1740-1763 1786-1807

The Hohenzollern State (Prussia), 1763-1786

Administration . Foreign Policy . Domestic Policy . The Economy . Demography . Cultural History

Administration . King Friedrich II. (Frederick II., the Great)

Foreign Policy . On February 15th 1763, the Peace Treaty of Hubertusburg was concluded, ending the Seven Years' War. While Prussia neither gained nor lost territory, the war, as far the European theatre is concerned, for the most part was fought on Prussian soil, and had been devastating. Frederick the Great regarded Austria Prussia's main rival (German Dualism, until 1866). In order to prevent another anti-Prussian coalition to form, Frederick sought to improve relations with Russia. He suggested to Catherine the Great to partition Poland; this lead to the First Polish Partition (1772), in the course of which Prussia gained West Prussia. Not only could Frederick now legitimately call himself King of Prussia (in 1701, Frederick I. was crowned King in Prussia, because he ruled only over part of the country), but West Prussia also connected East Prussia, hitherto an exclave, with Brandenburg-Pomerania. The First Polish Partition was accomplished rather easily, as Poland-Lithuania, facing three potential enemies (also Russia and Austria), without a standing army of her own and deeply divided over her constitution, did not organize efficient resistance.
When Charles Theodor of Pfalz-Neuburg in 1777 inherited the Duchy of Bavaria, he suggested to exchange it for the Austrian Netherlands. Austrian heir-apparent Joseph (II.) favoured a modified deal and eyed at territorial expansion in Bavaria, which Frederick the Great was not willing to concede; the War of Bavarian Succession ensued (1778-1779), a war also known as the Potato War, as no battle was fought and the most significant image connected with the event was that of soldiers searching for potatoes. When Joseph II. in 1785 again took up the plan to swap Bavaria for the Austrian Netherlands, Prussia expressed that it was unwilling to accept such a measure and founded the Fürstenbund (League of Princes, with Hannover and Saxony).
A French emissary in Berlin/Potsdam in 1786, the philosophe Mirabeau, became an ardent admirer of Frederick the Great. Frederick lived by the motto "I am the first servant of the state". Mirabeau observed Prussia not to be a state having an army, but an army having a state.

Domestic Policy . The period from 1763 to 1786 was, for Prussia, a long period of peace; the First Polish Partition (1772) was implemented without encountering determined resistance; the War of Bavarian Succession was, in military aspects, a standoff, not a fighting war; both affairs took place outside of Prussian territory.
Frederick II. resumed the traditional Prussian policy of Peuplierung, aiming to restore and exceed pre-war population figures.
Frederick II. moulded the Prussian nobility, the Junkers (especially those of the territories east of the Elbe River) into a service nobility. The officers' corps and the diplomatic service were reserved for noblemen; only in exceptional cases non-nobles were appointed. On the other hand, Frederick the Great interfered in their traditional privileges, by protecting the peasants against excessive demands for corvee labour, by interfering in the jurisdiction which used to be dominated by the local nobility. The immigration policy - immigrants were promised status of free men - also ran counter to the interests of the nobles, which were accustomed to their 'right' of forcing landowning free peasants into serfdom by buying them out (Bauernlegen, a practice repeatedly banned by edicts of F.). Under Frederick the Great, Prussia did not experience major peasant revolts, in contrast to the Habsburg Lands.
Prussian policy, in addition to organizing the economic recovery, had to integrate vast territories into the Prussian state - Silesia, East Frisia, West Prussia. Prussia was attractive to the Lutheran Germans of Silesia, to the peasants of Silesia (the peasants under Austrian rule received worse treatment). In West Prussia, the Prussian administration over time gained the reputation of being harsh and austere, but just. Among the Polish and Kashubian inhabitants of West Prussia, resentment of Prussian (foreign) rule may have existed; nationalism, however, emerged in the early 19th century.
K.A. Zedlitz reformed Prussian higher education (since 1771); he was so successful that Maria Theresia asked for a Prussian expert to be sent to her (Ignaz Felbinger; he implemented similar reforms in Austria and later even in Russia).
Frederick the great ordered the codification of a unitary law code valid throughout the Prussian territorial complex (Carmer, Svarez). It was published eight years after his death (Allgemeines Landrecht, 1794). A 1779 decree introduced the concept of equality in front of the law.
In the 1780es, Berlin newspapers (the Berlinische Monatsschrift) functioned as a forum for the discussion of political reform, in which Freemasons played an important role.

The Economy . Frederick II. resumed the traditional Prussian policy of Peuplierung, aiming to restore and exceed pre-war population figures, to revitalize the economy. Silesia, and later West Prussia, enjoyed the particular attention of the king. Land reclamation by draining river valleys (the Netzebruch and Warthebruch), the creation of farmsteads continued.
In an attempt to expand farmland, the partitioning of the common lands was ordered (1765).
In 1772 the Imperial diet permitted women to take up crafts commercially; a Prussian edict of 1783 confirmed this statute.
The state maintained a monopoly in the grain, lumber, tobacco and coffee trade. In 1763 a bank was established in Berlin, and the Seehandlung, founded in 1772, was charged with financing im- and export to/from overseas; the latter was to develop into a state bank. Further banks were opened in Königsberg and Breslau (1763).
The Prussian administration promoted the textile industry in Silesia and Ravensberg, the mining industry in Upper Silesia and in the County Mark.
Prussia had a budget surplus of 4 million Thalers.

Demography . The expansion of potato cultivation and decades of peace resulted in sustained population growth. At the time of Frederick's death (1786), Prussia's population had considerably exceeded the level of 1756.

Cultural History . Among the absolute monarchs dubbed 'enlightened' in the history books, Frederick the Great stands out. His reign of 46 years was the longest; he controlled the nobility in his country more efficiently than his contemporaries in Austria, Sweden, Russia or France; his legacy, in many aspects, was stronger. He had reshaped the Prussian state and lead the country toward progress. His lifestyle was modest, and so was that of Prussia's nobles. For his attitude and accomplishments, Frederick gained the admiration of French envoy Mirabeau.
To complete the picture, Frederick was envious of his own generals, his ministers, even of his own sister; he expected to be the center of attention and could get nasty if he wasn't. Yet his far reaching reform program has been shaped by loyal Prussian administrators. Karl Abraham von Zedlitz reformed higher education; Johann H.C. Graf Carmer and Carl Gottlieb Svarez were responsible for a reform of the justice system.
Prussia's universities turned out the next generation of Prussia's administrators (reformers).
At the University of Königsberg, philosopher Immanuel Kant coined the term Aufklärung (enlightenment); his philosophy (critique of pure reason, 1781; critique of practical reason, 1788) was unpolitical, in sharp contrast to the French Enlightenment philisophers.

Articles Frederick II. of Prussia, Allgemeines Landrecht, from Wikipedia
Articles Karl Abraham von Zedlitz, Johann Heinrich von Carmer, Carl Gottlieb Svarez, Netze, Allgemeines Landrecht, Preussische Seehandlung, from Wikipedia (German)
Biography : Frederick II (the Great), from WebChron at North Park Univ.
Fridericus Rex, extensive biographical site, many subfiles
Peace of Hubertusburg, from aeiou
Ignaz Felbinger, from aeiou
Article Seehandlung, from Berlin Lexikon, in German
DOCUMENTS Rulers of Prussia, from World Statesmen by Ben Cahoon
Frederick II (1740-1786), Memoirs excerpt; Essays on the Forms of Government from the Modern History Sourcebook
Map : Prussia 1763, from Humboldt Univ. Berlin
Poem : Johann Philipp Lorenz Withof, Der grosse Königliche Friede zu Hubertusburg (Hamm, 1763), from Projekt Gutenberg, in German
Über die Schützengilden (on the marksman's guilds), from Berlinische Monatsschrift, 1785, Vol.1, pp.537-545, posted by Universitaet Bielefeld, click 1785 Vol.1, position no.60
F.H. Stubenrauch, Auch über die Schützengilden (Also on the Marksman's Guilds), in Berlinische Monatsschrift 1785 Vol.2, pp.250-259, posted by Universität Bielefeld, click 1785 Vol.2, position no.23
Gedike, F. : Zwei Maurerreden gehalten in der Mutterloge zu den drei Weltkugeln in Berlin beim Jahresschluss von 1784 und 1785. (Two Freemason's speeches held in the mother loge at the three world's globes at Berlin at the end of 1784 and 1785), In Berlinische Monatschrift 1786, 1, S. 167 - 182, posted by Universität Bielefeld, click 1786, Vol.1, pos.16
Christian Wilhelm Dohm, Über die bürgerliche Verbesserung der Juden, 1781, from Univ. Bielefeld
The Travels of Joseph Marshall: Silesia, Prussia, Saxony (1769, 1770), posted by Habsburg Web
Edikt vom 14. Dezember 1723 : Erinnerung an das Verbot fremder Kalender, posted by ARI
Further such Prussian Edicts, from ARI : 1702, 1712, 1754, 1772, 1765, 1774, 1796, 1800, in German
Preussische Rechtsquellen Digital (18th century), posted by Staatsbibliothek Berlin, in German; voluminous
List of Settlers in the Netzebruch 1763-1769, from Genealogienetz.de : Neumark
Images from Bilddatenbank, Weltchronik.de : Recruitment of Soldiers, 18th Century, Sanssouci; Frederick the Great enertaimimg guests, painting by Adolf von Menzel; Frederick the Great and his Generals; Frederick the Great, Battle at Rossbach
Map : Prussia 1763, from Humboldt Univ. Berlin
Treaty of Amity and Commerce Between His Majesty the King of Prussia, and the United States of America; September 10, 1785, from Avalon Project at Yale Law School
Poem : Johann Philipp Lorenz Withof, Der grosse Königliche Friede zu Hubertusburg (Hamm, 1763), from Projekt Gutenberg, in German
Article Karl Abraham von Zedlitz, Johann Heinrich Casimir Graf Carmer, Carl Gottlieb Svarez, from Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (19th century), posted by Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, in German, Gothic font
REFERENCE Hans-Joachim Schoeps, Preussen, Geschichte eines Staates, Berlin : Propyläen 1966, in German [G]
Institut für Geschichte der Deutschen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, ed., Deutsche Geschichte in Daten, Berlin (Ost) : Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften 1967 [G]
Thomas Biskup, The Hidden Queen : Elisabeth Christine of Prussia and Hohenzollern Queenship in the Eighteenth Century, pp.300-321 in : Clarissa Campbell Orr, Queenship in Europe, 1660-1815. The Role of Consort, Cambridge : UP 2004, KMLA Lib.Sign. 940.09 076q
Peter Brandt e.a., Die absolutistische Staatswirtschaft (absolutist state economy), in : Peter Brandt e.a., Preussen, Zur Sozialgeschichte eines Staates, Reinbek : RoRoRo 1981, pp.61-76, in German

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First posted on May 2nd 2004, last revised on October 28th 2007

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