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Political Testament of Frederick William ("the Great Elector") (May 19, 1667)

This extraordinary document displays Frederick William’s psychology and statecraft with unvarnished frankness. His deep religiosity is evident, but the ways in which his Calvinist faith differed from Lutheranism are not so easy to detect. Though he sometimes employs a patrimonial idiom in speaking of his rule (e.g., “the house of Brandenburg”), more often the accent falls on the “absolutist” military-bureaucratic state that he so mightily labored to erect. He writes with Machiavellian realism about domestic and international rivals for power within and over Brandenburg-Prussia, about his territorial ambitions, and the military and economic resources at his and his successor’s disposal.

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The fatherly love that I, as a father, bear for my son and future successor has compelled me to leave for him some useful lessons born of long experience, and to put these briefly into writing. [I do this] in consideration that it will be beneficial and necessary for him to know how he should lead his entire government, and how he should act, first and foremost regarding God, also regarding his peers, as well as his subjects, granted and entrusted to him by God, in religious and secular matters; [he should know] what kind of councilors he needs, how he should let councils vote, and also when and how he should make decisions; with whom he is in alliance, and with whom he still has to make such [alliances], and how he can improve the finances [Cammerstadt]; what is concerned in the maintenance of the fortresses, the naming of the fortresses that are there now, and what kinds of places could be established as convenient for the security and communication of the territories, what kind of garrisons are necessary therein during peacetime and wartime, as well as what is involved in the maintenance of the magazines and the expansion thereof. So I have no doubt that in this writing enough is explained about how the entire state must be led; I also hope that my son will observe such dutifully, so that he can accomplish this: that his reign should not be difficult but rather very easy, also that he will learn such not from his officials, but rather can have the knowledge himself. Therefore, I have written as briefly as possible here, so that reading too much and too long will not be irksome to my son.

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