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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

And in other ways damaged the interests of Prussia



Frederick was now called "the Great" throughout Europe, and Prussia was henceforth ranked among the "Five Great Powers," the others being England, France, Austria and Russia. His first duty, as after the Second Silesian War, was to raise the kingdom from its weak and wasted condition. He distributed among the farmers the supplies of grain which had been hoarded up for the army, gave them as many artillery and cavalry horses as could be spared, practised the most rigid economy in the expenses of the Government, and bestowed all that could be saved upon the regions which had most suffered. The nobles derived the greatest advantage from this support, for he considered them the main pillar of his State, and took all his officers from their ranks. In order to be prepared for any new emergency, he kept up his army, and finally doubled it, at a great cost; but, as he only used one-sixth of his own income and gave the rest towards supporting this burden, the people, although often oppressed by his system of taxation, did not openly complain.

Frederick continued to be sole and arbitrary ruler. He was unwilling to grant any participation in the Government to the different classes of the people, but demanded that everything should be trusted to his own "sense of duty." Since the people _did_ honor and trust him,--since every day illustrated his desire to be just towards all, and his own personal devotion to the

interests of the kingdom,--his policy was accepted. He never reflected that the spirit of complete submission which he was inculcating weakened the spirit of the people, and might prove to be the ruin of Prussia if the royal power should fall into base or ignorant hands. In fact, the material development of the country was seriously hindered by his admiration of everything French. He introduced a form of taxation borrowed from France, appointed French officials who oppressed the people, granted monopolies to manufacturers, prohibited the exportation of raw material, and in other ways damaged the interests of Prussia, by trying to _force_ a rapid growth.


The intellectual development of the country was equally hindered. In 1750 Frederick invited Voltaire to Berlin, and the famous French author remained there nearly three years, making many enemies by his arrogance and intolerance of German habits, until a bitter quarrel broke out and the two parted, never to resume their intimacy. It is doubtful whether Frederick had the least consciousness of the swift and splendid rise of German Literature during the latter years of his reign. Although he often declared that he was perfectly willing his subjects should think and speak as they pleased, provided they _obeyed_, he maintained a strict censorship of the press, and was very impatient of all opinions which conflicted with his own. Thus, while he possessed the clearest sense of justice, the severest sense of duty, his policy was governed by his own personal tastes and prejudices, and therefore could not be universally just. What strength he possessed became a part of his government, but what weakness also.

One other event, of a peaceful yet none the less of a violent character, marks Frederick's reign. Within a year after the Peace of Hubertsburg Augustus III. of Poland died, and Catharine of Russia persuaded the Polish nobles to elect Prince Poniatowsky, her favorite, as his successor. The latter granted equal rights to the Protestant sects, which brought on a civil war, as the Catholics were in a majority in Poland. A long series of diplomatic negotiations followed, in which Prussia, Austria, and indirectly France, were involved: the end was, that on the 5th of August, 1772, Frederick the Great, Catharine II. and Maria Theresa (the latter most unwillingly) united in taking possession of about one-third of the kingdom of Poland, containing 100,000 square miles and 4,500,000 inhabitants, and dividing it among them. Prussia received the territory between Pomerania and the former Duchy of Prussia, except only the cities of Dantzig and Thorn, with about 700,000 inhabitants. This was the region lost to Germany in 1466, when the incapable Emperor Frederick III. failed to assist the German Order: its population was still mostly German, and consequently scarcely felt the annexation as a wrong, yet this does not change the character of the act.

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