Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 135.pdf/181

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



than this — that one of the very greatest events is never heard of among great events, and therefore by the mass of mankind is never heard of at all.

The form of government indeed was not changed. Not merely did the king continue to reign, but no Parliament was created even with powers ever so restricted. Another generation had to pass away before this innovation, which to us seems the beginning of political life, took place. But a nation must be made before it can be made free, and, as we have said, in Prussia there was an administration (in great disorder and an army, but no nation. When Stein was placed at the head of affairs in the autumn of 1807, he seems, at first, hardly to have been aware that anything was called for beyond the reform of the administration, and the removal of some abuses in the army. Accordingly he did reform the administration from the top to the bottom, remodelling the whole machinery both of central and local government which had come down from the father of Frederick the Great. But the other work also was forced upon him, and he began to create the nation by emancipating the peasantry, while Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were brooding over the ideas which, five years later, took shape in the Landwehr of East Prussia. Besides emancipating the peasant he emancipated industry, — everywhere abolishing that strange caste system which divided the population rigidly into nobles, citizens, and peasants, and even stamped every acre of land in the country with its own unalterable rank as noble, or citizen, or peasant land.

Emancipation, so to speak, had to be given before enfranchisement. The peasant must have something to live for; free-will must be awakened in the citizen; and he must be taught to fight for something before he could receive political liberty. Of such liberty Stein only provided one modest germ. By his Städteordnung he introduced popular election into the towns. Thus Prussia and France set out towards political liberty by different roads. Prussia began modestly with local liberties, but did not for a long time attempt a Parliament. France with her charte, and in imitation of France many of the small German States, had grand popular Parliaments, but no local liberties. And so for a long time Prussia was regarded as a backward State. F. von Raumer complains in 1828: "In Paris we are often obliged to hear it said, 'We live in a constitutional country, while you, you know …' In spite of the polite suppression of the sentence this simply means, 'We are free, but you are still slaves and subject to an unchecked tyranny.'" He protests that this representation is quite unjust so long as the Prussians have Stein's Städteordnung. It is to be added, however, that it was only by accident that Stein stopped short at municipal liberties and created no parliament. He would have gone further, and in the last years of the wartime Hardenberg did summon deliberative assemblies, which, however, fell into disuse again after the peace. For as the legislation of those years may be called a revolution, so the reaction which set in afterwards might be regarded as a counterrevolution. The reformers were driven from office, calumniated, and persecuted; the Städteordnung was revised in 1831; instead of the promised Parliament only Provincial Estates, carefully controlled by government, were instituted; and the reformed administration, working with more unity and efficiency than before, became that imperious bureaucracy which Schön compared to the Catholic priesthood, and of which a leading member rebuked some Prussian citizens for supposing that with their "narrow private understanding" they could possibly form a judgment of the views of the government!

In spite however of all reaction, the change irrevocably made by the legislation of that time was similar to that made in France by the Revolution, and caused the age before Jena to be regarded as an ancien régime. But in addition to this, a change had been made in men's minds and thoughts by the shocks of the time, which, prepared the way for legislative changes which have taken place since. How unprecedented in Prussia, for instance, was the dictatorial authority wielded by Hardenberg early in 1807, by Stein in the latter part of that year and in 1808, and by Hardenberg again from 1810 onwards! Before that time in the history of Prussia we find no subject eclipsing or even approaching the king in importance. Prussia had been made what she was almost entirely by her electors and kings. In war and organization alike all had been done by the Great Elector or Frederick William I., or Frederick the Great. But now this is suddenly changed. Everything now turns on the minister. Weak ministers are expelled by pressure put upon the king, strong ones are forced upon him. He is compelled to create a new ministerial power much greater than that of an English prime minister, and more