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 V. .
STEIN'S POSITION

IT thus appears that the Emancipating Edict, though the greatest single achievement of Stein's Ministry, was yet that which was least of all originated by him and least bears the marks of his mind. I have argued that his strong will and character entered into the calculation of those who designed and prepared it in his absence; still it is not so much one of the achievements of his dictatorship as a kind of sign, or announcement by a thunderclap, that he had become dictator. At the time the Edict was issued his mind was pre-occupied with quite other schemes of reform and the country had other needs more pressing even than any reform of its institution could be. What these needs were and what means Stein had to deal with them, we must consider now that we have left the Emancipating Edict, for the present at least, behind us.

In the first place let us consider for a moment a nature of the power which Stein wielded. It was exceedingly precarious, and probably Stein may have felt this at the moment when he laid the Emancipating Edict before the King. His power was neither committed to him for any fixed term nor was he the representative of any powerful interest. In Prussia indeed Ministers had not for a long time been in the habit of looking to any support but that of the King; but Stein, though not at all resembling a leader of opposition in England, such as Lord Rockingham or Fox, who forces himself into power against the royal will, had yet humbled the King and was the first Minister in Prussia of whom it might be thought that he was more important than the King. By the King therefore he could not expect to be supported very enthusiastically or much longer than his services were found absolutely indispensable. Could he then look to any other quarter for help? There was one whose word could no doubt at any moment have driven him from office, and

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