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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

To use this opportunity to recover Silesia



In the administration of justice and the establishment of entire religious liberty, Prussia rapidly became a model which put to shame and disturbed the most of the other German States. Frederick openly declared: "I mean that every man in my kingdom shall have the right to be saved in his own way:" in Silesia, where the Protestants had been persecuted under Austria, the Catholics were now free and contented. This course gave him a great popularity outside of Prussia among the common people, and for the first time in two hundred years, the hope of better times began to revive among them. Frederick was as absolute a despot as any of his fellow-rulers of the day; but his was a despotism of intelligence, justice and conscience, opposed to that of ignorance, bigotry and selfishness.

Frederick's rule, however, was not without its serious faults. He favored the education of his people less than his father, and was almost equally indifferent to the encouragement of science. The Berlin Academy was neglected, and another in which the French language was used, and French theories discussed, took its place. Prussian students were for a while prohibited from visiting Universities outside of the kingdom. On the other hand, agriculture was favored in every possible way: great tracts of marshy land, which had been uninhabited, were transformed into fertile and populous regions; canals, roads and bridges

were built, and new markets for produce established. The cultivation of the potato, up to that time unknown in Germany as an article of food, was forced upon the unwilling farmers. In return for all these advantages, the people were heavily taxed, but not to such an extent as to impoverish them, as in Saxony and Austria. The army was not only kept up, but largely increased, for Frederick knew that the peace which Prussia enjoyed could not last long.

[Sidenote: 1755.]

The clouds of war slowly gathered on the political horizon. The peace of Europe was broken by the quarrel between England and France, in 1755, in regard to the boundaries between Canada and the English Colonies. This involved danger to Hannover, which was not yet disconnected from England, and the latter power proposed to Maria Theresa an alliance against France. The minister of the Empress was at this time Count Kaunitz, who fully shared her hatred of Frederick II., and determined, with her, to use this opportunity to recover Silesia. She therefore refused England's proposition, and wrote a flattering letter to Madame de Pompadour, the favorite of Louis XV., to prepare the way for an alliance between Austria and France. At the same time secret negotiations were carried on with Elizabeth of Russia, who was mortally offended with Frederick II., on account of some disparaging remarks he had made about her. Louis XV., nevertheless, hesitated until Maria Theresa promised to give him the Austrian (the former Spanish) Netherlands, in return for his assistance: then the compact between the three great military powers of the Continent was concluded, and everything was quietly arranged for commencing the war against Prussia in the spring of 1757. So sure were they of success that they agreed beforehand on the manner in which the Prussian kingdom should be cut up and divided among themselves and the other States.

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