Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/539

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

state of Europe, though his administration was of a purely arbitrary type, in which the estates were never consulted and his ministers were merely clerks to register his decrees. His first act was to reform the expensive institutions of the court; and the annual allowance for the salaries and pensions of the chief court officials and civil servants was at once reduced from 276,000 to 55,000 thalers. The peace of Utrecht (1713) left Frederick William free to turn his attention to the northern war then raging between Sweden on the one side and Russia, Poland, and Denmark on the other. Though at first disposed to be friendly to Sweden, he was forced by circumstances to take up arms against it. In September 1713 Stettin was captured by the allies and handed over to the custody of Frederick William, who paid the expenses of the siege and undertook to retain possession of the town until the end of the war. But Charles XII. refused to recognize this arrangement and returned from his exile in Turkey to demand the immediate restitution of the town. With this demand the king of Prussia naturally declined to comply, unless the money he had advanced was reimbursed; and the upshot was the outbreak of the only war in which Frederick William ever engaged. The struggle was of short duration, and was practically ended in 1715 by the capture of Stralsund by the united Prussians, Saxons and Danes under the command of the king of Prussia. The Swedes were driven from Pomerania, and at the peace of 1720 Frederick William received the greater part of Swedish Pomerania, including the important seaport of Stettin. Sweden now disappeared from the ranks of the Great Powers, and Prussia was left without a rival in northern Germany.

A detailed history of Frederick William's reign would necessitate the recital of a long and tedious series of diplomatic proceedings, centring in the question of the succession to the duchies of jtilich and Berg. The treaty of Wusterhausen between Austria and Prussia was concluded in 1726, and was confirmed with some modifications by the treaty of Berlin in 1728. Frederick William engaged to recognize the Pragmatic Sanction, while the emperor on his side undertook to support Prussia's claims to jiilich and Berg. The policy of the latter, however, was far from straightforward, as he had already entered into a similar compact with the count palatine of Sulzbach, who was a Roman Catholic and therefore a more sympathetic ally. Frederick William's intervention in the matter of the succession to the throne of Poland, rendered vacant by the death of Augustus II. in 17 3 3, proved barren of advantage to Prussia and failed to secure the hoped-for reversion of the duchy of Courland. A Prussian contingent took part none the less in the ensuing war between Austria and France, but Austria concluded peace in 173 5 without consulting her ally. In 1737 the king withstood the pressure brought to bear upon him by England, France, Holland and Austria to induce him to submit to their settlement of the ]iilich-Berg question; and in 1739, convinced at least of the confirmed duplicity of the emperor, he turned to his hereditary enemy for help and concluded a defensive alliance with France. The rivalry between Austria and Prussia had begun, which for the rest of the century formed the pivot on which the politics of Europe mainly turned. If the external history of Frederick Wi1liam's reign is not especially glorious, and if in dip omacy he was worsted by the emperor, the country at least enjoyed the benefits of a twenty-five p""ssI" years' peace and efficient government. During this under ~ — Frederick

reign the revenues of Prussia were doubled, 'and the king Wmiaml left at his death an accumulated treasure of 9,000,000 thalers and an army of 85,000 men. Though not ranking higher than twelfth among the European states in extent and population, Prussia occupied the fourth place in point of military power. The king himself took the greatest interest in the management of his army, in which the discipline was of the strictest; and he carried the habits of the military martinet into all departments of the administration. His chief innovation was the abolition of the distinction between the military and the civil funds, and the assignment of the entire financial management of the country to a general directory of finance, war and domains. The directory was instructed to pay for everything out of a common fund, and so to regulate the expenditure that there should invariably be a surplus at the end of the year. As the army absorbed five-sevenths of the revenue. the civil administration had to be conducted with the greatest economy. The king himself set the example of the frugality which he expected from his officials, and contented himself with a civil list of 52,000 thalers (£7800). The domains were now managed so as to yield a greater income than ever before, and important reforms were made in the system of taxation. By the substitution of a payment in money for the obsolete military tenure the nobles were deprived of their practical exemption from taxation, and they were also required to pay taxes for all the peasant holdings they had absorbed. Attempts were made to better the condition of the easants, and the worst features of villeinage were abolished in the grown domains. The military system of cantonment, according to which each regiment was allotted a district in which to recruit, was of constitutional as well as military importance, since it brought the peasants into direct contact with the royal officials. The collection of the taxes of the peasantry was removed from the hands of the landowners. The duties of the state officials were laid down with great detail, and their performance was exacted with great severity. lustice seems to have been administered in an upright manner, though the frequent and often arbitrary infliction of the penalty of death by the king strikes us with astonishment. The agricultural and industrial interests of the country were fostered with great zeal. The most important industrial undertaking was the introduction of the manufacture of woollen cloth, the royal factory at Berlin supplying uniforms for the entire army. The commercial regulations, conceived in a spirit of rigid protection, were less successful. In the ecclesiastical sphere the king was able to secure toleration for the Protestants in other parts of Germany by reprisals on his own Roman Catholic subjects, and he also gave welcome to numerous Protestant refugees, including 18,000 exiled peasants from Salzburg (1732). He has the credit of founding the common-school system' of Prussia and of making elementary education compulsory.

On the 31st of May 1740 Frederick William died, and was succeeded by his son as Frederick II., known in history as Frederick the Great. The young king at once F, -e¢|e, ~;¢1, resolved to use the well-filled treasury and well- 1101740distipiinea army left to him by his father for the "86purpose of increasing the position of Prussia in Europe. The death of the emperor Charles VI., the last of the male line of the house of Habsburg, on the 20th of October 1740, gave him his opportunity, by raising the question of Maria Theresa's right to succeed under the Pragmatic Sanction (see Charles VI., emperor; MARIA THERESA; AUSTRIA-HUNGARY: History). Austrian duplicity in the matter of jiilich gave him a colour able pretext for his hostile attitude in reviving the long dormant claims of Prussia to the Silesian duchies. Within a year of his accession he had embarked on the Silesian War, and this was closely followed by the second, which ended in 1745, leaving Frederick in undisputed possession of almost the whole of Silesia, with the frontier that still exists. East Friesland, the Prussian claim to which dated from the time of the Great Elector, was absorbed in 1744 on the death without issue of the last duke. The two Silesian Wars completely exhausted the stores left by Frederick William, both of grenadiers and thalers, and Frederick gladly welcomed the interval of peace to amass new treasures and allow his subjects time to recover from their exertions. When the -Seven Years' War broke out in 1756 he had an army of 150,000 men at his command, representing about one-seventh of the available male population of his little kingdom. He had also a fund of 11,000,000 thalers in his treasury, though this would have gone but a small way had he not been assisted by the subsidies of England and able to make the .fertile plains of Saxony his chief basis of supply. (See SEVEN YEARS' WAR.)

Though without gain in extent or population, Prussia emerged from the war as an undoubted power of the first rank, and henceforth completely eclipsed Saxony, Bavaria and Hanover, Pms, while it was plain that Austria would no longer stand undeia without a rival for the hegemony of the German Frederick” Empire. The glorious victories over the French and Russians also awakened a spirit of German patriotism that had hitherto been almost unknown. But the price paid for these results was enormous. Of the 850,000 soldiers who, as is estimated, perished during the war about 180,000 fell in the service of Prussia, and the gross population of the kingdom had decreased in seven years to the extent of half a million souls. The misery and poverty indirectly attendant on the war were incalculable. The development of the country was thrown back for many years, which were almost a repetition of the period succeeding the Thirty Years' War. But while nearly a century elapsed before the traces of that struggle disappeared, Frederick repaired most of the ravages of the Seven