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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Cultivated friendly relations with Prussia



Frederick the Great was succeeded by his nephew, Frederick William II., whom, with unaccountable neglect, he had not instructed in the duties of government. The latter, nevertheless, began with changes which gave him a great popularity. He abolished the French system of collecting duties, the monopolies which were burdensome to the people, and lightened the weight of their taxes. But, by unnecessary interference in the affairs of Holland (because his sister was the wife of William V. of Orange), he spent all the surplus which Frederick had left in the Prussian treasury; he was weak, dissolute and fickle in his character; he introduced the most rigid measures in regard to the press and religious worship, and soon taught the people the difference between a bigoted and narrow-minded and an intelligent and conscientious king.

Joseph II. was succeeded by his brother, Leopold II., who for twenty-five years had been Grand-Duke of Tuscany, where he had governed with great mildness and prudence. His policy had been somewhat similar to that of Joseph II., but characterized by greater caution and moderation. When he took the crown of Austria, and immediately afterwards that of the German Empire, he materially changed his plan of government. He was not rigidly oppressive, but he checked the evidences of a freer development among the people, which Joseph II. had fostered. He limited, at once, the pretensions of Austria,

cultivated friendly relations with Prussia, which was then inclined to support the Austrian Netherlands in their revolt, and took steps to conclude peace with Turkey. He succeeded, also, in reconciling the Hungarians to the Hapsburg rule, and might, possibly, have given a fortunate turn to the destinies of Austria, if he had lived long enough. But he died on the 1st of March, 1792, after a reign of exactly two years, and was succeeded by his son, Francis II., who was elected Emperor of Germany on the 5th of July, in Frankfort.

By this time the great changes which had taken place in France began to agitate all Europe. The French National Assembly very soon disregarded the provisions of the Peace of Westphalia (in 1648), which had only ceded the possessions of _Austria_ in Alsatia to France, allowing various towns and districts on the West bank of the Upper Rhine to be held by German Princes. The entire authority over these scattered possessions was now claimed by France, and neither Prussia, under Frederick William II., nor Austria under Leopold II. resisted the act otherwise than by a protest which had no effect. Although the French queen, Marie Antoinette, was Leopold II.'s sister, his policy was to preserve peace with the Revolutionary party which controlled France. Frederick William's minister, Hertzberg, pursued the same policy, but so much against the will of the king, who was determined to defend the cause of absolute monarchy by trying to rescue Louis XVI. from his increasing dangers, that before the close of 1791 Hertzberg was dismissed from office. Then Frederick William endeavored to create a "holy alliance" of Prussia, Austria, Russia and Sweden against France, but only succeeded far enough to provoke a bitter feeling of hostility to Germany in the French National Assembly.

[Sidenote: 1792. FRANCE AND PRUSSIA.]

The nobles who had been driven out of France by the Revolution were welcomed by the Archbishops of Mayence and Treves, and the rulers of smaller States along the Rhine, who allowed them to plot a counter-revolution. An angry diplomatic intercourse between France and Austria followed, and in April, 1792, the former country declared war against "the king of Bohemia and Hungary," as Francis II. was styled by the French Assembly. In fact, war was inevitable; for the monarchs of Europe were simply waiting for a good chance to intervene and crush the republican movement in France, which, on its side, could only establish itself through military successes. Although neither party was prepared for the struggle, the energy and enthusiasm of the new men who governed France gained an advantage, at the start, over the lumbering slowness of the German governments. It was not the latter, this time, but their enemy, who profited by the example of Frederick the Great.

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