• GERMANIC MIGRATIONS AND
  • FRANKISH KINGDOM
  • JOHANNES REUCHLIN
  • THE WEIMAR CONSTITUTION
  • W
  • INFLATION, REPARATIONS, AND
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  • STABILIZATION AND LOCARNO,
  • CULTURE AND SOCIETY
  • ROAD TO DICTATORSHIP,
  • T
  • CONSOLIDATION OF POWER
  • THE NAZI TOTAL STATE
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  • FOREIGN POLICY
  • W
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  • THE HOLOCAUST
  • A
  • ALLIED PLANS AND CONFERENCES
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  • T
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  • T
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  • R
  • CONSEQUENCES AND PROBLEMS OF
  • ECONOMIC UNIFICATION,
  • P
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  • FOREIGN POLICY
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  • SEVEN YEARS WAR
  • S
  • ECONOMY
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  • N
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  • EBERT MAKES A DEAL WITH THE
  • THE SPARTACISTS
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  • A VENGEFUL PEACE
  • V
  • THE GOALS OF THE PEACEMAKERS
  • TERMS OF THE TREATY
  • WAR GUILT AND REPARATIONS
  • DENUNCIATION AND RELUCTANT
  • GERMANIC MIGRATIONS AND
  • Frederick II, The Great

    lang=EN-US style='font-size:10.5pt;font-family:"Meridien-Medium","serif"; color:black'>(17121786)

    king of Prussia

    Frederick II combined the qualities of a warrior

    king with those of an enlightened despot. As a

    prince he preferred books to the glories of war,

    but he was also an intrepid ruler and an eloquent

    conversationalist who attracted the most

    illustrious figures of the European intellectual

    and cultural scene. He was a patron of the arts

    and accomplished flautist, a hypochondriac

    plagued by doubts and loneliness, a genius at

    military strategy, and a charismatic statesman.

    Born the eldest son of Frederick William of

    PRUSSIA and Princess Sophie Dorothea of

    Hanover on January 24, 1712, Frederick II at an

    early age rebelled against his soldier-king father,

    who wanted to mold him in his image. Frederick

    preferred French literature to German and

    the company of young pleasure-seekers to soldiers.

    When Frederick and his friend Lieutenant

    Katte planned an escape to England, they were

    arrested and condemned to death. After the execution

    of Katte, Frederick was imprisoned for six

    months, then was pardoned but had to learn

    how Prussian local administration worked. Having

    decided to obey his father, he learned how to

    be a good soldier and married the woman his

    father had chosen, although he never consummated

    the marriage. Between 1733 and 1740

    Frederick also found time to study French literature

    and begin a correspondence with some of

    the most famous philosophes.

    After his father died in 1740, Frederick

    became king and shortly became involved in

    the WAR OF AUSTRIAN SUCCESSION. He ignored

    the PRAGMATIC SANCTION to which Prussia had

    subscribed demanding the cession of the

    province of Silesia as the price of helping MARIA

    THERESA against France and BAVARIA. The

    demand was rejected, but after years of conflict

    Silesia was still in Prussian hands in 1748. The

    Austrians continued to be antagonistic over the

    loss of Silesia, and their new alliance with

    France in the DIPLOMATIC REVOLUTION led Frederick

    to promise Prussian neutrality (the Treaty

    of Westminster) in the war that had broken out

    in 1755 between England and France. With

    changes in the alliances Prussia faced an overwhelming

    continental alliance of AUSTRIA, Russia,

    France, and SAXONY. Frederick attacked

    Austria first and then fought the others individually.

    The superior discipline of the Prussian

    army allowed Frederick to march it to the theater

    of war in small detachments from various

    directions, uniting only shortly before the battle.

    In spite of superior tactics Prussia by 1762 was

    on the verge of bankruptcy, while Russian

    troops occupied BERLIN. The death of Empress

    Elizabeth of Russia and the succession of Peter

    III made Russia withdraw from the war. Frederick

    concluded the TREATY OF HUBERTUSBERG

    (1763) restoring the prewar status quo. Afterward,

    his policy was purely defensive. When

    386 Frederick II, The Great

    Austria and Russia were on the verge of partitioning

    the Ottoman Empire, Frederick managed

    to cajole Austria and Russia into a three-way

    partition of Poland. Two other ventures

    occurred. In 1778 Frederick reluctantly went to

    war against JOSEPH II of Austria to preserve the

    independence of Bavaria. In 1784 Frederick

    organized the League of German Princes to preserve

    the status quo in Germany.

    Domestically, Frederick inherited a well-run

    state. Frederick worked hard at internal administration,

    ruling through ministers responsible to

    him and insisting that they work hard and be

    honest. The revenues of the state during his

    reign doubled, and the available reserves tripled

    through a system of indirect taxes and the establishment

    of state monopolies in salt, sugar, coffee,

    tobacco, and even porcelain. IMMIGRATION

    continued to be encouraged especially of peasants

    for underpopulated areas of the state. More

    than 300,000 colonists were settled in Prussia.

    To expand agriculture, marshlands were drained

    and turnips, beets, and potatoes encouraged. He

    refused to abolish serfdom, fearing that the

    landed nobility (JUNKERS) which produced both

    officers and officials, would be undermined. He

    followed the economic doctrines of mercantilism,

    which protected domestic industries. Frederick

    set up schools to train spinners and

    weavers and established cotton mills. Iron production

    was fostered in Westphalia and mining

    in Upper Silesia. He failed, however, to build a

    naval fleet, which made it impossible for Prussia

    to participate in the overseas trade of the 18th

    century.

    During his reign little reform was accomplished.

    One exception was the area of judicial

    procedure where the efforts of his minister of justice,

    Cocceji, made progress in codification of the

    law, simplifying judicial procedure and replacing

    the jurisdiction of the nobility with a body of officials.

    The legal principle that the law should

    protect the poor and weak gained increased

    acceptance. Complete legal reform, however, was

    not achieved until 1781. Frederick had a reputation

    for being religiously tolerant. For Catholics

    he permitted them to build a church in Berlin and

    even invited the JESUITS to settle in Prussia. The

    same toleration was not extended to Jews.

    Literature and music continued to be of interest

    to Frederick. At SANS-SOUCI he hosted the

    most famous salon in Europe. Voltaire was only

    the best known of the philosophes to take

    advantage of his hospitality. Frederick provided

    new subsidies for the Prussian Academy of Sciences,

    which subsidized figures of the French

    ENLIGHTENMENT. At the same time Frederick

    should be faulted for considering the German

    language a barbaric tongue. He had no respect

    for those who wrote in it. GOETHE and other

    German authors were thereby deprived of state

    support. Not content with being a patron of literature,

    Frederick also produced two books and

    a series of histories dealing with Prussia.

    Frederick II died at his summer residence,

    Sans-Souci, near Potsdam on August 17, 1786.

    He has been blamed for being the inventor of

    Frederick II, The Great 387

    Frederick the Great, after a painting by Julius Antonio

    Schraber (Library of Congress)

    German militarism, but that is a misunderstanding

    of his role in Prussian and German history.

    He never was a German nationalist, but rather a

    Prussian nationalist. He made war out of necessity

    or for political objectives. His interests especially

    in the latter part of his reign were

    generally nonmilitary and pacific.

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