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America’s open-door policy has constituted a refuge to millions of Europe’s citizens, among which number have been those of broad, scholarly attainments and keen intellectual discernment whose vision has enabled them to understand the significant questions and vital problems of monarchical government control. Because of the expression of their advanced view where free speech is not fully tolerated, they have been obliged to seek homes in “the land of the free.” Such was the history of Charles Jonas and thereby Bohemia became a loser but America a gainer. Wisconsin long honored him as one of her distinguished citizens, a man whose work and teachings did much to assimilate the foreign-born element in our citizenship, for among European peoples and especially his fellow countrymen he instilled high ideals of American life purposes and prospects.
Mr. Jonas was born at Malesov, Bohemia, October 30, 1840, and acquired his early education in the common schools of his native town. When ten years of age he was sent to the higher schools at Kuttenberg and at the age of eighteen was graduated from the Bohemian real school at Prague and entered the polytechnic institute. He also attended lectures at the university. In 1859 he wrote in the German language a critical essay on the middle school system then in vogue in Bohemia, which treatise displeased the Austrian government and was seized while in the course of publication. It subjected him to spiteful persecution by the Austrian authorities, which culminated in his banishment from Prague in 1860. He left his native country secretly in October of the same year and went to London, where he secured a position as newspaper correspondent, so continuing until 1863. He was then called to America to take charge of the Slavie, the first journal published in the Bohemian language on this side the Atlantic. It was founded in 1860 by Frank Korizek, of Racine. Mr. Jonas sailed from Europe on the 25th of February. 1863, and on reaching American soil made his way at once to Racine, where he took up his permanent abode. In 1870 he made a trip to Europe and while abroad the Franco-German war broke out. Through the recommendation of George Bancroft, at that time American minister at Berlin, he obtained permission to go to the seat of war and was one of the first foreigners who entered Paris in January, 1871, after the signing of the preliminary articles of peace at Versailles. Soon afterward he returned to Germany, where he waited for the ratification of the naturalization treaty between the United States and Austria, which had been agreed upon a short time before. He then visited his native country, where he found his aged mother, but his father had in the meantime passed away. Mr. Jonas gave much attention to a study of the significant economic, sociological and political questions confronting Europe and while on that continent wrote an essay on “Federation in Austria” and. also a treatise on “The Social Position of Woman, Especially in England and America.” He also brought forth a book on the cause of the downfall of France and another volume entitled “The American Constitution and Self Government,” all of which were published in Prague and portions of which were translated into other languages. His preliminary education, broad as it was, constituted but the first step in his intellectual development, for throughout his life he was continually broadening his knowledge by investigation, study and research and his literary contributions have been of vast worth to the world. He was the author of the first dictionary of the Bohemian and English languages ever published. It came first from the press of Racine in 1876 and has since been revised and enlarged. In 1883 he brought forth his Popular American Interpreter, which has since passed through half a dozen editions, and his authorship likewise includes a treatise on the American common and statute law, which has been repeatedly issued, passing through various editions. In 1890, in response to a broad and urgent demand, he wrote and published a popular Bohemian course for English speaking people which he published under the title of “Bohemian Made Easy.” Throughout the period of his residence in Racine he retained the control of the newspaper Slavie, in which undertaking his younger brother, Fred Jonas, became his associate, taking up the business management in 1868. Charles Jonas extended the scope of his activities in the newspaper field in the year 1880, when he began the publication of a weekly of a literary character entitled “Rodina,” meaning “The Family.” The latter paper has always shared in the prosperity of the Slavie; notwithstanding there has been a steady increase in competition in the field of Bohemian publications not only in Wisconsin but throughout the entire United States. Mr. Jonas gave his entire life to journalism and literary work and his writings were ever a stimulus to intellectual activity among his fellow countrymen.
On the 11th of August, 1864, Mr. Jonas was married to Miss Christine Korizek and they became the parents of two sons and two daughters, namely: Carrie, the widow of Charles Salak, of Racine: Jennie, the wife of Otto Kubin, of Evanston, Illinois: Charles, of Palm Beach, Florida, and George W, of Palm Beach, Florida. Mrs. Jonas now makes her home at West Palm Beach, Florida.
Politically Mr. Jonas became a republican, supporting the party until 1872, when he joined the liberal movement. He afterward became a stalwart advocate of democratic principles and took prominent part in shaping campaigns as a member of the state central and executive committees of Wisconsin. He was also prominently known as a public speaker in different states and his arguments were strong and logical and his utterances convincing, being based upon clear reasoning and a wide understanding of the points under discussion. His fellow citizens, appreciating his ability, called him to the office of city councilman of Racine on various occasions and in 1877 he was elected to represent his district in the state legislature, making so creditable a record in the lower house that in 1882 he was elected to the state senate on the democratic ticket, notwithstanding his residence in a district which was formerly regarded as strongly republican. In 1885 President Cleveland appointed him United States consul to Prague but the Austrian government objected on the ground that he had once been implicated in Austrian politics. In October, 1886, however, the Austrian minister at Washington officially notified the secretary of state, Mr. Bayard, that the objection had been withdrawn. He was reappointed consul on the 17th of November, 1886, and immediately left for his post of duty, where he was exceedingly well received and. treated with distinction by the authorities and by the people. Under his control the consulate at Prague was raised to a higher class and he continued in office until he handed it over to his successor, Roger C. Spooner, who had been appointed by President Harrison on the 16th of July, 1889.
Mr. Jonas then visited Switzerland and also the exposition at Paris, after which he returned to his home in Racine. Here he continued a most important and influential factor in political circles and in 1890 was elected lieutenant governor of the state by a majority of thirty-five thousand on the ticket with Governor George W. Peck. He served with distinction until 1894, when he resigned to accept the appointment of consul general at St. Petersburg, Russia, and later United States consul at Crefeld, Germany, where he was actively engaged in the performance of his official duties when death called him January 15, 1896. His remains were then taken back to his native land for interment and he was laid to rest at Prague. There has been perhaps no citizen of America of Bohemian birth who has done more for the country and for his fellow countrymen in this land than did Charles Jonas. He ever held to the highest ideals, displaying the utmost loyalty to his adopted land, seeking ever to inculcate his fellow countrymen with a love of America and her institutions and infusing in them a desire to bring about the highest standards of democracy. He indeed deserves to be ranked with the state’s most honored men.