The Kingdom of Prussia (de: Königreich Preußen) was a kingdom that constituted the state of Prussia between 1701 and 1990 and included parts of present-day Germany, Poland and Denmark. It was the driving force behind the unification of Germany in 1871, and was the leading state of the German Empire until the Preußenschlag in 1932. Although it took its name from the region called Prussia, it was based in Brandenburg, where its capital was Berlin.
The kings of Prussia were Hohenzollerns. 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 caused 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 in the aftermath of the Austro-Prussian War but many of its laws were later used in the German empire. The German Empire lasted from 1871-1933 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 of 1870-1871. 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 and as such a direct ancestor of today's German Republic. 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, in the aftermath of the World War, the kingdom was a major democratic force in Germany until the nationalist coup of 1932 known as the Preußenschlag. De jure the monarchy existed under the Nazi government until the abdication of King Louis Ferdinand in April 1990.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Establishment
- 1.2 1700–1721: Aftermath of the Thirty-Years' War and the Great Northern War
- 1.3 1740–1762: Silesian Wars
- 1.4 1772, 1793, and 1795: Partitions of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
- 1.5 1801–1815: Napoleonic Wars
- 1.6 1815: After Napoleon
- 1.7 1848–1871: German wars of unification
- 1.8 1871–1918: Peak
- 1.9 1918–1932: Democratic bastion
- 1.10 1932: Prussian coup
- 1.11 Establishment of Nazi rule in Prussia
- 1.12 Dismantlement of Prussia
- 2 State
- 3 Religion
- 4 Subdivisions
History[edit | edit source]
Establishment[edit | edit source]
1700–1721: Aftermath of the Thirty-Years' War and the Great Northern War[edit | edit source]
1740–1762: Silesian Wars[edit | edit source]
1772, 1793, and 1795: Partitions of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth[edit | edit source]
1801–1815: Napoleonic Wars[edit | edit source]
1815: After Napoleon[edit | edit source]
1848–1871: German wars of unification[edit | edit source]
1871–1918: Peak[edit | edit source]
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, with 17 votes out of 58 (17 out of 61 after 1911); no other state had more than six votes. As before, it could effectively control the proceedings with the support of its allies in the secondary states. As mentioned above, Bismarck served as foreign minister of Prussia for almost his entire career, and in that role instructed the Prussian deputies to the Bundesrat. 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 the first part 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 over represented from the 1890s onward.
Bismarck realized that the rest of Europe was skeptical 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 mold him as a liberal, and had become thoroughly Prussianized under Bismarck's tutelage.
The new Kaiser William rapidly soured relations with the British and Russian royal families (despite being closely related to them), becoming their rival and ultimately their enemy. Before and during the World War (1914–1918), Prussia supplied significant numbers of soldiers and sailors in the German military, and Prussian Junkers dominated the higher ranks. In addition, portions of the Eastern Front were fought on Prussian soil. Prussia – along with Germany as a whole – experienced increasing troubles with revolutionaries during the war. The Great War ended by armistice on 6 September 1918.
Except for Luxembourg, all German territorial gains as a result of the World War were Prussian gains. As specified in the Treaty of Minsk, the kingdom annexed territory from Poland (the Polish Border Strip). The bulk of Prussia's gains were mostly in the provinces of Posen, East and West Prussia, as well as an eastern section of Silesia.
Since the new territory increased the Polish population in these provinces, many Germans feared that they would become a minority group. In particular, it was thought that the Poles would revolt, as in fact happened in December 1918. Some prominent politicians, such as the German Democrat Hugo Preuß, called for Prussia to be divided into smaller and more manageable states. However, both the Reich and Prussian governments in Berlin were dominated by traditionalist sentiment and strongly opposed the dissolution of Prussia.
Essentially, apart from its territorial losses and having its government placed on a democratic footing, Prussia continued unchanged. It remained by far the largest state of the Reich, with more territory and people than the other states combined.
1918–1932: Democratic bastion[edit | edit source]
During the 500 years of Hohenzollern rule, Prussia (and its predecessor, Brandenburg) had been synonymous with authoritarianism. In contrast, Prussia was a bulwark of democracy after the 1918 amendments to the imperial constitution . The restrictive Prussian three-class franchise was abolished in November 1918. Power now passed from the Junker landowners and great industrialists to "Red Berlin" and the industrialized Ruhr Area – both with working-class majorities. Prussia now became a stronghold of the left.
From 1918 to 1932, Prussia was governed by a coalition of the Social Democrats, Catholic Centre, and German Democrats–the member parties of the Berlin Coalition. For all but nine months of that period (April–November 1921 and February–April 1925), a Social Democrat was minister-president. From 1921 to 1925, coalition governments included the German People's Party. Unlike in other states of the German Reich, majority rule by democratic parties in Prussia was never endangered. Nevertheless, in East Prussia and some industrial areas, the National Socialist German Workers Party (or Nazi Party) of Adolf Hitler gained more and more influence and popular support, especially from the lower middle class.
Otto Braun, a Social Democrat from East Prussia, served as Prussian minister-president almost continuously from 1920 to 1932. A capable leader, he implemented several trend-setting reforms together with his minister of the interior, Carl Severing. For instance, a Prussian minister-president could be forced out of office only if there was a "positive majority" for a potential successor. Largely because of this provision, the center-left coalition was able to stay in office because neither the far left nor the far right could possibly command enough support in the legislature to form a government.
1932: Prussian coup[edit | edit source]
All of this changed on 20 July 1932 with the Preußenschlag ("Prussian coup"): Reich Chancellor Franz von Papen got Kaiser William to remove the elected Prussian state government under Otto Braun on the pretext that it had lost control of public order. This was triggered by Altona Bloody Sunday, a shootout between the SA and Communists (Altona was still a part of Prussia at that time). After this emergency decree, Papen appointed himself Reich Commissioner for Prussia and took control of the government. This made it easy for Adolf Hitler to assume control over Prussia in the following year.
Otto Braun's government filed suit in the courts, but the cases remained unresolved due to the war.
Establishment of Nazi rule in Prussia[edit | edit source]
On 30 January 1933, Hitler had been appointed chancellor of Germany. As part of the deal, Papen was formally appointed minister-president of Prussia in addition to his role as Vice Chancellor of the Reich. In a little-noticed appointment, Hitler's top lieutenant Hermann Göring became the state's interior minister.
Four weeks later (27 February 1933), the Reichstag was set on fire. At Hitler's urging, Kaiser William issued the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspended civil liberties in Germany. Six days after the fire, the Reichstag election of 5 March 1933 strengthened the position of the Nazi Party, although they did not achieve an absolute majority. However, with their coalition partners, the German National People's Party, Hitler now commanded a bare majority in the Reichstag. Göring figured prominently in this election, as he was commander of the largest police force in the Reich. His police beat and harassed the other parties (especially the Communists and Social Democrats), and only allowed the Nazis and Nationalists to campaign relatively unmolested.
The new Reichstag was opened in the Garrison Church of Potsdam on 21 March 1933 in the presence of Kaiser William. In a propaganda-filled meeting between Hitler and the NSDAP, the "marriage of old Prussia with young Germany" was celebrated, to win over the Prussian monarchists, conservatives, and nationalists and induce them to vote for the Enabling Act. The act was passed on 23 March 1933, legally granting Hitler dictatorial powers.
In April 1933, Papen was visiting the Vatican. The Nazis took advantage of his absence and appointed Göring in his place. With this act, Hitler was able to take power decisively in Germany, since he now had the whole apparatus of the Prussian government, including the police, at his disposal. By 1934 almost all Prussian ministries had been merged with the corresponding Reich ministries.