Prussian reforms

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As Prussian reforms or Stein-Hardenberg reforms initiated during the years 1807-1815 are reforms referred that the basis for the transformation of Prussia from the absolutist Council of States and agricultural state to enlightened national and industrial state created.

The collapse of Prussia in 1806/1807 after the battle of Jena and Auerstedt and the Peace of Tilsit forced King Friedrich Wilhelm III. on reforms which his ministers Karl Freiherr vom Stein and Karl August von Hardenberg introduced as a "revolution from above". The first pillar of the renewal was the liberation of the peasants , the equality of the citizens , the self-government of the cities by elected representatives, the reorganization of the state administration by responsible ministers , the introduction of freedom of trade and equal rights for Jews. The second pillar comprised the educational reform for which Wilhelm von Humboldt was responsible. He renewed the educational system in line with humanism , enforced compulsory schooling and founded the Berlin University . The third pillar was the army reform initiated by Gerhard von Scharnhorst , August Neidhardt von Gneisenau and Hermann von Boyen . They modernized the Prussian Army , abolished corporal punishment for soldiers and introduced general conscription .

In historical studies, the Prussian reforms are rated as successful overall. They not only made the Wars of Liberation possible from 1813-1815, but also created the conditions for the March Revolution of 1848/1849.

Occasion, goals and principles

The collapse and the goal of "reform from above"

Prussia 1807 in orange. The territorial losses of the Prussian state between 1801 and 1807 in the other colors
The entry of Napoleon in Berlin on October 27, 1806 made the crisis of the old Prussian state visible ( history painting by Charles Meynier , 1810)

The defeat of 1806 was not only a result of wrong decisions or the military genius of Napoleon, but also had internal Prussian structural reasons. In the 18th century, Prussia was the classic state of enlightened absolutism in Germany. Estates and other particularistic forces like the west and south there were hardly any. At the time of Frederick II († 1786) Prussia was a comparatively progressive and reform-oriented country. Especially after his death, the absolutist system began to freeze and the reforms got stuck or were ambivalent. This applies in particular to the lack of social modernization. The general land law for the Prussian states of 1794 aimed at binding the state and civil society to law and order , but at the same time fixed the feudal order as a whole. Although it has been on the State domains , the serfdom abolished, but not to the east of the Elbe Großgrund- and noble materials.

The need for reform in the Prussian state was already evident to many observers and high officials before the war of 1806 and was also reflected in Stein and Hardenberg's memoranda. Friedrich Wilhelm III. thereupon dismissed Stein in January 1807 from his position as minister of economics and finance. The complete collapse of Prussia as a result of the defeat by Napoleon at Jena and Auerstedt made the necessary reforms inevitable. In the Peace of Tilsit , the country lost about half of its area. This included above all the areas west of the Elbe and the territories annexed during the last Polish partitions . With that the old Prussian state had effectively perished.

In this situation the reformers in the bureaucracy and the military gained the upper hand over the conservative and restorative sections of the bureaucracy and the nobility. The idealistic philosophy in the succession of Immanuel Kant exerted a considerable influence on the main actors. The goals of the reformers were defined in the Riga memorandum of 1807. This was mainly formulated by Barthold Georg Niebuhr , Karl vom Stein zum Altenstein and Theodor von Schön for Hardenberg. They stated that the revolution had given the French a whole new impetus. "All sleeping forces were awakened, the poor and weak, outdated prejudices and ailments were destroyed." Prussia also had no choice but to reform itself profoundly. The “delusion that one can most surely strive to counter the revolution by clinging to the old and by strictly pursuing the principles asserted by such principles has particularly contributed to promoting the revolution and giving it an ever-growing expansion. The violence of these principles is so great, they are so generally recognized and widespread, that the state that does not accept them must either face its downfall or the forced acceptance of them; Indeed, even Napoleon's thirst for robbery and honor and domination and his favored assistants is subordinate to this violence and will remain so against their will. It cannot be denied that regardless of the iron despotism with which he rules, he nevertheless obeys those principles in many essential things, at least apparently compelled to pay homage to them. "

From this the authors concluded: “So a revolution in the good sense, slowly leading to the great purpose of ennobling humanity, through the wisdom of the government and not through violent impulses from inside or outside - that is our goal, our guiding principle. Democratic principles in a monarchical government: this seems to me the appropriate form for the current spirit of the times. We still have to leave pure democracy to the year 2440, if it is ever made differently for people. ”With a view to the defeat of 1806, Friedrich Wilhelm III. assume that Prussia can only continue to exist with fundamental reforms in the state and society.

It was Napoleon himself who induced the king to bring Stein back to the head of government in September 1807, because he mistakenly believed him to be a proponent of his policy. The Reform Party in Prussia also campaigned for Stein's appointment. However, the latter himself imposed severe conditions that required the king to approve essential reform steps in advance. This included the abolition of the royal cabinet system . Government should only be carried out by the ministers, who should have a direct right to speak to the king. Stein, who conceptually advocated collegial management structures, demanded and received from Friedrich Wilhelm III. the position of a senior minister. He had direct authority to issue instructions to the civil administration. Stein had control rights over the other departments. When Napoleon noticed that he had grown up a serious opponent in Stein, he did everything to eliminate him. Ultimately, Stein was forced to leave Prussia. So he had only a little more than a year until November 1808 for his reform policy.

The political concepts of Stein and Hardenberg

The historian Barthold Georg Niebuhr was one of the authors of the Riga memorandum, one of the programmatic foundations of reform policy

Stein and Hardenberg not only shaped the political direction one after the other, they also stood for two approaches that tended to differ. Unlike the reforms in the Rhine Confederation stone approach was -staaten rather unenlightened, traditionalist and followed up on aristocratic absolutism criticism and English models, particularly the Glorious Revolution of 1688, at. He was skeptical of the centralized bureaucracies and advocated collegiality in administration and decentralization. Together with other leading reformers, he pursued "a policy of defensive modernization, not with, but against Napoleon."

Hardenberg, who replaced Stein, but had also been his predecessor, was more influenced by the traditions of the Enlightenment . He took up the principles of the French Revolution and suggestions of Napoleonic rule more strongly than Stein. In contrast to Stein, he was a budgetist . He strove to strengthen the state through a tight and centrally organized administration.

Nevertheless, these differences only meant a certain shift in emphasis within the reform forces. The initiatives were related in terms of time, content and goals, so that the term Stein-Hardenberg reforms is actually justified.

Central fields of action

Economic policy, the reformers were strongly influenced by Adam Smith .

At its core, the “organic reforms” were a synthesis of the old and the progressive. The aim was to break up the structures of the absolutist state, which were meanwhile ineffective. Instead, a state should emerge with citizen participation based on personal freedom and equality before the law. The main goal of the state leadership was to enable the way to liberation from the de facto French supremacy and the rise to a great power through a renewal from within. A central point was the opportunities for citizens to participate in the state through the introduction of self-government in provinces, districts and municipalities. According to Stein's Nassau memorandum , the goal was: To revive the community spirit and civic spirit, the use of dormant and misguided forces and scattered knowledge, the harmony between the spirit of the nation, its views and needs and those of the state authorities, the revival of the Feelings for the fatherland, independence and national honor. ” The subjects should become citizens who should represent the cause of the state. In some cases, however, the obligations were more important than the rights. In addition, Stein's ideas of self-government were based on class bases. Ultimately, there was a compromise between the ideas of a modern representative system and aspects of the class. The old class structure of clergy, nobility and bourgeoisie was replaced by the nobility, bourgeoisie and peasants. The right to vote should be expanded to include free farmers. This last point was therefore a basis for the liberation of the peasants.

In addition, the reorganization of conditions in the countryside was part of the liberalization of the Prussian economy, as well as the industrial reforms. On this point, the reforms in Prussia went much further than in the states of the Rhine Confederation and were ultimately more successful. The immediate impetus for changes in this area was the financial crisis of the Prussian state after 1806. Contributions , occupation costs and other war-related expenses contributed significantly to this. In total, Prussia had to pay France 120 million francs. The peasant liberation , the freedom of trade and other measures should remove economic barriers and enforce free competition in economic life. The Prussian reformers oriented themselves more strongly than the southern German ones towards economic liberalism , as advocated by Adam Smith and as propagated by Theodor von Schön or Christian Jakob Kraus . However, the focus was not on promoting a still barely existing industry, but rather on the sometimes crisis-ridden situation in agriculture. Freedom of trade was also primarily aimed at removing barriers to rural business activity.

The reform policy at a glance

In the short time in which Stein held the leading position, the decisive laws were passed, even if the Organizational Law on State Administration was not published until 1808 after his overthrow. During Stein's tenure, the October edict of 1807 for the liberation of the peasants and the town order of 1808 fell. After a short interim phase under Karl vom Stein zum Altenstein, Hardenberg took over the leadership of politics. From 1810 he had the title of State Chancellor; he held this office until 1822. During his term of office, the completion of the agrarian reform with the regulatory edicts of 1811 and 1816 and the transfer order of 1821 were also introduced. These included, in particular, the trade tax edict of November 2, 1810 and the trade police law of 1811. In 1818 customs laws to abolish internal tariffs followed. The social reforms included the emancipation edict of 1812 for Jewish citizens. Despite different starting points and objectives, there were also comparable reforms in the states of the Rhine Confederation, but this hardly applies to the military and educational reforms. In the course of restorative tendencies , the reform policy in Prussia was broken off in 1819/20. However, key points of the reforms that have been carried out have been retained.

Gneisenau made the connection between the reform complex clear with the statement that Prussia must be based on "the threefold primacy of arms, science and the constitution".

State and administrative reforms

Bureaucracy and governance

The reform of the administration and the state structure was a particularly high priority for the reformists. There was actually no Prussian state before 1806, but there were various countries, provinces and states that were to a considerable extent held together only by the person of the king. There was no uniform administration. There were a number of partly relevant and partly provincial authorities whose coordination was poorly developed. For example, there was no well-founded overview of the financial situation. There were ministers, but the king's cabinet stood next to them. The royal decisions were mostly based on the advice of the personal advisers and cabinet councils represented there.

With the beginning of the Stein era, the Prussian states became a unified Prussian state. The old cabinet system has also been eliminated. In 1808, in place of unclearly delimited higher authorities such as the General Directorate , a clearly structured State Ministry based on the departmental principle . The ministers for home affairs, foreign affairs, finance, justice and war were responsible to the king. The changes went far beyond creating more effective governance. The Prussian late absolutism has now been replaced by a bureaucratic-monarchical dual rule. The ministers had a strong position in this. In the reform era, they even outstripped the influence of the king. The latter could only govern with and through his ministers. In Stein's time, the State Ministry was organized in a collegial manner; there was no first minister. This changed under Hardenberg, who held the office of State Chancellor and as such controlled the ministers' access to the king.

There were also far-reaching changes under the leadership of the state. In 1815 Prussia was divided into 10 provinces and 25 administrative districts. Like the ministries of state, the governments were divided into departments. In contrast to the federal states of the Rhine Confederation, the regional presidents did not have comprehensive competencies; instead, as primus inter pares , they each presided over a governing body designed to discuss and find consensus.

The judiciary and administration were also finally separated in this context. Those affected had the right to object to administrative acts. However, this was decided within the bureaucracy; there was no legal control of the administration. However, the increased writing down, the filing of the processes in files, meant a further restriction of informal administrative action. The internal organization of the administration later became a model for other German states and for large companies. During the reform period, the professional civil service , as it has only existed little changed in Germany since then , experienced its essential form. The state paid the civil servants a regular and adequate salary for life. This made them more independent of additional income and less susceptible to bribery . In connection with the granting of lifelong security, the employer also demanded unconditional loyalty and dedication. Privilege and discipline were closely related. Career regulations, duty rosters, recruitment requirements linked to certain educational qualifications and examination regulations were created. This increased the competition among the applicants. At the same time, attitudes became dependent on objective criteria and no longer on the favor of the decision-maker. This practice also strengthened the performance principle. Even the aristocratic candidates for higher civil servant positions could no longer avoid this. This modernization of the administration was criticized by the liberal public more and more as an all-pervasive bureaucratization in the following decades and especially in the Vormärz .

Last but not least, an important goal of the reformers was to penetrate the entire country under administrative law. In rural areas in particular, there have so far been aristocratic particular rights alongside the state , which have prevented this. With the Gendarmerie Edict of 1812, rural districts were created as uniform administrative institutions for territorial units made up of villages, smaller towns and manor districts. The districts were initially integrated directly into state control. At the top were no longer aristocratic district administrators , but appointed district directors with far-reaching powers. Six district deputies were added to represent the population. The patrimonial courts of the nobility were replaced by the state court administration. The police rights of the landlords were also restricted by the introduction of the gendarmerie .

The district reform was one of the most far-reaching attacks by the reformers on noble privileges. Ultimately, it failed to a large extent due to the bitter resistance of the aristocracy. In 1816 she was able to enforce that the district administrator, who now again assumed the leading position, should as a rule come from the ranks of the established landowners. This ultimately led to the strengthening of the aristocracy's position in the countryside.

State representation?

Friedrich August Ludwig von der Marwitz was one of the leading figures in the aristocratic opposition

In addition to the State Ministry, Stein also planned to set up a State Council . Members should be incumbent and former ministers. There were also other high officials, the princes of the royal house and persons appointed by the king. The body was designed as a kind of substitute parliament with extensive decision-making rights. As the bastion of the bureaucracy, the State Council was supposed to prevent a relapse into absolutism and the strengthening of feudal interests. As early as 1808 it became apparent that the State Council was not functioning adequately. Hardenberg then downgraded him to an advisory body in 1810.

To a certain extent, analogous to the introduction of the self-government of the cities, Hardenberg planned a state-wide national representation. These plans also provided for a mixture of class and representative elements. A first assembly of notables met in 1811, a second followed in 1812. This was made up of eighteen noble landlords, twelve urban landowners and nine farmers' representatives on an estate basis. In addition to more theoretical preferences, the reason for the class composition was also very practical, especially fiscal. In order to be able to pay the high war contributions, the state was heavily dependent on loans from the nobility. Foreign loans, on the other hand, could only be obtained if the estates were liable for repayment.

After the provisional meetings were called, it soon became apparent that the deputies by no means only had the general interests of the state in mind, but also wanted to assert the interests of their class. Above all, the nobility, who saw their prerogatives in danger as a result of the reforms, tried to use the meetings as a weapon of the opposition against the changes. At their head were Friedrich August Ludwig von der Marwitz and Friedrich Ludwig Karl Finck von Finckenstein . Their resistance went so far that the government even had them temporarily arrested. The historian Reinhart Koselleck advocated the thesis that further reforms would have been impossible if the estates national representation had finally been established. At the end of the reforms there were counties and provincial representations ( provincial parliaments ) on a corporate basis and comparable urban self-government. The failure to create a national representation had considerable consequences for the further internal development of Prussia and the German Confederation . While the southern German states of the Rhine Confederation developed into constitutional states , Prussia remained without a state parliament until 1848.

Urban reform

Festive service for the swearing-in of the first Berlin city council on July 6, 1809 in the Nikolaikirche in Berlin , ( Friedrich August Calau )

The cities in East Elbe Prussia were controlled directly by the state until the reform period. Where there were still self-governing organs according to their name, they had little influence or were devoid of meaning. With the “order for all cities of the Prussian monarchy” of November 19, 1808, Stein tied in parts with these older traditions by removing special rights and making all cities subject to the same order. Residual urban sovereignty, for example in the police and judiciary, was also abolished.

At the center of the local reform of 1808 was the ideal of self-government . The cities should no longer be exclusively subordinate to the state, but the citizens should be able to determine their affairs. It was in this area that Stein's rejection of a central bureaucracy was most clearly expressed. Stein also hoped it would have an educational effect. Self-government should arouse interest in public affairs, which should ultimately also benefit the state as a whole. Johann Gottfried Frey , going back to the essential parts of the reform, wrote: "Confidence ennobles people, eternal guardianship hinders their maturation."

The city ​​councilors were representatives of the entire community and not of a class group. The right to vote was tied to a comparatively low census . The city councils could be elected by all citizens who owned land, owners of a commercial enterprise, with an income of at least 200 thalers in the larger cities, in the other smaller towns of 150 thalers or for a fee. The active and passive right to vote of the citizens also meant the duty to bear urban burdens and to take over public city offices free of charge. Those who did not comply could lose their right to vote and be increasingly burdened with urban burdens. Depending on the size of the city, 24 to 102 city councilors should be elected for three years at a time, regardless of guilds and corporations. Two thirds of the city council had to be homeowners in their constituency. The first Berlin city council of 1809 comprised 102 members. One of the most important tasks of the city councilors was the election of the magistrate . This was the collegially organized executive body of the city administration. At the top stood the mayor , whose election, like that of the members of the magistrate, had to be confirmed by the state government. Commissions were set up for the various administrative areas. The central task of self-administration resulted from the responsibility for the city budget. The police again became the responsibility of the municipalities as order management.

Despite these attempts at a representative constitution, there were still class elements. So the distinction between different groups remained. Full rights were reserved for the citizens. Landowners and traders were obliged to acquire citizenship . In principle, citizenship was also open to others. These included the urban lower classes, referred to as protective relatives in general land law , and the excluded . These were people trained in land law and mostly in the civil service who, before the reform period, were subject not to municipal but to state jurisdiction. Due to the costs involved, the lower classes and poorer exiles in particular were rarely able to make use of the right to acquire urban civil rights.

It was only in the revised town order of 1831 that there were attempts to replace the civil parish with the community of residents. All in all, the self-administration was in the hands of the craftsmen and merchants resident in the cities until the pre- March period . In the big cities, full citizens and their families made up about a third of the total population. Despite these restrictions, the reforms were a step on the way to modern local self-government . The attempt to introduce structures comparable to those in the city in the rural communities failed due to resistance from the nobility.

Tax and customs reform

Wilhelm Anton von Klewiz was involved in drawing up the administrative reforms and had served as Prussian finance minister since 1817.

The tax reform was a central problem in politics during the reform period, as it was necessary to raise the high contributions for Napoleon. In particular, the beginnings of Hardenberg's tenure were shaped by it. With the help of tax increases, domain sales, borrowing and other measures, he succeeded in averting national bankruptcy and preventing paper money inflation . A general tax reform grew out of these acute financial problems. The aim was to standardize taxes across the entire national territory. In addition, tax law should be simplified by setting up a few main taxes instead of numerous individual taxes. Another point was the equal treatment of all citizens under tax law. This was de facto directed against the privileges of the nobility. However, the ambitious concept could only be partially realized. In 1818 it was possible to introduce the consumption taxes , which previously only applied to the cities, nationwide and to limit them to a few taxable goods. There were also taxes on some luxury goods. In the commercial sector, instead of numerous previous taxes, a progressively staggered trade tax was introduced. On the other hand, a property tax that also included the nobility had in fact failed . At least it was possible to introduce income and wealth taxes - admittedly on the basis of self-assessment. The protests against it led in 1820 to the so-called class tax as a kind of intermediate form between poll tax and income tax. The cities were left with the option of holding on to the meal and slaughter tax as an indirect tax. Overall, the results of tax policy remained contradictory. The consumption and class taxes did not burden the nobility, as originally intended, but the poorer taxpayers.

The reform of the customs policy took place essentially only after the end of the Napoleonic wars and after the territorial reorganization of Europe by the Congress of Vienna . Prussia had regained its western possessions. This not only created an economic and structural contrast between the commercially developed western Prussian provinces of Rhineland , Westphalia and the Saxon areas on the one hand and the heavily agricultural East Elbe areas on the other. Customs policy was also very different. While there were 57 customs tariffs for around 3,000 goods in internal traffic in the old Prussian area in 1817, internal tariffs in the western provinces have hardly been levied at all since French rule.

For this reason, too, alignment was essential. In Prussia, with the Customs Act of 1818, all domestic trade barriers had fallen. Outwardly, only a moderate protective tariff was levied. However, high tariffs were due for through traffic. This was a compromise between the interests of the large landowners engaged in free trade and those of the still weak industrial economy, which demanded protective tariffs. The Prussian Customs Act, which was consistently applied, turned out to be simple and efficient. This customs system therefore more or less became the model for the customs system in the German states as a whole for about half a century and remained essentially in place until the German Empire . Last but not least, the Prussian customs policy was an important factor in the establishment of the German Customs Union in the 1830s.

Social and economic reforms

The agrarian reforms

Friedrich Wilhelm III. was forced by the crisis in the country to support the reform policy.

The liberation of the peasants was a process that took place in different phases and in different ways across Europe. Various reasons played a role here. From a moral point of view, serfdom had become objectionable by the end of the 18th century at the latest, and economically doubts about the usefulness of the previous agrarian constitution grew. That is why the old feudal, but also the cooperative agricultural structures were dissolved. The peasants were personally freed, they received full ownership of the land; Services and other feudal obligations were abolished. The individualization of the soil also led to the dissolution of the common land , i.e. the common use of forest and pastures in the villages. Already before 1806 there had been pre-reforms in some areas in Prussia. This included the liberation of the peasants on the royal estate since the 18th century, which, however, could not be fully completed until 1807.

Up until then , the manorial nobility had successfully resisted comparable changes . There was also considerable resistance from this most powerful layer in the country to the reform measures introduced after 1806. The state government had to accommodate the emerging forces of the nobility in various ways. This applies, for example , to the servants' ordinance of 1810. Although this meant progress for the servants compared to the general land law , it was still conservative and nobility-friendly compared to the later legislation. The resistance of the nobility also meant that not all feudal rights were abolished. Police and court rights were more closely controlled by the state, but neither were they completely abolished, as were church and school patronage, hunting rights and tax advantages. Also, unlike in the Kingdom of Bavaria , no humiliating proof of their noble status was required from the nobility . In this respect, there were compromises, but the aristocratic opposition did not succeed in blocking the fundamental changes on key points.

Edict of October 1807

Until 1807 the peasants were serfs because of their inheritance. They were burdened with compulsory labor and taxes. The October edict of October 9, 1807 marked the beginning of the reform policy in Prussia. It lifted all hitherto existing professional barriers, removed the inheritance of the peasants and released goods traffic. The farmers have been personally free ever since. Their freedom of movement was also restored through the abolition of ransom money and compulsory servicing. The edict said: “With the Martini Days one thousand eight hundred and ten, all subservience to property in all our states ceases. After the Martini Days in 1810 there were only free people ... “ Closely connected with this were the right to free property acquisition and the freedom to choose a career for all Prussian citizens. This allowed peasants to migrate to the city, citizens could buy estates, and nobles, who previously could only pursue professional activities, were now able to take up civil professions.

With the personal freedom of the rural population, the previous obligation to obtain a marriage consensus from the landlord was no longer applicable. The freedom to marry led to an increase in the birth rate and ultimately to a growth in the rural population in particular. Due to the way it was implemented, the reform also brought serious disadvantages for the rural population. The free movement of goods removed the previous restrictions on farming . Now the landowners were able to move in farmland, albeit controlled by the state. In addition, the landlords were no longer obliged to pay for accommodation in the event of invalidity or age of the former subordinate persons. The class of aristocratic landowners, which was closed to the bourgeoisie, tended to become an economic class of bourgeois and aristocratic landowners.

Regulation edict of 1811

Title page of the October Edict of 1807

After the personal liberation of the peasants, the establishment of complete ownership of the cultivated land and the abolition of feudal official duties became the reformers' main problems, since this was only possible in the form of compensation according to the general land law. The need to tie the “revolution from above” to the legality of procedures slowed reform.

The solution was the Regulation Edict of 1811, which was mainly formulated by Christian Friedrich Scharnweber . This made all farmers the owners of the farms they worked. Instead of a mostly impossible redemption in money, the farmers were obliged to compensate the former landlords and to replace the farms. They had to cede between half and a third of the land they used. In order to prevent the emergence of possessions from the outset that did not yield enough to survive, in 1816 the detachment was initially restricted to larger farms. The smaller possessions were thus excluded from the allodification . Other burdens associated with subservience to the estate, such as forced labor, marriage license fees and the like, were abolished for no consideration. It was different with the corporal and natural services. Their value was determined, and the peasants had to pay the landlord twenty-five times that amount in installments in order to relieve these duties. In 1821 another regulation followed for the replacement of manorial property, which was widespread in the New Prussian areas. This law was based on models from the states of the Rhine Confederation or adopted them directly in newly acquired areas.

Compared to the practice in the Confederation of the Rhine, the compensation in the form of the surrender of property undoubtedly had its advantages, as it accelerated the process. However, this also had disadvantages for the farmers. The 12,000 manors in Prussia alone increased their holdings by one and a half million acres. In addition, there was a large part of the common land, i.e. the land of a village that was previously usable by everyone. Of this only 14% went to the farmers, the rest also passed into the possession of the landowners. As a result, many small farmers lost their livelihoods and had to sell their over-indebted land to the landlords. This continued to increase their property, while the former farmers mostly became farm laborers. The utilization of fallow land offered a certain compensation for the farmers, but this meant the displacement to poorer soils. The measures were extremely successful for the fiscal interests of the state, which were ultimately behind the peasant policy. The utilized agricultural area increased from 7.3 million to 12.46 million hectares by 1848, and production increased by forty percent.

Social consequences

In the areas east of the Elbe, the agricultural reforms had significant social consequences. Initially, the expansion of the Gutsland meant that the number of manor families increased significantly until the second half of the century. The number of farms stayed about the same. What was new, however, was that a broad rural underclass emerged. The number of farm workers (instemen, servants, day laborers), designated differently depending on the region and rights, increased by two and a half times. The number of small owners, known regionally as Kätner, increased three to four times. Many were dependent on a manual or other sideline.

Many farmers were unable to raise the compensation. In this case they either had to leave up to half of their land to the landlords as compensation, with the rest often not producing enough income, or they had to go into debt. When a new ordinance finally also awarded the common land (the land in a village that could be used by everyone) to the large farmers and landlords as compensation, many small farmers finally lost their livelihood and had to work as farm workers on the large estates. Although the reformers wanted to create more freedom with this edict, the landless rural lower class increased in the period that followed. Ultimately, apart from a limited peasant middle class, the large landowners and noble Junkers benefited from the reform, who were able to increase their land holdings in this way. Ernst Rudolf Huber rated this as “one of the tragic ironies in German constitutional history. Here the inner antinomy of bourgeois liberalism is revealed, which created the freedom of the individual and his property and at the same time triggered the accumulation of property power in the hands of a few individuals by virtue of the autonomy of property freedom. "

Commercial reform and its social consequences

Not least based on the theories of Adam Smith, the reformers in the agricultural as well as in the commercial sector aimed at a release of all individual powers. This required removing all corporate restrictions, but also all bureaucratic restrictions on economic life in the tradition of mercantilism . The promotion of free competition also meant the removal of all restrictions on competition.

With this in mind, freedom of trade was introduced in 1810 . The start of a trade was only dependent on the acquisition of a trade license . (However, there were some exceptions, e.g. for the professions of doctors and pharmacists, but also for innkeepers.) This also meant that the guilds had had their day as holders of monopolies and other economic privileges. They were not dissolved, but membership was now voluntary. Associated with this was the far-reaching end of the state's supervision of the economy. In their place came the right to free choice of profession and free competition. The commercial reform removed economic activity barriers and contributed to the fact that new commercial impulses could develop. From then on there were no longer any legal differences between town and country with regard to commercial activities. Mining was an exception until the 1860s .

Originally intended primarily for the promotion of agriculture, freedom of trade became one of the central prerequisites for Prussia's economic rise on an industrial basis .

One of the initiators of the industrial reform was the Berlin politician and entrepreneur Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Knoblauch, who worked out reports and ideas and sent them from Stein for examination.

Like the nobility, the townspeople resisted the reforms, albeit with little success. The immediate consequences were contradictory: In the cities, non-guild competition was initially comparatively low; however, after a transition period, the number of craftsmen who were not organized in guilds began to increase significantly. In the countryside, on the other hand, the importance of handicrafts and other trades increased considerably. In the longer term, however, the freedom of trade also led to problems. The number of craftsmen grew faster than the growth of the rest of the population. At first the number of masters increased, but due to the strong competition they often only had a low income, some on the edge of poverty. Above all, tailors, shoemakers, joiners and weavers were among the overstaffed trades in the pre-March period. Like the growth of the rural lower classes, this process also exacerbated the social question and was one of the social causes of the revolution of 1848 .

Emancipation edict

According to Hardenberg's draft, Jews were given the same civil rights and duties as other citizens; They were allowed to purchase land that gave them access to city and university offices. The free exercise of the Jewish religion and cultural customs was now guaranteed. Due to the corrections made by Friedrich Wilhelm III, the Prussian edict contained restrictions, unlike corresponding laws in the Kingdom of Westphalia: The Jews were initially not given access to officer ranks, judicial and administrative offices, but were subject to conscription . By cabinet order of Friedrich Wilhelm IV. Of December 1841, Jews were permanently excluded from civil and military service.

Irrespective of the king's corrections, the edict soon met with criticism from opponents of emancipation. Despite the restrictions, it was a big step towards emancipation in the German states of the 19th century. During this time, the legal situation of the Jews here was significantly better than in most of the southern and eastern neighboring regions. This made Prussia attractive for Jewish immigration for decades to come.

Other central areas of reform

Educational reform

The reforms in the education sector played a key role in the conception of the reformers. All reforms presupposed a new type of citizen who was able to act independently. It was believed that the nation had to be formed and educated in order for the new society to function at all. In contrast to the state reform, which still included class elements, the educational reforms were directed against any form of class education from the start. The educational reforms were mainly designed by Wilhelm von Humboldt , who in 1808 took over the management of the Education and Teaching Department (still located in the Ministry of the Interior). Like Stein only held this office for about a year, during this time he succeeded in setting the course.

Humboldt adhered to a new humanist ideal of education . In contrast to the utilitarian pedagogy of the Enlightenment , which wanted to convey useful knowledge for practical life, he relied on a general and purpose-free human education . The preoccupation with antiquity and ancient languages , regarded as particularly rewarding in this regard, should promote the spiritual, moral, intellectual and aesthetic development of the human being. Only then should the specialist knowledge required for the various professions be acquired. Under the aspect of general human education, the state's interest in the utility of its citizens was consequently secondary, but by no means neglected: “Everyone is apparently only a good craftsman, merchant, soldier and businessman if he is in himself and without regard to his particular profession is a good, decent, enlightened person and citizen. If the school lessons give him what is necessary for this, he will acquire the special ability of his profession very easily afterwards and always retain the freedom, as so often happens in life, to move from one to the other. ” Unlike Humboldt, in which the individual is At the center of the educational process, the republican Johann Gottlieb Fichte was primarily concerned with a national education, with the education of the entire people for the purpose of national self-assertion in the face of the Napoleonic foreign rule at the time.

In place of the diversity of the old ecclesiastical, private, municipal or corporate institutions, there was now the state school, divided into elementary school , grammar school and university . The state had the supervision of all schools, now strictly enforced compulsory education and uniform curricula, and monitored the examination system. State-recognized performance criteria were created as a prerequisite for entry into the civil service: Education and performance should be important, not origin and status.

The performance of the elementary school was improved through better pay for teachers and their training in teacher seminars . From then on, the newly designed humanistic grammar school was responsible for higher education. Successful completion of the course entitles them to study at the university. In addition, secondary schools were established and some cadet schools were maintained . Despite the increased state influence, the school inspection remained with the clergy.

The reformed university was the crowning glory of the course in the Humboldtian sense. Here, the ideal of freedom of research and teaching and a priority for research applied. Students should learn to think and work scientifically by participating in research. The founding and organization of the University of Berlin served as a model for this. In order to guarantee the university's permanent place in society, the state took over all costs and the associated responsibility and thus gained steadily in influence.

In practice, the educational reform aimed at civic emancipation and equal opportunities after Humboldt's departure from office did not lead to the results he wanted. The one-sided implementation and formalization of the philological ideal of education, in connection with the emergence of restorative tendencies, finally had an effect on the lower social classes. The long duration of the ideal-typical neo-humanist education, which was associated with considerable costs, also had a disadvantageous impact. However, to a limited extent, there has been subsequent social advancement through education.

Army reform

Military Reorganization Commission, Königsberg 1807

Since, unlike in the Confederation of the Rhine, the reform policy was clearly directed against French supremacy from the start , the military reforms were far more important than in the southern German reform states. After the devastating defeat in the Battle of Jena and Auerstedt on October 14, 1806, a group of officers emerged within the Prussian military who urged changes.

After the peace of Tilsit the persecuted by King Friedrich Wilhelm III. used military reorganization commission to draw up a new, strong army, which was to meet the changing needs of the time in the structure and character of the target.

The Military Reorganization Commission included: Major General Gerhard von Scharnhorst (Chairman of the Commission), Lieutenant Colonel August Neidhardt von Gneisenau , Major Hermann von Boyen , Major Karl von Grolman and Captain Carl von Clausewitz .

Scharnhorst was also appointed chief of the war department (war ministry) and chief of the general staff. In close consultation with the ministers Karl vom und zum Stein and Karl August von Hardenberg , who initiated the political reforms, Scharnhorst succeeded in convincing the reluctant king of the need for changes.

The experience of 1806 had shown that the old Prussian army organization was no longer up to the French. It was too immobile compared to the French rifle tactics, its officers treated the soldiers as mindless objects, who had to reckon with harsh punishments up to running the gauntlet if they committed offenses . This was countered by the French civil and conscription army. One aspect of the reforms was to remove the barriers that partially existed between the army and society; so it was hoped to be able to build the army on the patriotism of the citizens. Therefore a start was made to raise the dignity and position of the common soldiers by adapting the soldiers' laws to the civil sense of justice. The draconian penal system and in particular corporal punishment have been largely abolished. The officer corps was reformed. A not inconsiderable number of unsuitable senior and junior officers were dismissed. The noble privilege was abolished; thus the officer's career was basically also open to commoners.

This in particular met with considerable displeasure from the nobility, such as Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg . In practice, however, it soon became apparent through a kind of co-optation right of the officers, who usually preferred aristocratic ensigns , that the civic influence remained low.

Within the officer corps, the seniority should no longer determine the seniority, but the performance in the higher ranks. The Prussian War Academy was supposed to ensure better training for officers. In the closer military area, hunter and rifle units were formed based on the French model. As in civil administration, the military organization was streamlined. In 1809, the War Ministry with the General Staff took the place of a large number of higher authorities .

The central reform was the introduction of general conscription. This was intended to eliminate the injustices of the military replacement system that had been in force until now and the class differences. Although plans were made to circumvent the limitation of the troop strength to 42,000 men through the peace of Tilsit with the body system , nonetheless it did not come to the implementation of the conscription at first. The king hesitated, and there was resistance from the nobility and officer corps. The bourgeoisie also remained skeptical. It was not until the beginning of the Wars of Liberation that the reformers were able to enforce conscription in 1813. However, this was not finally secured until 1814 in a general defense law. In addition to the line troops, the Landwehr was now also set up for home defense and as a reserve force. The Landwehr was organizationally independent, it had its own units and officers. Committees in the districts organized this force in which commoners could rise to become officers. Here the reformers' idea of ​​uniting the people and the army seemed closest to realization.

Coin reform

The standardization of the Prussian coin system is also one of the Prussian reforms. Since the Graumann reform of 1750, the silver coins (talers and taler pieces) had already been standardized for all of Prussia. However, different small coin systems continued to apply in the provinces. Brandenburg divided the taler into 24 groschen of 12 pfennigs each, Westphalia divided the taler into 36 Mariengroschen, East and West Prussia the taler into 30 Düttchen (three penny coins), the groschen being divided into 3 shillings, Silesia divided the taler into 90 kreuzers or 120 Gröschel, the Gröschel for 3 pfennigs each, and in the South Prussian districts of Flatow and Deutsch Krone until 1807 - and also in the province of Posen, which existed in the former South Prussia from 1815 - the thaler was divided into 180 copper groschen. These provincial small coin systems were also shattered in the course of the economic stresses caused by the Napoleonic Wars. The nominal value of the thaler as a Kurant coin corresponded to its silver value ; he had in Brandenburg 24 pence ( small change shifted whose nominal value was higher than the value of the silver contained) in some cases, over 40 pennies on a dollar. The different small coin systems put a considerable strain on cross-provincial trade. The first samples of new small coins were minted in 1812, but were initially not minted for payment transactions. With the law of September 30, 1821, a small coin system valid for all of Prussia was introduced, which is considered a milestone in Prussian coin history . The thaler was now in a fixed ratio to 30 silver groschen , the silver groschen to 12 pfennigs. This new small coin system subsequently became exemplary for other northern and central German states that took over the Prussian system in whole or in part. This facilitated the harmonization of different coin systems through the Dresden Coin Treaty of 1838, which became an important foundation for the introduction of the imperial currency through the imperial coin laws of 1871 and 1873.

The reforms in historiography

Heinrich von Treitschke had a major influence on the positive assessment of the Prussian reforms in the 19th century and into the 20th century
Prussian reformers at the equestrian statue of Friedrich Wilhelm , Cologne Heumarkt

In the historiography of the late 19th century, the Prussian reforms and the “revolution from above”, for example by Heinrich von Treitschke, were declared to be the direct prehistory of the establishment of the small German nation state. From the point of view of Friedrich Meinecke , the reforms were groundbreaking for later development . For a long time, the era of reforms, based on Leopold von Ranke , was written primarily in terms of the deeds and fates of "great men". Numerous biographical works on the protagonists of the reform testify to this.

So wrote z. B. Hans Delbrück via Gneisenau, Meinecke via Boyen. Initially the focus was primarily on military reforms, but research into Stein's person and work began with the biography of Max Lehmann . Hardenberg, on the other hand, has attracted comparatively little attention among historians. In spite of the clear differences between the main actors, historical research sees a fundamental continuity of the approaches and sticks to a unity of the Stein-Hardenberg reforms.

Some authors, such as Otto Hintze , pointed to the reform approaches to be found before 1806, such as the general land law and other measures. Such a line of continuity would confirm the reformers' thesis of organic reforms within the framework of the existing order. Thomas Nipperdey summed up the debate in the sense that there had been reform approaches before the collapse of 1806, but that there was a lack of energy to implement them, as well as an internal cohesion of the projects. With regard to the agricultural reforms, the work of Georg Friedrich Knapp sparked a scientific controversy since the end of the 19th century. In Knapp's criticism of the reform policy, which ultimately corresponded to the aristocratic and not the peasant interests, prevailed. The liberal economic influence of Adam Smith was also made responsible for developing problems. However, research over the last century has shown that blanket criticism cannot be sustained. At least the number of farms increased, although most of the new jobs were on poorer, newly developed land.

The success of the commercial reforms is assessed in a similarly differentiated manner today. They were not the direct cause of the hardship and misery of the craftsmen, as the legislation ultimately had only a minor influence on development. Barbara Vogel tried to capture an overall conception of agricultural and commercial reform approaches and to describe it as a “bureaucratic modernization strategy”. With a view to industrial development, the assessment is emerging that the reform policy was primarily aimed at promoting rural industry in Old Prussia, but ultimately facilitated the breakthrough of the industrial revolution.

Reinhart Koselleck attempted an overall interpretation of the reform policy with the perspective of the revolution of 1848 with his book “Prussia between reform and revolution”. He distinguished between three sub-processes. According to this, the general land law provided, inter alia, was already a reaction to the social problems, but still clung to class elements. Koselleck saw the emergence of an administrative state during the reform period and the expansion of the authorities between 1815 and 1825 as a preliminary constitutional achievement. In the following decades, however, the social and political movement evaded bureaucratic controls. After the end of the reform period, so the thesis, the correspondence between the higher civil service and the non-civil servant educated bourgeoisie broke. At least during the reform period, Koselleck believes, the bureaucracy, to a certain extent, represented the overriding general interest against individual interests. The failure to introduce a national representation was therefore determined by the fear that the reform policy would be stopped by the assembled particular interests.

For a long time, first by Hans Rosenberg and later by representatives of the historical social sciences , the end of the constitutional development in Prussia has been partially held responsible for the failure of democratization in Prussia and ultimately for the so-called German special path . Hans-Jürgen Puhle even considered the Prussian order to be “programmed for decline in the long term” . Other historically oriented researchers like Thomas Nipperdey pointed to the frequent discrepancy between the intentions of the actors and the unintended consequences that result from them.

In the last few decades the Prussian reforms between 1807 and 1815 lost some of their central position in the interpretation of history in the 19th century. This contributed to the fact that the reforms of the southern German states of the Rhine Confederation are now seen by many historians as being on par. In this context it also belongs that the regions of Prussia, which are dynamic in terms of industrial and social development, belonged either directly or indirectly to the French sphere of influence until the end of Napoleonic rule.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Thomas Nipperdey : German History 1800–1866. Citizen world and strong state. Verlag CH Beck, Munich 1983, ISBN 978-3-406-09354-8 , p. 33-68 .
  2. a b Nipperdey, p. 33.
  3. Friedrich Wilhelm III referred to the disgraced von Stein. as "unruly, defiant, persistent and disobedient public servant". Quoted after Eberhard Weis: The breakthrough of the bourgeoisie. 1776-1847. (= Propylaea history of Europe. Volume 4). Frankfurt am Main and others 1982, p. 280. (Original edition 1975)
  4. Wehler, p. 401; Excerpts from the Riga Memorandum ( Memento of March 5, 2016 in the Internet Archive ).
  5. Burg, Karl Freiherr vom und zum Stein, chap. 5
  6. Fehrenbach, p. 109.
  7. Büsch: Handbuch der Prussischen Geschichte, Volume 2, p. 22.
  8. quoted from Fehrenbach, p. 112.
  9. Fehrenbach, p. 109f, p. 112, p. 115f .; Nipperdey, p. 34ff.
  10. Fehrenbach, p. 110f .; Nipperdey, p. 35.
  11. Quoted from Nipperdey, p. 51.
  12. Collection of Laws for the Royal Prussian States 1815, No. 9, p. 85 ff. Ordinance on improving the establishment of the provincial authorities of April 30, 1815
  13. Manfred Botzenhart: Reform, Restoration and Crisis. Germany 1789–1847. Frankfurt 1985, p. 47f., ( Publicum on the amended constitution of the highest state authorities from 1808. (PDF; 1.3 MB))
  14. Nipperdey, pp. 36-38.
  15. Fehrenbach, p. 113f .; Nipperdey, p. 37.
  16. ^ Basically on urban reform: Hedwig Richter: Moderne Wahlen. A history of democracy in Prussia and the USA in the 19th century. Hamburger Edition, Hamburg 2017, pp. 37–71.
  17. ↑ City regulations from 1808 (PDF; 2.4 MB)
  18. The motto is often wrongly attributed to the stone itself. Walther Hubatsch: The imperial baron Karl vom Stein and Immanuel Kant. In: Modern Prussian history. Berlin / New York 1981, p. 1342.
  19. Fehrenbach, p. 113; Nipperdey, pp. 38-40.
  20. ^ Nipperdey, p. 50.
  21. ^ Wolfram Fischer: The German customs union. Case study of a customs union. In: Ders .: Economy and Society in the Age of Industrialization . Göttingen 1972, ISBN 3-525-35951-9 , p. 119; Wehler, pp. 442-445.
  22. Nipperdey, pp. 40–43, pp. 47f., Wehler, p. 406.
  23. Edict concerning the easier possession and free use of property as well as the personal circumstances of the land-dwellers. Fehrenbach, p. 116. ( Memento from April 4, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  24. Fehrenbach, p. 116f.
  25. Fehrenbach, p. 117f.
  26. Fehrenbach, pp. 118f.
  27. quoted from Fehrenbach, p. 119.
  28. Fehrenbach, p. 119; Nipperdey, p. 49; Wehler, pp. 429-432.
  29. Wehler, pp. 408f., Edict concerning the civil conditions of the Jews in the Prussian state.
  30. cf. Hans-Werner Hahn: Judenemanzipation in der Reformzeit .
  31. ^ Wilhelm von Humboldt, Report of the Section of Culture and Education to the King, December 1809.
  32. see Nipperdey: Deutsche Geschichte: 1800–1866; Citizen world and strong state. Munich 1983, p. 57.
  33. Fehrenbach, pp. 120-122.
  34. Nipperdey, pp. 50-56.
  35. Fehrenbach, pp. 235-239.
  36. Fehrenbach, 239–241.
  37. for example: Barbara Vogel: The "general freedom of trade" as a bureaucratic modernization strategy in Prussia: a problem sketch for Hardenberg's reform policy. In: Industrial Society and Political System. Bonn 1978, pp. 59-78.
  38. Reinhart Koselleck: Prussia between reform and revolution. General land law, administration and social movement from 1791 to 1848 . Stuttgart 1967.
  39. Hans-Jürgen Puhle: Prussia: Development and undesirable development. In: Hans-Jürgen Puhle, Hans-Ulrich Wehler (Hrsg.): Prussia in retrospect. (= GuG . Special issue 6). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1980, p. 15, quoted here from Dieter Langewiesche : Europe between revolution and restoration 1815–1849. (= OGG . Volume 13). 4th edition. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 1994, p. 123.
  40. Fehrenbach, pp. 241–246.