Germany Under Maria Theresa And Joseph Ii 1740 1790

Maria Theresa and her Government. --Death of Francis I. --Character of

Joseph II. --The Partition of Poland. --The Bavarian Succession.

--Last Days of Maria Theresa. --Republican Ideas in Europe.

--Joseph II. as a Revolutionist. --His Reforms. --Visit of Pope

Pius VI. --Alarm of the Catholics. --Joseph among the People. --The

Order of Jesuits dissolved by the Pope. --Joseph II's

--His Death. --Progress in Germany. --A

German-Catholic Church proposed by four Archbishops. --"Enlightened

Despotism." --The small States. --Influence of the great German


[Sidenote: 1750. MARIA THERESA.]

In the Empress Maria Theresa, Frederick the Great had an enemy whom he

was bound to respect. Since the death of Maximilian II., in 1576,

Austria had no male ruler so prudent, just and energetic as this woman.

One of her first acts was to imitate the military organization of

Prussia: then she endeavored to restore the finances of the country,

which had been sadly shattered by the luxury of her predecessors. Her

position during the two Silesian Wars and the Seven Years' War was

almost the same as that of her opponent: she fought to recover

territory, part of which had been ceded to Austria and part of which she

had held by virtue of unsettled claims. The only difference was that the

very existence of Austria did not depend on the result, as was the case

with Prussia.

Maria Theresa, like all the Hapsburgs after Ferdinand I., had grown up

under the influence of the Jesuits, and her ideas of justice were

limited by her religious bigotry. In other respects she was wise and

liberal: she effected a complete reorganization of the government,

establishing special departments of justice, industry and commerce; she

sought to develop the resources of the country, abolished torture,

introduced a new criminal code,--in short, she neglected scarcely any

important interests of the people, except their education and their

religious freedom. Nevertheless, she was always jealous of the

assumptions of Rome, and prevented, as far as she was able, the

immediate dependence of the Catholic clergy upon the Pope.

[Sidenote: 1765.]

In 1765, her husband, Francis I. (of Lorraine and Tuscany) suddenly

died, and was succeeded, as German Emperor, by her eldest son, Joseph

II., who was then twenty-four years of age. He was an earnest,

noble-hearted, aspiring man, who had already taken his mother's enemy,

Frederick the Great, as his model for a ruler. Maria Theresa, therefore,

kept the Government of the Austrian dominions in her own hands, and the

title of "Emperor" was not much more than an empty dignity while she

lived. In August, 1769, Joseph had an interview with Frederick at

Neisse, in Silesia, at which the Polish question was discussed. The

latter returned the visit, at Neustadt in Moravia, the following year,

and the terms of the partition of Poland appear to have been then agreed

upon between them. Nevertheless, after the treaty had been formally

drawn up and laid before Maria Theresa for her signature, she added

these words: "Long after I am dead, the effects of this violation of all

which has hitherto been considered right and holy will be made

manifest." Joseph, with all his liberal ideas, had no such scruples of

conscience. He was easily controlled by Frederick the Great, who,

notwithstanding, never entirely trusted him.

In 1777 a new trouble arose, which for two years held Germany on the

brink of internal war. The Elector Max Joseph of Bavaria, the last of

the house of Wittelsbach in a direct line, died without leaving brother

or son, and the next heir was the Elector Karl Theodore of the

Palatinate. The latter was persuaded by Joseph II. to give up about half

of Bavaria to Austria, and Austrian troops immediately took possession

of the territory. This proceeding created great alarm among the German

princes, who looked upon it as the beginning of an attempt to extend the

Austrian sway over all the other States. Another heir to Bavaria, Duke

Karl of Zweibruecken (a little principality on the French frontier), was

brought forward and presented by Frederick the Great, who, in order to

support him, sent two armies into the field. Saxony and some of the

smaller States took the same side; even Maria Theresa desired peace, but

Joseph II. persisted in his plans until both France and Russia

intervened. The matter was finally settled in May, 1779, by giving

Bavaria to the Elector Karl Theodore, and annexing a strip of territory

along the river Inn, containing about 900 square miles and 139,000

inhabitants, to Austria.

[Sidenote: 1780. DEATH OF MARIA THERESA.]

Maria Theresa had long been ill of an incurable dropsy, and on the 29th

of November, 1780, she died, in the sixty-fourth year of her age. A few

days before her death she had herself lowered by ropes and pulleys into

the vault where the coffin of Francis I. reposed. On being drawn up

again, one of the ropes parted, whereupon she exclaimed: "He wishes to

keep me with him, and I shall soon come!" She wrote in her prayer-book

that in regard to matters of justice, the Church, the education of her

children, and her obligations towards the different orders of her

people, she found little cause for self-reproach; but that she had been

a sinner in making war from motives of pride, envy and anger, and in her

speech had shown too little charity for others. She left Austria in a

condition of order and material prosperity such as the country had not

known for centuries.

When Frederick the Great heard of her death, he said to one of his

ministers: "Maria Theresa is dead; now there will be a new order of

things!" He evidently believed that Joseph II. would set about indulging

his restless ambition for conquest. But the latter kept the peace, and

devoted himself to the interests of Austria, establishing, indeed, a new

and most astonishing order of things, but of a totally different nature

from what Frederick had expected. Joseph II. was filled with the new

ideas of human rights which already agitated Europe. The short but

illustrious history of the Corsican Republic, the foundation of the new

nation of the United States of America, the works of French authors

advocating democracy in society and politics, were beginning to exercise

a powerful influence in Germany, not so much among the people as among

the highly educated classes. Thus at the very moment when Frederick and

Maria Theresa were exercising the most absolute form of despotism, and

the smaller rulers were doing their best to imitate them, the most

radical theories of republicanism were beginning to be openly discussed,

and the great Revolution which they occasioned was only a few years off.

[Sidenote: 1781.]

Joseph II. was scarcely less despotic in his habits of government than

Frederick the Great, and he used his power to force new liberties upon a

people who were not intelligent enough to understand them. He stands

almost alone among monarchs, as an example of a Revolutionist upon the

throne, not only granting far more than was ever demanded of his

predecessors, but compelling his people to accept rights which they

hardly knew how to use. He determined to transform Austria, by a few

bold measures, into a State which should embody all the progressive

ideas of the day, and be a model for the world. The plan was high and

noble, but he failed because he did not perceive that the condition of a

people cannot be so totally changed, without a wise and gradual

preparation for it.

He began by reforming the entire civil service of Austria; but, as he

took the reform into his own hands and had little practical knowledge of

the position and duties of the officials, many of the changes operated

injuriously. In regard to taxation, industry and commerce, he followed

the theories of French writers, which, in many respects, did not apply

to the state of things in Austria. He abolished the penalty of death,

put an end to serfdom among the peasantry, cut down the privileges of

the nobles, and tried, for a short time, the experiment of a free press.

His boldest measure was in regard to the Church, which he endeavored to

make wholly independent of Rome. He openly declared that the priests

were "the most dangerous and most useless class in every country"; he

suppressed seven hundred monasteries and turned them into schools or

asylums, granted the Protestants freedom of worship and all rights

enjoyed by Catholics, and continued his work in so sweeping a manner

that the Pope, Pius VI., hastened to Vienna in 1782, in the greatest

alarm, hoping to restore the influence of the Church. Joseph II.

received him with external politeness, but had him carefully watched and

allowed no one to visit him without his own express permission. After a

stay of four weeks during which he did not obtain a single concession of

any importance, the Pope returned to Rome.

Not content with what he had accomplished, Joseph now went further. He

gave equal rights to Jews and members of the Greek Church, ordered

German hymns to be sung in the Catholic Churches and the German Bible to

be read, and prohibited pilgrimages and religious processions. These

measures gave the priesthood the means of alarming the ignorant people,

who were easily persuaded that the Emperor intended to abolish the

Christian religion. They became suspicious and hostile towards the one

man who was defying the Church and the nobles in his efforts to help

them. Only the few who came into direct contact with him were able to

appreciate his sincerity and goodness. He was fond of going about alone,

dressed so simply that few recognized him, and almost as many stories of

his intercourse with the lower classes are told of him in Austria as of

Frederick the Great in Prussia. On one occasion he attended a poor sick

woman whose daughter took him for a physician: on another he took the

plough from the hands of a peasant, and ploughed a few furrows around

the field. If his reign had been longer, the Austrian people would have

learned to trust him, and many of his reforms might have become

permanent; but he was better understood and loved after his death than

during his life.

[Sidenote: 1785. JOSEPH II.'S REFORMS.]

One circumstance must be mentioned, in explanation of the sudden and

sweeping character of Joseph II.'s measures towards the Church. The

Jesuits, by their intrigues and the demoralizing influence which they

exercised, had made themselves hated in all Catholic countries, and were

only tolerated in Bavaria and Austria. France, Spain, Naples and

Portugal, one after the other, banished the Order, and Pope Clement XIV.

was finally induced, in 1773, to dissolve its connection with the Church

of Rome. The Jesuits were then compelled to leave Austria, and for a

time they found refuge only in Russia and Prussia, where, through a most

mistaken policy, they were employed by the governments as teachers.

Their expulsion was the sign of a new life for the schools and

universities, which were released from their paralyzing sway, and Joseph

II. evidently supposed that the Church of Rome itself had made a step in

advance. The Archbishop of Mayence and the Bishop of Treves were noted

liberals; the latter even favored a reformation of the Catholic Church,

and the Emperor had reason to believe that he would receive at least a

moral support throughout Germany. He neither perceived the thorough

demoralization which two centuries of Jesuit rule had produced in

Austria, nor the settled determination of the Papal power to restore the

Order as soon as circumstances would permit.

Joseph II.'s last years were disastrous to all his plans. In Flanders,

which was still a dependency of Austria, the priests incited the people

to revolt; in Hungary the nobles were bitterly hostile to him, on

account of the abolition of serfdom, and an alliance with Catharine II.

of Russia against Turkey, into which he entered in 1788,--chiefly, it

seems, in the hope of achieving military renown--was in every way

unfortunate. At the head of an army of 200,000 men, he marched against

Belgrade, but was repelled by the Turks, and finally returned to Vienna

with the seeds of a fatal fever in his frame. Russia made peace with

Turkey before the fortunes of war could be retrieved; Flanders declared

itself independent of Austria, and a revolution in Hungary was only

prevented by his taking back most of the decrees which had been issued

for the emancipation of the people. Disappointed and hopeless, Joseph

II. succumbed to the fever which hung upon him: he died on the 20th of

February, 1790, only forty-nine years of age. He ordered these words to

be engraved upon his tomb-stone: "Here lies a prince, whose intentions

were pure, but who had the misfortune to see all his plans shattered!"

History has done justice to his character, and the people whom he tried

to help learned to appreciate his efforts when it was too late.

[Sidenote: 1790.]

The condition of Germany, from the end of the Seven Years' War to the

close of the eighteenth century, shows a remarkable progress, when we

contrast it with the first half of the century. The stern, heroic

character of Frederick the Great, the strong, humane aspirations of

Joseph II., and the rapid growth of democratic ideas all over the world,

affected at last many of the smaller German States. Their imitation of

the pomp and state of Louis XIV., which they had practised for nearly a

hundred years, came to an end; the princes were now possessed with the

idea of "an enlightened despotism"--that is, while retaining their

absolute power, they endeavored to exercise it for the good of the

people. There were some dark exceptions to this general change for the

better. The rulers of Hesse-Cassel and Wuertemberg, for example, sold

whole regiments of their subjects to England, to be used against the

American Colonies in the War of Independence. Although many of these

soldiers remained in the United States, and encouraged, by their

satisfaction with their new homes, the later German emigration to

America, the princes who sold them covered their own memories with

infamy, and deservedly so.

[Sidenote: 1790. "ENLIGHTENED DESPOTISM."]

There was a remarkable movement, about the same time, among the Catholic

Archbishops, who were also temporal rulers, in Germany. The dominions of

these priestly princes, especially along the Rhine, showed what had

been the character of such a form of government. There were about 1,000

inhabitants, fifty of whom were priests and two hundred and sixty

beggars, to every twenty-two square miles! The difference between the

condition of their States and that of the Protestant territories

adjoining them was much more strongly marked than it now is between the

Protestant and Catholic Cantons of Switzerland. By a singular

coincidence, the chief Catholic Archbishops were at this time men of

intelligence and humane aspirations, who did their best to remedy the

scandalous misrule of their predecessors. In the year 1786, the

Archbishops of Mayence, Treves, Cologne and Salzburg came together at

Ems, and agreed upon a plan of founding a national German-Catholic

Church, independent of Rome. The priests, in their incredible ignorance

and bigotry, opposed the movement, and even Joseph II., who had planned

the very same thing for Austria, most inconsistently refused to favor

it; therefore the plan failed.

It must be admitted, as an apology for the theory of "an enlightened

despotism," that there was no representative government in Europe at the

time, where there was greater justice and order than in Prussia or in

Austria under Joseph II. The German Empire had become a mere mockery;

its perpetual Diet at Ratisbon was little more than a farce. Poland,

Holland and Sweden, where there was a Legislative Assembly, were in a

most unfortunate condition: the Swiss Republic was far from being

republican, and even England, under George III., did not present a

fortunate model of parliamentary government. The United States of

America were too far off and too little known, to exercise much

influence. Some of the smaller German States, which were despotisms in

the hands of wise and humane rulers, thus played a most beneficent part

in protecting, instructing and elevating the people.

Baden, Brunswick, Anhalt-Dessau, Holstein, Saxe-Gotha, and especially

Saxe-Weimar, became cradles of science and literature. Karl Augustus, of

the last-named State, called Herder, Wieland, Goethe, Schiller and other

illustrious authors to his court, and created such a distinguished

circle in letters and the arts that Weimar was named "the German

Athens." The works of these great men, which had been preceded by those

of Lessing and Klopstock, gave an immense impetus to the intellectual

development of Germany. It was the first great advance made by the

people since the days of Luther, and its effect extended gradually to

the courts of less intelligent and humane princes. Even the profligate

Duke Karl Eugene of Wuertemberg reformed in a measure, established the

Karl's-School where Schiller was educated, and tried, so far as he knew

how, to govern justly. Frederick Augustus of Saxony refrained from

imitating his dissolute and tyrannical ancestors, and his land began to

recover from its long sufferings. As for the scores of petty States,

which contained--as was ironically said--"twelve subjects and one Jew,"

and were not much larger than an average Illinois farm, they were mostly

despotic and ridiculous; but they were too weak to impede the general

march of progress.

[Sidenote: 1790.]

Among the greater States, only Bavaria remained in the background.

Although temporarily deprived of his beloved Jesuits, the Elector held

fast to all the prejudices they had inculcated, and kept his people in