Kingdom of Prussia
|Kingdom of Prussia|
|State of the German Confederation
State of the North German Confederation
State of the German Empire
The Kingdom of Prussia (dark red) at its greatest extent, after the de facto incorporation of Saxe-Lauenburg in 1866.
|-||1701–1713 (first)||Frederick I|
|-||1888–1918 (last)||William II|
|-||1848 (first)||Adolf Heinrich|
|-||1918 (last)||Maximilian William|
|-||Coronation of Frederick I||18 January 1701|
|-||Battle of Jena-Auerstedt||14 October 1806|
|-||Congress of Vienna||9 June 1815|
|-||Constitution adopted||5 December 1848|
|-||Germany unified||18 January 1871|
|-||William II abdicatesb||28 November 1918|
|-||Treaty of Versailles||28 June 1919|
|-||1910||348,779 km² (134,664 sq mi)|
|Density||98.8 /km² (256 /sq mi)|
|Today part of|
The Kingdom of Prussia (German: Königreich Preußen) was a German kingdom that existed between 1701 and 1918 and included parts of present-day Germany, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Denmark, Belgium and the Czech Republic. It was the driving force behind the unification of Germany in 1871, and was the leading state of the German Empire until its dissolution in 1918. Although it took its name from the region called Prussia, it was based in Brandenburg, where its capital was Berlin.
Prussia was a great power from the time it became a kingdom, through its predecessor, Brandenburg-Prussia, which became a military power under Frederick William, known as "The Great Elector".
Prussia continued its reign of power under the guidance of Frederick II (Frederick the Great), the third son of Frederick William I of Prussia. Frederick the great was credited for starting the Seven Years' War, holding his own against Austria, Russia, France and Sweden and establishing Prussia’s role in the German states, as well as establishing the country as a European great power. After the might of Prussia was revealed it became a major power for the German states. Throughout the next hundred years they went on to win many battles for the German states. It was because of their power that they continuously tried to unify all the German states under their rule. After the Napoleonic wars the issue of unifying Germany into one country cased revolution throughout the German states each wanting their own constitution. Prussia tried once unsuccessfully to unify German states and end the fighting. The first was called the North German Confederation lasted from 1867-1871 and included many but not all of the German states. It was seen as more of an alliance of military strength but many of its laws were later used in the German empire. After the Austro-Prussian war this Confederation dissolved and was replaced by the German Empire. The German Empire lasted from 1871-1918 and was the successful unification of all the German states under Prussian power. This was due to the defeat of Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian war. The war united all the German states against a common enemy, and with the victory came an overwhelming wave of patriotism which changed the opinions of those against unification. In 1871, Germany unified into a single country with Prussia the dominant power. Prussia is considered the legal predecessor of the unified German Reich (1871–1945) and as such a direct ancestor of the current German state. The formal abolition of Prussia, carried out on 25 February 1947 by the fiat of the Allied Control Council referred to an alleged tradition of the kingdom as a bearer of militarism and reaction, and made way for the current setup of the German states. However, the Free State of Prussia (German: Freistaat Preußen), which had followed the abolition of the Kingdom of Prussia in the aftermath of World War I, was a major democratic force in Weimar Germany until the nationalist coup of 1932 known as the Preußenschlag. The Kingdom left a significant cultural legacy, today notably promoted by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (German: Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (SPK)), which has become one of the largest cultural organisations in the world.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Establishment
- 1.2 The Great Northern War: 1700-1721
- 1.3 1701–1721: Results of Thirty-Years' War and The Great Northern War
- 1.4 Frederick the Great
- 1.5 1740–1760: Silesian Wars
- 1.6 1772, 1793, and 1795: Partitions of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
- 1.7 1801–1815: Napoleonic Wars
- 1.8 1815: After Napoleon
- 1.9 1848–1871: German wars of unification
- 1.10 1871–1918: Peak and fall
- 2 Politics
- 3 Religion
- 4 Subdivisions
- 5 See also
- 6 References
In 1415, a Hohenzollern Burgrave came from the south to the March of Brandenburg and took control of the area as elector. Although this desolate area had none of the properties of the Prussia history knows, in four hundred and fifty years this area becomes the most important German state in all of Europe. In 1417, the Hohenzollern, knelled at the feet of the Luxemburg Caesar and was made an elector of the Holy Roman Empire. No one could have imagined the impact this would have not only to the German states but Europe as a whole.
After the Polish wars, the newly established Baltic towns of German states including Prussia, suffered many setbacks in their economy. Many of the Prussian towns could not even afford to attend meetings of politics outside of Prussia. The towns suffered in poverty, even the largest town of Danzig, had to borrow money from elsewhere to pay for trade. Poverty in these towns was manly caused by Prussia’s neighbors who had a monopoly on trading that these new towns could not compete with. These issues with Prussia’s neighbors lead to feuds, wars, trade competition and invasions. However, the death of these towns gave rise to the nobility, separated the east and the west, and allowed the urban middle class of Brandenburg to prosper.
It was clear in 1440 how different Brandenburg was from the other German territories, as it faced two dangers that the other German territories did not. Not only did it face partition from within but also the threat of its neighbors. It prevented the issue of partition by enacting the Dispositio Achillea which instilled the principle of primogeniture to both the Brandenburg and Franconian territories. The second danger was solved through expansion. Brandenburg was surrounded on every side by neighbors whom boundaries were merely political. Any neighbor could attack and consume Brandenburg at any moment. The only way to defend herself was to absorb her neighbors before they absorbed her. Through negotiations and marriages Brandenburg slowly but surely expanded her borders, absorbing her neighbors and eliminating the threat of attack. The absence of conquest through fighting and bloodshed for the first 2 centuries of Brandenburg expansion is only a hint to how powerful the area of Brandenburg, and therefore Prussia would become.
The Hohenzollerns had been made rulers of Brandenburg, a state of the Holy Roman Empire, in 1518. In 1529, the Hohenzollerns had secured the reversion to the Duchy of Pomerania after a series of conflicts, and acquired its eastern part following the Peace of Westphalia.
In 1618, the Hohenzollerns inherited the Duchy of Prussia, a fief of Poland; it was ruled in a personal union with Brandenburg, known as "Brandenburg-Prussia". In the course of the Second Northern War, the treaties of Labiau and Wehlau-Bromberg granted the Hohenzollerns full sovereignty over the Prussian duchy by 1657.
In return for an alliance against France in the War of the Spanish Succession, the Great Elector's son, Frederick III, was allowed to elevate Prussia to a kingdom in 1701. Frederick crowned himself "King in Prussia" as Frederick I on 18 January. Legally, no kingdoms could exist in the Holy Roman Empire except for Bohemia. However, Frederick took the line that since Prussia had never been part of the empire and the Hohenzollerns were fully sovereign over it, he could elevate Prussia to a kingdom.
The style "King in Prussia" was adopted to acknowledge the legal fiction that the Hohenzollerns were legally kings only in their former duchy. In Brandenburg and the portions of their domains that were still part of the Empire, they were still legally only electors under the overlordship of the emperor. However, by this time the emperor's authority was only nominal. The rulers of the empire's various territories acted largely as the rulers of sovereign states, and only acknowledged the emperor's suzerainty in a formal way. While the personal union between Brandenburg and Prussia legally continued until the end of the empire in 1806, from 1701 onward Brandenburg was de facto treated as an integral part of the kingdom. Since the Hohenzollerns were nominally still subjects of the emperor within the parts of their domains that were part of the empire, they continued to use the additional title of Elector of Brandenburg until the empire ceased. It was not until 1772 that the title was changed to "King of Prussia".
The Great Northern War: 1700-1721
The Great Northern War was the first major conflict the new Kingdom of Prussia was involved in. Starting in 1700, the Great Northern War consisted of a coalition lead by Tsardom Russia and the dominate European power at the time the Swedish Empire.Frederick William in 1705 tried to get Prussia involved in the war, stating that it best Prussia has her own army and make her own decisions. However his views were not considered accepted by those in power. It was not until 1713 that Frederick William (The Great Elector) gained full royal powers. Therefore in 1715, Prussia, lead by the Great Elector, joined the coalition for various reasons. The most important being the danger of getting attacked from both her rear and the sea, her claims on Pomerania and the fact that if she stood aside and Sweden lost she would not get a share of the territory. Prussia turned the tides of the war, their armies helped push the Swedish army out of the Pomerania which eventually lead to the Swedish Empire surrender. It was this surrender that lead to the Treaty of Stockholm in which Prussia expanded its empire by obtaining the previously Swedish territory of Pomerania. The Great Northern War not only marked the end of the Swedish Empire but also introduced Prussia and Russia as new powers in Europe.
1701–1721: Results of Thirty-Years' War and The Great Northern War
The Kingdom of Prussia was poor in natural resources and devastated from the Thirty Years' War. Its territory was disjointed. It stretched 1,200 km (750 mi): from the lands of the Duchy of Prussia on the south-east coast of the Baltic Sea to the Hohenzollern heartland of Brandenburg, and the exclaves of Cleves, Mark and Ravensberg in the Rhineland. In 1708, about one third of the population of the Duchy of Prussia died of bubonic plague. The plague reached Prenzlau in August 1710, but receded before it could reach the capital Berlin, which was only 80 km (50 mi) away.
Sweden's defeat by Russia, Saxony, Poland, Denmark–Norway, Hanover, and Prussia in the Great Northern War (1700–1721) marked the end of significant Swedish power on the southern shores of the Baltic Sea. In the course of the Pomeranian campaign and by the Prusso-Swedish Treaty of Stockholm (January 1720), Prussia gained southern Swedish Pomerania with Stettin (Szczecin).
The Great Elector incorporated the Junkers, the landed aristocracy, into his empire's bureaucracy and military machine. A vested interest in the Prussian Army and compulsory education. King Frederick William I inaugurated the Prussian compulsory system in 1717.
Frederick the Great
Frederick William II was born on January 24, 1712 in Berlin, Germany. He reigned over the Kingdom of Prussia from 1740 until his death in 1786. He established Prussia as a resilient military power by winning wars and expanding territories. Frederick the Great died on August 17, 1786 in his beloved Rococo Palace in Potsdam, just outside of Berlin.
Childhood and Education
Frederick was born into the House of Hohenzollern on January 24, 1712 to Frederick William I and Sophia Dorothea of Hanover – the daughter of King George II of Great Britain. During his childhood, Frederick’s mother raised him to understand and appreciate the Enlightenment. With him he carried a violent temper. He spent much of his early years getting tutored, acquiring French culture, learning poetry and reading Greek and Roman classics. His father disagreed with this education and urged him to learn practical matters of running and defending a state. Frederick was forced into the military when he came of age, acquiring knowledge on military science and governance.
Frederick’s father abused him throughout his childhood, often beating and humiliating him for trivial reasons. In 1730, at the age of 18, Frederick and his childhood friend Hans Hermann von Katte attempted to escape Berlin, however they were caught and von Katte was charged with treason and beheaded. Frederick was forced to watch the beheading of his best friend, experiencing hallucinations for days to follow. His father pardoned him, where he was forced to become a junior official in the local administration. It was in this position where Frederick obtained information on the ways of the government.
After reconciling with his father, he forced an arranged marriage upon him to Elizabeth Christine of Brunswich-Bevern in 1733. Frederick quickly separated from her and showed no interest in women for the remainder of his life. Although he was not raised a devout Calvinist, Frederick adopted the ideology of Calvinism, despite the King’s efforts of telling him not to. Some historians speculate that he did this to spite his father.
The War of Austrian Succession
Upon the death of his father in 1749, Frederick II acquired the throne, deeming him King of Prussia. His father left him with a resilient army and ample funds. A brilliant military campaigner, Frederick was able to greatly enlarge Prussia’s territories and made them the leading military power in Europe. He did so by waging a series of diplomatic stratagems and wars against Austria and other powers.
Immediately upon acquiring the throne, Frederick William launched an unprovoked attack on the Austrian region of Silesia (now southwestern Poland). This triggered an eight-year war of Austrian Succession. Frederick was able to invade and capture Silesia and invade Bohemia, Czech Republic with an army of 140,000, one that was drilled to perfection by his father. He encountered numerous setbacks while in Bohemia, however due to an Austria defeat, Frederick and Prussia were able to negotiate treaties in 1748.
Frederick William II was acclaimed as a military genius following the war, where he was given the signature Frederick the Great. The next decade saw him enact numerous major reforms and native developments. He began to standardize and improve Prussia’s justice system with Enlightenment influence. He created a ban on torture and argued for a uniform national criminal code. He supported a moderate level of religious freedom and liberalized control of the press. He continually worked to unite Prussia by lowering internal duties, building canals to encourage trade and enacted protective tariffs. He built Berlin as a cultural capital with outstanding and impressive buildings and rejuvenated the scientific work of the Berlin Academy.
The Seven Years' War
Europe’s longstanding alliances reshuffled in 1756 during the Diplomatic Revolution, which saw Austria sided with France and Russia, meanwhile Prussia allied with England. Frederick used the years of peace to build an army of 154,000, where he later launched an attack on Austria’s ally in Saxony in 1756. In the following years, Frederick William was able to secure many tactical victories, often at the cost of the dwindling Prussian forces. The war was seen as a draw for Prussia due to Russia’s sudden withdrawal in 1762, deeming it the “Miracle of the House of Brandenburg”.
Following the conclusion of the Seven Years' War in 1763, Frederick the Great resumed his internal programs by reorganizing the Prussian government into separate ministries to allow balanced division of tasks along with easy administrative control. He regimented the development and colonization of unused land in his expanded kingdom. He also introduced the turnip and potato as a staple crop food. As Frederick aged, his Enlightenment values soon began to intertwine with pessimism and doubt.
Frederick William is often remembered as the father of Prussian militarism. His long reign unified Enlightenment rationalism and military tradition, creating a highly trained army and a system of public education focusing on militaristic stratagems. Frederick acquired many admirers who tended to be those with large ambitions like Frederick himself. When he died, Napoleon visited his tomb after defeating the Prussian army. Hitler also hid his body in a salt mine to preserve its sacredness during the bombings of World War II.
1740–1760: Silesian Wars
In 1740, King Frederick II (Frederick the Great) came to the throne. Using the pretext of a 1537 treaty (vetoed by Emperor Ferdinand I) by which parts of Silesia were to pass to Brandenburg after the extinction of its ruling Piast dynasty, Frederick invaded Silesia, thereby beginning the War of the Austrian Succession. After rapidly occupying Silesia, Frederick offered to protect Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria if the province were turned over to him. The offer was rejected, but Austria faced several other opponents, and Frederick was eventually able to gain formal cession with the Treaty of Berlin in 1742.
To the surprise of many, Austria managed to renew the war successfully. In 1744, Frederick invaded again to forestall reprisals and to claim, this time, the province of Bohemia. He failed, but French pressure on Austria's ally Great Britain led to a series of treaties and compromises, culminating in the 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle that restored peace and left Prussia in possession of most of Silesia.
Humiliated by the cession of Silesia, Austria worked to secure an alliance with France and Russia (the "Diplomatic Revolution"), while Prussia drifted into Great Britain's camp forming the Anglo-Prussian Alliance. When Frederick preemptively invaded Saxony and Bohemia over the course of a few months in 1756–1757, he initiated the Seven Years' War which might also be considered the first world war since it was fought in the three continents (France and Great Britain's colonies).
This war was a desperate struggle for the Prussian Army, and the fact that it managed to fight much of Europe to a draw bears witness to Frederick's military skills. Facing Austria, Russia, France, and Sweden simultaneously, and with only Hanover (and the non-continental British) as notable allies, Frederick managed to prevent serious invasion until October 1760, when the Russian army briefly occupied Berlin and Königsberg. The situation became progressively grimmer, however, until the death of Empress Elizabeth of Russia (Miracle of the House of Brandenburg). The accession of the Prussophile Peter III relieved the pressure on the eastern front. Sweden also exited the war at about the same time.
Defeating the Austrian army at the Battle of Burkersdorf and relying on continuing British success against France in the war's colonial theatres, Prussia was finally able to force a status quo ante bellum on the continent. This result confirmed Prussia's major role within the German states and established the country as a European great power. Frederick, appalled by the near-defeat of Prussia, lived out his days as a much more peaceable ruler.
1772, 1793, and 1795: Partitions of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
History of Brandenburg and Prussia
|Margraviate of Brandenburg
|Duchy of Prussia
|Royal (Polish) Prussia
|Kingdom in Prussia
|Kingdom of Prussia
|Free State of Prussia
1920–1939 / 1945–present
1947–1952 / 1990–present
To the east and south of Prussia, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth had gradually weakened during the 18th century. Alarmed by increasing Russian influences in Polish affairs and by a possible expansion of the Russian Empire, Frederick was instrumental in initiating the first of the Partitions of Poland between Russia, Prussia, and Austria in 1772 to maintain a balance of power. The Kingdom of Prussia annexed most of the Polish province of Royal Prussia, including Warmia; the annexed land was organized the following year into the Province of West Prussia. The new territory connected the Province of East Prussia (the territory previously known as the Duchy of Prussia) with the Province of Pomerania, uniting the kingdom's eastern territories.
After Frederick died in 1786, his nephew Fredrick William II continued the partitions, gaining a large part of western Poland in 1793.
In 1795, the Kingdom of Poland ceased to exist and a large area (including Warsaw) to the south of East Prussia became part of Prussia. These new territories were organized into the Provinces of New Silesia, South Prussia, and New East Prussia.
1801–1815: Napoleonic Wars
The Treaty of Basel (1795) ended the War of the First Coalition against France. In it, the First French Republic and Prussia had stipulated that the latter would ensure the Holy Roman Empire's neutrality in all the latter's territories north of the demarcation line of the river Main, including the British continental dominions of the Electorate of Hanover and the Duchies of Bremen-Verden. To this end, Hanover (including Bremen-Verden) also had to provide troops for the so-called demarcation army maintaining this state of armed neutrality.
In the course of the War of the Second Coalition against France (1799–1802) Napoleon Bonaparte urged Prussia to occupy the continental British dominions. In 1801, 24,000 Prussian soldiers invaded, surprising Hanover, which surrendered without a fight. In April 1801, the Prussian troops arrived in Bremen-Verden's capital Stade and stayed there until October of the same year. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland first ignored Prussia's hostility, but when it joined the pro-French coalition of armed "neutral" powers such as Denmark–Norway and Russia, Britain started to capture Prussian sea vessels. After the battle of Copenhagen the coalition fell apart and Prussia withdrew again its troops.
At Napoleon's instigation, Prussia recaptured British Hanover and Bremen-Verden in early 1806. On August 6 of the same year, the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved as a result of Napoléon's victories over Austria. The title of Kurfürst (Prince-elector) of Brandenburg became meaningless, and was dropped. Nonetheless, Frederick William III was now de jure as well as de facto sovereign of all of the Hohenzollern domains. Before this time, the Hohenzollern sovereign had held many titles and crowns, from Supreme Governor of the Protestant Churches (summus episcopus) to King, Elector, Grand Duke, Duke for the various regions and realms under his rule. After 1806, he was simply King of Prussia and summus episcopus.
But when Prussia, after it turned against the French Empire, was defeated in the Battle of Jena–Auerstedt (October 14, 1806), Frederick William III was forced to temporarily flee to remote Memel. After the Treaties of Tilsit in 1807, Prussia lost about half of its territory, including the land gained from the Second and Third Partitions of Poland (which now fell to the Duchy of Warsaw) and all land west of the Elbe River. France recaptured Prussian-occupied Hanover, including Bremen-Verden. The remainder of the kingdom was occupied by French troops (at Prussia's expense) and the king was obliged to make an alliance with France and join the Continental System.
The Prussian reforms were a reaction to the Prussian defeat in 1806 and the Treaties of Tilsit. It describes a series of constitutional, administrative, social and economic reforms of the kingdom of Prussia. They are sometimes known as the Stein-Hardenberg Reforms after Karl Freiherr vom Stein and Karl August Fürst von Hardenberg, their main instigators.
After the defeat of Napoleon in Russia in 1812, Prussia quit the alliance and took part in the Sixth Coalition during the "Wars of Liberation" (Befreiungskriege) against the French occupation. Prussian troops under Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher contributed crucially in the Battle of Waterloo of 1815 to the final victory over Napoleon.
1815: After Napoleon
Prussia’s reward for its part in France's defeat came at the Congress of Vienna. It regained most of its pre-1806 territory. Notable exceptions included much of the territory annexed in the Second and Third Partitions of Poland, which became Congress Poland under Russian rule. It also didn't regain several of its former towns in the south. However, as compensation it picked up some new territory, including 40% of the Kingdom of Saxony and much of Westphalia and the Rhineland. Prussia now stretched uninterrupted from the Niemen in the east to the Elbe in the west, and possessed a chain of disconnected territories west of the Elbe.
With these gains in territory, the kingdom was reorganised into ten provinces. Most of the kingdom, aside from the Provinces of East Prussia, West Prussia, and Posen, became part of the new German Confederation, a confederacy of 39 sovereign states replacing the defunct Holy Roman Empire.
Frederick William III submitted Prussia to a number of administrative reforms, among others reorganising the government by way of ministries, which remained formative for the following hundred years.
As to religion, reformed Calvinist Frederick William III—as Supreme Governor of the Protestant Churches—asserted his long-cherished project (started in 1798) to unite the Lutheran and the Reformed Church in 1817, (see Prussian Union). The Calvinist minority, strongly supported by its co-religionist Frederick William III, and the partially reluctant Lutheran majority formed the united Protestant Evangelical Church in Prussia. However, ensuing quarrels causing a permanent schism among the Lutherans into united and Old Lutherans by 1830.
As a consequence of the Revolutions of 1848, the Principalities of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen and Hohenzollern-Hechingen (ruled by a Catholic cadet branch of the House of Hohenzollern) were annexed by Prussia in 1850, later united as Province of Hohenzollern.
1848–1871: German wars of unification
For the half-century that followed the Congress of Vienna, there was a conflict of ideals within the German Confederation between the formation of a single German nation and the conservation of the current collection of smaller German states and kingdoms. The creation of the German Customs Union (Zollverein) in 1834, which excluded the Austrian Empire, increased Prussian influence over the member states. As a consequence of the Revolutions of 1848, King Frederick William IV was offered the crown of a united Germany by the Frankfurt Parliament. Frederick William refused the offer on the grounds that revolutionary assemblies could not grant royal titles. But there were two other reasons why he refused: to do so would have done little to end the internal power struggle between Austria and Prussia, and all Prussian kings (up to and including William I) feared that the formation of a German Empire would mean the end of Prussia's independence within the German states.
Frederick William issued Prussia's first constitution by his own authority in 1848. This document—moderate by the standards of the time but conservative by today's standards—provided for a two-house parliament. The lower house, or Landtag was elected by all taxpayers, who were divided into three classes whose votes were weighted according to the amount of taxes paid. Women and those who paid no taxes had no vote. This allowed just over one-third of the voters to choose 85% of the legislature, all but assuring dominance by the more well-to-do men of the population. The upper house, which was later renamed the Herrenhaus ("House of Lords"), was appointed by the king. He retained full executive authority and ministers were responsible only to him (indeed, as late as 1910, Prussian kings believed that they ruled by divine right). As a result, the grip of the landowning classes, the Junkers, remained unbroken, especially in the eastern provinces.
Frederick William suffered a stroke in 1857, and his younger brother, Prince William, became regent. William pursued a considerably more moderate. Upon Frederick William IV's death in 1861, he succeeded to the throne as William I. However, shortly after gaining the throne, he faced a dispute with his parliament over the size of the army. The parliament, dominated by the liberals, balked at William's desire to increase the number of regiments and withheld approval of the budget to pay for its cost. A deadlock ensued, and William seriously considered abdicating in favour of his son, Crown Prince Frederick William. He was, however, persuaded to appoint as prime minister Otto von Bismarck, his ambassador to France. Bismarck took office on September 23, 1862.
Although Bismarck had a reputation as an unyielding conservative, he was initially inclined to seek a compromise over the budget issue. However, William refused to consider it; he viewed defence issues as the crown's personal province. Forced into a policy of confrontation, Bismarck came up with a novel theory. Under the constitution, the king and the parliament were responsible for agreeing on the budget. Bismarck argued that since they had failed to come to an agreement, there was a "hole" in the constitution, and the government had to continue to collect taxes and disburse funds in accordance with the old budget in order to keep functioning. The government thus operated without a new budget from 1862 to 1866, allowing Bismarck to implement William's military reforms.
The liberals violently denounced Bismarck for what they saw as his disregard for the fundamental law of the kingdom. However, Bismarck's real plan was an accommodation with liberalism. Although he had opposed German unification earlier in his career, he had now come to believe that it was inevitable. To his mind, the conservative forces had to take the lead in the drive toward creating a unified nation in order to keep from being eclipsed. He also believed that the middle-class liberals wanted a unified Germany more than they wanted to break the grip of the traditional forces over society. He thus embarked on a drive to create a united Germany under Prussian leadership, and guided Prussia through three wars which ultimately achieved this goal.
The first of these wars was the Second War of Schleswig (1864), which Prussia initiated and succeeded in gaining the assistance of Austria. Denmark was soundly defeated and surrendered both Schleswig and Holstein, to Prussia and Austria respectively.
The divided administration of Schleswig and Holstein then became the trigger for the Austro-Prussian War (1866—also known as the Seven Weeks' War), where Prussia, allied with the Kingdom of Italy and various northern German states, declared war on the Austrian Empire. The Austrian-led coalition was crushed, and Prussia annexed four of its smaller allies—the Kingdom of Hanover, the Electorate of Hesse, the Duchy of Nassau and the Free City of Frankfurt. Prussia also annexed Schleswig and Holstein, and also effectively annexed Saxe-Lauenburg by forcing it into a personal union with Prussia (which was turned into a full union in 1876). King William initially wanted to take territory from Austria itself, but Bismarck persuaded him to abandon the idea. While Bismarck wanted Austria to play no future role in German affairs, he still saw that Austria could be a valuable future ally.
With these gains in territory, the Prussian possessions in the Rhineland and Westphalia were connected to the rest of the kingdom for the first time. Counting the de facto annexation of Saxe-Lauenburg, Prussia now stretched uninterrupted across the northern two-thirds of Germany. It would remain at this size until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1918.
Bismarck used this opportunity to end the budget dispute with parliament. He proposed a bill of indemnity granting him retroactive approval for governing without a legal budget. He guessed, correctly as it turned out, that this would lead to a split between his liberal adversaries. While some of them argued that there could be no compromise with the principle of constitutional government, most of the liberals decided to support the bill in hopes of winning more freedom in the future.
The German Confederation was dissolved as part of the war. In its place, Prussia cajoled the 21 states north of the Main into forming the North German Confederation in 1867. Prussia was the dominant state in this new grouping, with four-fifths of its territory and population—more than the other members of the confederation combined. Its near-total control was cemented in a constitution written by Bismarck. Executive power was vested in a president—a hereditary office of the rulers of Prussia. He was assisted by a chancellor responsible only to him. There was also a two-house parliament. The lower house, or Reichstag (Diet), was elected by universal male suffrage. The upper house, or Bundesrat (Federal Council) was appointed by the state governments. The Bundesrat was, in practice, the stronger chamber. Prussia had 17 of 43 votes, and could easily control proceedings through alliances with the other states. For all intents and purposes, the new grouping was dominated by Bismarck. He served as his own foreign minister for virtually his entire tenure as prime minister of Prussia, and in that capacity was able to instruct the Prussian delegates to the Bundesrat.
The southern German states (except Austria) were forced to accept military alliances with Prussia, and Prussia began steps to merge them with the North German Confederation. Bismarck's planned Kleindeutschland unification of Germany had come considerably closer to realisation.
The final act was the Franco-Prussian War (1870), where Bismarck maneuvered Emperor Napoleon III of France into declaring war on Prussia. Activating the German alliances put in place after the Austro-Prussian War, the German states came together and swiftly defeated France, even managing to take Napoleon prisoner. Even before then, Bismarck was able to complete the work of unifying Germany under Prussian leadership. The patriotic fervour aroused by the war with France overwhelmed the remaining opponents of a unified nation, and on 18 January 1871 (the 170th anniversary of the coronation of the first Prussian king, Frederick I), the German Empire was proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles outside of Paris, while the French capital was still under siege. King William became the first emperor of a unified Germany.
1871–1918: Peak and fall
Bismarck's new empire was the most powerful state on the Continent. Prussia's dominance over the new empire was almost as absolute as it was with the North German Confederation. It included two-thirds of the empire's territory and three-fifths of its population. The imperial crown was a hereditary office of the House of Hohenzollern. Prussia also had a large plurality of seats in the Bundesrat, and as before could control the proceedings with the support of its allies in the secondary states. The Imperial Army was essentially an enlarged Prussian army, and the embassies of the new empire were mostly old Prussian embassies. The constitution of the German Empire was essentially an amended version of the constitution of the North German Confederation.
However, the seeds for future problems lay in a gross disparity between the imperial and Prussian systems. The empire granted the vote to all men over 25. However, Prussia retained its restrictive three-class voting system, in which the well-to-do had 17½ times the voting power of the rest of the population. Since the imperial chancellor was, except for two periods (January–November 1873 and 1892–94) also prime minister of Prussia, this meant that for most of the empire's existence, the king/emperor and prime minister/chancellor had to seek majorities from legislatures elected by two completely different franchises.
At the time of the empire's creation, both Prussia and Germany were roughly two-thirds rural. Within 20 years, the situation was reversed; the cities and towns accounted for two-thirds of the population. However, in both the kingdom and the empire, the constituencies were never redrawn to reflect the growing population and influence of the cities and towns. This meant that rural areas were grossly overrepresented from the 1890s onward.
Bismarck realised that the rest of Europe was sceptical of his powerful new Reich, and turned his attention to preserving peace with such acts as the Congress of Berlin. The new German Empire improved its already-strong relations with Britain. The ties between London and Berlin had already been sealed with a golden braid in 1858, when Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussia married Princess Victoria of Britain.
William I died in 1888, and the Crown Prince succeeded to the throne as Frederick III. The new emperor, a decided Anglophile, planned to transform Prussia and the empire into a more liberal and democratic monarchy based on the British model. However, Frederick was already ill with inoperable throat cancer, and died after only 99 days on the throne. He was succeeded by his 29-year-old son, William II. As a boy, William had rebelled against his parents' efforts to mould him as a liberal, and had become thoroughly Prussianised under Bismarck's tutelage. The new Kaiser rapidly soured relations with the British and Russian royal families (despite being closely related to them), becoming their rival and ultimately their enemy.
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The Kingdom of Prussia was an absolute monarchy until the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states, after which Prussia became a constitutional monarchy and Adolf Heinrich von Arnim-Boitzenburg was appointed as Prussia's first prime minister. Following Prussia's first constitution, a two-house parliament was formed. The lower house, or Landtag was elected by all taxpayers, who were divided into three classes according to the amount of taxes paid. This allowed just over 25% of the voters to choose 85% of the legislature, all but assuring dominance by the more well-to-do elements of the population. The upper house, which was later renamed the Prussian House of Lords, was appointed by the king. He retained full executive authority and ministers were responsible only to him. As a result, the grip of the landowning classes, the Junkers, remained unbroken, especially in the eastern provinces. Prussian Secret Police, formed in response to the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states, aided the conservative government.
There were three constitutions that had been adopted during the rule of the Prussian State, these were the Constitution of Prussia (1848), the Constitution of Prussia (1850) and the Constitution of Prussia (1920). The constitution of 1848 was enacted and set into effect on December 5, 1848 by Frederick William IV. This was set out in response to the revolutions of 1848. The second constitution was enacted on January 31, 1850 and was continually amended in the following years. The third and final constitution of the Prussian government was enacted on November 30, 1920 and was the constitution for the Free State of Prussia.
The Constitution of 1848 occurred under the rule of Frederick William IV who took power from his father when he died in the year 1840. After taking power, he set an appointment of committees to confer on points of various questions. With this the king believed that he could give a sense of unity without revolution. The government was than cautiously brought together all members of the eight provincial assemblies and split into two houses, a house of lords and a second house that enveloped the three estates of the knights. The burgesses and the peasants. Although they had no real power and the King did not consult them or allow them to veto of argue the legislatures that were being made, it was a step towards a constitutional state. Known as the “March Days” radical changes began to occur. When the King refused to add the United Diets into an actual representative institution, the people began to rebel. On the 18th of March the King made the decision to agree to some concessions. However, there was multiple stand offs with soldiers as he had not been able to stop them from attacking even peaceful crowds. In March the king agreed to demands issued by the people and made a number of concessions. At the May 22, 1848 convention he put out the sketch of the new constitution. The people submitted a revised draft on July 26, 1848. When all discussions were finished, Frederick dissolved the convention and the constitution was official put in place on December 5, 1848.
The Constitution is separated into 105 different articles headed under eight separate headings. The nine headings are titled The Territory of the State, The Rights of the Prussians, The King, The Ministers, The Chambers, The Judicial Power, Public Officials Not Belonging to the Judicial Class, The Finances and The Communes, Circuits, Districts, and Provincial Bodies. Each of these groups varies in numbers of articles with the seventh and ninth sections have only one article each and the second section having forty separate articles. There have also been fourteen provisions divided into General Provisions and Temporary Provisions.
The Constitution of 1920 was officially accepted on November 30, 1920. The document is only around four thousand words long and only barely outlines the frame-work for the government that will follow. This document contains no bill of rights and is more business like than others, such as the American Constitution. There are eighty-eight sections grouped into eleven separate groups titled the State, the Public Powers, the Diet, the Council of State, the Ministry, Legislation, Finances, Autonomous Administration (meaning the local administration), Religious Communities, Public Functionaries, and Regulations regarding the Transition. As each title states, each section focuses on a different area of the nation. As a way to insure the constitution reflects the people, there is a procedure known as the initiative. This ensures three things, it is used to amend the constitution, to enact, amend and repeal a statute, and it may be used to effect the dissolution the Diet. All financial matters, such as taxation, are not allowed to be changed through the popular vote. This constitution also divides Prussia into fourteen provinces all represented in the Council of State.
The Prussian constitution of 1850 allowed for the freedom of conscience, the freedom of public and private worship and the freedom of association onto religious bodies. It stated that all churches and religious associations should administer everything independently and privately from the state and that no part of the government may affect the Church. The constitution also stated that all children should be taught their religion from people of their own religion and not by someone else.
As a breakdown of the religion of the kingdom, according to a census taken in the early or mid 1800s, around the 1830s there was a division of six religions based on one million people. According to this census there is 609,427.0 who are practising Protestants, 376,177.1 practising Roman Catholics, 13,348.8 practising the Jewish faith, 925.1 Mennonites, 121.4 from the Greek Church and 0.6 Mahomedans.
Although dominated by Protestant Lutherans (along with some Reformed), it contained millions of Catholics in the west and in Poland. There were numerous Catholic populations in the Rhineland and parts of Westphalia. In addition, West Prussia, Warmia, Silesia, and the Province of Posen had predominantly Catholic Polish-speaking populations. East Prussia's southern region of Masuria was mostly made up of Germanised Protestant Masurs.
The original core regions of the Kingdom of Prussia were the Margraviate of Brandenburg and the Duchy of Prussia which together formed Brandenburg-Prussia. A Further Pomeranian province had been held by Prussia since 1653. Combined with Swedish Pomerania, gained from Sweden in 1720 and 1815, this region formed the Province of Pomerania. Prussian gains in the Silesian Wars led to the formation of the Province of Silesia in 1740.
After the First Partition of Poland in 1772, the newly annexed Royal Prussia and Warmia became the Province of West Prussia, while the Duchy of Prussia (along with part of Warmia) became the Province of East Prussia. Other annexations along the Noteć (Netze) River became the Netze District. Following the second and third partitions (1793–1795), the new Prussian annexations became the Provinces of New Silesia, South Prussia, and New East Prussia, with the Netze District redivided between West and South Prussia. These three provinces were ultimately lost to Congress Poland after the Congress of Vienna in 1815, except for the western part of South Prussia, which would form part of the Grand Duchy of Posen.
Following the major western gains made by Prussia after the Vienna Congress, a total of ten provinces were established, each one subdivided further into smaller administrative regions known as Regierungsbezirke. The provinces were:
- Province of Brandenburg
- Province of East Prussia
- Province of Jülich-Cleves-Berg
- Grand Duchy of the Lower Rhine
- Province of Pomerania
- Grand Duchy of Posen (autonomous, outside of German Confederation)
- Province of Saxony
- Province of Silesia
- Province of West Prussia
- Province of Westphalia
In 1822, the provinces of Jülich-Cleves-Berg and the Lower Rhine were merged to form the Rhine Province. In 1829, the Provinces of East and West Prussia merged to form the Province of Prussia, but the separate provinces were reformed in 1878. The principalities of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen and Hohenzollern-Hechingen were annexed in 1850 to form the Province of Hohenzollern.
After Prussia's victory in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War, territories annexed by Prussia were reorganised into three new provinces:
- List of Kings of Prussia
- Prussian Army
- Free State of Prussia
- Prussian Crown Jewels
- Prussian virtues
- History of Germany
- Kreis in Prussia
- Brandenburger Gold Coast
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- When the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved in 1806, the function of prince-electors electing its emperors had lapsed.
- Prussia allies in the Austro-Prussian War were: Anhalt, Bremen, Brunswick, Lauenburg, Lippe-Detmold, Lübeck, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Oldenburg, Saxe-Altenburg, Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, Waldeck-Pyrmont
- Austrian allies in the Austro-Prussian War were: Baden, Bavaria, Hanover, Hesse-Darmstadt, Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel), Nassau, Reuss-Greiz, Saxe-Meiningen, Saxony, Schaumburg-Lippe, Württemberg
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