Life and Times of Stein: Or, Germany and Prussia in the Napoleonic Age - Vol. 1

By Sir J. R. Seeley | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV.
NEUTRALITY OF PRUSSIA.

As Stein is more nearly interested in the fall of Prussia than even in the fall of Germany, it will be necessary before we return to his personal history to mark in the summary way adopted in these chapters the series of mistakes and misfortunes by which Prussia was forced in 1806 to engage Napoleon at such disadvantage and with such calamitous results.

I have marked the Treaty of Reichenbach, concluded in 1790, as the first stage of Prussia's decline. It was then that her foreign policy lost its independent character, for by that treaty the power of Prussia was placed, in a manner, at the service of Austria. The Treaty of Basel, concluded with France in 1795, marks as clearly the commencement of the second stage. It closed abruptly, no doubt, the period of subservience to Austria, but not in such a way as to restore to Prussia her independent influence on the politics of Europe, rather so as to deprive her of all influence upon them, and to convert her from a tool of Austria into a cipher. Prussia now retired behind her bank of Demarcation, preserving her territories on the right bank of the Rhine, but abandoning the whole left bank, nominally indeed only to the provisional occupation of the French, but really to their definitive possession. Henceforth up to 1806, though the course of affairs in Europe becomes more and more unprecedented and portentous, Prussia declines to interfere. The policy of the Treaty of Basel was that which Frederick William III. inherited when he came to the throne two years after it had been concluded, and he adhered to it with unwavering tenacity and apparently with stronger conviction than any of his ministers. But it is to be observed that a policy of non-intervention after 1801, and even after 1797, had a very different meaning and effect from the same policy at the time when the Treaty of Basel was concluded. For at that time the aggrandizement of France could

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