Stein's well-known circular of November 24, 1808, described it as the "excellent task of legislation to destroy the disharmony within the people, the struggle of the estates, and to legally create the possibility for everyone among the people to freely develop his powers in a moral direction." Since then, legislation has progressively restricted the privileges of nobility, until the Prussian Constitution stipulated in 1850: "All Prussians are equal before the law; privileges of estate do not exist." The Reich Law Code [Reichsgesetzbuch] of 1870 eliminated the revocation of nobility as punishment; it thus decreed that noble scoundrels must remain such, just as bourgeois criminals remain among the bourgeoisie. The Reich Penal Code [Reichsstrafgesetzbuch] punishes the bearing of a false name, if it is done vis-à-vis a civil servant. But the Reich Penal Code still permits one distinction, in that it punishes the unjustified bearing of a title of nobility even without this qualification. Moreover, it is still described as an "elevation to the estate of nobility" when individuals are permitted to add "von" or the title of Baron, Count, and so on to their bourgeois names. – In the new Prussian stamp duty law [Stempelsteuergesetz], the stamp duty [Stempelgebühr] for ennoblement is set at 5,000 marks for the title of Duke [Herzog], 3,000 marks for the title of Prince [Fürst], 1,800 marks for the title of Count [Graf], 1,200 marks for the title of Baron [Freiherr], 600 marks for the patent of nobility; one-eighth of the above-mentioned rates are paid for augmenting or changing the coat of arms. Four hundred marks are due for the granting of a patent as a Kammerjunker [gentleman of the bed-chamber], 1,200 marks for that as a Kammerherr [chamberlain], only 800 marks if the latter was already a Kammerjunker. These fees can be waived, however.
After the baleful experiences in the struggle against Napoleon at the beginning of the century, Minister Baron von Stein proposed the abolition of all noble corporations, of cathedral chapters, and of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, since these merely promoted the pride of the nobility. He wrote:
"This large mass of poor, landless, or indebted nobility in Prussia is exceedingly
troublesome to the state. They are uneducated, needy, and arrogant; they push into
all positions, from court-marshal [Hofmarschall] to station-master [Posthalter] and
police inspector. They stand in the way of all other civic classes through the positions
they take away from them by the claims they advance, and they fall below them in their
poverty and poor education."
And State Chancellor [Staatskanzler] Hardenberg added in his Riga memorandum: "Every position in the state shall be open not to one class or another, but to accomplishment and ability from all estates."