FREDERICK WILLIAM ° (Ger. Friedrich Wilhelm ), name of several kings of Prussia.
frederick william iii was king of Prussia from 1797 to 1840. The defeats in the Napoloenic Wars at Jena and Auerstädt and the peace treaty of Tilsit (1807) brought Prussia heavy territorial losses but opened the way to reform in the state system. The liberal-inspired 1812 edict (see *Prussia) concerning the civil status of the Jews was issued by Frederick William iii, it had been forced on him by the statesmen *Hardenberg and *Humboldt. The king himself made determined efforts to exclude the Jews from participation in army service: when, after the Napoleonic wars, Jewish war veterans and invalids applied for pensions and posts, he denied even the rights of those who had received decorations. The king explicitly ordered that conversion to Christianity should be made a condition for employment in state posts, including those in universities. Frederick William gave official support to a Prussian society for propagating Christianity among the Jews, and declared conversion to Judaism illegal. He opposed the *Reform movement and had the private prayer rooms of I. *Jacobson closed down. It was with reluctance that he awarded regular advancements and decorations to Meno Burg, the first Jewish career officer in the Prussian army.
His son, frederick william iv, was king of Prussia from 1840 to 1861. Jewish hopes that he would follow a more liberal policy were soon disappointed. Imbued with a romantic-medieval concept of a Christian state, he proved even more reactionary than his father. He considered that Judaism was not a religion, but the remnant of a political constitution (see the ideas of Moses *Mendelssohn). Frederick William determined to reorganize the Jews as an independent corporation on medieval lines, alongside but not within the Prussian body. In December 1841, he ordered that the term "civil rights" should be replaced by "rights accorded by the 1812 edict," a preliminary for a new Jewish constitution under which the Jews were to have rights within their own community only. G. *Riesser, L. *Philippson, Johann *Jacoby, and Moritz *Veit led the struggle against the royal policy, supported by various Christian liberals as well as by the provincial estates, who were in favor of general and Jewish service in the army and full application of the 1812 edict. The king's most important supporters were F.J. *Stahl and *Bismarck. Despite vigorous opposition, he carried through his Jewish constitution in 1847 with only minor revisions. The king's "corporationist" plans were made obsolete by the 1848 revolution, but on the basis of the 1847 constitution the Prussian state recognized only individual Jewish communities. In 1849 he refused the offer of the parliament of Frankfurt to be emperor of Germany because he did not wish to have any connection with the revolution.
H. Fischer, Judentum, Steal und Heer in Preussen (1968), index, s.v.Friedrich Wilhelm. add. bibliography: D.E. Barkley, Frederick William iv. and the Prussian Monarchy 1840–1861 (1995); W. Busmann, Zwischen Preußen und Deutschland – Friedrich Wilhelm iv. eine Biographie (1992); D. Blasius, Friedrich Wilhelm iv 1795–1861 (1992).