Confessions of Frederick the Great - H. Treitschke




Partition of Poland and Princes Bund

A great danger which threatened the German Power from the east snatched him from his peaceful plans. The Polish Republic had been since the war subject to the will of the Czarina; the formal union of the shattered State with the Russian Empire appeared to be only a question of time.

Then the idea of the division of Poland, which crossed the designs of the Russians and set boundaries to their ambitions, dawned on Frederick. It was a victory of German policy, at once over the grabbing land-greed of Russia, and over the Western Powers, who were pushed aside regardlessly by the boldly advancing Powers of the East.

The necessary act, it is true, opened up to view immeasurable complications, since the decayed Empire of the Sarmatian aristocracy was now irretrievably approaching its downfall; but it was necessary, it saved faithful East Prussia from the return of Muscovite government, and ensured for the State the bridge between the lands of the Pregel and the Oder, which the Crown-Prince Frederick had already recognized as indispensable. The King appeared for the second time as the increaser of the Empire; he gave back again to the Greater Fatherland the stronghold of the dominions of the Teutonic order, the lovely Weichsel valley, which in days of yore the German knight wrested from the barbarians, the German peasant from the wrath of the elements.

When the provinces of West Prussia "swore allegiance to the restored government"—as the festival medal of the oath of allegiance says significantly—in the refectory of the Grand Master's castle at Marienburg, the outrages upon this German land, three hundred years ago, from the arrogance of the Poles and the treachery of the provincial authorities, were expiated. The five hundred years' war between the Germans and the Poles for the possession of the Baltic coast was decided in favor of Germany.

Then the State, itself still bleeding from the wounds of the last war, began the hard work of peaceful re-conquest. The Sarmatian nobility had committed horrible outrages in the Weichsel district, with that insolent disregard of the rights of others and the nationality of others which distinguishes the Poles above all the nations of Europe.

The new sovereign had to rule with more vigor than before in Silesia to bring the German character back to honor in the famous old cities of German glory and industry, in Thorn, Culm, and Marienburg, and to introduce again the rudiments of agriculture in the devastated land. And as once the first German conquerors wrested corn-lands from the marshes, so now out of the swamps, near the rising town of Bromberg, rose the busy Netze district, the creation of the second conqueror.

Frederick himself surmised only vaguely what the re-acquisition of the country of the Teutonic Knights meant in the great continuity of German history; but the nation had become quite unfamiliar with their own history—they scarcely knew that these districts had once been German. Some cursed with the harsh arrogance of a censor the ambiguous diplomatic moves which had paved the way for the partition of the country; others repeated credulously what Poland's old confederates, the French, invented to stigmatize the partitioning Powers; the majority remained cold, and fortified themselves anew with the current idea that old Fritz had the devil in him (dass der alte Fritz den Teufel im Leib habe). For the new benefit which he had conferred on our people, not one person in the Empire thanked him.

The restless ambition of Kaiser Joseph II led the King back at the eve of his life to the idea of the Imperial policy which occupied his youth. The Court of Vienna gave up the appearance of Conservatism, which alone could ensure for the Kaiser-House respect in the Empire, and endeavored to compensate itself for the loss of Silesia in Bavaria. The whole course of Austrian history for two hundred years, the continually growing separation between the Imperial State and the Empire, was to be pulled up all at once by an adventurous invasion. Then Bang Frederick for the second time concluded his alliance with the Wittelsbachs, and with the sword prohibited the House of Austria from extending its power on German soil; more sharply and clearly than ever before the opposition of the two rivals came to light.


The Bavarian Succession


The War of the Bavarian Succession showed in its plan of campaign, as in its political aims, surprising resemblances to the deciding war of 1866, but Prussia did not draw the sword to free Germany from the dominion of Austria, as it did three generations later, but only to ward off Austrian encroachments and for the preservation of the status quo. Although the ageing hero no longer possessed the dash to carry out his plan of campaign on so large a scale as he had planned, Prussia's power proved itself strong enough to force the Court of Vienna to yield without any glowing military success. Bavaria was saved for the second time; the arrogant Imperial Court had to submit to "plead before the Tribunal of Berlin," and the embittered Prince Kaunitz made that prophecy which was to be fulfilled on the field of Koniggratz, although not in the sense that the prophet meant, that if ever the swords of Austria and Prussia clashed together again, they would not be returned to their sheaths until "the decision had fallen definitely, completely, and irrevocably."

Almost more valuable than the immediate result was the enormous revulsion of opinion in the Empire. The dreaded disturber of peace, the rebel against Emperor and Empire, now appeared to the nation as the wise shelterer of right; the small Courts, which had so often trembled before the Prussian sword, scared by Kaiser Joseph's restless plans, looked for help to the arbitrator at Sans Souci. In the peasant farms of the Bavarian Alps hung the picture of the old man with his three-cornered hat beside the national (Bavarian) Saint Corbinian. In the chorus of Swabian and North-German poets, who told of the fame of the King, mingled already isolated voices of the deeply hostile electorate of Saxony; the bard Ringulph sang in enraptured odes how "from the breast of the Almighty, King Frederick, your great battle-lusting spirit came."

Only a short while before had K. F. Moser avowed that the vision of man was not capable of following this eagle in its loftiness, that perhaps hereafter there would appear a Newton of political science, capable of measuring the orbit of the Frederician policy. But now the Germans began to feel that this mysterious policy was wonderfully simple at bottom, that the Statesman Frederick, divested of every hatred, every love, quasi-impersonal, always desired only what the clearly recognized position of his State demanded.


The German Princes Bund


When the rebellion broke out in North America, and the civilized world hailed the new sun which was rising in the West, Frederick did not conceal his joy. His own youthful Great Power was a new State, which had entered the circle of the old Powers with welcome; it did him good to see England, which had so shamefully betrayed him in the last war, and had then impeded him during the Polish negotiations in the acquisition of Danzig, now in painful embarrassment. He declared openly that he would not defend Hanover for ungrateful England a second time: he even once forbade the passage through his dominions of the English mercenaries, bought in Germany, because he was revolted by this sordid traffic in human beings, and still more because he needed the young men of the Empire for his own army.

He made use of the distress of the Ocean-Queen to preserve the naval rights of the smaller Powers by an alliance of armed neutrality; after the peace, he, first among the European princes, concluded a commercial treaty with the young Republic, and in it acknowledged that free, human comprehension of international law which has since then remained a faithfully preserved tradition of the Prussian State. But neither his hate of the "God-damn Government," nor the boundless popularity which saluted him in the (American) colonies, ever moved him to go one step beyond the interests of his State. His old enemy Kaunitz still could explain the proud course of the Frederician policy only as springing from the immeasurable cunning of a demoniacal nature.

But in the Empire the old mistrust gradually disappeared; its people observed that nowhere were their affairs weighed so soberly, so exactly, so watchfully, and so coldly as in the hermitage of Sans Souci. So the impossible happened—the high nobility of the Empire gathered round Frederick's flag of its own free will. Kaiser Joseph resumed his Bavarian plans—to shatter Prussia's power, as he himself admitted. He at the same time threatened the stability of his ecclesiastical neighbors with rash thoughts of secularization. A sudden terror gripped the small States when they saw their natural protector become an enemy; an alliance of the Central Powers was discussed, a league of the ecclesiastical princes, until at last the acknowledgment was forced that nothing could be done without Prussia's help.

With youthful zeal the old King entered into the quarrel. All the alluring proposals which were put forward that he should share the possession of Germany with the Emperor he rejected as bait for "the common greed." He conquered his contempt for the minor princes, and realized that only through strict justice could he attach these people to himself. He succeeded in winning the great majority of the electors, and most of the more powerful princes, for his German Princes' Bund, and in maintaining the old Imperial Constitutions and the status quo of the Imperial States against the Kaiser.

"Only the love of my Fatherland, and the duty of a good citizen," he wrote, "drive me at my age to this undertaking." What he had dreamt in his youth had an even more brilliant fulfilment for the patriarch: no longer hidden behind a Bavarian shadow-Emperor, as in the Silesian wars, but in the face of the whole world, the King of Prussia now came into the arena as the protector of Germany. All the neighboring Powers, who counted on Germany's weakness, saw the unexpected turn of the Imperial policy with grave anxiety. France and Russia approached the Court of Vienna; the Alliance of 1756 bade fair to be renewed. The Turin Cabinet, on the contrary, hailed the Princes' Bund with joy as "the tutelary god of the Italian States."

For two hundred years the policy of federalism in the Empire had not got beyond a half start; but now that it leaned on the power of Prussia it suddenly won a large following. The memory of the times of Maximilian I and the Elector Berthold's attempts at reform rose again to the surface. The Princes' Bund was formed to uphold the Imperial theocratic Germany. But if it lasted, if Prussia maintained her position of leader at the head of the great Imperial States, the old forms of the Imperial Diet had to lose their meaning; the prospect was opened up of shattering the Austrian system to its foundations, and as Graf Hertzberg joyfully proclaimed, of excluding the Archdukes from the great German institutions, of transferring the Imperial Crown to another house at the next election, and of placing the guidance of the Empire in the hands of the most powerful States.

The young Karl August of Weimar proposed to submit the old privileges which ensured the House of Austria its unique position to an Imperial test. It almost seemed as if the great problem of Germany's future would be solved in peace. But the Princes' Bund could not last; and this bitter truth was hidden least of all from the common-sensible mind of the old King. Only a series of chance circumstances, only the defection of Kaiser Joseph from the old approved traditions of Austrian statecraft, had scared the minor princes into Frederick's arms; their trust of Prussia went no further than their fear of Austria. With the utmost reluctance the Electorate of Saxony submitted to the guidance of the younger and less aristocratic House of Brandenburg; Hanover showed itself hardly less mistrustful; even the humblest and weakest of the allied States, Weimar and Dessau, secretly discussed, so Goethe tells us, how they could protect themselves against their Prussian protector's lust of power.

As soon as the Hofburg (the Court of Vienna) dropped their covetous plans, the old natural formation of parties must revive; the ecclesiastical princes, who now sought help in Berlin, could see in Protestant Prussia only the sworn enemy of their authority. Since Frederick knew this, since he penetrated his faithful confederates to the very marrow with his piercing gaze, he did not let himself be deceived by the success of the minute into imagining that this Schmalkaldic League was anything but a makeshift, a means of preserving the momentary balance. Karl August, in large-hearted enthusiasm, sketched bold plans for the building-up of the new Imperial Association; he thought of a customs' union, of military conventions, of a German code; Johannes Muller extolled the Princes' Bund in the most high-flown pamphlets, Schubart in stirring lyrical effusions, and Dohm concluded a clever pamphlet with these words: "German and Prussian interests can never stand in one another's way." The discerning mind of the old King was not moved by such dreams; he knew that only a colossal war could break the power of Austria in the Empire; it sufficed him to keep it within the bounds of justice, because he needed peace for his country.

For a serious reform of the Empire there were still lacking all the preliminary conditions; there was lacking, above all, the will of the nation. Even the Imperialist defenders of the Princes' Bund could not get beyond the old chimera of German freedom. The Josephin policy, so Hertzberg stirringly protested, threatened to agglomerate the powers of Germany into a mass, to subject free Europe to a universal monarchy; and in Dohm's eyes it appears as a praiseworthy aim of the new Bund to keep open the western borders of Austria, so that France can stride into it at any time on behalf of German freedom.

The nation realized dimly that the existing conditions were not worthy to exist; in Schubart's writings the small Swabian territories are often described as an open dove-cot, which lay close to the claws of the royal weasel. But all these ideas and presentiments were held under by a feeling of hopeless resignation which modern energy can hardly understand; the Germans felt as if an inscrutable Providence had condemned this people to continue for all eternity in an abnormal State which had long lost every right to exist.