views updated Jun 08 2018


PRUSSIA. Prussia has become a byword for Germany, but it originally developed on the southeastern Baltic shore distinct from the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire. Prussia's subsequent association with central Europe stems from the Hohenzollern dynasty, which came to rule both it and much of north Germany and helped forged these disparate possessions into a major European power.


Historical writing on Prussia is dominated by two related problems. First, there is the controversy surrounding the region historically known as Prussia that has become enmeshed in political and ideological struggles between Germans and Poles. Second, there is the ambiguous place of the state known more properly as Brandenburg-Prussia in the wider history of Germany and Europe. Historic Prussia lay on the Baltic shore east of the Oder River. German nationalist historians claimed this region for themselves, portraying its conquest by the Teutonic Order after 1222 as a victory for Christian civilization over pagan barbarism. In this story, Germanization was equated with modernization. Polish historians saw the same events as foreign conquest and the brutal repression of an indigenous culture and language. Thanks to its wider international dissemination, the German version of Prussian history remains the most widely known today, with most writers unwittingly adopting the nationalist geographical distinctions of East and West Prussia to label the two parts under German and Polish rule in the early modern period. These terms imply a false unity in the region and suggest the inevitability of German domination over the whole area that came after 1795 and lasted until 1918. While the Polish terms of Ducal and Royal Prussia are more appropriate, Prussian history cannot be interpreted entirely through the lens of later Polish nationalism and should be seen as something both distinct in its own right and intricately connected to the experience of the entire Baltic region.

Prussia's place in German and European history has also been subject to widely differing interpretations. Many German nationalist historians saw it as the embodiment of an ideal social and political order and interpreted all German history from a Prussian perspective. While not uniformly hagiographic, this approach was known as the "Borussian" school and generally stressed that historical events were made by "great men," such as rulers and statesmen. Military power and authoritarian rule were regarded as essential for Prussia's survival within a hostile international environment and for its "historic mission" to unite the rest of Germany in the nineteenth century. Prussia's influence in the nineteenth century, when it controlled two-thirds of German soil, was projected back into the early modern period when its rulers governed only a tenth of the Holy Roman Empire prior to the mid-seventeenth century and still held no more than a fifth of the entire area in 1806. The empire was largely written out of German history, which was presented as a dualism between Prussia and Austria, prefiguring the struggles over national unification in the mid-nineteenth century. Religious history was woven into this political narrative, portraying Prussia as the Protestant champion against a backward and malevolent Catholic Habsburg Monarchy based in Austria. The experience of two world wars in the twentieth century encouraged significant revisions to this interpretation. Many writers retained the overall Borussian framework, but changed it from a success story to one leading to disaster. This school emphasizes the German Sonderweg, or 'special path', and presents Prusso-German development as deviating from a supposedly progressive European pattern and pushing German history down a separate militaristic and authoritarian route.


Prussia was not as powerful, advanced, or militaristic and repressive as these interpretations imply. Its early modern history was shaped by the legacy left by the Teutonic Knights. This aristocratic crusading order was founded in 1198 and was sponsored by Polish kings as well as medieval emperors. The Knights created a large state on the southeastern Baltic shore by the fourteenth century. Their conquests were not simply a process of Western Christian conquest since they relied heavily on a local population that was partially assimilated into the order's state. Sections of this population chafed under the Knights' increasingly arbitrary rule, leading to the establishment of the Prussian Estates, or representative assembly, in 1411, one year after the order's defeat by the Polish king at the battle of Tannenberg. Though the Prussian towns were represented, the landed nobility dominated the Estates. The order was unable to stem growing Polish influence and was defeated by a major rebellion after 1454, resulting in the partition of Prussia twelve years later. The western half became Royal Prussia under Polish sovereignty and included the important trading cities of Danzig (Gdańsk), Elbing (Elblag) and Thorn (Torun). The order was left with the eastern half, covering 14,270 square miles (36,960 square kilometers), which contained few significant towns other than Königsberg (Kaliningrad). The order's last grand master, Albert von Hohenzollern, tried to reverse this in a new war against Poland from 1519, but only escaped total defeat by secularizing the order's state as a hereditary duchy under Polish overlordship in 1525. Hohenzollern rule lasted until 1918. A remnant of the Teutonic Order regrouped under a new Grand Master, Walter of Cronenberg, who established a new seat in Franconia with a residence in Mergentheim.


Political separation gradually eroded ties between the two halves of Prussia. Royal Prussia became more closely integrated into the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania in the sixteenth century, particularly after 1569 when its nobility secured representation in the Polish Sejm (diet). The three great royal cities of Danzig, Elbing, and Thorn refused to send deputies to the Sejm, but nonetheless saw the commonwealth as protecting their local privileges and autonomy. Together with the nobles, they sought to enhance this autonomy by making Royal Prussia an equal partner with Poland and Lithuania in the commonwealth, but were thwarted by the opposition of the king and the Sejm and had to be satisfied with their own provincial diet. Royal Prussia shared the general development of the commonwealth, participating in its period of cultural and political influence in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and then declining with the impact of external invasions after 1654. Like the Sejm, the Royal Prussian diet introduced the liberum veto, which meant that an objection from one deputy was sufficient to invalidate all legislation passed in one session. This hamstrung the diet between 1713 and 1728 and again between 1735 and 1763. External interference mounted, notably from Hohenzollern Prussia, polarizing local politics. Self-styled patriots expressed a desire for greater autonomy and used the diet to block reforms proposed by the Polish Sejm after 1764, weakening the commonwealth and precipitating its total collapse between 1772 and 1795.

This collapse saw the reintegration of Royal Prussia into the area ruled by the Hohenzollerns. However, this area had changed fundamentally over the intervening three centuries. Hohenzollern rule was initially very weak. The Teutonic Order retained land within the empire and remained Catholic whereas the new Hohenzollern duke converted to Lutheranism. Because the Prussian lands were not part of the Holy Roman Empire, the empire offered no protection and Albert's possessions in Prussia were not joined immediately to those of the other branch of his family, which had ruled Brandenburg since 1415.


These political divisions did not prevent Hohenzollern Prussia from participating in the general trend to the manorial economy (Gutswirtschaft), common to Royal Prussia, Brandenburg, and Poland from the early sixteenth century onward. Farms were consolidated into large estates worked by serfs who were obliged to produce grain that was exported for profit to western European cities. While harsh, this system still allowed limited autonomy to peasant households to organize daily life and labor. As in Brandenburg, the Hohenzollerns intervened from the seventeenth century to divert the lords' profits into their own treasury as taxes. Few nobles could afford to live on agrarian income alone, and most sought military, administrative, or clerical careers. While this inclined many to collaborate with the duke, it would be wrong to see Hohenzollern rule simply as a compromise between crown and nobility at the expense of serfs and urban burghers. Neither was it an exercise in the creation of an impartial, benign government as sometimes implied by Borussian historians. Instead it was a complex, shifting process of bargaining between the crown and key social groups, serfs and burghers included. Like their counterparts in Royal Prussia, the eastern Prussian nobles were not a homogenous social group. Comparatively few corresponded to the archetype of the Krautjunker, the boorish backwoods nobleman who directly supervised his estates and spurned wider horizons. Many were at the forefront of agrarian development, particularly in the eighteenth century, when they saw the introduction of wage labor in place of serfdom as a way of boosting their profits. Some gravitated to the world of the Hohenzollern court, embracing Calvinism in the seventeenth century and supporting absolutism. Others favored continued ties to their cousins in Royal Prussia or Poland, sharing their notions of ancient aristocratic freedoms.


The Hohenzollerns made no headway amid this web of conflicting interests and loyalties. The eastern Prussian nobility cooperated with Königsberg in the duchy's own Estates to restrict the duke's income and insist that only locals be appointed to administrative positions. The foundation of a new university in Königsberg in 1544 did little to change this. Albert was bankrupt by his death in 1568 and was followed by the thirteen-year-old Albert Frederick. The new duke suffered from prolonged mental illness and lost control of the government to his Brandenburg relations, who took over as regents in 1605. Thanks to a dynastic inheritance treaty, ducal Prussia passed to Brandenburg on the duke's death in 1618. With the accession of George William in 1619, Brandenburg and Prussia had a common ruler and began their historic association.

Unfortunately for the Hohenzollerns, this coincided with the start of the Thirty Years' War in the empire and renewed conflict between Poland and Sweden. The dynasty was thrown on the defensive, and security rather than expansion remained its overriding concern into the eighteenth century. Their possessions fell into three unequal areas. In addition to ducal Prussia in the east and Brandenburg in the center, they now also held scattered lands in Westphalia close to the Dutch border. Though much smaller than Prussia, these western territories were potentially more important because of their comparatively large populations and active economies. George William's Brandenburg title of elector took precedence over his Prussian title of duke since it was more prestigious and gave him a role in imperial politics.

Borussian historians interpreted Hohenzollern policy as a coherent plan to unite these three areas and establish a uniform, centralized administrative system. Certainly, the dynasty benefited from an unbroken succession of healthy, adult, and generally capable rulers. However, far from shaping history, these rulers responded to pressures that were largely beyond their control. Prussia's growth was uneven and largely unplanned. Its rulers shared the general belief that princes were bound by Christian duty to protect their subjects and promote their well-being. Yet their primary motive remained the enhancement of their dynastic prestige and influence. Territorial expansion was intended to provide security for existing possessions and to bring new titles and resources. The empire remained their primary area of activity until the later eighteenth century, and at no point did they see themselves as the future leaders of a united Germany.

George William was dragged into the Thirty Years' War by 1626. Once involved, he tried to secure the duchy of Pomerania, whose ruling family had died out in 1637, but he was defeated by Sweden. His successor Frederick William (16201688; ruled 16401688), better known as the "Great Elector," was unable to change this situation after 1640 and was forced to accept Swedish control of the western half of Pomerania in the 1648 Peace of Westphalia. Hoping to deflect Hohenzollern ambitions, Sweden supported Brandenburg claims elsewhere in the empire, increasing the dynasty's territory by a quarter to 40,586 square miles (105,119 square kilometers) with 600,000 inhabitants in 1648.


Frederick William, the Great Elector, is a pivotal figure in Prussian history. Though not the farsighted modernizer of Borussian legend, he nonetheless forged a minimal level of centralized rule necessary for future expansion. He was assisted by the disunity of his possessions, each of which had its own Estates that failed to make common cause with their counterparts elsewhere. By shuttling his troops and key negotiators from one province to another, the elector broke their resistance in turn between 1644 and 1663. The western enclaves and ducal Prussia offered the most resistance. In return for regular taxes, the Hohenzollerns largely left their western provinces alone after the 1660s and extended this light hand to the duchy of East Frisia, which they acquired in 1744, as well as the two margravates of Ansbach and Bayreuth in southwestern Germany, inherited in 1792. By contrast, Prussian opposition was crushed by force, with Königsberg twice being occupied by troops (1663, 1672). The reason for this different approach lies in the Hohenzollerns' relationship to their overlords, the Holy Roman emperor and the Polish king. As electors under the empire, they enjoyed exclusive jurisdiction only over Brandenburg itself, where they were able to prevent their subjects from appealing to the imperial courts. The Estates in their other German provinces remained free to do this into the late eighteenth century, and while this became more difficult, all their German territories remained part of the empire until 1806. The elector could act differently in Prussia, because he skillfully exploited the Northern War (16551660) to force the king of Poland to renounce his sovereignty over ducal Prussia. Prussian nobles were unable to appeal to the commonwealth to protect their liberties after 1660.

Hohenzollern sovereignty over Prussia crushed its nobles' dreams of reunification with Royal Prussia but did not signal a reorientation toward Germany. Instead, the Hohenzollerns drew on local traditions to foster a distinctly Prussian identity that regarded other Germans as "foreign." This was used to support enhanced Hohenzollern status as an equal member of European royalty, no longer mere princes of the empire or vassals of the Polish king. The Great Elector's successor after 1688, Elector Frederick III (ruled 16881701), pursued this by developing a lavish court culture in Berlin and his other chief cities. More fundamentally, he avoided challenging the Habsburgs in the empire and supported their claims to the Spanish succession. His reward came at the end of 1700 when Emperor Leopold I agreed that he could crown himself "king in Prussia." Though ridiculed by his successors as an unnecessary extravagance, the lavish coronation ceremony in Königsberg in January 1701 was staged precisely because this new title lacked full international recognition. Now styled Frederick I, the new king continued to support the Habsburgs throughout the War of the Spanish Succession (17011714) in order to win acceptance from the other European powers. Since his new royal title took precedence over that of elector, the Hohenzollern monarchy now became known as Prussia.

While minor gains pushed Hohenzollern territory to 46,617 square miles (120,272 square kilometers) by 1720, two-thirds of this still remained within the empire. Frederick's policies reflected this as he looked primarily westward, despite his parallel involvement in the later stages of the Great Northern War (17001721) against Sweden. His representatives became more active in imperial institutions, notably taking advantage of the conversion of Elector Frederick Augustus of Saxony to Catholicism in 1697 to wrest the leadership of the German Protestants from the traditional heartland of the Reformation. His successors capitalized on Protestant sympathies in the empire to mobilize support against the Habsburgs, who suddenly realized they could not control their Hohenzollern protégé.

Religion also supplemented loyalty to the dynasty as a bond between the disparate provinces. Frederick and his immediate successor after 1713, Frederick William I (ruled 17131740), sponsored the Lutheran spiritual movement known as Pietism, whose values of thrift, obedience, and self-sacrifice dovetailed with their own agenda of a hard-working, loyal population. However, this "Prussian ethos" was always contradictory and contested, appealing to both its martial king and its pacifist Pietist pastors. Moreover, the dynasty remained uncomfortable with any notion of nationalism defined by language or culture, particularly as their territorial expansion after 1740 added millions of Silesian and Polish Catholics to their subjects. The European Enlightenment took firm hold in Berlin after 1740, but after 1786 the religious establishment turned sharply conservative.

These acquisitions began during the reign of Frederick II, better known as Frederick the Great (17121786), who followed his father in 1740. Frederick inherited a kingdom that was still only partially centralized. His father had amalgamated several administrative institutions to form a General Directory as a central coordinating institution in 1723, but much administration remained in the hands of local nobles and magistrates. Later reforms failed to alter this, although the staff became more professional, adopting qualifying entrance exams for senior posts, as well as a more regular salary, promotions, and pension structure. However, Prussian government was not necessarily more advanced or efficient than those in many other German territories.

What impressed contemporaries most about Prussia was its army, which had been established by the Great Elector and increased by each of his successors. Frederick William I expanded it further with a form of limited conscription introduced by 1733. Men were inducted for basic training and then discharged back into the agrarian economy, apart from annual exercises. Many historians see this as the origins of later German militarism since it supported an inflated establishment and encouraged both subservience to authority and the acceptance of war as inevitable. This can be questioned, because the new system also civilianized soldiers, most of whom spent more time working in the fields or as day laborers in the towns than they did drilling on the parade ground.

Military expansion certainly gave Frederick the Great the means to challenge Austria after 1740. The Habsburg Monarchy was uniquely vulnerable in 1740, having just waged two disastrous wars that left its treasury empty and its army disorganized. Moreover, the death of Emperor Charles VI in October 1740 ended an unbroken succession of Habsburg emperors since 1438, opening an international conflict over the Austrian inheritance (War of the Austrian Succession) and denying the dynasty a legal claim on German resources through imperial institutions. Frederick profited from these circumstances to seize the Habsburg province of Silesia between 1740 and 1745. This move dictated policy for the rest of his reign that countered Habsburg attempts to either recover Silesia or find alternative territory elsewhere in Germany. Prussia now had little interest in preserving the empire beyond using it as a framework to immobilize the Habsburgs. While the acquisition of Silesia formally increased its territorial presence within the empire, it shifted Prussian political gravity eastward. This continued with the three partitions of Poland, in which Prussia joined Austria and Russia in annexing the entire Polish Commonwealth between 1772 and 1795. The Hohenzollerns acquired all of Royal Prussia, together with considerable land farther to the south, bringing their total possessions to 119,950 square miles (309,472 square kilometers) and 8.5 million inhabitants. This expansion coincided with ineffective involvement in the war against revolutionary France after 1792, leaving the crown barely able to suppress a Polish rebellion in 17941795. Prussia pulled out of the war in the west in 1795, having transformed a treasury reserve of 51 million talers into a debt of 48 million at a time when revenues totaled only 22 million. Discussion of internal reform intensified but failed to produce significant results before old Prussia collapsed in a new war against France in 1806.

See also Austrian Succession, War of the (17401748) ; Berlin ; Brandenburg ; Frederick I (Prussia) ; Frederick II (Prussia) ; Frederick William I (Prussia) ; Frederick William II (Prussia) ; Hohenzollern Dynasty ; Holy Roman Empire ; Northern Wars ; Pietism ; Poland-Lithuania, Commonwealth of, 15691795 ; Teutonic Knights ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) .


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Peter H. Wilson


views updated May 18 2018


PRUSSIA (Ger. Preussen ), former dukedom and kingdom, the nucleus and dominant part of modern united *Germany (1870). The name came to signify a conglomerate of territories whose core was the electorate of *Brandenburg, ruled by the Hohenzollern dynast from the capital, *Berlin.


The order of Teutonic Knights, who ruled East Prussia from the 13th century, in 1309 expressly prohibited Jews from entering their territory. From the 15th century East Prussia was dominated by Poland and became economically dependent on it. As Jews constituted an important section of the merchant class in Poland, East Prussia acquiesced to the presence of Jewish merchants (exporters of furs, leathers, wax, and honey) although prohibiting them from settling and repeatedly threatening them with expulsions, which were rarely enforced. It was only with the complete secularization of the Teutonic order under Duke Albert i of Prussia (1522–77) that two Jewish physicians were allowed to settle temporarily in *Koenigsberg (1538–41). From the 17th century Jews came in ever increasing numbers to the then staunchly Protestant region, where they were welcomed by the ruling circles. In 1664 Moses Jacobson de Jonge of Amsterdam received very favorable commercial privileges (subsequently renewed) in *Memel, where he became the most important merchant, paying more customs dues than any of his Christian counterparts. He became a *Court Jew in 1685 and his sons inherited the function. In Koenigsberg, capital of East Prussia, Jews were permitted to graduate in medicine from the university in 1658, and Jewish merchants were encouraged to settle soon after. A synagogue was built there in 1680 and a cemetery opened in 1703. The community grew during the 18th and 19th centuries, remaining the economic, social, and religious center of the region. In the latter half of the 18th century Jewish communities were founded in *Elblag, Marienwerder, *Lyck, and elsewhere.

Jews were expelled from Brandenburg in 1573 by Elector Joachim ii. The great elector, Frederick William (1640–88), who became absolute master of East Prussia, inherited principalities in Western Germany where Jews had already settled (see *Cleves, Behrend *Levi); subsequently he acquired *Halberstadt and *Minden (1648), and at a later date *Magdeburg and *Halle (1680) where Jews were granted rights of residence soon after the annexation. Frederick William, anxious to repair the havoc wrought by the Thirty Years' War and influenced by mercantilistic and tolerant ideas, encouraged foreigners to settle on his lands. In 1650 he permitted Polish Jews to trade in Brandenburg for seven years but not to settle there; this privilege was renewed in 1660. Israel Aron, a military contractor and purveyor to the mint (see *Mintmasters) received permission to settle in Berlin in 1663 and became Frederick William's Court Jew.

The basis for a Jewish settlement, however, was created by the expulsion from Vienna (1670). Through his resident agent in Vienna, Andreas Neumann, the elector, declared that he was not opposed to receiving 40–50 "rich and wealthy persons, prepared to bring and invest their means here"; on May 21, 1671, he permitted 50 families to settle, buy houses and shops, and engage in trade almost unrestrictedly. They could not, however, open a synagogue. The leaders of the small and interrelated group, Benedict Veit and Abraham Ries, and the richer Jews were encouraged to remain in Berlin. Other families settled in the cities of *Brandenburg, *Frankfurt on the Oder, and Landsberg (*Gorzow Wielkopolski) where the first *Landrabbiner, Solomon Kajjem Kaddish, and his successor had their seat. The elector disregarded his subjects' objections to Jewish settlement, being concerned with the economic benefits he derived from direct taxation of the *Schutzjuden and indirect taxation through customs, tolls, and excise, which the Jews paid at a higher rate. During his reign the Berlin Jewish community grew to 40 families, that of Halberstadt to 86, that of Frankfurt to 43, while 15 families had settled in Pomerania.

His son Frederick i (1688–1713; crowned king of Prussia in 1701) confirmed existing Jewish privileges on his succession; new communities were founded and existing ones grew. A noted collector of gems, Frederick patronized jewel purveyors such as Jost and Esther *Liebmann and Marcus *Magnus. Under his son Frederick William i (1713–40), a generally harsh regime was introduced. On his accession he ordered a thorough inquiry into Jewish affairs, the outcome of which was the law of 1714 restricting to one the number of sons who could inherit their father's right of residence (Schutzbrief); to be granted this right the second son had to possess 1,000 taler

and pay 50, and the third son twice these amounts. Thus a dominant theme in Prussian-Jewish relations, the attempt to restrict and even to reduce the number of Jews, was formally introduced. In 1717 the king appointed Moses Levin *Gomperz as Oberaeltester ("chief elder," parnas) of Berlin and Prussian Jewry, an appointment probably connected with the supervision of the just distribution of the tax load, conducted by representatives of communities and *Landjudenschaften. In 1728 the sum was fixed at 15,000 taler annually, to be reapportioned every five years. In 1730 a new Jewry law was promulgated: the eldest son was now obliged to own 1,000 and pay 50 taler and the second twice these amounts; all were subject to the condition that the number of protected Jews (Schutzjuden) in any given locality should not increase. Foreign Jews in possession of at least 10,000 taler were allowed to settle in Prussia. The law also prohibited Jews from engaging in all crafts (except seal engraving) competing with Christian guilds; it prohibited them from dealing in a large number of goods (mainly local produce). *Peddling, in particular, was suppressed. Commerce in luxury wares (expensive textiles, spices, etc.) was permitted, as was moneylending and dealing in old clothes. The law applied not only to Brandenburg but to all Prussian territories, creating uniform conditions for the Jews and defining (in article 24) their juridical relationship to the state. The regular tax load was raised, in addition to extraordinary exactions. Jewish merchants were encouraged to become entrepreneurs and invest in manufacture, particularly of textiles (silk, ribbons, satin, lace, etc.). These businessmen were granted highly favorable conditions. Thus the king passed on to his son a basically contradictory policy, at the same time mercantilist and anti-Jewish; needing and encouraging Jews for their economic contribution he attempted to restrict their rights and numbers.

From Frederick ii to Emancipation

*Frederickii, the Great, enforced his father's policies even more rigorously. By his conquest of Silesia (1742) his rule extended over a sizable Jewish population; appreciating their economic importance he exempted them from his otherwise obnoxious Jewish legislation. In 1750 Frederick promulgated his Revidiertes Generalprivilegium und Reglement, prompted by the results of an inquiry which showed the number of privileged Jewish families in Prussia (excluding Silesia) in 1749 at 2,093, almost double the 1728 figure. The preamble stated that the law was intended to help both Christians and Jews, whose livelihood was being threatened by the increasing number of Jews. It created two types of Schutzjuden: an unrestricted number of "extraordinary" ones whose rights could not be inherited, and a restricted number of "ordinary" Schutzjuden who could pass on their rights to one son only. As in 1730, Jews were excluded from almost all professions and expressly prohibited from brewing, innkeeping, and farming. Trade in livestock, wool, leather, and most local produce was prohibited; the permitted occupations were moneylending and dealing in luxury wares and old clothes. The strictures against peddling were made more severe, as were those against beggars. During the Seven Years' War (1756–63) Frederick relied on monetary manipulations effected by Daniel *Itzig, V.H. *Ephraim, and other purveyors to the mint. His armies were provisioned by Jewish military *contractors (supplying horses, grain, fodder, wine, etc). After the war he encouraged a newly created, sparse layer of very wealthy Jews to invest their capital in industry and manufacture. Frederick levied onerous and distasteful taxes. In 1766 he introduced the Silberlieferung: 12,000 silver marks to be delivered annually at below face value to the royal mint; the 15,000 marks annual tax (from 1728) was increased to 25,000 in 1768. In 1769 he ordered every Jew to purchase and export a certain quantity of local porcelain (expensive, inferior wares produced by the royal factory) whenever he needed a royal concession or privilege (e.g., for marriage).

During Frederick's reign the Berlin community gradually became preponderant in Prussian Jewry. The Landrabbinat was occupied by such leading authorities as David Fraenkel (1742–62), Aaron Mosessohn (1762–71), and Hirschel *Levin. The dual office of Oberlandes-Aeltester was successively occupied by elders of the Berlin community, V.H. Ephraim (1750–75), Daniel Itzig (1775–99), and Jacob Moses (1775–92). In Berlin, Breslau, and Koenigsberg the upper strata of the Jews, who were rich and influential, took the first steps toward assimilation, acquiring the General-Privilegium, which granted them the rights of Christian merchants (such as freedom of movement and settlement). Through the First Partition of Poland (1772) Prussia's Jewish population had almost doubled, and Frederick feared above all an influx of Jews from the newly annexed province of West Prussia.

Frederick's nephew, Frederick William ii (1786–97), inaugurated a period of liberalization and reform in Prussia. As crown prince he had borrowed large sums from Berlin's Jewish financiers. An admirer of *Mendelssohn and *Mirabeau, in the first years of his reign he abolished the porcelain law and repealed the *Leibzoll for foreign Jews. On May 2, 1791, Daniel Itzig and his family received the first Naturalisationspatent, which granted them full citizenship. A year later the solidarische Haftung (collective responsibility and liability of the Jewish community for non-payment of taxes and crimes of theft) was abolished. The king nominated a commission to draft a new and liberal Jewry law but due to the procrastination of his counselors, his own hesitations, and his increasing preoccupation with foreign affairs this was never carried out. New problems were created by the Second (1793) and Third (1795) Partitions of Poland, which respectively added about 53,000 and 75,000 Jews to the Prussian realm. New legislation became urgent. Shortly before his death Frederick William ii passed a Jewry law for the new territories, which was in some respects more progressive than previous laws. His early death and the conservative nature of his son, *Frederick Williamiii, disrupted all reformatory activity until Napoleon's defeat of Prussia at Jena (1806), when far-reaching reforms were carried out under the leadership of Karl August von *Hardenberg and Wilhelm von *Humboldt. In 1808 municipal citizenship and offices were opened to all, irrespective of religion.

The decisive step was taken with the promulgation in March 11, 1812, of an edict concerning the civil status of the Jews. The first article declared all legally resident Jews to be full citizens. All occupations were declared open to Jews, as were academic positions. Article 9, however, postponed the question of Jewish eligibility to state offices; the *oath more Judaico also remained in force. Marriage to a Prussian Jewess did not bestow citizenship and foreign Jews were prohibited from becoming communal employees. The edict was received with thanksgiving by the elders of the main Jewish communities, Berlin, Breslau, and Koenigsberg. A year later, during the War of Liberation, Prussian Jews expressed their patriotism by volunteering in large numbers (see *Military service). The high expectations of Prussian Jewry were not put to the test until after the Congress of *Vienna, at which Prussia was given back the province of Posen (*Poznan) and received the Rhineland and part of *Westphalia (where Jews had been fully emancipated).

As King Frederick William iii had no intention of carrying out the 1812 edict, he repudiated his express promise that volunteers, irrespective of their religion, would be eligible for state offices. On Sept. 18, 1818, Jews were excluded from all academic positions (causing Heinrich *Heine, Eduard *Gans, and others to apostatize); the following January Jewish officials in Westphalia and the Rhineland were dismissed (including Heinrich Marx, father of Karl *Marx). The benefits of the 1812 edict had not been applied to Posen (where the laws of 1750 and 1797 remained in force), while its restrictions were applied to the western territories. Thus the Napoleonic "infamous decree," which by then had lapsed in France, was renewed by Prussia in 1818 to cover the Rhineland for an indefinite period. Prussian Jewry's legal position was encumbered by the coexistence of 22 different legislative systems with the various provinces. The king actively encouraged conversion to Christianity and prohibited conversion to Judaism; between 1812 and 1846, 3,171 Jews in Prussia converted. In addition he closed down Israel *Jacobson's private Reform prayer room in Berlin; on Sept. 12, 1823, he made the minister of the interior responsible for ensuring that "no sects among the Jewries (Judenschaften) of my lands be tolerated." The king's policy toward the Jews of Posen province – the historical *Great Poland (where they were 6.4% of the population and 42% of all Prussian Jews in 1816) – was even more restrictive. Severe steps were taken to keep them within the boundaries of the province. In 1833 a new Jewry law was promulgated for Posen; its main feature was the division of the province's Jews into naturalized citizens, whose rights were conditional on their economic, moral, and educational achievements (command and use of German), and the remainder, who remained deprived of basic rights. By 1846, 80% of Posen Jews were still not citizens and one-third of Prussian Jews had not attained that status.

The accession of *Frederick Williamiv (1840) was accompanied by rising hopes, which were soon dashed when he took steps to implement his medieval conception of a corporationist "Christian state." In this crisis Prussian Jewry, led by Moritz *Veit and Ludwig *Philippson, was supported by the liberal majorities in the provincial estates. Nevertheless, with the aid of the upper house and Friedrich Julius *Stahl, the king succeeded in passing the 1847 Jewry constitution which recognized the corporate status of individual Jewish communities. It permitted Jews to occupy "offices not carrying executive, juridical, or law enforcement powers"; at universities all chairs in the humanities were closed to them, as were the senate and rectorate; Jews owning landed estates could not enjoy the rights accorded the gentry. The law, introduced for the benefit of the Jews the king declared, was not applicable to Posen. It had barely been introduced when the 1848 revolution proclaimed the principles of religious freedom and equality for all, reconfirmed in 1869 for the whole North-German Confederation. In practice, however, discrimination in the army, bureaucracy, and university remained the rule.

During the 19th century the geographic, demographic, social, and economic makeup of Prussian Jewry underwent great changes. Their number increased from 123,823 in 1816 to 194,558 in 1840. In 1840 about two-fifths of Prussian Jewry were concentrated in Posen province (where they formed about 6% of the population), and another two-fifths in Silesia, the Rhineland, and West Prussia (where they constituted about 1% of the population). Posen had the largest Jewish community (6,748), with Berlin (6,458) and Breslau (5,714) following. The majority of Prussian Jewry lived in rural and semirural conditions; peddling, shop- and innkeeping, commerce, and the livestock trade were the main occupations. In 1816 Prussia contained 48.2% of German Jewry; in 1871, 325,000 Jews were natives of Prussia (69.2% of German Jewry), including the Jews of the recently (1866) annexed territories of *Hanover, *Schleswig-Holstein, *Hesse-Nassau, and *Frankfurt on the Main. Due to internal migration the percentage of Posen Jews had declined proportionately, to 22.8% in 1871, and also absolutely, so that by 1910 only 26,512 remained (about 7.7% of Prussian Jewry). A similar process of depletion occurred in West Prussia. As a result of industrialization and urbanization, Brandenburg (Berlin) attracted a greater proportion of Prussian Jewry, increasing from 6.5% in 1816, to 17.5% in 1871, and 43.9% (151,356) in 1910. In the other provinces, Westphalia, Rhineland, and Silesia, the number of Jews remained proportionately stable while increasing at a regular rate. Demographically, Prussian Jewry reached its peak around 1870–80. The process of urbanization continued, causing small-town communities to remain stable or decline while village communities gradually vanished. By 1925, 60% of Prussian Jewry (342,765) was to be found in the four largest communities and another 15% in communities with more than 1,000 persons.

Prussia within the German Empire

In spite of the noteworthy cultural, economic, and social achievements of Prussian Jews within the new German Empire, Prussia retained a specific conservative, anti-Jewish, social and political attitude, which found expression in the influence of the Prussian mentality within the empire and in its political parties (see *Bismarck, E. *Lasker, I.D. *Bamberger, and *Central-Verein). Until World War i the majority of Prussian communities were organized within the *Deutsch-Israelitischer Gemeindebund (digb). The organization's main difficulties were caused by differences between the numerous small, rural, and needy communities and the large wealthy ones, primarily Berlin. Thus, when a common communal organization did not immediately emerge after the war the Berlin community entrusted Ismar *Freund with organizing the Preussischer Landesverband juedischer Gemeinden. Its opening session (1921) was attended by 110 communities, who soon numbered 656 (96% of Prussian Jewry), making it the largest regional communal organization in Germany. Its charter and activities were modeled on the defunct digb; although a Prussian official was present at its founding and it received state subsidies, it was not officially recognized by the government of Prussia.

Throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries the Prussian reactionary mentality found a persuasive anti-Jewish argument in the "Masseneinwanderung," the alleged mass immigration of unwanted East European Jews (Ostjuden) into Prussia, particularly into Berlin and the major cities. Their number was greatly magnified by antisemitic propaganda which eventually caused the expulsion of 30,000 Russian Jews, mainly refugees from the 1883 pogroms. In fact, the number of Prussian Jews was decreasing, due to a low birth rate and emigration. After World War i the problem of the unwanted East European Jews again became a political issue; in fact, the majority of these were Jews from Posen, then once more in Poland, who had preferred to be repatriated to Prussia (one-third of c. 45,000 Jews). When the Nazis seized power, H. *Goering was appointed prime minister of Prussia, where he enforced the Nazi anti-Jewish measures (see *Germany).


Wiener Library, German Jewry (1958), 62–66 (bibl.); bjce (bibl.); lbi, Bibliothek und Archiv, 1 (1970), index (bibl); Gesamtregister zur mgwj (1966), index; I. Freund, Die Emanzipation der Juden in Preussen, 2 vols. (1912); S. Stern, Der preussische Staat und die Juden, 4 vols. (1925–1975); H.D. Schmidt, in: ylbi, 1 (1956), 28–47; H. Strauss, ibid., 11 (1966), 107–36; H. Fischer, Judentum, Staat und Heer im fruehen 19. Jahrhundert (1968); H. Schnee, Die Hoffinanz und der moderne Staat, 1 (1953); 5 (1965), 15–53; M. Aschkewitz, Zur Geschichte der Juden in Westpreussen (1967); H. Neubach, Die Ausweisungen von Polen und Juden aus Preussen 1885/86 (1967); S. Wenzel, Juedische Buerger und kommunale Selbstverwaltung in preussischen Staedten 1808–1848 (1967); A. Sandler, in: ylbi, 2 (1957), index; H. Strauss, ibid., 11 (1966), 107–38; M. Lamberti, in: lbiyb, 17 (1972), 5–17; M. Birnbaum, Staat und Synagoge, 1918–1939 (1981); A. Bruer, Geschichte der Juden in Preussen (1750–1820) (1991); S. Volkov, Jahadut Prussia – Mythos u-Mẹziut (Hebr.; 1994); Clark, in: Past and Present, 147 (1995), 159–79; C. Clark, in: Protestants, Catholics and Jews in Germany (2001), 67–93.

[Henry Wasserman]


views updated May 23 2018


from the french revolution to the congress of vienna
from restoration to revolution
german unification
prussia in the german empire

The kingdom of Prussia encompassed the ensemble of lands ruled from Berlin by the Hohenzollern dynasty. With the invasion of Silesia in 1740 and its retention through three wars, Prussia Challenged the hegemony of the Austrian Habsburgs in German Europe and emerged as a major Continental power. The expansion of French power under the emperor Napoleon I (r. 1804–1814/15) led to a catastrophic defeat in 1806, but Prussia was one of the chief beneficiaries of the territorial settlements agreed at the Congress of Vienna in 1814–1815. In the 1860s, it was Prussia that drove the unification of the German states (excluding Austria) and the foundation of the German Empire of 1871. With the collapse of the Hohenzollern monarchy in 1918, Prussia survived as one of the Länder (federal states) of the Weimar Republic, but its autonomy was severely curtailed in 1932, when a conservative coup deposed the Prussian administration. The state of Prussia was formally abolished by order of the Allied Control Council in Berlin on 25 February 1947.

from the french revolution to the congress of vienna

Prussian foreign policy during the Revolutionary era was dominated by the quest for territorial gains. Having initially welcomed the news of upheaval in Paris, Prussia joined Austria in invading France in 1792. When the coalition forces were stopped in their tracks at the Battle of Valmy (20 September 1792), however, the Prussians lost interest in fighting France and focused instead on securing territorial gains at Poland's expense. Under the Prusso-Russian agreement known as the Second Partition of Poland (23 January 1793), Prussia annexed the commercially important cities of Danzig and Thorn and a triangle of territory plugging the cleft between Silesia and East Prussia. The Third Partition (agreed between Austria, Russia, and Prussia on 24 October 1795) extinguished what remained of the Polish Commonwealth and brought Berlin a further tranche of territory including the ancient capital of Warsaw. With these gains secured, the Prussians signed the Peace of Basel with the French Directory on 5 April 1795.

Prussia benefited from the territorial restructuring imposed by France on the German lands in 1797–1803, acquiring a brace of secularized bishoprics. In 1806, however, King Frederick William III (r. 1797–1840) allowed himself to be goaded by Napoleon into declaring war on France without first securing the support of another major power. At the Battles of Jena and Auerstedt (14 October 1806), Prussia suffered a shattering defeat. Napoleon imposed a weighty war indemnity and reduced the kingdom to a territorial rump: Brandenburg, Pomerania (excluding the Swedish part), Silesia, and East Prussia, plus the corridor of land that had been acquired by Frederick the Great (r. 1740–1786) in the course of the First Partition of Poland (1772).

In the aftermath of 1806, a new generation of reforming bureaucrats emboldened by the scale of the defeat took the helm and transformed virtually every branch of the Prussian state. The two dominant figures were Heinrich Friedrich Karl vom und zum Stein and Karl August von Hardenberg, both non-Prussians by birth, but the support of the king, Frederick William III, was also crucial. Thematic ministries replaced the chaotic departmental system of the old regime state; new educational institutions were established at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels; the system of subject rural tenures was abolished, so that peasants were transformed from subjects of their noble landlords into "free citizens of the state" (though elements of the old "feudal" system, such as manorial jurisdictions, survived until 1848); restrictions on the purchase and sale of land and on the practice of skilled trades were dismantled. Prussia's Jews, a minority of rightless aliens subject to special levies and restrictions, were emancipated (though the right to occupy public office was as yet withheld). There were also important changes to the structure of the army, including the introduction of a more meritocratic system of promotions, the creation of a citizens' militia to serve alongside units of the line, and the development of a better coordinated and more flexible command structure. Some of these innovations proved immensely influential. Nineteenth-century British and American educators took an interest in Prussia's reformed school system, which produced literacy levels unmatched in most of the Western world. The general staff system pioneered by the military reformers was later widely emulated, and the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität established by Wilhelm von Humboldt in Berlin in 1810 was an influential prototype of the modern humanist university. In contrast, King Frederick William III did not honor his undertaking, reiterated at various points during the struggle against Napoleon, to create a unified territorial assembly. This unredeemed pledge was later a focal point for liberal dissent.

In the Wars of Liberation (1813–1815), the Prussians joined Russia and Austria in ousting Napoleon from Germany. Eager to restore their reputation and earn a generous share of the victors' spoils, the Prussians were the most active and aggressive element within the composite Allied command. In the decisive summer battles of 15–18 June 1815, they played a crucial role, bearing the brunt of the French attack at Ligny on 15 June and arriving at Waterloo on 18 June in time to open up the French rear at Plancenoit and stabilize the Duke of Wellington's crumbling left flank. At the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815), Prussia secured the duchy of Posen/Poznań (though the other Polish lands sequestered in the second and third partitions were lost), the northern half of the kingdom of Saxony, the Swedish-ruled rump of western Pomerania, and a vast tract of Rhenish and Westphalian territory reaching from Hanover in the east to the Netherlands and France in the west.

from restoration to revolution

Throughout this period, Prussia was one of thirty-nine member states of the "German Confederation" (Deutscher Bund), a loose association of independent states with the minimum in central institutions. The Hohenzollern kingdom was now a colossus that stretched across the north of Germany, broken only by one gap, forty kilometers wide at its narrowest point, where the territories of Hanover, Brunswick, and Hesse-Cassel separated the Prussian "Province of Saxony" from the Prussian "Province of Westphalia." The consequences for Prussia's (and Germany's) nineteenth-century political and economic development were momentous.

The Rhineland was destined to become one of the powerhouses of European industrialization and economic growth, a development entirely unfore-seen by the negotiators at Vienna, who assigned little weight to economic factors when they redrew the map of Germany. The divided structure of the new Prussia, with its two large territorial blocks in east and west, meant that Berlin was bound to work toward the political and commercial integration of the German states. Finally, Prussia's massive presence in the Rhineland meant that it carried responsibility for the defense of western Germany against France. The lesser states of the south—Baden, Württemberg, and Bavaria—thus tended to look to Berlin for security during the intermittent French invasion panics of the post-Napoleonic era. None of these factors made it inevitable that Prussia would come to dominate a unified Germany, but in combination they tilted the scale in Berlin's favor.

The political leaders in Berlin did not pursue a pro-unification policy as such after 1815, but they consistently sought to extend Prussian influence in Germany and thereby qualify Austria's hegemonic position within the Confederation. The most successful initiative of this kind was the German Customs Union (Zollverein) that came into effect on 1 January 1834. The fruit of years of painstaking Prussian diplomacy, the Union incorporated the majority of Germans outside Austria, which was excluded from membership. The Union did not contribute in any direct sense to German unification—it was never an effective tool for the exercise of Prussian political influence over the lesser states. Nevertheless, it played an important formative role in the evolution of Berlin's "German policy," encouraging ministers and officials to think in an authentically German compass and to combine the pursuit of specifically Prussian benefits with the building of consensus and the mediation of interests among the other German states.

On the domestic political scene, the postwar years brought a conservative crackdown. The Carlsbad Decrees, issued in 1819 after the sensational political assassination by a radical student of the dramatist August Friedrich Ferdinand von Kotzebue in Mannheim, imposed stringent censorship and surveillance measures. A number of prominent nationalist and liberal "demagogues" were arrested. The conservatives found it impossible, however, to halt or reverse the processes of change that had gained momentum during the upheavals of the Napoleonic Era. The acquisition of the Rhenish provinces brought an element of turmoil and dissent that altered the kingdom's political chemistry. Censorship proved inadequate in the face of a massive expansion in critical print and utterance. At the heart of liberal dissent was the demand for the parliament and constitution promised in 1815. Religion was another area where dissent and fragmentation were especially pronounced. The acquisition of the Rhenish lands brought a greatly enlarged Catholic minority under the authority of the Protestant administration in Berlin. There was a bitter dispute between the Prussian authorities and the Catholic Church over Catholic-Protestant mixed marriages in 1838–1840 and determined resistance in Silesia to the imposition of a new liturgy for the territorial Protestant church (known as the Church of the Prussian Union). In the 1840s these concerns were amplified by the deepening economic malaise associated with the "Social Question." Food riots multiplied, and in 1844 the brutal suppression by the military of a revolt by weavers in Silesia sent shock waves across the kingdom.

Like most other continental European states, Prussia experienced violent unrest during the revolutions of 1848. The highpoint was reached on the night of 18 March, when over three hundred citizens were killed in clashes with troops in Berlin. The king, Frederick William IV (r. 1840–1861), responded by ordering the army to leave the capital—a highly controversial decision at the time—and expressing his solidarity with the aims of the revolution. Leading liberals were appointed to ministerial posts and the new administration began work on a liberal constitution. The victory of the liberals was short-lived, however. Fighting on the streets continued into the summer, as the liberals attempted to stabilize their gains in the face of calls for a more radical "social" revolution. Collaboration between the monarch and his "March ministers" became increasingly difficult. On 9 November 1848, the national assembly in Berlin was adjourned by order of the king and transferred to the city of Brandenburg, where it was formally dissolved on 5 December. On the same day, in an astute move designed to neutralize opposition, the government announced the promulgation of a new constitution.

Often seen as a failure, the revolution of 1848 in fact produced a new point of departure for Prussia. The kingdom now had a constitution, which would remain in force (with various amendments) until 1918. It also had a territorial legislature. The reform-conservative governments of the 1850s introduced many of the changes the liberals had been calling for since the 1840s, such as the removal of restrictions on banking and investment, the modernization of the tax system, public infrastructural investment, and the abolition of manorial jurisdictions. The 1850s also witnessed a steep rise in industrial investment and production, especially in the Rhineland and the manufacturing zone around Berlin.

german unification

During the upheavals of 1848, the Prussian government made tentative efforts to consolidate Prussian leadership within a more cohesive union of German states. Frederick William IV refused to accept the German national crown offered to him by the Frankfurt Parliament in April 1849. At the same time, however, he supported the creation of a short-lived Prussian-dominated association of twenty-six German states known as the "Erfurt Union" (because deputies elected in the member territories formed a parliament that convened in the city of Erfurt). Russia and France supported Austria in opposing this initiative and the Prussians abandoned the union project in November 1850, promising, in an agreement known as the "Punctation of Olmütz," to work together with the Austrians in rebuilding the German Confederation. For some contemporaries—including Otto von Bismarck—Olmütz brought the realization that the German national question would only be resolved through armed conflict.

The plausibility of this view was reinforced in 1859 by the first Italian War of Unification, when the Piedmontese succeeded (with French help) in defeating the Austrians and uniting most of the Italian peninsula. After a mobilization in the Rhineland (to deter opportunist incursions by Emperor Napoleon III [r. 1852–1871]) revealed inadequacies in the Prussian military establishment, Prince William (standing in as regent for his incapacitated older brother) and the army chiefs Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke and Albrecht Theodor Emil von Roon resolved to launch a program of military reforms. These were opposed by the parliament on financial and constitutional grounds and as the political crisis deepened, Otto von Bismarck was called in as Prussian minister president on 23 September 1862. Having tried without success to divide and win over the opposition, Bismarck opted for a program of head-on confrontation. In February 1864 he took Prussia into war (at Austria's side) against Denmark over Schleswig and Holstein without securing war credits from the parliament.

In the aftermath of the Danish war, Bismarck exploited disagreements over the military occupation of Schleswig and Holstein to engineer a war against Austria and its German allies in the summer of 1866. Prussia's success—sealed at the Battle of Königgrätz/Sadowa on 3 July 1866 and the Peace of Prague on 23 August—was greeted with elation by the Prussian public and did much to mollify the liberal opposition. Prussia annexed Schleswig and Holstein, along with part of Hesse-Darmstadt and the entirety of Hanover, Hesse-Cassel, Nassau, and the city of Frankfurt, all of which had sided with Austria in the war of 1866. The German Confederation was dissolved to make way for the Prussiandominated "North German Confederation," whose parliamentary constitution went into operation on 1 July 1867. Prussia now emerged as the clear victor in the century-long struggle for hegemony in German Europe.

Exactly when and how Bismarck planned to integrate the still-independent southern German states remains controversial. He seems always to have been aware that the threat of war with France would awaken fears of invasion in the south and thereby undermine their objections to union with the north. Tensions with France over a German candidacy for the vacant throne of Spain provided him with the opportunity he needed. Having allowed the resulting crisis to escalate to the point where the French issued a declaration of war (19 July 1870), Bismarck exploited the mood of solidarity generated by a highly successful German campaign to secure first alliances and later treaties of union with the southern states. The new German Empire, incorporating all the German states except Austria, was proclaimed at Versailles on 18 January 1871.

prussia in the german empire

The German imperial constitution of 16 April 1871 was devolved in character. There was no national government and no national army. Sovereignty was vested in the federal council, comprising representatives of the governments of the individual member states. In reality, however, Prussia emerged as the dominant state within the system. It occupied about three-fifths of the empire's territory. Its king, William I (r. 1861–1888), was also the German emperor (r. 1871–1888). Its minister-president, Otto von Bismarck, was also imperial chancellor (even after Bismarck's resignation in 1890, the two offices were generally held by the same man). Its army set the tone for all the military contingents of the empire and the Prussian king was also, in wartime, "supreme warlord" of Germany's armed forces. Yet the lesser states—especially in the south—retained their own courts, parliaments, and administrations and were jealous guardians of their autonomy within the imperial system.

The foundation of the empire transformed the tone of politics within the kingdom of Prussia. During the 1870s, the Bismarck government mounted a campaign of unprecedented scale and radicality against the Catholic Church, which was seen as a supporter of Austria, an opponent of national unity, and an obstacle to further integration. The "struggle of cultures" (Kulturkampf) that resulted merely reinforced the political solidarity of the Catholics. The same can be said for Bismarck's campaign against the Social Democrats in the 1880s, which failed to prevent the movement's spectacular electoral success. Prussian policy vis-à-vis the Polish minority in Posen/Poznań also changed in conformity with the priorities of the new nation-state, as the administration switched to an abrasive and ultimately futile policy of "Germanization." After 1878, when the liberal majority in the Prussian parliament collapsed, the conservatives succeeded in using Prussia's obsolete three-class franchise to perpetuate their own dominance within the state. Prussia thus became, as Bismarck had intended it should, the "conservative anchor" within the German system.

The relationship between Prussia and the rest of Germany after 1871 was fluid and remains difficult to characterize. The Prussian foreign office, for example, controlled German foreign policy, but after 1890 some of its most important posts were held by Germans from elsewhere in the empire. By 1914 almost one-quarter of officers in the "Prussian" army were non-Prussians. The efforts of the last Prussian king, William II (r. 1888–1918) to integrate the German polity by developing the imperial dimension of the Prussian-German crown met with mixed success. Some Germans regretted the "Prussianization" of the empire. Some Prussians, conversely, regretted the "imperialization" of Prussia and the dilution of the kingdom's traditional values of modesty, austerity, self-discipline, and thrift.

See alsoAustro-Prussian War; Bismarck, Otto von; Concert of Europe; Congress of Vienna; Franco-Prussian War; Frederick William III; Frederick William IV; Germany; Hardenberg, Karl August von; Nationalism; Stein, Heinrich Friedrich Karl vom und zum; William I; William II.


Bahners, Patrick, and Gerd Roellecke, eds. Preussische Stile: Ein Staat als Kunststück. Stuttgart, Germany, 2001.

Büsch, Otto, and Wolfgang Neugebauer, eds. Handbuch der preußischen Geschichte. 3 vols. Berlin, 1992–2000.

Clark, Christopher. Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600–1947. London, 2006.

Dwyer, Philip G., ed. Modern Prussian History, 1830–1947. Harlow, U.K, and New York, 2001.

——. The Rise of Prussia, 1700–1830. Harlow, U.K., and New York, 2001.

Feuchtwanger, Edgar J. Prussia: Myth and Reality: The Role of Prussia in German History. Chicago, 1970.

Heinrich, Gerd. Geschichte Preußens: Staat und Dynastie. Berlin, 1984.

Koselleck, Reinhart. Preußen zwischen Reform und Revolution: Allgemeines Landrecht, Verwaltung und soziale Bewegung von 1791 bis 1848. Stuttgart, Germany, 1967.

Christopher Clark

Prussia, Relations with

views updated Jun 27 2018


Tracing Russia's relations with Prussia is complicated by the fact that Prussia only slowly took shape as a nation. A reasonable starting point is during the reign of Peter the Great and the Great Northern War fought with Sweden for supremacy in northern Europe. King Frederick I sympathized with the Russians but could not afford financially to open hostilities; he moreover was distracted by the wars to his west involving most of Europe against Louis XIV of France. In 1714, Prussia felt compelled to enter the Northern War when Charles XII of Sweden attacked the fortress of Stralsund on Prussia's border. At the end of the war, Prussia, with Russia's blessings, acquired both banks of the lower Oder River and the first-class port city of Stettin.

In the latter half of the eighteenth century, however, relations deteriorated considerably. Frederick II embarked on a major war with Austria for Silesia. The Russian Empress, Elizabeth, sided with Austria and her armies inflicted severe defeats on Prussia in 17581759. Upon her death in 1762, Peter III ascended to the throne and as a great admirer of Frederick, withdrew Russia from the war. Partly as a result of this move, Peter was soon assassinated and replaced by Catherine the Great. Catherine and Frederick, with the collusion of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, were able to agree on taking territory from the extraordinarily weak state of Poland. The result was that by 1795, Poland ceased to exist to the aggrandizement of the three powers. Henceforth, Russia and Prussia would have a mutual interest in the suppression of the Poles.

The Napoleonic wars drew Russia and Prussia closer, both being the victims of Bonaparte's ambitions. When Prussia signed an alliance with Napoleon in 1812, King Frederick William III assured Emperor Alexander I, that, if war came, Prussia's participation would be purely nominal. The next year, Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Britain pledged not to conclude a separate peace with France. At the Congress of Vienna, Russia and Prussia supported their respective claims to Poland and Saxony, something that provoked an alliance of Britain, Austria, and France. The crisis passed when Russia accepted about half of Poland and Prussia took two-fifths of Saxony. One of the most important consequences of the Napoleonic wars was a conviction on the part of the Prussians that they owed their national survival to Russia.

The Polish issue flared again in 1830, this time in revolution. After some negotiations, Emperor Nicholas I launched a full-scale invasion. The Poles appealed without success for Austrian aid but they knew there was no point looking to Prussia. As Russian arms triumphed, Poles who fled into Prussia were disarmed and returned to Russian forces.

At the same time the "eastern question," that is, the fate of the Ottoman Empire in Europe, became central to Russian foreign policy. This led eventually to the Crimean War but Prussia played little role in the initial stages of the affair. Nicholas went so far in 1833 as to inform the Prussians that they need not concern themselves with Near Eastern matters.

However, the revolutions of 1848 strained the relations between Berlin and St. Petersburg. Nicholas was the ultimate supporter of legitimacy and he was irritated when King Frederick William IV retained the constitution he had accepted, Nicholas believed, under duress. Nicholas also disliked his brother-in-law's sympathy for the national aspirations of German liberals. The animosity came to a head in 1848 over the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. These two states rebelled against Danish rule and sought admission into the German confederation. Prussia sent its army to drive out the Danes and Nicholas saw this as an affront to the order established by the Congress of Vienna. He threatened war if Prussia did not speedily withdraw its troops. By 1850, the matter was settled and the Danes enjoyed a complete victory. Even worse, Nicholas and Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria forced Prussia to drop its proposal for a Prussian-led union of the German peoples.

The Crimean War did much to ease this antagonism. Of all the powers, Prussia was the only one who did not actively fight or criticize the Russians. On the other hand, all but Austria went to war with Russia. If conflict should flare between Prussia and Austria, the former could reasonably assume Russia's position would not be a repeat of 1850. Such was the thinking of Prussia's new minister president, Otto von Bismarck. While serving as Prussia's ambassador to St. Petersburg, Bismarck went out of his way to ingratiate himself with his hosts. In 1863, the year after Bismarck came to power in Berlin, he actively cooperated with the Russians in repressing yet another Polish uprising.

When he provoked war with Austria in 1866, he did not even need to consult the Russians beforehand so certain he was of their support.

In 1868, two years before Bismarck completed the unification of Germany through a war with France, he ensured himself of Russian support. Specifically, Alexander II promised that if Prussia and France went to war, he would mobilize 100,000 men on the Austrian border to ensure that Vienna could not intervene on the side of France. Thus Russia played an important role in the Prussian-led unification of Germany. And Russia would pay a high price for this in 19141918.

See also: germany, relations with; great northern war; poland; seven years' war; vienna, congress of; world war i


Albrecht-Carrie, Rene. (1958). A Diplomatic History of Europe since the Congress of Vienna. New York: Harper.

Bridge, F. R., and Bullen, Roger. (1980). The Great Powers and the European States System: 18151914. New York: Longman.

Fay, Sidney. (1937). The Rise of Brandenburg-Prussia to 1786. New York: Holt.

Florinsky, Michael. (195355). Russia: A History and an Interpretation. 2 Vols. New York: Macmillan.

Pflanze, Otto. (1990). Bismarck and the Development of Germany, Vol. 1: The Period of Unification, 18151871. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Schroeder, Paul. (1994). The Transformation of European Politics, 17631848. New York: Oxford University Press.

Taylor, A. J. P. (1971). The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 18481918. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hugh Phillips

Prussia, relations with

views updated Jun 27 2018

Prussia, relations with. Regular diplomatic contact between Britain and Prussia dates essentially from the Hanoverian succession. The two states were closely allied for most of the Seven Years War (1756–63), an alliance which allowed Britain to devote many of her resources to overseas expansion while Prussia preoccupied large French forces in Europe. Prussia and Britain were briefly allied against France in 1793–5, but their most significant collaboration occurred in 1815 when their armies defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. The British did not share the Prussian desire for a harsh peace against France in 1814–15, and Castlereagh briefly aligned Britain with Austria and France to reduce Prussian demands for Saxon territory. Rather he wanted a balance in Germany between the Prussians and the Habsburgs, hoping that together they might help to restrain France and Russia. He thus favoured a Prussian presence on the Rhine. Thereafter Prussia's association with the reactionary powers (Russia and Austria) usually discouraged friendship, although Prussia contributed to the isolation of France in the Near Eastern crisis of 1840. Britain's role in the Schleswig-Holstein question (1848–64) was understandably unpopular in Prussia, although from 1847 Palmerston intermittently showed interest in the emergence of a strong north German power which he hoped would improve the balance in continental Europe as a whole. His successors, despite periods of distrust of Bismarckian methods and Prussian militarism, broadly welcomed German unification in 1870–1 in the belief that this would make for stability in the heart of Europe.

C. J. Bartlett


views updated May 18 2018


The kingdom of Prussia had its medieval origins in the conquest of pagan tribes by the Order of Teutonic Knights in the thirteenth century. The Knights established their own state in what is now northern Poland, Latvia, Estonia, and the Baltic coastal region of what is now northeastern Germany, and built a seat of power at Königsberg. The Knights paid homage to the Holy Roman Emperor, but they also contended with the kings of Poland, who commanded a powerful medieval army and who defeated them at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410. By the middle of the fifteenth century the Teutonic Knights had come under the authority of the king of Poland.

The duchy of Prussia was organized among the territories of the Knights in 1525 by Albert of Brandenburg, a Protestant and a member of the Hohenzollern dynasty, rulers of the duchy of Brandenburg and the city of Berlin. In 1618, Prussia and Brandenburg were united. The Hohenzollern domains were scattered throughout northern Germany and were the scene of invasion and fighting during the Thirty Years' War. In 1701, Frederick I crowned himself as the first king of Prussia, and the realm remained one of the strongest military powers in Europe until the unification of Germany in the late nineteenth century.


views updated May 18 2018

Prussia Historic state of n Germany. The Teutonic Knights conquered the region in the 13th century. The Duchy of Prussia, founded in the 15th century, passed to the Electors of Brandenburg in 1618. They took the title of Kings of Prussia in 1701. In the 18th century, under Frederick William I and Frederick II (the Great), Prussia became a strong military power, absorbing Silesia and parts of Poland. After defeats in the Napoleonic Wars, Prussia emerged again as a powerful state at the Congress of Vienna (1815). In the 19th century, Prussia displaced Austria as the leading German power and, under Otto von Bismarck, led the movement for German unity, accomplished in 1871. Comprising 65% of the new German Empire, it was the leading German state until World War I. It ceased to exist as a political unit in 1945.