freedom.

The political position of the Anabaptists or Mennonite in Central Europe was similar. Besides them, only the Jews occupied this status of differentiation. The omission of the Anabaptists from the several religious peace treaties of the 16th and 17th centuries was followed by a legal depreciation of the Mennonites. This was evident in various ways in the different political units. The most serious in its effect was the law of recession or ius retractus  in the Palatinate, that could become a tool for the injury of the Mennonites by any person of another faith. The exclusion of Mennonites from public office was at first not thought of as oppression, since taking such offices conflicted with their old religious principles. But as these were gradually modified and the Mennonites were willing to assume such office, the prohibitive laws still blocked them. These restrictions were usually based on the principle of nonresistance and the rejection of the oath . Likewise in the rise of constitutional government both the active and passive franchise of the Mennonites was questioned.

In the Netherlands, after the Calvinists had obtained the majority (about 1570), the Mennonites and other dissenters, as well as Catholics and Jews, had the political status of only “tolerated citizens.” It was not till 1795 that they obtained full citizenship.

It must be stressed that the Mennonites never engaged in a public struggle for their political emancipation. To the extent that such a struggle existed, it was stirred up by the outside and compelled the Mennonites to defend themselves. On the contrary, the Mennonite achievements in economic lines and their advancement of the common good brought them recognition. From this consideration they were also led into politics. In this field several of their great men, such as Hermann von Beckerath, who once warmly defended the political rights of the dissidents and the Jews, by their own character proved the harmlessness of the Mennonites for the state and made the greatest contribution to the emancipation of their coreligionists.


Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 564 f.

Author(s) Ernst H Correll
Date Published 1956

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MLA style

Correll, Ernst H. "Emancipation." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 11 Aug 2022. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Emancipation&oldid=144993.

APA style

Correll, Ernst H. (1956). Emancipation. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 11 August 2022, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Emancipation&oldid=144993.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 193. All rights reserved.

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