GHDI logo

Political Testament of Frederick II ("the Great") (1752)

page 2 of 12    print version    return to list previous document      next document

On towns and burghers

I have left the towns in the old provinces the privilege of electing their own magistrates, and have not interfered with these elections unless they were misused and some families of burghers monopolized all the authority to the prejudice of the rest. In Silesia I have deprived them of the franchise, for fear of their filling the councils with men who are devoted to Austria. With time, and when the present generation has passed away, it will be possible to restore the electoral system in Silesia without danger.

On the peasants

I have relaxed [on the Crown estates] the services which the peasants used to perform; instead of six days labor service a week, they now have to perform only three. This has provoked the nobles’ peasants, and in several places they have resisted their lords. The sovereign should hold the balance even between the peasant and the gentleman, so that they do not ruin one another. In Silesia the peasants, outside Upper Silesia, are very well placed; in Upper Silesia they are serfs. One will have to try to free them in due course. I have set the example on my Crown lands, where I have begun putting them on the same footing as the Lower Silesians. One should further prevent peasants from buying nobles’ lands, or nobles, peasants’, because peasants cannot serve as officers in the army, and if the nobles convert peasant holdings into demesne farms, they diminish the number of inhabitants and cultivators.

That a Sovereign Should Carry on the Government Himself

In a State such as this it is necessary for the sovereign to conduct his business himself, because he will, if he is wise, pursue only the public interest, which is his own, while a Minister’s view is always slanted on matters that affect his own interests, so that instead of promoting deserving persons he will fill the places with his own creatures, and will try to strengthen his own position by the number of persons whom he makes dependent on his fortunes; whereas the sovereign will support the nobility, confine the clergy within due limits, not allow the Princes of the blood to indulge in intrigues and cabals, and will reward merit without those considerations of interest which Ministers secretly entertain in all their doings.

But if it is necessary for the Prince to conduct the internal administration of his State himself, how much more necessary is it that he should direct his own [foreign] policy, conclude those alliances which suit his purposes, form his own plans, and take up his own line in delicate and difficult situations.

first page < previous   |   next > last page