Frederick the Great
January 24, 1712 - August 17, 1786
The König (king) of Prussia lead his country to great growth and power.by Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Frederick the Second, more often called Frederick the Great, brought Prussia from a state of general weakness to that of great power and wealth. His motto throughout his life simply stated that he was the "first servant of the state."1 He brought a great era to Prussia. Not only did he increase its military strength, but Frederick effectively doubled the holdings of Prussia. King Frederick II’s people loved him so greatly they classed him as an "enlightened monarch".2
Prussia's expansion began when the Electors of Brandenburg where granted lands in the 1648 Peace of Westphalia. Over the next two centuries a series of absolute monarchs and chancellors militarily and politically expanded Prussia until it became Germany under Otto von Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm II, who lost WWI, ending the Hohenzollern dynasty. The greatest of these rulers was Frederick II.
Frederick II was born in Berlin on January the 24th, 1712. His mother was Sophie Dorothea von Hannover while his father was Kaiser Frederick Wilhelm I, the soldier King. He had two sisters named Wilhelmine and Anna Amalia along with a brother named Heinrich. Frederick the Great, along with his sisters, loved music and to the chagrin of his father was not interested in the arts of war. Yet his father would not hear of Frederick II leading anything but a military life, and he would often beat his son to get his mind back onto subjects of war. Once, Frederick II tried to run away from his militaristic life with his friend Hans Hermann von Katte. They were eventually caught and von Katte was executed in front of Frederick II as an example. In this way Frederick II involuntarily grew up with an excellent military education.
Throughout his life he "composed 121 flute sonatas, four flute concertos, a Symphony in G major, a March in E flat major, various arias, and an overture to "Il Re pastore."4 He met Johann Sebastian Bach in 1747 who composed for Frederick.
Frederick had led a musical life until his father died in 1740, forcing Frederick to become King of all Prussia's scattered territories. Throughout Frederick II’s life he led Prussia through many military victories and defeats. During the 1740s he took Prussia through wars against Austria's Hapsburg dynasty to win control over Silesia.
As neighbors of Frederick the Great formed coalitions against him, he preemptively struck Saxony in 1756 bringing on the Seven Years War. This war "pitted Great Britain, Prussia and Hanover against France, Austria, Russia, Sweden, and Saxony.3 Prussia came out of the war stronger than it went in, even considering its small pool of resources. Frederick's work through the war effectively doubled the size of Prussia.
Frederick and Empress Catherine II of Russia allied with each other on April 11, 1764 whereby Russia supported Prussian control of Silesia in return for Prussian support for Russia against Austria or the Ottoman Empire. Russia's subsequent war with the Ottoman Turks (1768-1774) threatened to tip the balance of power toward Russia, but solved by the carving up of Poland into the formation of West Prussia. Frederick made improvements to the new territory and encouraged his ministers to learn Polish.
Frederick believed that "everyone must find his own salvation",1 but it was more for economic diversity that he encouraged religious freedom throughout all of Prussia. Although marginally raised in the Calvinist doctrines, he had joined the Freemasons in 1738 and supported any religion "as long as those practicing are an honest people and wish to populate our land, may they be Turks or Pagans, we will build them mosques and churches". This included the contributions of educated Jesuits, even after suppression by Pope Clement XIV, and industrious Huguenots, and the financially savvy Jewish merchants. However, his policy was to assimilate Jews into diverse occupations
Frederick considered a pogrom against the Jews in towns "so that their numbers do not increase" but instead provided support for Jews isolated on the frontier.
We have too many Jews in the towns. They are needed on the Polish border because in these areas Hebrews alone perform trade. As soon as you get away from the frontier, the Jews become a disadvantage, they form cliques, they deal in contraband and get up to all manner of rascally tricks which are detrimental to Christian burghers and merchants.6
As to his own beliefs, he wrote in a letter to his sister, princess Amalie von Preußen, "...glaube ich lieber nicht, dass das allmächtige, gütige Wesen sich im mindesten um die menschlichen Angelegenheiten kümmert." (...I prefer not to believe that the almighty, benevolent being is at all concerned with human affairs.) Rather than God's providence, he attributed all events to man's action. Thus his beliefs were typical of a Deist who was remotely distanced from an unknowable Being, and substituted civic duty for spiritual intamacy with the Creator. Perhaps this was due to the influence his life long friendship with Voltaire, chief philosopher of the French Enlightenment, who scoffed at the miracles of Jesus. Voltaire wrote to Frederick II "Le christianisme est la plus ridicule, la religion la plus absurde et sanglante qui ait jamais infecté le monde." (January 5, 1767, Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd and bloody religion that ever infected the world.)
Frederick brought reform, land, and prosperity to Prussia. He gave the press, and religion, more freedom and established more respect for the law. King Frederick also established a pride as a productive citizen for the betterment of the state. His subjects looked to him as a role model of Enlightenment. Frederick II saw reform as a means to strong national expansion.
Frederick the Great was an powerful monarch who had the love of his people backing him up. In the end, Frederick the Great dramatically strengthened Prussia leading the way for future German expansion. In 1807 Napoleon Bonaparte expressed that Fredrick was the greatest military genius of all time. Frederick the Great also inspired Otto von Bismarck, Wilhelm II and Adolph Hitler.
1North Park University “Frederick II (The Great): 1740-1786” World History. 24 September 2004 http://campus.northpark.edu/history/WebChron/WestEurope/FredGreat.html
2 Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia “Frederick II of Prussia - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia” World History. 24 September 2004 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_II_of_Prussia
3Wikipedia, “Seven Years' War - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia” World History. 24 September 2004 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Years%27_War
4 HOASM, “HOASM: At the Court of Frederick the Great” World History. 24 September 2004. http://www.hoasm.org/XIB/XIBCourtFrederickGreat.html
6 MacDonogh, Giles."Frederick the Great: A Life in Deed and Letters", 2001. St. Martin's Griffin, New York. Pg.374.