- Stein, Friedrich Karl Reichsfreiherr vom und zum
- (1757–1831)The leading member of the group of the so-called Prussian reformers who, as a state minister, set the stage for Prussia ’s modernization at the beginning of the nineteenth century. After Prussia’s crushing defeat by Napoleon Bonaparte, Stein and his followers launched a revolution from above by introducing important liberal reforms in all areas of public life. In his efforts Stein was helped by a widespread demand for change, which, however, faltered increasingly once Napoleon’s fortunes declined.Stein studied law at the university of Göttingen where he was influenced by modern constitutional ideas, especially of British and French origin. After completion of his studies, he entered the Prussian civil service, starting in the mining administration. Nominated Prussian secretary for finance and the economy in 1804, he tried in vain to prepare the kingdom for the impending military confrontation with Napoleonic France. In the wake of the defeat at Jena and Auerstädt, King Frederick William III dismissed him on January 3, 1807.In the ensuing leisure time Stein argued in the instantly-famous “Nassau memorandum” for the need for profound change in the political, economical, societal, and military fields. Reinstated after the humiliating peace of Tilsit on September 30, 1807, which reduced Prussian territory and population by nearly half, Stein became first minister of the Prussian state. Napoleon’s victory demonstrated that Prussia was moribund if it did not embrace reform, particularly in the military field, a fact that at least temporarily outflanked ultraconservative and reform-resistant circles such as the Junkers . Fighting for Prussia’s immediate survival and long-term future, in the next 14 months Stein tackled a myriad of scene-setting reforms.The most important of these were the emancipation of the peasants and the initiation of municipal self-government. After Stein’s dismissal, the introduction of the freedom of trade in 1811, the emancipation of the Jews in 1812, and major reforms in the educational sector, as well as in the armed forces, among others, followed suit. Collectively they marked a watershed in the slow transformation of Prussia from an absolutist agrarian to a modern constitutional and industrial state. At the time Prussia still had a long way to go to, but Stein, together with Karl August von Hardenberg, paved the way for its ultimate ascendancy and the resounding military successes of the years 1864–1870. Although most of these reforms had been devised before Stein rose to the highest public office, his determination and tenacity in realizing the blueprints proved decisive.Stein’s efforts did not meet with general approbation. Confronted with only slightly diminished resistance from conservative circles, Stein’s reform effort slackened all too quickly. Voices calling for his resignation multiplied, and Napoleon, too, interfered. On November 24, 1808, Frederick William gave in to these demands, and Stein was dismissed for the second time within two years. The French outlawed him soon after, and he had to flee to Austria from where he fanned the flames of opposition to Napoleon. After becoming political adviser to Tsar Alexander I in 1812, Stein returned to Germany with the Russian military offensive against France. He remained in Russian service until 1815 and took part in the Congress of Vienna. Failing in his efforts to secure the formation of a uni-fied Germany, Stein withdrew into private life. Although he remained politically active until his death, he exercised no further influence on affairs of state.See also <
>; < >; < >.FURTHER READING:Clark, Christopher. Iron Kingdom. Cambridge: Belknap, 2006;Craig, Gordon. The End of Prussia. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984;Haas, Stefan. Die Kultur der Verwaltung: Die Umsetzung der preußischen Reformen 1800–1848. Frankfurt/ Main: Campus-Verlag, 2005;Herre, Franz. Freiherr vom Stein. Sein Leben, seine Zeit. Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1973;Huch, Ricarda. Stein, der Erwecker des Reichsgedankens. Berlin: Atlantis Verlag, 1932;Ritter, Gerhard. Freiherr vom Stein. Eine politische Biographie. Frankfurt/ Main: Fischer-Verlag, 1983.ULRICH SCHNAKENBERG
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.