Stein-Hardenberg Reforms

Stein-Hardenberg Reforms


bourgeois reforms implemented in Prussia from 1807 to 1814 by governments headed by Baron vom Stein and K. A. von Hardenberg.

The Edict of 1807 freed the peasants from hereditary servitude and permitted landowners to dispose of their property as they saw fit, thereby making it possible for burghers and peasants to acquire land; the edict did not affect, however, the peasants’ obligations deriving from the tenure of land. The Edict of 1811, designed to regulate the freeing of the peasants, made it extremely difficult for the peasants to redeem their obligations; in order to become a freeholder, the peasant had to cede one-third to one-half the land he occupied or pay 25 times the amount of the yearly lease. The agrarian reforms fostered the development of capitalism in agriculture along “the Prussian path,” by which many vestiges of feudalism were retained.

In November 1808 a municipal reform was promulgated giving the cities limited self-government. At the same time institutions at the highest level of government were reorganized, with the creation of ministries of war, domestic affairs, foreign affairs, justice, and finance. Administrative reforms were carried out to strengthen the bureaucratic centralization of Prussia; these included placing an Oberpräsident, appointed by the government, in charge of each province.

In 1810 and 1811 legislation was enacted to remove restrictions on productive activity, thereby abolishing the guild system, which had slowed the development of industry. Under the military reform of 1807–14 members of the nobility were no longer guaranteed officers’ posts, and the use of corporal punishment was sharply curtailed. The implementation of army reforms on the bourgeois model was completed during the German people’s war of liberation against Napoleon, when what was in fact universal military service was introduced (subsequently enacted into law in 1814), and a national militia—the Landwehr —was established.


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Stulz, P. Fremdherrschaft und Befreiungskampf: Die preussische Kabinettspolitik und die Rolle der Volksmassen in den Jahren 1811 bis1813. Berlin, 1960.