Saturday 3 August 2013

Men of Yore: Baron vom Stein

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form.  Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards.  We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity. 

It is also partly intended to show images, be they paintings, statues or photographs of the countenaces of men of yore.  Because, quite frankly, many men wear the countenances of women these days: smiling, smirking, cooing, rolling their eyes, looking smug etc.  It's a sign of the times, and by showing some images of men from the past, I hope to show some modern men why looking surly, frowning and giving hard-ball stares at people is something to do, something to practice.

Baron vom Stein, 1804 (aged 47)

STEIN, HEINRICH FRIEDRICH KARL, Baron vom und zum (1757-1831), German statesman, was born at the family estate near Nassau, on the 26th of October 1757. He was the ninth child of Karl Philipp, Freiherr vom Stein; the maiden name of his mother was von Simmern. His father was a man of stern and irritable temperament, which his far more famous son inherited, with the addition of intellectual gifts which the father entirely lacked. The family belonged to the order of imperial knights of the Holy Roman Empire, who occupied a middle position between sovereign princes and subjects of the empire. They owned their own domains and owed allegiance only to the emperor, but had no votes for the diet. In his old age he expressed his gratitude to his parents for “the influence of their religious and truly German and knightly example.” He added, “My view of the world and of human affairs I gathered as a boy and youth, in the solitude of a country life, from ancient and modern history, and in particular I was attracted by the incidents of the eventful history of England.” The influence of English ideas, which was so potent a factor in the lives of Voltaire, Rousseau, Talleyrand and many others in the 18th century, was therefore potently operative in the early career of Stein. He does not seem to have gone to any school; but in 1773 he went with a private tutor to the university of Göttingen in Hanover, where he studied jurisprudence, but also found time to pursue his studies in English history and politics, whereby, as he wrote, “my predilection for that nation was confirmed.
In November 1787 he became Kammerdirektor, i.e. director of the board of war and domains for the king's possessions west of the river Weser; and in 1796 he was appointed supreme president of all the Westphalian chambers dealing with the commerce and mines of those Prussian lands. Among the benefits which he conferred on these districts, one of the chief was the canalization of the river Ruhr, which thenceforth became an important outlet for the coal of that region. He also improved the navigation of the Weser, and kept up well the main roads committed to his care. On the 8th of June 1793 he married the countess Wilhelmine, daughter of Field Marshal Count Johann Ludwig von Wallmoden-Gimborn, a natural son of King George II. of Great Britain.

Stein's early training, together with the sternly practical bent of his own nature, made him completely impervious to the enthusiasm which the French Revolution had aroused in many minds in Germany. He disliked its methods as an interruption to the orderly development of peoples. Nevertheless he carefully noted the new sources of national strength which its reforms called forth in France.
[A]fter being at war with France during the years 1792-95 [..] and remained at peace until 1806[..]. Prussia, however, lost rather than gained strength at this time; for Frederick William III., who succeeded the weak and sensual Frederick William II. in November 1797, was lacking in foresight, judgment and strength of character. He too often allowed public affairs to be warped by the advice of secret and irresponsible counsellors, and persisted in the policy of subservience to France inaugurated by the treaty of Basel. It was under these untoward circumstances that Stein in 1804 took office at Berlin as minister of state for trade. He soon felt constrained to protest against the effects of the Gallophil policy of the chief minister, Haugwitz, and the evil influences which clogged the administration. Little, however, came of Stein's protests, though they were urged with his usual incisiveness and energy. Prussian policy continued to progress on the path which led to the disaster at Jena (Oct. 14, 1806).

The king then offered to Stein the portfolio for foreign affairs, which the minister declined to accept on the ground of his incompetence to manage that department unless there was a complete change in the system of government. The real motive for his refusal was that he desired to see Hardenberg take that office and effect, with his own help, the necessary administrative changes. The king refused to accept Hardenberg, and, greatly irritated by Stein's unusually outspoken letters, dismissed him altogether, adding that he was “a refractory, insolent, obstinate and disobedient official.” Stein now spent in retirement the months during which Napoleon completed the ruin of Prussia; but he saw Hardenberg called to office in April 1807 and important reforms effected in the cabinet system. During the negotiations at Tilsit, Napoleon refused to act with Hardenberg, who thereupon retired. Strange to say, the French emperor at that time suggested Stein as a possible successor. No other strong man was at hand who could save the ship of state; and on the 4th of October 1807 Frederick William, utterly depressed by the terrible terms of the treaty of Tilsit, called Stein to office and entrusted him with very wide powers.

Stein was now for a time virtually dictator of the reduced and nearly bankrupt Prussian state. The circumstances of the time and his own convictions, gained from study and experience, led him to press on drastic reforms in a way which could not otherwise have been followed. First came the Edict of Emancipation, issued at Memel on the 9th of October 1807, which abolished the institution of serfdom throughout Prussia from the 8th of October 1810. All distinctions affecting the tenure of land (noble land, peasants' land, &c.) were also swept away, and the principle of free trade in land was established forthwith. The same famous edict also abrogated all class distinctions respecting occupations and callings of any and every kind, thus striking another blow at the caste system which had been so rigorous in Prussia. Stein's next step was to strengthen the cabinet by wise changes, too complicated to be enumerated here. He also furthered the progress of the military reforms which are connected more especially with the name of Scharnhorst (q.v.); they refashioned the Prussian army on modern lines, with a reserve system. Stein's efforts were directed more towards civil affairs; and in this sphere he was able to [ 872 ] issue a measure of municipal reform (Nov. 19, 1808) which granted local self-government on enlightened yet practical lines to all Prussian towns, and even to all villages possessing more than 800 inhabitants.

Shortly afterwards the reformer had to flee from Prussia.
For three years he lived in the Austrian Empire.
After the great battle of Leipzig (Oct. 16-19, 1813) Stein entered that city the day after its occupation by the Allies and thus expressed his feelings on the fall of Napoleon's domination: “There it lies, then, the monstrous fabric cemented by the blood and tears of so many millions and reared by an insane and accursed tyranny. From one end of Germany to the other we may venture to say aloud that Napoleon is a villain and the enemy of the human race.”
He now desired to see Germany reconstituted as a nation, in a union which should be at once strong for purposes of defence and founded on constitutional principles. His statesmanlike projects were foiled, partly by the short-sightedness of German rulers and statesmen, but also by the craft whereby the Austrian statesman Metternich (q.v.) gained the alliance of the rulers of south and central Germany for his empire, on the understanding that they were to retain their old governing power unimpaired. Thus it was in vain that Stein, during the congress of Vienna, pressed for an effective union of the German people.
All his contemporaries were impressed, or even awed by the determination and intellectual power of this remarkable man. His conversation had the effect of calling out all the powers of his interlocutors. “A conversation with him (wrote Varnhagen von Ense) was a continual contest, a continual danger.” This mental pugnacity sometimes degenerated into rudeness; and on several occasions his impetuosity led him to take false steps. Still, when we take into consideration the magnitude of his achievements; when we recollect that in 1808 he intended his municipal reform to serve as the foundation for free institutions for the Prussian provinces, and thereafter for the whole kingdom; when we realize the grandeur of his schemes in 1813-1815 for the union of the German people in a federal [ 873 ] system which would combine strength with political liberty — we shall find it difficult to overrate the importance of his contribution to the solution of the most complex political problem of modern times.


He is proof that not all those who gain power are afraid to lose it.  He liberated the serfs and empowered them with a localised, decentralised government.  It's also surprsing that he was in favour of lineralisation considering he was an aristocrat and a Prussian - Prussia was a highly centralised military state.

Also noteworthy is his forthright character which was well noted by his contempararies.  Yet his bluntness was not an indicator of his 'mean' temperament, as some may characterise bluntness nowadays, but was very useful in allowing him to do his Will, which was to liberate Germans from Serfdom and create a more federal rather than feudal society.  He was, is, an aristocrat in the truest sense of the word: noble.

Check out some of the other entries from the 'Men of Yore' series:


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