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Frederick William I ("the Soldier King"), Instructions on the Formation and Functioning of the General Directory (December 20, 1722)

This revealing document announced Frederick William’s decision to merge the hitherto multi-branched Prussian bureaucracy, divided especially between military and financial authorities, into a kind of central cabinet, the General Directory, in which substantive functions, such as responsibility for the army, were paired with oversight of one or another of the monarchy’s provinces. The document outlined the religious, social, and geographical criteria according to which membership in the General Directory would be determined, as well as the collegial processes (and inner-bureaucratic espionage) by which the king hoped to control ambitious ministers and prevent the concealment of important intelligence. The document spelled out the procedures by which the king hoped to avert opposition to the state among his subjects, whether from dissident nobles or the “unfree population” [Unterthanen]. The latter term may have referred to the limited number of east-Elbian villagers who were bound by personal serfdom, though it also may have referred, more generally, to subject villagers, who were not free to depart their residences without the consent of their seigneurial overlords’ manorial courts, though when stipulated conditions were met (as was not impossible in practice) this consent could not legally be denied.

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Art. I. On the employees of the General Directory, also the Provincial Commissariats and Chambers and the instructions for them.

1. Since We have become convinced of the supreme necessity of making changes in respect of Our present Commissariat General of War and General Directory of Finance, and of winding up and abolishing entirely both these offices and establishing in their place a Supreme General Directory of Finance, War, and Crown Properties, and of entrusting to that body most graciously the conduct of all business hitherto dealt with by the former Commissariat General of War and General Directory of Finance, We hereby declare that We propose Ourselves to assume the Presidency of the said General Directory, in order to give it more prestige, authority and weight and at the same time to demonstrate the special and most particular attention which We propose to devote, unremittingly and untiringly, to the affairs falling within the competence of the said Directory, conformably with their extreme importance.

[ . . . ]

[Para. 2 lists the names of the persons appointed to the Directory: five “Vice-Presidents and Directing Ministers” (Lieutenant General von Grumbkow and Real Ministers of State von Creutz, von Krautt, von Katsch and von Görne), and fourteen councillors or assessors.]

3. Even as We now show hereby that We repose special gracious confidence in the said Ministers and Assessors appointed by Us to the General Directory, so We also lay down that the five Directing Ministers [the names follow] [ . . . ] shall be responsible to Us for all proceedings whatever of the General Directory.

4. The Privy Councillors of Finance, War, and Crown Properties are, on the other hand, responsible only for what belongs to the Department to which each of them is appointed. [ . . . ]

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