issue a measure of municipal reform (Nov. 19, 1808) which granted local self-government on enlightened yet practical lines to all Prussian towns, and even to all villages possessing more than 800 inhabitants.
Shortly afterwards the reformer had to flee from Prussia. In August 1808 the French agents, who swarmed throughout the land, had seized one of his letters, in which he spoke of his hope that Germany would soon be ready for a national rising like that of Spain. On the 10th of September Napoleon gave orders that Stein's property in the new kingdom of Westphalia should be confiscated, and he likewise put pressure on Frederick William to dismiss him. The king evaded compliance; but the French emperor, on entering Madrid in triumph, declared (December 16) le nommé Stein to be an enemy of France and the Confederation of the Rhine; and ordered the confiscation of all his property in the Confederation. Stein saw that his life was in danger and fled from Berlin (Jan. 5, 1809). Thanks to the help of his former colleague, Count Friedrich Wilhelm von Reden, who gave him an asylum in his castle in the Riesengebirge, he succeeded in crossing the frontier into Bohemia.
For three years he lived in the Austrian Empire, generally at Brünn; but in May 1812 he received an invitation from the emperor Alexander I. to visit St Petersburg, seeing that Austria was certain to range herself on the side of France in the forthcoming Franco-Russian War. At the crisis of that struggle Stein may have been one of the influences which kept the tsar determined never to treat with Napoleon. When the miserable remains of the Grand Army reeled back into Prussia at the close of the year, Stein urged the Russian emperor to go on and free Europe from the French domination.
Events now brought Stein rapidly to the front. On the 30th of December 1812 the Prussian general Yorck signed at Tauroggen a convention with the Russian general Diebich for neutralization of the Prussian corps at and near Tilsit, and for the free passage of the Russians through that part of the king's dominions. The Russian emperor thereupon requested Stein to act as provisional administrator of the provinces of East and West Prussia. In that capacity he convened an assembly of representatives of the local estates, which on the 5th of February 1813 ordered the establishment of a militia (Landwehr), a militia reserve and a final levy (Landsturm). The energy which Stein infused into all around him contributed not a little to this important decision, which pushed on the king's government to more decided action than at that time seemed possible. Stein now went to Breslau, whither the king of Prussia had proceeded; but the annoyance which Frederick William felt at his irregular action lessened his influence. The treaty of Kalisch between Russia and Prussia cannot be claimed as due to his actions, which were reprehended in court circles as those of a fanatic. At that time the great patriot fell ill of a fever and complained of total neglect by the king and court. He recovered, however, in time to take part in the drafting of a Russo-Prussian convention (March 19, 1813) respecting the administration of the districts which should be delivered from French occupation. During the varying phases of the campaign of 1813 Stein continued to urge the need of war à outrance against Napoleon. The Allies, after the entry of England and Austria into the coalition, conferred on Stein the important duties of superintending the administration of the liberated territories. After the great battle of Leipzig (Oct. 16-19, 1813) Stein entered that city the day after its occupation by the Allies and thus expressed his feelings on the fall of Napoleon's domination: “There it lies, then, the monstrous fabric cemented by the blood and tears of so many millions and reared by an insane and accursed tyranny. From one end of Germany to the other we may venture to say aloud that Napoleon is a villain and the enemy of the human race.”
He now desired to see Germany reconstituted as a nation, in a union which should be at once strong for purposes of defence and founded on constitutional principles. His statesmanlike projects were foiled, partly by the short-sightedness of German rulers and statesmen, but also by the craft whereby the Austrian statesman Metternich (q.v.) gained the alliance of the rulers of south and central Germany for his empire, on the understanding that they were to retain their old governing power unimpaired. Thus it was in vain that Stein, during the congress of Vienna, pressed for an effective union of the German people. Austria and the secondary German states resisted all proposals in this direction; and Stein blamed the Prussian chancellor Hardenberg for betraying an indefiniteness of purpose which probably resulted from the same unfortunate defect in Frederick William of Prussia. Stein shared in the desire of all Prussian statesmen at that time to have Saxony wholly absorbed in their kingdom. In that, as in other matters, he was doomed to disappointment. On the 24th of May 1815 he sent to his patron, the emperor Alexander, a detailed criticism of the federal arrangements proposed for Germany, showing that they fulfilled not one of the requirements for real union and constitutional government which had been so loudly demanded by the German people during the struggle of 1813.
The remainder of Stein's career must be briefly dismissed. He passed into retirement after the congress of Vienna, and saw with pain and disgust the postponement of the representative system of government which Frederick William had promised to Prussia in May 1815. He refused to act as Prussian representative at the Frankfort diet, which he regarded as a mere travesty of the central federal institution which he had hoped to see. By indirect means he did what he could to check the violence of political reaction, but he was conscious of his weakness, and that fact embittered the later days of a man who was intensely proud and self-assertive. His chief interest was in the study of history, and in 1818-1820 he worked hard to establish the society for the encouragement of historical research and the publication of the Monumenta Germaniae historica, of which his future biographer, Pertz, became the director. Stein died on the 29th of June 1831. He left three daughters.
In some respects there has been a tendency to magnify the achievements of Stein. As usually happens with men of great force of character, the work of less noteworthy individuals is ascribed to the one commanding personality. This was so even during the fourteen months of phenomenal activity, October 1807 to December 1808. More painstaking research has shown that the credit for originating many of the far-reaching reforms then promulgated must be shared with Heinrich Theodor von Schön and many others. It is now recognized that the king himself at that time rendered unsuspectedly large services to the cause of reform. A popular legend named him as the founder of the Tugendbund, an institution which he always distrusted. But when this is granted, it still remains true that Stein's enlightenment, insight into the needs of the time, and almost superhuman energy, imparted to the reform movement a momentum which ensured its triumph at the most critical period which Prussia or any great European state passed through in the 19th century. All his contemporaries were impressed, or even awed by the determination and intellectual power of this remarkable man. His conversation had the effect of calling out all the powers of his interlocutors. “A conversation with him (wrote Varnhagen von Ense) was a continual contest, a continual danger.” This mental pugnacity sometimes degenerated into rudeness; and on several occasions his impetuosity led him to take false steps. Still, when we take into consideration the magnitude of his achievements; when we recollect that in 1808 he intended his municipal reform to serve as the foundation for free institutions for the Prussian provinces, and thereafter for the whole kingdom; when we realize the grandeur of his schemes in 1813-1815 for the union of the German people in a federal
- Thus Schön's memorandum on the abolition of serfdom was the basis of the law of emancipation; and Stein's Politisches Testament was also based on a draft by Schön. Schön was born in 1773, entered the Prussian civil service in 1793, and subsequently held various high ministerial appointments. He was made castellan (Burggraf) of Marienburg; on his retirement in 1842, and died in 1856. The share claimed by him in Stein's reforms has been the subject of some controversy.