1763-1786 1807-1815

The Hohenzollern State (Prussia), 1786-1806

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

Administration . Frederick the Great died in 1786; he was succeeded by Friedrich Wilhelm II. (1786-1797) and Friedrich Wilhelm III. (1797-1840).

Foreign Policy . In 1787, in the Dutch Republic the Patriot Movement strove for a constitutional reform. Wilhelmina von Preussen, wife of stadholder Willem V., while travelling through the country, was stopped by a patriot patrol; this event provided the excuse for a Prussian expedition to invade the Netherlands and restore the old order (1787).
Under Friedrich Wilhelm II., Prussia continued her anti-Austrian policy; Prussian agents provocateurs stirred up resistance against Emperor Joseph's reforms in Hungary and the Austrian Netherlands, where the 1789 Brabant Revolution took place.
In 1792, the principalities of Ansbach and Bayreuth were acquired by purchase.
In 1792, Prussia and Austria agreed on sending a combined expedition, commanded by the Duke of Braunschweig (Brunswick), a Prussian general, into France, to restore the old order. Thus, the First War of the Coalition (1792-1797) was begun. While the campaign in France was unsuccessful, the Polish Sejm moved toward a thorough reform of the country's constitution - at the expense of the Polish magnates, who appealed for Catherine the Great to intervene. Prussia and Russia agreed to implement the Second Polish Partition in 1793, Prussia gaining Danzig, Thorn and "South Prussia". In 1795, Prussia, Austria and Russia agreed on the Third Polish Partition, erasing the Polish state from the map; Prussia gained "Neu-Schlesien" and "Neu-Ostpreussen", the latter including the Polish capital of Warsaw. In 1795, Prussia and France signed the Treaty of Basel; Prussia left the coalition and ceded her territory on the left bank of the Rhine (the larger part of the Duchy of Kleve, Moers, Obergeldern and Neuchatel) to France.

In 1796, Prussia and France agreed on the armed neutrality of Northern Germany, under Prussia's leadership; Prussia was promised compensation for the territory she lost on the left bank of the Rhine. During the Second War of the Coalition 1797-1801, Prussia remained neutral. Prussia sympathized with the Maritime Convention of states bordering on the Baltic Sea, which had been suggested by Czar Paul of Russia and designed to block the Brirish navy access to the Baltic Sea. The British navy retaliated by destroying the Danish Navy and forcing Denmark to abandon the Maritime Convention (1801). With Russian and French backing, Prussia proceeded to occupy the Electorate of Hannover (in dynastic union with the United Kingdom; Hannover was restored to the UK in the Treaty of Amiens).
In the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss 1803, Prussia gained Essen, Werden, Limburg, Paderborn, Hildesheim, the bulk of the Princebishopric of Münster, the Eichsfeld (hitherto part of the Princebishopric of Mainz).
In 1805, Prussia ceded Ansbach to Bavaria. In 1806, Prussia ceded the remainder of the Duchy of Kleve to the Grand Duchy of Berg; in Frebruary 1806 Prussian troops occupied Hannover; the United Kingdom declared war on Prussia (a one-sided affair, as Prussia had not much of a navy). Prussia, for long, had stayed out of the Third War of the Coalition. When, in 1806, France held Prussian territory occupied, and, in negotiations with the United Kingdom, offered to return Hannover, Prussia declared war on France (Oct. 9th). The Prussian forces were defeated at Jena and Auerstädt Oct. 14th. On July 9th King Friedrich Wilhelm III. signed the peace conditions; Prussia ceded her territory to the west of the Elbe River, as well as much of her gains in the Polish Partitions; from the ceded territories, the Kingdom of Westphalia and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw were formed.

Domestic Policy . During the years 1786-1807, the territory of Prussia was expanded at an extraordinary rate, then to abruptly being reduced. Most of the acquired territories were Prussian only for a limited period of time - South Prussia 1793-1807, New Silesia and New East Prussia 1795-1807, Danzig 1793-1807, the gains of the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss (Essen, Werden, Limburg, Paderborn, the bulk of the Princebishopric of Münster, the Eichsfeld) 1803-1807, Ansbach 1792-1806, Bayreuth 1792-1807, Hannover (1801) 1806-1807. While the integration of these territories into the Prussian state took a significant part of the attention of the Prussian administration, the period was too short to turn the inhabitants of these areas into loyal Prussians.
Frederick the Great expected his nephew and successor to waste the state treasury, to permit the discipline of the army to turn into laxity, to permit women to rule the country and to ruin the state. Friedrich Wilhelm II. abolished a number of unpopular taxes, replacing them by other, similarly unpopular taxes. He promoted cronies, relatives of his maitresse as well as fellow members of the secret society of the Rosenkreuzers. One of the latter, theologian J.C. Wöllner, appointed minister of culture and justice, attempted to combat enlightenment (Edict on Religion 1788; a restrictive Edict on Censorship 1789). Magazines regarded as promoters of the enlightenment, such as Nicolai's Allgemeine Deutsche Bibliothek were ordered to cease publication (1794). Even Immanuel Kant was obliged no longer to speak or write on religion (1794).
In 1794 the Allgemeines Landrecht was published, a code of Prussian Law, valid in all diverse territories of the dynasty; an accomplishment to be credited to the administration under Frederick the Great. All schools and universities were declared institutions of the state in 1794.
In 1797 Friedrich Wilhelm II. died. He was succeeded by his son Friedrich Wilhelm III., born in 1770. He deposed his father's ministers and expelled his father's maitresses from court. Friedrich Wilhelm lived a bourgeois lifestyle. Among his ministers were Karl August von Hardenberg (pm since 1804) and Graf Chistian Heinrich Kurt von Haugwitz (pm 1792-1804). Following unrest among the peasants in Silesia (1798), he freed the peasants living on royal land (1800); a plan to liberate the serfs countrywide failed because of the resistance of the Prussian nobility. Friedrich Wilhelm III. was sympathetic to reforms, but, until the disaster of 1806/1807, implemented few.
Inflation in 1805 caused riots in Halle, which were suppressed by the army.

The Economy . Frederick the Great had been able to generate a state budget surplus and maintaining an uproportionally large army by severely taxing the Prussian population. His successor Friedrich Wilhelm II. abolished some of the more unpopular taxes, only to introduce other taxes. The measures pursued by Friedrich Wilhelm II.s administration lacked a cohesive economic philosophy. The vast, mostly temporary territorial acquisitions distract from the actual economic situation; necessary reforms were not undertaken, left to his successor.
Pressing was the situation of the peasant serfs. With revolutionary propaganda spreading, unrest came up among peasants in the Prussian province of Silesia (1798). King Friedrich Wilhelm III. (since 1797) planned to liberate all of Prussia's serfs, but, due to the resistance of Prussia's nobility, only liberated the serfs living on royal domains (1799).
In 1805, Albrecht Daniel Thaer founded the Royal Academy of Agriculture. Because of few students (war), in the early years he focussed on experimental farming.
The 1790es and early 1800es were not only years of frequent border changes, they also brought a partial breakdown of law and order. In the Prussian County Mark, robbers terrified the population.
While the export of wheat to England, mainly from the port of Danzig, reached new record levels (1796-1800), high prices for food caused the situation in Prussia to exacerbate. The Industrian Revolution began to directly impact Prussia (first spinning jenny in Berlin in 1791; beginning of coke production in 1794-1796 in Upper Silesia). In 1805 high food prices caused a riot in the city of Halle, which had to be suppressed by the military. In 1796, the first beet sugar was produced commercially, in Berlin.
In 1805, all customs dues collected within the Kingdom of Prussia were abolished.

Demography . Due to territorial gains and losses, the population of the Hohenzollern State drastically increased and decreased.

Cultural History . J.C. Wöllner, appointed minister of culture and justice, attempted to combat enlightenment (Edict on Religion 1788; a restrictive Edict on Censorship 1789). Magazines regarded as promoters of the enlightenment, such as Nicolai's Allgemeine Deutsche Bibliothek were ordered to cease publication (1794). Even Immanuel Kant was obliged no longer to speak or write on religion (1794). Wöllner was dismissed by King Friedrich Wilhelm III. upon ascending to the throne (1797).
In 1789, Mozart visited Berlin, but rejected an offer to become royal court composer.
Under Friedrich Wilhelm II., Carl Gotthard Langhans constructed the Brandenburg Gate (1788-1791). Johann Gottfried Schadow sculptured the Quadriga, placed on top of the Brandenburg Gate.
Kant published Kritik der Urteilskraft (1790); Wilhelm von Humboldt wrote Versuch, die Wirksamkeit des Staates zu bestimmen, in which he suggested the State to reduce her activities to a minimum (1792); the manuscript was published only in 1851. In 1795 Kant published Zum ewigen Frieden (On Eternal Peace), criticizing the Treaty of Basel.
With Friedrich Wilhelm III., the anti-enlightenment policy introduced by his predecessor was terminated. With Friedrich Wilhelm III. living a bourgeois lifestyle and the court becoming less extravagant, the salon of Rahel Levin Varnhagen became the center of cultural life in Berlin. Henriette Herz hosted another famous salon. In 1803, Ernst Moritz Arndt published Versuch einer Geschichte der Leibeigenschaft in Pommern und Rügen (Attempt to a history of Servitude in Pomerania and Rügen), an attempt to kindle a discussion of the question of the serfs.

Article Frederick William II. of Prussia, Frederick William III. of Prussia, Carl Gotthard Langhans, Henriette Herz, Johann Gottfried Schadow, Rahel Varnhagen, Ernst Moritz Arndt, Immanuel Kant, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Prussian Education System, Albrecht Daniel Thaer, Christian Graf von Haugwitz, Karl August von Hardenberg, Rosicrucianism, Brandenburg Gate, New Silesia, South Prussia, New East Prussia, from Wikipedia
Articles Frederick William II., Frederick William III., Karl August von Hardenberg, Christian August Heinrich Kurt von Haugwitz, Karl Wilhelm von Humboldt, Ernst Moritz Arndt, Rosicrucianism, Johann Gottfried Schadow, from EB 1911
Articles Bauernbefreiung, Allgemeines Landrecht, Johann Christoph von Wöllner, Friedrich Nicolai, Berliner Mittwochsgesellschaft, Reichsdeputationshauptschluss, from Wikipedia (German)
Friedrich Wilhelm II, from Preussen.de, in German; from SPSG, in German, illustrated; from Preussen-Chronik, in German
Friedrich Wilhelm III., from Preussen.de, in German; from SPSG, in German, illustrated
Preussen-Chronik 1786, Cont., 1789-1791, 1789, 1790, 1791, 1792, 1793, 1794, Cont., 1796, 1797, 1798, 1799, 1804, 1806, Cont., 1807, in German, illustrated
Boris Megorsky, Rearguard action near Eylau, Feb. 7th 1807, from napoleonicwars.com
Eylau 1807, from napoleonicwars.com
Boris Megorsky, Fight for the town of Eylau, Feb. 7th 1807, from napoleonicwars.com
Prussia : the 1806 campaign and its tactics, from napoleonicwars.com
Henriette Herz, from Ceryx, in German, from Preussen Chronik, in German
Johann Gottfried Schadow, from Preussen Chronik, in German
Carl Gotthold Langhans, from Preussen Chronik, in German
Rahel Levin Varnhagen, from Salonkultur und Autorschaft, in German; from Preussen Chronik
Ernst Moritz Arndt Webpage, from EMA Gymnasium Remscheid, in German; from EMA Society, Bonn, in German
DOCUMENTS Rulers of Prussia, from World Statesmen by Ben Cahoon
A Cursory View of Prussia from the Death of Frederick II. to the Peace of Tilsit .., (1809), posted by Napoleon Series
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]
Immanuel Kant, Zum Ewigen Frieden (1795), posted by Philosophiebuch, in German
Wilhelm von Humboldt, Ideen zu einem Versuch, die Grenzen des Staates zu bestimmen (1792) posted by Institut für Soziale Dreigliederung, in German

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on May 3rd 2004, last revised on October 28th 2007

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