Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/541

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525
PRUSSIA


Years' War in a tenth of the time. By great dexterity in the management of his finances he had kept clear of debt, and was soon able to advance large sums to the most impoverished districts. Foreign colonists were invited to repeople the deserted villages; taxes were in several instances remitted for a series of years; the horses of the army were employed in farm labour; and individual effort in every department was liberally supported by the government. By 1770 nearly all the ruined villages had been rebuilt; the ground was again under cultivation; order had been restored; the vacant offices had been filled; and the debased currency had been called in. Throughout the kingdom agriculture was encouraged by the drainage of marshy districts; industry was extended by the introduction of new manufactures, by bounties and by monopolies; and commerce was fostered by measures of protection. Frederickls methods of administration did not greatly differ from those of his predecessor, though the unrelenting severity of Frederick William was relaxed and the peculiarities of his system toned down. Frederick's own personal supervision extended to every department, and his idea of is position and duties made him his own first minister in the widest and most exacting sense of the term. His efforts to improve the administration and the bureaucracy were unceasing, and he succeeded in training a body of admirable public servants. One of his most sweeping reforms was in the department of law, where, with the able ai of the jurist Samuel von Cocceji (1679-1755), he carried out a complete revolution in procedure and personnel. One of the king's first acts was to abolish legal torture, and he rarely sanctioned capital punishment except in cases of murder. The application of the priifilegium de non appellzmdo (1746) freed Prussia from all relations with the imperial courts and paved the way for a codification of the common law of the land, which was begun under Frederick but not completed till the end of the century. In matters of religion Frederick not only exercised the greatest toleration, remarking that each of his subjects might go to heaven after his own fashion, but distinctly disclaimed the connexion of the state with any one confession. Equal liberty was granted in speaking and writing. Though his finances did not allow him to do much directly for education, his example and his patronage of men of letters exercised a most salutary effect. The old system of rigid social privilege was, however, still maintained, and insurmountable barriers separated the noble from the citizen and the citizen from the peasant. The paramount defect of Frederick's administration, as future events proved, was the neglect of any effort to encourage independence and power of self-government among the people. Every measure emanated from the king himself, and the country learned to rely on him alone for help in every emergency.

In 1772 Prussia and Austria, in order to prevent an overweening growth of Russia, joined in the first partition of Poland. Frederick's share consisted of West Prussia and the Netze district, which filled up the gap between the great mass of his territories and the isolated district of East Prussia. It had also this advantage over later acquisitions at Poland's expense, that it was a thoroughly German land, having formed part of the colonizations of the Teutonic Order. In 1778 Prussia found herself once more in opposition to Austria on the question of the Bavarian succession, but the difficulty was adjusted without much bloodshed (see POTATO 'X/AR). The same question elicited the last action of importance in which Frederick engaged-the formation of a “ Ftirstenbund, " or league of German princes under Prussian supremacy, to resist the encroachments of Austria. The importance of this union was soon obscured by the momentous events of the French Revolution, but it was a significant foreshadowing of the duel of Austria and Prussia for the pre-eminence in Germany. Frederick died on the 17th of August 1786, having increased his territories to an area of 75,000 sq. m., with a population of live and a half millions. The revenue also had immensely increased and now amounted to about twenty million thalers annually, of which, however, thirteen were spent on the army. The treasury contained a fund of sixty million thalers, and the country was free of debt. (See FREDERICK II., KING or PRUSSIA.)

A continuation of the personal despotism under which Prussia had now existed for seventy years, as well as of its disproporp, -ede, -gck tionate influence in Europe, would have required a Will!-'1mlI-, ruler with something of the iron will and ability of Frederick the Great. Unfortunately Frederick's nephew and successor, Frederick William II., had neither the energy nor the insight that his position demanded. He was too undecided to adhere to the vigorous external policy of his predecessor, nor did he on the other hand make any attempt I 786-1797 .

to meet the growing discontent by an internal movement of liberal reform. The rule of absolutism continued, though the power now lay more in the hands of a “ camarilla ” or cabinet than in those of the monarch; and the statesmen who now came to the front were singularly short-sighted and inefficient. The freedom of religion and the press left by Frederick the Great was abrogated in 1788 by royal ordinance. In 1787 the army engaged in an expensive and useless campaign against Holland. The abandonment of Frederick's policy was shown in a tendency to follow the lead of Austria, which culminated in an alliance with that power against revolutionary France. But in 179 5 Prussia, suspicious of the Polish plans of Russia and Austria, concluded the separate peace of Basel, almost the only redeeming feature of which was the stipulation that all north German states beyond a certain line of demarcation should participate in its benefits. This practically divided Germany into two camps and inflicted a severe blow on the imperial system. The indifference with which Prussia relinquished to France German lands on the left bank of the Rhine, compared with her eagerness to increase her Slavonic territories on the east, was certainly one of the great blunders of the reign. Prussia's share in the second and third partitions of Poland (1783 and 179 5) nearly doubled her extent, but added little or nothing to her real power. The twelve years following the peace of Basel form one of the most sombre periods of the history of Prussia. Her prestige was lost by her persistent and ill-timed neutrality in the struggle with France; the old virtues of economy, order and justice disappeared from the bureaucracy; the army was gradually losing its excellence and was weakened rather than strengthened by the hordes of disaffected Polish recruits; the treasury was exhausted and a large debt incurred; the newly awakened feeling of German patriotism had died away, especially among the upper classes. (See FREDERICK WILLIAM II., KING OF PRUSSIA.)

Frederick William III. possessed many virtues that did him credit in his private capacity, but he lacked the vigour that was at this juncture imperatively required from a ruler F, -ede, -M; of Prussia, while he was unfortunately surrounded Willi-vm Ill" by counsellors who had as little conception as him- 1797 '1840 self of Prussia's proper role. Not even the high-handed occupation of Hanover by the French in 1803 could arouse him; and the last shred of self-respect seemed to have been parted with in 1805 when Prussia consented to receive Hanover, the property of its ally England, from the hands of France. The formation of the Confederation of the Rhine in 1806 and the intelligence that France had agreed to restore Hanover to England at last convinced Frederick Williamof what he had to fear from Napoleon; while Napoleon on his side, being now free of his other antagonists, Zgljfggoixd was only too glad of an opportunity to destroy his tool. Prussia declared war on the oth of October 1806; and the short campaign that ensued showed that the army of Frederick the Great had lost its virtue, and that Prussia, single-handed, was no match for the great French commander. On the 14th of October the Prussian armies were overthrown at Iena and Auerstadt, and a total collapse set in. Disgraceful capitulations of troops and fortresses without a struggle followed one another in rapid succession; the court fled to East Prussia; and Napoleon entered Berlin in triumph. At the Peace of Tilsit (July 9, 1807) Frederick William lost half his kingdom, including all that had been acquired at the second and third partitions of Poland and the whole of the territory west of the Elbe. An enormous war indemnity was also demanded, and the Prussian fortresses were occupied by the French until this should be paid. The next half-dozen years form a period of the greatest significance in the history of Prussia, embracing, as they do, the turning-point in the moral regeneration of the country; The disasters of ISOO elicited a strong spirit of patriotism, which was fanned by the exertions of the “ Tugendbund, ” or League of Virtue, and by the writings of men like Fichte and Arndt. The credit of the reformation belongs mainly to the great minister Stein, and in the second place to the chancellor Hardenberg.