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German Reformers

The men who not only reformed the Prussian Military, but also helped ignite the fire of Prussian Patriotism

Gerhard Johann von Scharnhorst

By 1801 Scharnhorst was a well known name throughout German military circles. He had written many articles and attempted a reformation of the Hanoverian Army throughout the 1790's. His attempts in Hanover were frustrated however, by a caste-like system in which only those of noble birth could ascend to high rank, and by an aristocracy which was fighting a desperate rearguard action against the need for education within the Officer Corps.

He had become so well known, from his writings and his deeds on the battlefield, that he was offered a commision in Prussian service to which he transferred in May 1801.

Like the members of the Hanoverian Officer Corps, the Prussian officer was also resistant to education. The position of the Prussian officer was considered the noblest postion in Prussian society. This feeling had been engendered by Frederick Wilhelm I, and promoted by his son Frederick the Great to such an extent that all Prussian officers could boast that they wore the King's Coat. Although many non-nobles had been commisioned as officers in wartime, they were dismissed by Frederick the Great after the Seven Years War.

In mid-1801 Scharnhorst was invited to chair the Militarische Gesellschaft. This was a volunteer group of officers and scholars who gathered in Berlin to discuss all facets of the art of war. Many of the 188 officers who were members of this association were to rise to high positions in the Prussian and even Russian Armies.

Scharnhorst's ideas were not followed in the year 1806 as the Prussian Army marched gaily off to war. Following it's defeat, there was still much resistance.

In 1807 work began on rebuilding the Prussian Army. Perhaps fortunately for Prussia, the enforced reduction of the size of the army and the huge indemnity she was forced to pay, gave Frederick Wilhelm good excuses to cashier many worthless officers. Only two of the Generals of 1806 were to hold command afterward. One of these was Old Blucher, and the other, Tauenzien.

Scharnhorst first had to change the image of the army. To make it popular to serve. This was accomplished by allowing the middle class to belong to the army and able to be eligible for commissions. Hitherto, they had been exempt from service. Previously, the officers had been nobles, and the troops peasants. He instituted a sytem where officers were appointed and promoted by merit. These measures were to forever change the relationship between the Army and the State.

The new army was to be based upon honour and bravery, with opportunities available for anyone with ability. Scharnhorst was to write:

We have begun to estimate the art of war higher than the military virtues...this has been the downfall of peoples at all times. Bravery, sacrifice, and steadfastness are the cornerstone of the independence of the nation; as soon as our hearts no longer beat for them we are lost, even in the midst of great victories.

He instituted the famous Krumper system. Once men were trained, they were then sent home and replaced by new recruits, but stayed nearby so that they may be drilled occasionally. Under the noses of French spies Prussia developed a reserve army fully capable of taking the field. He also kept attempting to persuade Frederick Wilhelm to institute a national militia. Frederick Wilhelm was to deny this until late 1812 when the actions of his generals made it clear that Prussia would have to take up arms against France.

In 1810, Napoleon ordered Frederick Wilhelm to dismiss Scharnhorst. An order he obeyed. Going into hiding, Scharnhorst continued his work. On December 14, 1812 news reached Berlin that Napoleon had passed Glogau on his flight to Paris. Scharnhorst then came out of hiding and began to call this army he had created.

Musket in hand, he was to be killed at Lutzen, the first great Battle for German Freedom.

"Rather have lost another battle, had Scharnhorst only been spared." Blucher to Gneisenau, June 29, 1813

The patriotic belief in the regeneration of Germany kept Scharhorst hard at work developing the military resources of Prussia at a time when most Prussians had almost ceased to hope.

Baron Karl von Stein

Like many of the Reformers, Baron Stein was not Prussian by birth, but a Nassauer. Also like them, he believed that Prussia was the chief state of Germany. During the winter or 1807-1808 he was to spark a revolution, as refreshing as that of France in 1789, but without shedding one drop of blood.

After Jena, but before Tilsit, he was dismissed by Frederick Wilhelm with these words: "You are to be regarded as refractory, insolent, obstinate, and disobedient official, who, proud of his genius and talent, far from regarding the good of the state, guided purely by caprice, acts from passion, and from personal hatred and rancour." Frederick Wilhelm needed Stein, but Stein wouldn't accept the post of Prime Minister unless the King dismissed the many courtiers whom he regarded as harmful to Prussia. This was a strike to Frederick Wilhelm's pride which he couldn't ignore. He was unused to anything but pliant servants, and the rugged Stein could often be contradictory. Of Stein, Arndt wrote:

"God made him a man of stormy nature, one fit for sweeping measures and upheaval. But, the Almighty had also laid in this faithful, brave, and pious man kindly sunshine and fruitful rain...for mankind and his people."

Less than six months after Tilsit, persuaded by Queen Luise and the rest of his court, he begged Stein to return and accept the position on his own terms.

Nominally, Stein's first tasks was to raise 150,000,000 francs with which he could pay off Napoleon, and remove the 175,000 troops quartered in Prussia as stipulated by treaty. Now, we know, that Napoleon never meant for this indemnity to be paid. He meant to keep Prussia bankrupt until such a time as he could reorganize it as a vassal of France.

Stein, at this time, had more power than any Prussian minister was ever to have. His King was in desperate straits, and was prepared for heroic remedies.

On October 9, 1807 Stein encouraged the King of Prussia to sign a law framed for the purpose of facilitating the transfer of land. Belonging to the Crown were millions of acres of public land...a source of great wealth. But before Frederick Wilhelm signed this law only nobles were able to buy land. This law abolished the feudal system of slavery and freed millions of Prussians from serfdom. Prior to this date, the Prussian peasant was forbidden to move about, or to change his occupation. He belonged to the soil and was forced to work for the lord of the manor who had unlimited power over him.

Stein's next step was to encourage Frederick Wilhelm to sign other bills which would make these newly freed men fit for citizenship. These new laws recognized the principle of local self-government as applied to counties or provinces of Prussia. And above all, he made the towns of Prussia centres of constitutional liberty.

These laws were to have far reaching consequences. Towns, villages, and county conventions vied with each other in voting to their king money which slaves could never have raised. From every hamlet of Prussia came a warm response to the King's words of trust, and for the first time in Prussian history, the plain people were consulted as to the best means of saving their country from extinction.

Stein's memorable leadership was to last slightly longer than a year. In September 1808, Napoleon discovered that he was a patriotic Prussian and ordered him dismissed from public service. Again, Frederick Wilhelm followed the order of Napoleon, dismissing Stein in November. In December 1808, Napoleon declared him a criminal, and forced him to flee for his life. After a few years of exile in Prague he was to return to Prussia as her second war against Napoleon commenced.

We shall hear more of this brave German when our narrative takes us to The Congress of Vienna.

Prince Karl August von Hardenburg

On 30 October 1806, a preliminary peace was signed between Prussia and France. But, the ink had hardly dried when Napoleon changed his mind, demanding that Prussia served as an accomplice with France, allowing her lands to be a base of operations against Russia. Most of Frederick Wilhelm's courtly advisors recommended that he accept this condition. Previosly, Frederick Wilhelm had shown himself to be very indecisive, but on this issue he showed that he was still a proud Hohenzollern. He decided that the war would be carried on, because he was sure of Russia's support.

This decision was to stupefy the timid members of his court, causing many fearful men to resign. Now, men like Stein and Hardenburg came to the fore to direct Prussia's fortunes.

Prior to the battle of Eylau, Hardenburg had helped to conclude peace with Britain, formed an alliance with Sweden, and even more importantly an alliance with Russia.

After Napoleon's check at Eylau, Napoleon agreed to make peace upon the original terms of Oct. 30 1806. Frederick Wilhelm refused, counselled by Hardenburg, believing that Russia's strength would soon make itself felt and change the situation in Prussia's favour. He was to be sadly disappointed. The Russians sat idle as the French made considerable gains in Silesia and Pommerania. Little else was to be accomplished by the alliance, and after the Russians were beaten at Friedland, Tsar Alexander asked Napoleon for an armistice.

After Tilsit Napoleon ordered that Hardenburg, of whom he knew nothing other than that Hardenburg was anti-French, be exiled, never to come within 200 miles of Berlin. In late 1810, Napoleon again voiced a demand to increase Prussia's war indemnity, and despite Napoleon's order of exile, Frederick Wilhelm called Hardenburg back into service.

One of Hardenburg's first measures was the secularization of church lands. These immense properties were sold to speculators to raise desperately needed funds.

On 2 November, 1810 he introduced a general taxation in Prussia. Previously, the nobles had paid no taxes, the burden falling on the middle-class and serfs. This made him no friend of the noble class to which he belonged. With this came the Gewerbefreiheit, which meant that anyone who paid a trade tax could carry on any trade, with the exception of those trades where excessive competition or lack of professional skills would be disadvantageous to the community. These measures brought healthy competition to the Prussian economy, raising more funds to pay off the war indemnity.

One of Hardenburg's greatest feats was to wring from his King, the concession of a national representative parliament which was to hold it's first session, in Berlin, on 23 February 1811.

Hardenburg and Stein are two of the greatest examples of German statesmen. Both nobles, who were to advocate for Prussia, measures which were then regarded as revolutionary. Despite their common ground, they were very different men. Stein was to be more of a favourite to the people. Direct, open, rough, and very often venting his temper despite the presence of kings and emperors. Hardenburg was more courtly and cavalier, and much more the politician, fully aware of the tricks of his trade, which he was always ready to use.

Friederich Ludwig Jahn

Where is the German's fatherland?

Is't it Swabia? Is't it the Prussian's land?

Is't it where the grape glows along the Rhine?

Where seagulls skim the Baltic's brine?

Oh, no! More great, more grand,

Must be the German's fatherland.

....Arndt "Des Deutschen Vaterland"

From 1807 Jahn had begun to speak out against French oppression in Germany. He would be imprisoned on more than one occasion, and kept under police surveillance for more than 20 years. He is the father of the Turnbewegung, the gymnastics movement that was to provide the mass basis of the German League. The German league was to spread from Prussia into the lands of the Confederation of the Rhine, bringing Prussia's borders to the Rhine.

In his early years, Jahn was conspicous at some of the greater German universities, in his shabby clothes and his unquenchable desire for knowledge. Direct, honest, and of a fearless nature, most references of him during his student years seem to exclude him from cultured society. A diamond in the rough. Despite this, everywhere Jahn went, he commanded a following.

He led the life of a fighting tramp, travelling throughout Germany, speaking and occasionally fighting with Germans of all classes. He developed a rich knowledge of German folklore, and became convinced that Germany was helpless because she was divided.

Jahn had followed the Prussian army to Jena, and after that fateful day, followed it's remnants eastward, barely avoiding capture. Wandering from central Germany to the Baltic shores, he preached along his way the regeneration of Germany. During these days, in a land overrun with French troops, officials, and spies he produced the book Deutsches Volksthum. In the pages of this fine work were many prophecies to be realized in 1871...one people, one nation, one empire, all united under one legal constitution.

He was to secure a teaching position in Berlin in 1810. On holidays he would take his pupils into the country and there, interest them in rough and tumble manly games and love of patriotic song. In 1811 a sandy field outside of Berlin was secured to conduct these exercises on a larger scale.

From his earlier expeditions with students into the country, Jahn had realized that singingpatriotic, manly songs, in unison with gymnastic drill was a powerful force to inculcate love of country into his students. Although there was nothing political or warlike in these gymnastic drills, he was arousing a passion in Germans who would soon be shouldering muskets against the French. His creation of the gymnastics movement was to forever alter the education of German youth.

In 1813, before war against Napoleon was declared, he joined the Lutzow Freikorps in Breslau. He was to fight through the titanic struggles of 1813 and 1814. A pure patriot, he was ready to give his all and lay down his life for German Freedom.

The list of German and Prussian reformers could go on, and rightly fill many books in far greater detail then I have been able to represent here. They include men from all walks of life; the soldiers, the statesmen, the educators, and the poets. Each, in his own way was to help raise Prussia and all of Germany from subservient, divided states into a united and free people.

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