Page:The Hessians and the other German auxiliaries of Great Britain in the revolutionary war.djvu/16

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THE HESSIANS.

been constitutional assemblies still existed in many places, but they represented at best but a small part of the population.[1] The cities and towns were governed by privileged classes. In the country some little freedom remained with the peasants of some neighborhoods as to the management of their village affairs, but in general the peasantry were not much better off than serfs, and subject to the tyranny of a horde of officials, who intermeddled in every important action of their lives. Trade was hampered by tolls and duties, for every little state had its own financial system. Commerce and manufactures were impeded by monopolies. In certain places sumptuary laws regulated the dress or the food of the people.

Before the last quarter of the century some improvement had taken place in the political condition of Germany. Frederick the Great of Prussia and Joseph II. of Austria were, in their different ways, enlightened princes, and their example had stimulated many of the better sovereigns to exert themselves in some measure for the good of their people. The influence of the Liberal movement in France was also felt. But the idea of political freedom had hardly taken shape in the most cultivated of German minds. The good or evil disposition of the prince was no more under the control of the ordinary subject than the state of the weather. The doctrine of passive obedience was in fashion, though not entirely uncon-

  1. The Landstände had more influence in Hesse than elsewhere. They are said to have tried in vain to obtain for the country a share in the money received by the Landgrave for letting out troops. — Biedermann, "Deutschland im Achtzehnten Jahrhundert," vol. i. p. 114.